Female Leads: Nay Edition


Samus feelsBefore I even begin, I want to offer some full disclosure here: I am a girl, I am a gamer, and I generally do not like female leads.
A growing frustration of mine as a “girl gamer” is the push to make everything in every spectrum of entertainment “all-inclusive,” or as I like to call it, “politically correct.” Society apparently cannot function if every special snowflake in every situation, walk of life, opinion, disability, social status, race, creed, and religion is not represented in everything.
No manThere once was a time in my life when the books I read, games I played, and movies I watched focused on just a few key things: the story, the characters within the story, and the morality behind the story. Classics such as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings likely never would have seen the light of day in our modern era because there were only two female characters that held any kind of influence within the books. Disney likely wouldn’t get off the ground if it was founded in modern times because, despite the fact that the majority of their stories are based upon classic fairy tales from centuries past, the female characters are typically soft, gentle, and actually behave like traditional ladies as sentimental and domestic rather than grabbing a sword and swinging at the villains themselves. To put it frankly, a lot of stories that laid the groundwork for the nerdy plethora of media that we now allow ourselves to bask in would not have had a snowball’s chance in Satan’s back yard if they had been subjected to the insanity that our society now imposes on games. Frankly, it’s doing more harm than good.
I know there are exceptional characters like Lara Croft, Samus, and Terra as amazing female leads, but they found their foundation before the era of the SJWs. These days when I see a female character on the cover of a game series that I enjoy, I avoid it like the plague until there are at least three reputable reviews out.
TriggeredIn my experience, those crying and screaming for more “inclusive” games are individuals who crawl out of tumblr to find a new subject to campaign for on their blogs. Most gamers in my circle (who, with the exception of my brother and adopted brother, are ladies) never really care about whether or not there’s a female lead. When we go for a game we generally look for something that has a great story, characters that are likable, fun gameplay, and some eye candy in the graphics. Never once do we stand in GameStop and harass the clerk behind the counter in regards to equal exposure of the sexes. If the story’s good, we’ll give it a go. Period.
The problem with “all inclusive” games is that rather than using the world as a foundation for a story and building up to the lead character, these “inclusive” games begin with the character’s gender.
Not the character’s personality. Not their struggle. Not their special abilities or their relation to their world—their gender.
sigh

Aaaand this is why Nobuo ran for the hills.

I find that extremely patronizing, especially if this formula comes into play in a game series that has a loyal following, a solid formula, and themes that the fanbase expects from the series. Take for example the infamous Final Fantasy X-2 situation. The ending of FFX was a mess; I get that. People were unhappy; I get that as well. The bottom line is that some games are going to be weaker than others, especially in a series as hyped up as Final Fantasy. I understand why X-2 was created…what I don’t understand is why they went with the angle they did. 
Final Fantasy X-2 is so bad that it’s a joke within the community. It’s so bad, in fact, that the series composer refused to compose music for it. It’s so bad that when my friend brought it home and got through the opening sequence only to have the three main females pose like Charlie’s Angels, I threw down my sketchbook and left the room. It only got worse. The three main leads essentially embody every single female lead that Square has put out in the last decade.
HahaFirst we have Paine, the “butch” girl who doesn’t take anything from anyone. She frequents the fantasy Hot Topic and has so many deep, complicated feels that the only way that she can express it is by wearing tattered clothing, collars, and wielding unreasonably large weapons. Secondly, we have Rikku, the “kawaii desu” bubble gum-vomiting fanservice that falls on her bum because it’s adorkable. She’s a bit of an airhead and a klutz and that’s about it. Then there’s Yuna, the Mary-Sue with the personality of a paper cup nailed to a saltine cracker. She has the sads, and has to find herself in a world that doesn’t think she can do anything, but she’s a strong woman because reasons. I’m not even kidding!
Half of Class Zero in Final Fantasy: Type-0 were clones of these three stereotypes. Lightning was something of a cross between the Paine and Yuna. None of these characters are universally loved by the fan base. Lightning is one of the most unlikable characters of all time, and the cast of FFX-2 were only memorable because of the damage they dealt to the credibility of the series.
I know I’m picking on Final Fantasy here a bit, but that isn’t the only series that shot itself in the foot by trying to cater to a demand that isn’t really there. The Drakengard series, while obscure, has a pretty loyal fanbase. Drakengard I and II are fantastic games that are emotionally charged and while crude, have a good deal of moral fiber to them. Drakengard III, however, is disgusting. The female lead, Zero, is a nymphomaniac and a sadist. The game is so sexualized that the story is laughable at best, cringe-worthy at worst. The game was not received well and, like FFX-2, has become a stain on the series.
Pleasedontsuck

…If I had a dollar for everything I hate about this picture…

When I heard that the newest installment to the Tales series, Tales of Berseria, will feature a female lead, I was hard pressed not to take a long walk to re-think my life. Fans threw a temper tantrum over the fact that Alisha was not the main character, as was long rumored during the game’s development. But…I can see why. Alisha isn’t nearly as bad as a Yuna, but she still doesn’t really define herself apart from an interesting side-character at best. As a lead, she’s woefully underdeveloped. It’s rumored that the lead for the new game, which takes place in the same canon as Tales of Zestiria, is the studio’s way of satisfying their fans who had wanted a female lead. While I’ll be playing the game, I already dislike what I’ve seen. The female lead looks like a Paine cookie-cutter and the game has come out so quickly following the release of Zestiria that I have reservations. It seems far too similar to what happened to FFX-2.
Now is it the fault of the characters that the games sucked? Of course not. The characters are just one aspect of the story itself. What ruined these games is that the creators didn’t focus on building the character, they instead focused on building a narrative. The narrative is important, yes, but if the narrative is being rammed down the throat of the player rather than subtly revealing itself through the course of a story then the overall message suffers.
Rose

Rose here is a far more respectable Tales of series character. She’s dressed in a functional way, she has a great personality, a strong background, and she’s an interesting character.

Here’s the thing: if you build a good character, it shouldn’t matter what their gender is. In the end, what really matters is how the character is presented. I aspire to be a writer myself and I have actively sought out textbooks, seminars, and even enrolled in college writing classes to better understand the process of creating a memorable story. One thing that is repeated over and over is the process of character building. You never, ever, start with the political message of your story or any other soap box message that you want to get out there. Characters need to be built as human beings. You need to start, first and foremost, with the core of your character. At the heart of every person are desires, dreams, experiences, memories, and talents that make them individual. We are shaped by the world around us, influenced by the people in our lives, and we grow through adversity. If you build a character starting with adversity that character has nothing to strengthen them against it. Everything from that point will feel forced and victory will fall flat.
Politics have honestly tainted this aspect of gaming. When gamers sit down to play a game they typically don’t want current issues to slap them in the face. We get enough social justice drama every time we turn on the TV, go to class, sit on the bus, or even log into social media. Gamers generally sit down to get away from this world and the drama within it. When you start throwing divisive issues into games you start to divide the gamers. It’s already happening within our communities, and it seems to happen more when developers make “inclusiveness” the cornerstone of any project. In trying to be inclusive, these developers are actually being divisive and sending their own fanbases at one another’s throats. What really doesn’t help this problem is that 9/10 games featuring female leads focus, CONSTANTLY, on the fact that they’re women and the world doesn’t think they can do anything. The greatest struggle of a female lead is so rarely anything but her own gender and which pretty boy she should date that it’s an expected cliche at this point.Video games are fantasy worlds where we write the rule. Create a world where being a female isn’t a big deal and find a new plot point; it isn’t that hard.
No, really, it isn’t. Take for example Suikoden V. The main character is a male, yes, but he is the prince of a QUEENdom.
In his world, females are regarded as the stronger sex and males are looked down upon. Is it touched upon? Yes. Is it the only problem that the protagonist faces? Nope. Is it even a big deal? Not at all. The game focuses on political sabotage, intrigue, treachery, family, friendship, and yes even a little romance. The gender issue takes 5 minutes to address and it’s only to set the context of the world being presented. It’s a fantastic game and through showing, not telling. It brings the player into the main character’s struggle and presents an argument of strength of character.
Here’s the bottom line:
Character customThere are games in which you can have your personal inclusion. Games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Dragon’s Dogma, etc. all let you create your own character, and you can come up with a whole plethora of personal feels to inject into those characters and they’ll still be good games. There’s a whole realm of games with stories that are modeled in such a way that anyone can feel included regardless of how they see themselves and the world around them. There obviously is a demand for it and there’s several developers and studios have taken great lengths to ensure that that demand is satisfied. However, there are other games whose formulas suffer by trying to add inclusion into them.
Games like Final Fantasy, Tales of, Legend of Zelda, Drakengard, etc. all focus on telling the story of someone else’s character. Just because the character isn’t a brunette girl with a mild case of OCD and a pet cat named Mudkip doesn’t mean I can’t still get invested in that character. When I sit down to play a game like Zelda, Final Fantasy, Tales, etc. I’m in it for the story of an established character in a world that I enjoy. I know what to expect out of the formula, I appreciate the game’s brand of story-telling, and I enjoy being able to pull away from the drama of this world for a time. As a gamer, I just want a break from all the divisive garbage going on in the world. If the character that I reach out to as a way to pull me away from this world happens to be a guy, I’m not going to take offense to it. Just take me away from the nonsense and into a different world until I’m sane enough to face reality again.

Kelly

I was born and raised in a traditional Christian household, educated privately, and brought up with a passion for Christ. The works of CS Lewis and Tolkien were my greatest influences. I aspire to become a published fictional author, hopefully illustrating my own work as well. Christ is the center of my universe and my faith is the lens in which I look through in regards to everything. As far as games go I am swayed best towards fantasy/action/rpg's.

19 Comments

  1. Amanda Bizeau on October 18, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    I’m a little late to this party, but I wanted to say that I agree with a lot of this article. I remember being genuinely surprised when I explored certain video game fandoms and discovered the rage monsters who wanted more female representation (and usually in a manner that made them “strong” in a very one-dimensional way). I just liked the characters and stories! It didn’t matter what the lead protagonist’s gender was.

    I was more concerned with how believable the characters’ relationships were, and if I could relate or even be interested in their personal struggles. For a generation that claims gender doesn’t matter, our SJWs sure seem to shout about it a lot…

    Oh, also, the “personality of a paper cup nailed to a saltine cracker” might be my new favorite metaphor ever. 🙂

  2. Michael Lujan on September 29, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Great article. I really enjoy this discussion because I tend to think that there needs to be some changes to leads in games, even if not going strictly male/female, but usually when it’s a male it’s a hardened guy like Marcus Phoenix in Gears of War, Snake from Metal Gear or Geralt from the Witcher, and Kelly touched on several problems with female leads already. I think more variety is in order with protagonists, even with personality and not just gender stereotypes.

    I had a question, though, for Kelly or anyone who wants to answer. Do you like the feature in games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout etc., where they let you choose the gender of your protagonist? When it comes to talking about male or female leads I’ve wondered if the way these games do it is a good idea, or more of a way to appease everyone and not offend anyone by choosing a gender for the hero (Which may be their intention but it tends to work). Is this style preferable to forcing a female/male lead on the players?

    I like when games allow you to choose, because it does change the perspective sometimes, and other times even though the game default may be a male lead, the female lead just ends up being better (I loved female Shepard in Mass Effect!) Obviously, this style can’t work for every game, but do you like when a game gives you the option?

    • Zero Tolerance on September 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      One day I will play as FemShep (fans say she’s better than man-Shep).

      I have noticed that, compared to games like Red Dead Redemption and Witcher, games that allow choices of gender or multiple protagonists tend to be more shallow than a focused narrative.

      It might be safe to say that allowing players to choose their gender is worse than no choice.

      • Michael Lujan on October 6, 2016 at 8:32 pm

        I enjoyed FemShep more mostly because of the voice actor. I mean, other than that difference the game basically plays the same.

        I don’t think I agree that the games are more shallow. Compared to a game like Red Dead Redemption most games, stories, characters won’t appear as fleshed out and real because that game was amazing. But I ran into the same problem in Dragon Age that I did with Witcher: I got bored after a while. Not because the games were bad, but when there’s so much to do, I tend to just need a week or two off the game because I lose interest. To me, at least, in these two games, whether my hero was my choice or a male by default didn’t change the experience.

        While I agree that some games that let you choose are probably weaker, I don’t think it can just be thrown across the entire spectrum of games. I do see what you’re saying, though!

    • Kelly on October 2, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      I only played the first DA and I didn’t even finish it to be completely honest. There were some…other elements of pandering that I found distasteful and some content that I felt that, as a Christian, I shouldn’t be even putting in my household. Different strokes for different folks, but when certain things pop up in my games I generally eject them and toss them back at GameStop for a refund or in-store credit. XD;

      BUT I do appreciate it in games like Pokemon and Harvest Moon type games. In Pokemon, the story doesn’t really require the trainer to do anything outside of the realm of possibility. As a farmer it’s the same thing. As an athletic female I know that we are /not/ able to do things like swing heavy swords or wear heavy armor- so a lot of the games with women doing that grind me the wrong way because physically, those women would have back problems, hip problems, torn ACL’s, etc. Perhaps I’m too realistic but I know that we ladies are just not built for the hard combat that most game heroes have to go through.

      So the long and short answer is: It depends on the context. If the role requires sword-slinging, heavy armor, and lifting allies to carry them from danger- leave it to the boys. If the role is flexible and can reasonably be done by a lady- I’m all for it. I do tend to think WAY too much into things, admittedly, but I used to boffer and I know that a lot of my current problems (bad hips, sore back) come from doing things to prove I could (back in the days when I thought I could out-perform men) and I’m paying the price for it. A lot of the hero ladies would be limping from their early 30’s and onward.

    • Kelly A. Bornstedt on October 2, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      I only played the first DA and I didn’t even finish it to be
      completely honest. There were some…other elements of pandering that I
      found distasteful and some content that I felt that, as a Christian, I
      shouldn’t be even putting in my household. Different strokes for
      different folks, but when certain things pop up in my games I generally
      eject them and toss them back at GameStop for a refund or in-store
      credit. XD;

      BUT I do appreciate it in games like Pokemon and Harvest Moon type
      games. In Pokemon, the story doesn’t really require the trainer to do
      anything outside of the realm of possibility. As a farmer it’s the same
      thing. As an athletic female I know that we are /not/ able to do things
      like swing heavy swords or wear heavy armor- so a lot of the games with
      women doing that grind me the wrong way because physically, those women
      would have back problems, hip problems, torn ACL’s, etc. Perhaps I’m too
      realistic but I know that we ladies are just not built for the hard
      combat that most game heroes have to go through.

      So the long and short answer is: It depends on the context. If the
      role requires sword-slinging, heavy armor, and lifting allies to carry
      them from danger- leave it to the boys. If the role is flexible and can
      reasonably be done by a lady- I’m all for it. I do tend to think WAY too
      much into things, admittedly, but I used to boffer and I know that a
      lot of my current problems (bad hips, sore back) come from doing things
      to prove I could (back in the days when I thought I could out-perform
      men) and I’m paying the price for it. A lot of the hero ladies would be
      limping from their early 30’s and onward.

      • Michael Lujan on October 6, 2016 at 8:27 pm

        I honestly had never really thought about whether or not women would be able to functionally carry out the actions that they’re doing in-game. I do appreciate the choice, however, especially since in some cases the men would be suffering from the same injuries you described if they actually had to accomplish the game goal in all the armor. Yes, men fought in armor like this throughout history, but they didn’t fight many dragons or mages or fall from great heights and just walk it off.

        I guess my desire for realism isn’t super strong in games like ME, DA, Fallout, etc., because when you get hurt you just apply a medpack and you’re good. You just got shot in the face but your medigel will fix that right up haha.

        I do see your point, though. While I don’t think it will necessarily affect the way I approach games, I do think it’ll get me thinking more about whether people would realistically be able to carry these types of actions out.

        • Kelly A. Bornstedt on October 6, 2016 at 9:05 pm

          I do appreciate the choice, in some cases, but I typically get annoyed when they’re put into the hero role if better suited to the physical capabilities and character of a man. I applaud games that have ladies as magic-users, archers, and duel-wielding light armor fighters. To be honest- there are a lot of unreasonable things that happen (like the hookshot in LoZ would rip Link’s arm out of socket, the iron boots would likely lead to a lot of problems, etc.) but there is a realm of believably when it comes to fantasy that female leads generally blow past in armor that barely covers their chest and backsides.

          For me, it’s a lot of factors. There are mental factors, behavior, etc. I just appreciate when the lady characters are depicted as characters, not pandering devices. If the role suites- great, but there shouldn’t be a quota to be met. It eats away at the quality of characters and games.

          • Michael Lujan on October 6, 2016 at 9:40 pm

            I completely agree that I like it when females (and males for that matter) are good characters, first. I don’t mind so much who the lead is, as long as they’re characters that make me want to learn more about them and be on this adventure with them, whatever that may be.

            If a game doesn’t give me a choice but the lead character, and supporting characters for that matter, are fleshed out and people that I begin to care about then I’m good. I don’t like feeling that a video game, or other media, are simply putting a female in a role because they want to seem more diverse. I don’t know if you played the newer Tomb Raider games, but I actually like Lara Croft in those. Going through the adventure with her, especially in the 2013 reboot, where she’s thrown into such a drastic situation and has to evolve and adapt to what’s happening was a great experience.



  3. Preacher on September 20, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    Kelly, fantastic article. Well written, purposeful and thought out.
    I really respect everything you said.

    • Kelly on October 2, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Thank you, sir!

    • Kelly A. Bornstedt on October 2, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      Thank you, Sir!

  4. YuDe Davis-Hester on September 20, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    I want good female character leads. I also love good male character leads. I’m not asking for much. Just more good, and more like me. No, don’t treat me like some special snowflake. Just give me more, and it isn’t so much to ask that the more I get resemble me.

    • Kelly A. Bornstedt on October 2, 2016 at 7:33 pm

      I just want good characters with reasonable limitations regarded. I don’t need to have myself reflected in every character- it’s not my story. I just want a good plot, lovable characters, good game play, and some eye candy graphics.

      • YuDe Davis-Hester on October 8, 2016 at 10:44 pm

        I don’t want every character to reflect me either, but I do like to see important parts of me get explored in fiction

  5. Stan Faryna on September 20, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Starting a conversation can be awkward.

    I appreciate your reflection, Kelly.

    As you suggest, manipulative and insincere marketing strategies are hardly an answer to the very real disparities and problematics which consume gender politics. In fact, they tend to be offensive and degrading as you illustrate in your ponderance of Final Fantasy X2. It’s not helpful to the holy vision of the profound human context in which we participate. God blesses us, male and female, and God calls us, male and female, to be wonderful, powerful and holy.

    In Genesis 1, it is written…

    27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    Aside, I find the term, “Social Justice Warrior”, to be problematic. As if there was something wrong with “social justice” per se. Yes, the ungodly vision of social justice is problematic. But, surely, the righteousness which causes God joy is social justice. The care of orphans and Widows, for example, is called true religion. And Job, a social justice warrior by his and God’s account, was a righteous man in the eyes of the Lord.

    Perhaps, we need to ponder what a might be a truthful, useful and uplifting vision of a dignified, excellent and holy woman – a vision which illuminates what inclusivity should look like. Obviously, Mary, mother of Jesus, is the crowning glory of woman. But also worthy of our study is the description of the excellent wife in Proverbs 31:10-31. She is not foolish, clumsy, useless, careless, weak, stupid, furious, etc.

    • Kelly on September 20, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      Exactly. God created Men and Women to be different- but we are by no means unequal to each other. We are two halves to one whole (“the two shall become one”) and each half has its own role to play within a relationship and within society. Female characters that actually represent the female half are to be admired. We’re the caretakers, the healers, the strategists, etc. Men are built to protect, to defend, and to work hard. We need them, they need us. There are just some things that men can do that women cannot and visa-versa. We are equally unequal to each other and that’s a strength- not a weakness. Too many female leads are just women trying to be men and that completely defeats the purpose.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on the social justice warrior thing. I abide by the definition: so·cial jus·tice
      noun
      noun: social justice
      1. justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.
      It is not our place to distribute wealth, opportunities, or privileges. If someone works hard and gains a fortune- that’s their business. Our business as a society is to make sure that there is an equality in opportunity- not in outcome. Outcome is based on the individual. There will always be individuals who see their fellow man in a bad way regardless on what they base it on (race, gender, social status, etc.). In general, society does not reward people like that. Tearing down the successful to help the poor does nothing but create two poor people. I don’t believe that anyone in the Bible could be called a SJW. They were warriors for justice, but society changes on a whim and we are in the world- not of it. It’s not our place and that’s made perfectly clear. We help the poor- but as individuals.

      The Bible has so many strong women in it. Ruth’s an excellent example, Mary, etc. And they’re strong as women, not as women trying to out-do men. It’s just a silly thing to focus on to be honest.

    • Kelly A. Bornstedt on October 2, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Exactly. God created Men and Women to be different- but we are by no
      means unequal to each other. We are two halves to one whole (“the two
      shall become one”) and each half has its own role to play within a
      relationship and within society. Female characters that actually
      represent the female half are to be admired. We’re the caretakers, the
      healers, the strategists, etc. Men are built to protect, to defend, and
      to work hard. We need them, they need us. There are just some things
      that men can do that women cannot and visa-versa. We are equally unequal
      to each other and that’s a strength- not a weakness. Too many female
      leads are just women trying to be men and that completely defeats the
      purpose.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on the social justice warrior thing. I abide by the definition: so·cial jus·tice

      noun

      noun: social justice

      1. justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.

      It is not our place to distribute wealth, opportunities, or privileges.
      If someone works hard and gains a fortune- that’s their business. Our
      business as a society is to make sure that there is an equality in
      opportunity- not in outcome. Outcome is based on the individual. There
      will always be individuals who see their fellow man in a bad way
      regardless on what they base it on (race, gender, social status, etc.).
      In general, society does not reward people like that. Tearing down the
      successful to help the poor does nothing but create two poor people. I
      don’t believe that anyone in the Bible could be called a SJW. They were
      warriors for justice, but society changes on a whim and we are in the
      world- not of it. It’s not our place and that’s made perfectly clear. We
      help the poor- but as individuals.

      The Bible has so many strong women in it. Ruth’s an excellent
      example, Mary, etc. And they’re strong as women, not as women trying to
      out-do men. It’s just a silly thing to focus on to be honest.

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