Mainlining Heroines

Female Protagonists!

All right, so before we begin in earnest, some ground rules:

  • This blog is in no way meant to support or counter the arguments of a Ms. A. Sarkeesian. Lord knows the internet's full of that (as well as being just full of it in general) already. I know how threads on the topic of the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video series tend to snowball into avalanches, so this is the last time I'll be mentioning it.
  • For that matter, this is a Mento blog. If you wanted an earnest, well-researched, serious social studies piece about feminism in the games industry this is probably not the place to find it. Not that I'll be calling everyone 'skirts' and comparing and contrasting their ability to make sandwiches either. The reason for this is similar to the above: I lack the knowledge and expertise to make any sort of decisive case for feminism and attempting to shoehorn that argument in is likely to turn this innocuous observational blog about female main characters into a poopstorm. I'd become the Ark of the Covenant, in that I'd be the target of every dude in a fedora. Yeah, I'm a wuss.

So rather than actively deciding to jump on board the whole "more women in the industry" train to internet infamy and misfortune (though I'd be very much on their side should this conflict escalate beyond its already irrational current point) this blog came about due to a simple observation I've made about the games I've played so far this year. Specifically, the five games I've beaten that came out in 2013. Each one, without exception, had a female protagonist.

Of course, it gets a little more technical than that on closer viewing. Which then lead to a secondary observation: Each of these games employs a female protagonist differently, with a different approach to garnering interest in a feminine main character, and in one case was entirely by my own decision via a character creator. All the same, I've inadvertently hit upon five very disparate approaches to building a game around a female protagonist.

Tomb Raider - "AAA Asininity"

"With Lara, you'll want to revise how marketing departments for major publishers operate."

Tomb Raider might be the most interesting case, as it is the only 2013 AAA game I've currently played this year. I plan to play more, of course, but circumstances are such that I tend to focus on games I can buy as well as food, rather than instead of food. As an AAA game, Tomb Raider had the biggest challenge to overcome in presenting its female heroine - the perennial Lara Croft - as a worthy protagonist to the millions of male teenagers and dudebros the industry's tunnel vision continues to be inexplicably fixated on. A hot topic of many a recent Jimquisition, the core publisher-led industry is losing traction to the no-longer-really-burgeoning Indie market because it seemingly no longer cares about anyone that sits outside of what it perceives to be the chief target demographic of 14-25 year old males. So we get games like Fuse which are focus-tested to mediocrity and games like Remember Me which almost couldn't get off the ground with its female hero Nilin in case her heterosexual advances towards male characters made male gamers "uncomfortable".

I find all this endlessly fascinating. I've long since grown out of concerns about cooties or how women are these inscrutable, unpredictable creatures or how straight I might actually be really. But more so than that, how much of a kerfuffle Tomb Raider's pre-release marketing made of its main character despite her long, well-established legacy. We're all familiar with the "you'll want to protect her" gaffe, but that really just came about due to a producer - one who was presumably involved with many earlier Tomb Raiders - being suddenly informed that he had to justify why anyone would want to buy a game where you play as a girl. Specifically, one that wasn't overly sexualized and featured in a far more grounded story (well, until the samurai mummies) about survival. The ludicrousness of that situation was presumably what lead to that regrettable, inexplicable reason we were given for why gamers should want to play a Tomb Raider game. Because "you shoot stuff and collect treasure and solve puzzles and have fun" no longer cut it, for whatever reason.

Anyway, the barest of research into the Tomb Raider franchise would tell you that the reason Lara Croft isn't Larry Croft is that the original designers thought it would be a neat change of pace for their new kind of action game. They placated the squeamish publishers by giving Lara Croft unnecessary conical bosoms and convincing them that her sex appeal would sell copies, which it did. Obviously that approach couldn't work as well today, with everyone on edge about sexism and sexual objectification, which is why we got the far more insidious form of "she's too vulnerable" sexism instead. Hooray for progress.

In all seriousness, this is but one of many concerning issues AAA games are having right now with regards to their marketing and design decisions. Those million dollar games have been losing out to the smaller types on Steam and XBLA/PSN and iOS and what have you for a while now, and so we see them desperately trying to grasp onto male adolescents like a creepy uncle. It's probably only a matter of time until the next wave of mascot platformers with attitude show up.

Project X Zone - "Ensemble Cast"

This game was such a glorious mess.

Conversely Project X Zone, for better or worse, doesn't give the slightest care about how it intends to reach as wide an audience as possible. The game is happy to get as esoteric as it likes to appeal instead to a smaller extant fanbase familiar with the many games featured, rather than attempting to branch out and focus on any kind of accessibility. Unfortunately, this means the game can get awfully pandering at times, especially where buxom female characters are concerned.

It does have a female main character though - Mii Kouryuuji is the scion of an influential family to whom the game's big MacGuffin dimension-hopping stone belongs and is the character most often at the center of the frequent battles that drive the plot forward. It's hard to make a case for Project X Zone having a central protagonist, given it has a population of around 60 playable characters that are added and removed from the party at various intervals. Mii and her ninja bodyguard/tutor Kogoro are unique in that they were specifically created for the game, whereas everybody else is a guest from the respective ludographies of Japanese publishing giants Capcom, Namco Bandai and Sega. The game jokes about her "fan service", but she's integral to what little story Project X Zone has and she does eventually awaken to a power that allows her to save the day. Jiggling animations and revealing costumes aside, the game does at least acknowledge that a female lead character can be a courageous and competent hero in her own right.

But I really can't make the case for Project X Zone being socially progressive. There's almost enough PG-rated lasciviousness in there to make a body pillow enthusiast throw up their hands in disgust. It's all done with a certain sense of goofy fun that doesn't go out of its way to diminish its female characters as weaker or less intelligent than their male counterparts, excepting a particularly guileless princess or two, so it's almost excusable in that regard. Yet both it and Dragon's Crown are facing the same kind of criticism here: though clearly no offense was meant, it's hard to continue to exonerate this sort of behavior. For women, it feels exclusionary, like they're strangers in a strangely pneumatic land. For men, it feels too pandering, like someone decided the tight gameplay and wonderful artwork alone weren't enough reason to want to play a game without a pair of anime boobs bouncing around in our face to seal the deal. It's a tad insulting to both genders, frankly.

Shadowrun Returns - "Blank Slate"

I don't think I talk about the actual game at all in this bit. It's like the Matrix meets Lord of the Rings? Maybe it's better I don't say anything.

Shadowrun Returns, like a great many other Western RPGs, allows you to craft a character out of the ether, choosing every element of their composition from scratch. This is ostensibly to allow the player to project themselves into a different universe, creating a facsimile of themselves (or how they choose to perceive themselves) that makes decisions on their behalf. I've never appreciated that approach to creating a relatable protagonist. There is, of course, a second school of thought on tabula rasa characters: That we simply invent our own narrative heroes, possibly ones that couldn't contrast with the real us any further, and let them wreak havoc on a world that never anticipated them. This is the approach I find I greatly prefer.

But then I have trouble being evil in games. This is in part due to how game writers equate "evil" with "lunatic". Sure it's fun to be an unpredictable psycho, but only for a limited extent in a game rich with dialogue and NPC interaction which you're missing out on by killing everything. After all, you can only derive so much enjoyment from Law of the West by shooting everyone in the head as soon as they start strolling across the screen. Sneaky and selfish are better applications of an evil temperament, where the goal is to blackmail people and earn money and power by being generally underhanded, but even that wears out its welcome as you cease to be sympathetic with the "hero" and the decisions they're making. So I usually stick with the do-gooder archetype more often than not. It means being sent to every corner of the globe and going out of my way to help people, but then it wouldn't be much of a game if you just told every quest sponsor to "deal with it".

So what this is all leading to is the revelation that I usually pick a female character in games where the player is expected to generate their own protagonist. I wouldn't be so patronizing to say it was because of the novelty, or so chauvinistic to say it's because I like having a pretty lady front and center to stare at as she goes about saving the world. Rather, a female hero is one that I'm always going to have trouble relating to, but no problem emphasizing with. (Or maybe vice versa?) She's not me, since she's a completely different gender (or a different gender construct at least) and so it's easier to give her motivations and desires that occasionally run completely perpendicular to my own. She feels more like a fictional character I've helped create, rather than some self-insertion clone. I can absolutely understand why gamers would choose to go a different direction with their generated characters, but I've personally never felt comfortable projecting myself into my video game adventures and I've found that switched genders is the easiest way to distance the player from the creation in that respect. I figure it's all fine and dandy as I don't go all Pygmalion on one of these heroines some day.

Super House of Dead Ninjas - "Just Because"

Sure, there's a creepy skeleton that hits on you a lot, but there's barely any mention of the heroine's gender.

This relates more to the old Tomb Raider than the new one, and games like the original Metroid, where the hero was chosen to be female simply because. With Super House of Dead Ninjas's Crimson Ninja, who might as well be a non-entity in terms of character and motivation right up until the ending, the decision to make her a woman seems like an entirely superficial one. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this approach either.

In fact, I'd go so far to say that creations like the 8-bit Samus Aran and Ms. Pacman and the Crimson Ninja - old school video game heroines who were women for stylistic reasons as frequently as narrative ones - are why modern resistance to female main characters is all the more baffling. The key, I believe, is in how little plot these older (or deliberately old-fashioned for nostalgia's sake) games tend to have. Players don't have to deal with detailed motivations and love interests and dramatic moments and it's far easier to relate to some mute badass out for gold or fame or revenge regardless of their gender. As the game industry tries to evolve its narrative elements and create more meaningful characters with deeper backstories, we see more and more people who are apprehensive about stepping into the shoes of a female protagonist and adopting her views and wants. Which means this problem isn't going to go away any time soon, unfortunately. Not unless we all decide to do away with big story-focused games at least, which may not be such a bad idea depending on your view.

Gone Home - "Empathy"

You can't Gone Home again. Though I might if they add that eagerly anticipated "Elebits Mode" as a New Game+ option.

This leads us to Gone Home. There's a dichotomy here, as the two most important characters are a very well developed (but not in that way) female character and another female character who might as well be a voiceless cipher for the player. We experience the travails of the younger Sam Greenbriar through her diary entries which unlock as the player, as older sister Kaitlin "Katie" Greenbriar, comes across various notes and items of interest around the conspicuously empty house her family had moved into during her time away.

Sam's the real star of the game. The entire plot, such as it is, is focused on her and the developments in her life in the year since Katie left home. The secret behind her disappearance becomes gradually clearer as more of what's been happening is brought to light. This is a game that absolutely requires you to be involved with the story she's telling through her journal entries, as the exploration gameplay is built towards aiding your understanding of her situation. It is the motivation to continue searching each room of the house and instills a purpose behind checking every drawer and looking at every scrap of paper. That the game is so contingent on the player caring about a teenage girl and her problems is amazing for a number of reasons.

It's actually kind of interesting how much of a non-entity Katie is in comparison. Though most of her belongings are still taped up inside boxes from the move, you find the occasional personal artifact that suggests little more than a well-behaved, straight A student. It does help flesh out the little sister character by providing this shadow she's had to live beneath, but it seems like a conscious decision was made to make Katie as uninteresting as possible; to shift the game's spotlight onto Sam instead. It's one of many curious inferences you can make in the game from the large amount of subtext it packs inside its many documents, such as finding two identical pieces of sex education coursework about the menstrual cycle and discovering how the two sisters independently approached it.

It's been curious to see the reception this game has gotten since its release. As much as I enjoyed it, the critical acclaim almost seems hyperbolic in scope. I do think it breaks new ground in this continuing trend I've noticed with Indie games that are discovering how little gameplay they can get away with including in order to emphasize their narrative elements, but I wonder how much disappointment such a novel approach is generating as well, especially with that moderately high price tag and short duration. I don't doubt it'll remain a divisive game.

The Bit at the End

Lara and Samus as WVGCW's "Chozo Raiders" tag team. Though given their disastrous PR of late, that tag team could've easily been called "You'll Want to Protect the Baby".

In conclusion: Fuck Jerry "The King" Lawler. "Russian hands and Roman fingers"? What the hell is that about, seriously? Stop drooling over Table-san while you're at it, weirdo.

43 Comments
44 Comments
Posted by Video_Game_King

@mento said:
  • Not that I'll be calling everyone 'skirts' and comparing and contrasting their ability to make sandwiches either.

So no Resident Evil in this blog? Gotcha.

Posted by Chaser324

Brilliant title!

Moderator
Posted by Mento

@video_game_king: At least Resident Evil doesn't have to worry about its sexism. It has way more problems with its racism to keep people distracted.

Moderator
Posted by Hunter5024

This inspired me to go through my list of the games I've played this year and see how many of them had female protagonists. Of the 22 I've beat, 15 had playable female characters, 6 did not, and 1 didn't have any characters. Those numbers aren't too shabby.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I want to clap you on your back for your two introductory points on feminism in the gaming industry. You've essentially described my own feelings on why I don't participate in those kinds of discussions, just much purdier than I could put into words.

I think I really dug Samus as a woman because it didn't matter one iota what gender she was - she just kicked ass. I've gotta say, though, you've presented a hell of a compelling case in regards to playing a female character in games where you have the option to create your own - that kind of empathy with a character is a fascinating idea, particularly when it crosses gender lines. I might have to take a cue from this and try it a few times myself.

Moderator
Edited by Brodehouse

@mento said:

So what this is all leading to is the revelation that I usually pick a female character in games where the player is expected to generate their own protagonist. I wouldn't be so patronizing to say it was because of the novelty, or as chauvinistic to say it's because I like having a pretty lady front and center to stare at as she goes about saving the world. Rather, a female hero is one that I'm always going to have trouble relating to, but no problem emphasizing with. (Or maybe vice versa?) She's not me, since she's a completely different gender (or a different gender construct at least) and so it's easier to give her motivations and desires that occasionally run completely perpendicular to my own. She feels more like a fictional character I've helped create, rather than some self-insertion clone. I can absolutely understand why gamers would choose to go a different direction with their generated characters, but I've personally never felt comfortable projecting myself into my video game adventures and I've found that switched genders is the easiest way to distance the player from the creation in that respect. I figure it's all fine and dandy as I don't go all Pygmalion on one of these heroines some day.

I'm pulling this block of text out because it accurately describes how I feel. I've found that exact same feeling, where I can better create a character who exists as a separate personality from myself by reducing the ways I relate to them physically. Playing Commander Catherine Shepard allowed me to think of a different level than if I was playing Commander Brode Shepard, by disconnecting myself from the PC, but still having controls over the PC's personality, I felt like I was able to create an original character that is in no way an avatar of myself. Taking this another step out of gender is creating characters of different skin color than my own, I did it in Dragon Age 2 (mostly because darker skin hides low quality textures), and I thought it made for a better experience. The more different my character is from me physically, the more I can identify them as having a distinct personality rather than merely extensions of myself.

Also watch out for Samus. She hears the baby in her head, it counsels her, it understands.

Actually, it's funny Samus comes up, because I think she's been overrated for years. I think she was a cipher character for most of her existence, and people only like her because they think of her as extensions of themselves. Just like another silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman. Is Samus actually the tough-as-nails, take-no-nonsense bounty hunter that Brad idealized her as, or is she just a cipher?

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@mento said:

@video_game_king: At least Resident Evil doesn't have to worry about its sexism. It has way more problems with its racism to keep people distracted.

Really, Resident Evil is pretty equal-opportunity when it comes to zombie slaying. At no point are the female characters shown as less capable and most of the fanservicy bits are relegated to bonus costumes. For the most part.

I enjoyed this write up, and I don't feel particularly interested in speaking about what does and doesn't offend women, being that I am not one. I do know that I find Tomb Raider's weird fetishization of killing Laura in explicitly violent ways to be upsetting, and I do know that I think Dragon's Crown's massive boobchests are a bit much. So anyways. Might and Magic X.

Posted by TobbRobb

@mento said:

So what this is all leading to is the revelation that I usually pick a female character in games where the player is expected to generate their own protagonist. I wouldn't be so patronizing to say it was because of the novelty, or as chauvinistic to say it's because I like having a pretty lady front and center to stare at as she goes about saving the world. Rather, a female hero is one that I'm always going to have trouble relating to, but no problem emphasizing with. (Or maybe vice versa?) She's not me, since she's a completely different gender (or a different gender construct at least) and so it's easier to give her motivations and desires that occasionally run completely perpendicular to my own. She feels more like a fictional character I've helped create, rather than some self-insertion clone. I can absolutely understand why gamers would choose to go a different direction with their generated characters, but I've personally never felt comfortable projecting myself into my video game adventures and I've found that switched genders is the easiest way to distance the player from the creation in that respect. I figure it's all fine and dandy as I don't go all Pygmalion on one of these heroines some day.

I'm pulling this block of text out because it accurately describes how I feel. I've found that exact same feeling, where I can better create a character who exists as a separate personality from myself by reducing the ways I relate to them physically. Playing Commander Catherine Shepard allowed me to think of a different level than if I was playing Commander Brode Shepard, by disconnecting myself from the PC, but still having controls over the PC's personality, I felt like I was able to create an original character that is in no way an avatar of myself. Taking this another step out of gender is creating characters of different skin color than my own, I did it in Dragon Age 2 (mostly because darker skin hides low quality textures), and I thought it made for a better experience. The more different my character is from me physically, the more I can identify them as having a distinct personality rather than merely extensions of myself.

I'm just quoting these posts because they convey exactly what I feel better than I feel like writing. I have so much trouble playing as a self insert, and have no desire to do so. So I always end up taking it all the way and distancing my already distant character even more just to make it more interesting. Doing this also brings a lot more variety to the characters I play depending on the game and atmosphere, instead of always making similar decision just based on my own personality.

Posted by believer258

@mento said:

So what this is all leading to is the revelation that I usually pick a female character in games where the player is expected to generate their own protagonist. I wouldn't be so patronizing to say it was because of the novelty, or as chauvinistic to say it's because I like having a pretty lady front and center to stare at as she goes about saving the world. Rather, a female hero is one that I'm always going to have trouble relating to, but no problem emphasizing with. (Or maybe vice versa?) She's not me, since she's a completely different gender (or a different gender construct at least) and so it's easier to give her motivations and desires that occasionally run completely perpendicular to my own. She feels more like a fictional character I've helped create, rather than some self-insertion clone. I can absolutely understand why gamers would choose to go a different direction with their generated characters, but I've personally never felt comfortable projecting myself into my video game adventures and I've found that switched genders is the easiest way to distance the player from the creation in that respect. I figure it's all fine and dandy as I don't go all Pygmalion on one of these heroines some day.

I'm pulling this block of text out because it accurately describes how I feel. I've found that exact same feeling, where I can better create a character who exists as a separate personality from myself by reducing the ways I relate to them physically. Playing Commander Catherine Shepard allowed me to think of a different level than if I was playing Commander Brode Shepard, by disconnecting myself from the PC, but still having controls over the PC's personality, I felt like I was able to create an original character that is in no way an avatar of myself. Taking this another step out of gender is creating characters of different skin color than my own, I did it in Dragon Age 2 (mostly because darker skin hides low quality textures), and I thought it made for a better experience. The more different my character is from me physically, the more I can identify them as having a distinct personality rather than merely extensions of myself.

Also watch out for Samus. She hears the baby in her head, it counsels her, it understands.

Actually, it's funny Samus comes up, because I think she's been overrated for years. I think she was a cipher character for most of her existence, and people only like her because they think of her as extensions of themselves. Just like another silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman. Is Samus actually the tough-as-nails, take-no-nonsense bounty hunter that Brad idealized her as, or is she just a cipher?

I don't know about "take no nonsense", but she's got to be tough as nails in some respect. She's got an entire army of space pirates quivering in their boots at her very presence. No, it's not direct characterization, but as the stories go she's fought and waded through plenty of dangers all by herself. She's evidently things like "brave" and "powerful", and it would be a safe bet to assume that she's curious about the world around her and determined to accomplish her goals. The only reason that she's on Tallon IV in Prime is to chase down Ridley, after all, and stays after his defeat to find and defeat Metroid Prime when her perfectly working space ship is literally a two minute walk away.

None of this means that she's a downright good, identifiable character. She might have taken that baby metroid in II to the Ceres station out of purely scientific or purely monetary interests, but those sorts of uncertainties do not mean that we can't safely determine some of her character traits.

Posted by Hailinel

@brodehouse said:

@mento said:

So what this is all leading to is the revelation that I usually pick a female character in games where the player is expected to generate their own protagonist. I wouldn't be so patronizing to say it was because of the novelty, or as chauvinistic to say it's because I like having a pretty lady front and center to stare at as she goes about saving the world. Rather, a female hero is one that I'm always going to have trouble relating to, but no problem emphasizing with. (Or maybe vice versa?) She's not me, since she's a completely different gender (or a different gender construct at least) and so it's easier to give her motivations and desires that occasionally run completely perpendicular to my own. She feels more like a fictional character I've helped create, rather than some self-insertion clone. I can absolutely understand why gamers would choose to go a different direction with their generated characters, but I've personally never felt comfortable projecting myself into my video game adventures and I've found that switched genders is the easiest way to distance the player from the creation in that respect. I figure it's all fine and dandy as I don't go all Pygmalion on one of these heroines some day.

I'm pulling this block of text out because it accurately describes how I feel. I've found that exact same feeling, where I can better create a character who exists as a separate personality from myself by reducing the ways I relate to them physically. Playing Commander Catherine Shepard allowed me to think of a different level than if I was playing Commander Brode Shepard, by disconnecting myself from the PC, but still having controls over the PC's personality, I felt like I was able to create an original character that is in no way an avatar of myself. Taking this another step out of gender is creating characters of different skin color than my own, I did it in Dragon Age 2 (mostly because darker skin hides low quality textures), and I thought it made for a better experience. The more different my character is from me physically, the more I can identify them as having a distinct personality rather than merely extensions of myself.

Also watch out for Samus. She hears the baby in her head, it counsels her, it understands.

Actually, it's funny Samus comes up, because I think she's been overrated for years. I think she was a cipher character for most of her existence, and people only like her because they think of her as extensions of themselves. Just like another silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman. Is Samus actually the tough-as-nails, take-no-nonsense bounty hunter that Brad idealized her as, or is she just a cipher?

I don't know about "take no nonsense", but she's got to be tough as nails in some respect. She's got an entire army of space pirates quivering in their boots at her very presence. No, it's not direct characterization, but as the stories go she's fought and waded through plenty of dangers all by herself. She's evidently things like "brave" and "powerful", and it would be a safe bet to assume that she's curious about the world around her and determined to accomplish her goals. The only reason that she's on Tallon IV in Prime is to chase down Ridley, after all, and stays after his defeat to find and defeat Metroid Prime when her perfectly working space ship is literally a two minute walk away.

None of this means that she's a downright good, identifiable character. She might have taken that baby metroid in II to the Ceres station out of purely scientific or purely monetary interests, but those sorts of uncertainties do not mean that we can't safely determine some of her character traits.

Whatever Samus began as, she's not really a cipher and hasn't been for many years. She had actual characterization in Fusion, to a lesser extent in Zero Mission (where there were cutscenes, but no dialogue), and Other M, and that characterization has been expanded on in other media. Samus may have started as a cipher, but she's grown into a defined personality over the years. Whether people like or appreciate that fact is another matter.

Posted by believer258

@hailinel: In Fusion, she did have some characterization but it wasn't much more than we already knew. We just knew that she had a past with some dude named Adam who is now dead.

As for Other M, bleh. God, that Ridley fight looked so stupid. As you established a week or two ago in a few posts, Ridley was supposed to be finally dead for good after Super Metroid, and it killed Samus's parents, but that really doesn't excuse the fainting in the least. You don't faint when you come across a creature you've killed four times already, it starts getting pretty routine by that point. It goes against everything established about her character beforehand.

Edited by Hailinel

@hailinel: In Fusion, she did have some characterization but it wasn't much more than we already knew. We just knew that she had a past with some dude named Adam who is now dead.

As for Other M, bleh. God, that Ridley fight looked so stupid. As you established a week or two ago in a few posts, Ridley was supposed to be finally dead for good after Super Metroid, and it killed Samus's parents, but that really doesn't excuse the fainting in the least. You don't faint when you come across a creature you've killed four times already, it starts getting pretty routine by that point. It goes against everything established about her character beforehand.

She doesn't faint, though. She remains conscious.

Posted by believer258

@hailinel: Barely. It seemed a lot like she fainted to me.

Regardless, her inaction is out of character.

Edited by Hailinel

@hailinel: Barely. It seemed a lot like she fainted to me.

Regardless, her inaction is out of character.

No, she's conscious the whole time. She freezes up and suffers a PTSD flashback, but she's awake the whole time. And it's not something I find out of character, either, as I find her reaction justifiable. But I've already said my piece on that.

Posted by believer258

@hailinel said:

@believer258 said:

@hailinel: Barely. It seemed a lot like she fainted to me.

Regardless, her inaction is out of character.

No, she's conscious the whole time. She freezes up and suffers a PTSD flashback, but she's awake the whole time. And it's not something I find out of character, either, as I find her reaction justifiable. But I've already said my piece on that.

Eh, well, arguing with you seems like arguing with a boulder (a good quality, mind), so I'll agree to disagree and move on.

Edited by Example1013

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

Edited by rebgav

I judge the greatness of a pun by how much it makes me want to punch the person who wrote it - with that in mind, the title of this blog is very, very good.

On the negative side, you wrote a blog about female protagonists and neglected to mention the title character of the best action game of the generation.

Compliment sandwich time; I also liked the cover art for Project X Zone. It looks like something which should be split in half and displayed on the sides of an arcade cabinet. Please forward this compliment to Capcom or Bamco.

Edited by Icicle7x3

@mento said:

So what this is all leading to is the revelation that I usually pick a female character in games where the player is expected to generate their own protagonist. I wouldn't be so patronizing to say it was because of the novelty, or as chauvinistic to say it's because I like having a pretty lady front and center to stare at as she goes about saving the world. Rather, a female hero is one that I'm always going to have trouble relating to, but no problem emphasizing with. (Or maybe vice versa?) She's not me, since she's a completely different gender (or a different gender construct at least) and so it's easier to give her motivations and desires that occasionally run completely perpendicular to my own. She feels more like a fictional character I've helped create, rather than some self-insertion clone. I can absolutely understand why gamers would choose to go a different direction with their generated characters, but I've personally never felt comfortable projecting myself into my video game adventures and I've found that switched genders is the easiest way to distance the player from the creation in that respect. I figure it's all fine and dandy as I don't go all Pygmalion on one of these heroines some day.

I'm pulling this block of text out because it accurately describes how I feel. I've found that exact same feeling, where I can better create a character who exists as a separate personality from myself by reducing the ways I relate to them physically. Playing Commander Catherine Shepard allowed me to think of a different level than if I was playing Commander Brode Shepard, by disconnecting myself from the PC, but still having controls over the PC's personality, I felt like I was able to create an original character that is in no way an avatar of myself. Taking this another step out of gender is creating characters of different skin color than my own, I did it in Dragon Age 2 (mostly because darker skin hides low quality textures), and I thought it made for a better experience. The more different my character is from me physically, the more I can identify them as having a distinct personality rather than merely extensions of myself.

Also watch out for Samus. She hears the baby in her head, it counsels her, it understands.

Actually, it's funny Samus comes up, because I think she's been overrated for years. I think she was a cipher character for most of her existence, and people only like her because they think of her as extensions of themselves. Just like another silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman. Is Samus actually the tough-as-nails, take-no-nonsense bounty hunter that Brad idealized her as, or is she just a cipher?

I only have one thing to say to this...

http://images.wikia.com/video-game-championship-wrestling/images/a/af/Samusentrance.gif

Actually I'll add a second. I think Samus certainly has aspects of both blank slate and her own character in the games, her character developed more and more as the games progressed. Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, Metroid Zero Mission, and even Metroid Other M expand on Samus' character quite a bit. Plus if you want to consider the Prime games, and who doesn't, there are Lores and Data you can scan that talk about Samus as well.

Posted by Video_Game_King

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

I don't even know how you could make a story-based game based on sandwich making (IE how do you do something that isn't just Cooking Mama's Gotten Kinda Lazy as of Late).

Posted by Rick_Fingers

Very well written and phenomenal title. Well done.

Posted by pyromagnestir

@example1013 said:

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

I don't even know how you could make a story-based game based on sandwich making (IE how do you do something that isn't just Cooking Mama's Gotten Kinda Lazy as of Late).

I'll take a whack at it. The protagonist is making sandwiches for their friend who happens to be a diabetic. Maybe they also have a peanut allergy. It's educational and a heart warming tale of love and/or friendship.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@video_game_king said:

@example1013 said:

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

I don't even know how you could make a story-based game based on sandwich making (IE how do you do something that isn't just Cooking Mama's Gotten Kinda Lazy as of Late).

I'll take a whack at it. The protagonist is making sandwiches for their friend who happens to be a diabetic. Maybe they also have a peanut allergy. It's educational and a heart warming tale of love and/or friendship.

Why not make it a procedurally generated game like Vib Ribbon or Audiosurf, wherein you have to build sandwiches based on the music you load into the game?

Posted by Icicle7x3

@pyromagnestir said:

@video_game_king said:

@example1013 said:

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

I don't even know how you could make a story-based game based on sandwich making (IE how do you do something that isn't just Cooking Mama's Gotten Kinda Lazy as of Late).

I'll take a whack at it. The protagonist is making sandwiches for their friend who happens to be a diabetic. Maybe they also have a peanut allergy. It's educational and a heart warming tale of love and/or friendship.

Why not make it a procedurally generated game like Vib Ribbon or Audiosurf, wherein you have to build sandwiches based on the music you load into the game?

How about you PLAY as the sandwich and at the start of the game an evil sorceress steals all the ingredients that make you whole and you need to run around and collect them.

Posted by Slag

@mento

first off great title.

re: super House of Dead Ninjas-

@mento said:

This relates more to the old Tomb Raider than the new one, and games like Metroid, where the hero was chosen to be female simply because. With Super House of Dead Ninjas's Crimson Ninja, who might as well be a non-entity in terms of character and motivation right up until the ending, the decision to make her a woman seems like an entirely superficial one. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this approach either.

I dunno man, I feel like you are giving old school games too much credit in this regard. Yes there was Samus and Ms Pacman and maybe they were out in there for more of the right reasons than some later female protagonists, but those two were really about it until Chun Li came along. There were just basically zero female leads so it wasn't like many devs were choosing female leads for stylistic reasons. When Lara Croft came along I remember that stuff being huge news, all over the national news etc.

And to be honest Samus's gender definitely felt like a very calculated move not just a superficial one. If it was really incidental I don't think the reveal would have been done the way it was. It was definitely a carrot my friends all shot for, we all heard the rumors about Samus being a woman (although in pre-internet gaming world the rumor was she got all the way naked in my town at the end of the game.) and Metroid was heavily played to see if it was true.

Posted by Example1013

@video_game_king said:

@pyromagnestir said:

@video_game_king said:

@example1013 said:

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

I don't even know how you could make a story-based game based on sandwich making (IE how do you do something that isn't just Cooking Mama's Gotten Kinda Lazy as of Late).

I'll take a whack at it. The protagonist is making sandwiches for their friend who happens to be a diabetic. Maybe they also have a peanut allergy. It's educational and a heart warming tale of love and/or friendship.

Why not make it a procedurally generated game like Vib Ribbon or Audiosurf, wherein you have to build sandwiches based on the music you load into the game?

How about you PLAY as the sandwich and at the start of the game an evil sorceress steals all the ingredients that make you whole and you need to run around and collect them.

But sandwiches are gender neutral, the protagonist needs to be female or this whole thing is way less offensive.

Posted by Icicle7x3

@icicle7x3 said:

@video_game_king said:

@pyromagnestir said:

@video_game_king said:

@example1013 said:

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

I don't even know how you could make a story-based game based on sandwich making (IE how do you do something that isn't just Cooking Mama's Gotten Kinda Lazy as of Late).

I'll take a whack at it. The protagonist is making sandwiches for their friend who happens to be a diabetic. Maybe they also have a peanut allergy. It's educational and a heart warming tale of love and/or friendship.

Why not make it a procedurally generated game like Vib Ribbon or Audiosurf, wherein you have to build sandwiches based on the music you load into the game?

How about you PLAY as the sandwich and at the start of the game an evil sorceress steals all the ingredients that make you whole and you need to run around and collect them.

But sandwiches are gender neutral, the protagonist needs to be female or this whole thing is way less offensive.

Can't we just put a bow on it?

Edited by Example1013

@example1013 said:

@icicle7x3 said:

@video_game_king said:

@pyromagnestir said:

@video_game_king said:

@example1013 said:

PROTAGONIZE MAKING A BETTER FUCKING SANDWICH.

I don't even know how you could make a story-based game based on sandwich making (IE how do you do something that isn't just Cooking Mama's Gotten Kinda Lazy as of Late).

I'll take a whack at it. The protagonist is making sandwiches for their friend who happens to be a diabetic. Maybe they also have a peanut allergy. It's educational and a heart warming tale of love and/or friendship.

Why not make it a procedurally generated game like Vib Ribbon or Audiosurf, wherein you have to build sandwiches based on the music you load into the game?

How about you PLAY as the sandwich and at the start of the game an evil sorceress steals all the ingredients that make you whole and you need to run around and collect them.

But sandwiches are gender neutral, the protagonist needs to be female or this whole thing is way less offensive.

Can't we just put a bow on it?

Deal.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@example1013 said:

@icicle7x3 said:

How about you PLAY as the sandwich and at the start of the game an evil sorceress steals all the ingredients that make you whole and you need to run around and collect them.

But sandwiches are gender neutral, the protagonist needs to be female or this whole thing is way less offensive.

Can't we just put a bow on it?

Why not just play as two pieces of bread, since that's the closest sandwich ingredient I can think of to a vagina?

Posted by Slag

@hailinel said:

@believer258 said:

@hailinel: Barely. It seemed a lot like she fainted to me.

Regardless, her inaction is out of character.

No, she's conscious the whole time. She freezes up and suffers a PTSD flashback, but she's awake the whole time. And it's not something I find out of character, either, as I find her reaction justifiable. But I've already said my piece on that.

Well the thing is you are both right about Samus.

She really was a blank slate more or less in the games for a long long time. And people saw what they wanted to see in her but subtly over time western Tv ads,Nintendo USA marketing, fan community, memes etc grew around her that came to define her a certain way. So when Nintendo finally decided to flesh her character a bit more out, western audiences felt betrayed because Nintendo's vision didn't match how we conceived her.

So is she out of character however she acts? Of course not, this is Nintendo's canon. But it understandably feels wrong to an audience that has defined her to themselves

To be honest when Wind Waker released it had a similar feel to it to me. Wind Waker was just so different from the rigid way, almost D&D like world, the West saw Hyrule that they knee jerked against it as soon as the screenshots hit the Net.

Or when we heard Mario speak in a Mickey Mouse high pitch voice for the first time. Or for that matter Mega Man.

that's the danger of trying to flesh out a previously blank template created in another culture. The better the aesthetics (graphics, story, sound) become in games, the more obvious the cultural differences are.

Edited by rebgav

@icicle7x3 said:

@example1013 said:

@icicle7x3 said:

How about you PLAY as the sandwich and at the start of the game an evil sorceress steals all the ingredients that make you whole and you need to run around and collect them.

But sandwiches are gender neutral, the protagonist needs to be female or this whole thing is way less offensive.

Can't we just put a bow on it?

Why not just play as two pieces of bread, since that's the closest sandwich ingredient I can think of to a vagina?

1) I am afraid to ask what sort of vaginas you are spending your time with.

2) I am disturbed by your lack of imagination. Of all the potential sandwich ingredients you could have chosen - bread?!

Posted by Example1013

@rebgav said:

@video_game_king said:

@icicle7x3 said:

@example1013 said:

@icicle7x3 said:

How about you PLAY as the sandwich and at the start of the game an evil sorceress steals all the ingredients that make you whole and you need to run around and collect them.

But sandwiches are gender neutral, the protagonist needs to be female or this whole thing is way less offensive.

Can't we just put a bow on it?

Why not just play as two pieces of bread, since that's the closest sandwich ingredient I can think of to a vagina?

1) I am afraid to ask what sort of vaginas you are spending your time with.

2) I am disturbed by your lack of imagination. Of all the potential sandwich ingredients you could have chosen - bread?!

Why, were you thinking like roast beef or something?

Posted by rebgav

@example1013: I am not getting involved. This is going nowhere good. I'll check in again when you guys start choosing condiments.

Edited by Video_Game_King

@rebgav:

1.) I said closest. That doesn't mean particularly close. Besides, the way I'm imagining the sandwich, the bread looks like a vagina.

2.) What? Can you name other sandwich ingredients that better resemble a vagina?

Edited by believer258

@slag: I outlined some characteristics that Samus has shown since day 1 earlier in the thread. The bit with Ridley in Other M pretty clearly violates the bravery and power that Samus had quite consistently shown many times before. You can establish character traits without words, just actions. Wall-E did it.

Edited by Hailinel

@slag: I outlined some characteristics that Samus has shown since day 1 earlier in the thread. The bit with Ridley in Other M pretty clearly violates the bravery and power that Samus had quite consistently shown many times before. You can establish character traits without words, just actions. Wall-E did it.

That bravery and power was only what you perceived. It's not necessarily what she actually experienced. In earlier games, all we saw were actions, with little in the way of motivation or consequence on the personal level.

Actions only make up a fraction of a personality. The whole requires a character's thoughts, emotions, and words.

Posted by believer258

@hailinel: Have you even seen Wall-E? Samus is hardly that deep, but someone who isn't brave and isn't powerful and isn't smart and isn't determined could never explore Zebes and SR388. Ever heard the phrase "Actions speak louder than words?"

Gah, some of you have the blank-slate protagonist idea so stuck in your head that you don't realize how you can't have a truly blank-slate. Some parts of a character are required for any story to be told.

Did you bump this just to say something you had already said?

Edited by Hailinel

@hailinel: Have you even seen Wall-E? Samus is hardly that deep, but someone who isn't brave and isn't powerful and isn't smart and isn't determined could never explore Zebes and SR388. Ever heard the phrase "Actions speak louder than words?"

Gah, some of you have the blank-slate protagonist idea so stuck in your head that you don't realize how you can't have a truly blank-slate. Some parts of a character are required for any story to be told.

Did you bump this just to say something you had already said?

Wall-E was more expressive than a set of 8 or 16-bit sprites. And I just chose to respond because I ended up back in this thread after my activity feed mistakenly said that a "new" post had been made (despite being several days old). I just felt like stepping in one more time, because I felt that your argument was flawed.

And while it is said that actions speak louder than words, actions alone do not shape a personality. Judging Samus by her gameplay actions in Metroid, you could conceivably think of her in any number of ways, but there is no solid portrait based on her gameplay actions alone.

Posted by believer258

@hailinel said:

@believer258 said:

@hailinel: Have you even seen Wall-E? Samus is hardly that deep, but someone who isn't brave and isn't powerful and isn't smart and isn't determined could never explore Zebes and SR388. Ever heard the phrase "Actions speak louder than words?"

Gah, some of you have the blank-slate protagonist idea so stuck in your head that you don't realize how you can't have a truly blank-slate. Some parts of a character are required for any story to be told.

Did you bump this just to say something you had already said?

Wall-E was more expressive than a set of 8 or 16-bit sprites. And I just chose to respond because I ended up back in this thread after my activity feed mistakenly said that a "new" post had been made (despite being several days old). I just felt like stepping in one more time, because I felt that your argument was flawed.

And while it is said that actions speak louder than words, actions alone do not shape a personality. Judging Samus by her gameplay actions in Metroid, you could conceivably think of her in any number of ways, but there is no solid portrait based on her gameplay actions alone.

But I didn't mean a solid portrait. I didn't mean that she was an established character, just that there were things about her character that we could have discerned from Metroid games where she doesn't speak much at all (i.e. all of them not named Fusion or Other M, and maybe the little bit at the beginning of Super). And her reaction to Ridley in Other M runs counter to everything established about her before. I don't care if all of Ridley's cells were burned away when Zebes blew up or whatever, you don't blank-out or pass-out or get a Heroic BSOD (in TVTropes terms), or whatever the hell you want to call it, when you see something that you've routinely killed in about half of your established adventures so far. You kill it again. It's like if, four games in, Mario were to quake in his boots whenever Bowser shows up, or Sonic were to get scared of Eggman before Sonic talked. Or if Crash Bandicoot were afraid of Neo Cortex. Or if Gordon Freeman had to go to Xen again and Valve suddenly said that he couldn't do it because he was terrified. Or if the Doomguy suddenly couldn't progress to the next level because he was afraid of the Cyberdemon in that room.

I'm just trying to hammer it home that Samus is quaking in her boots in front of something that she's already killed four times, and that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Not to mention that it gets one of her teammates killed, or seemingly killed. What flaws are there? Why is she suddenly so afraid of something so familiar? Dangerous, yes, but again, she wasn't that scared beforehand, even in Metroid Prime where the 8 and 16 bit graphics part holds no water.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@hailinel said:

I just felt like stepping in one more time, because I felt that your argument was flawed.

Maiko questions your decisions.

Posted by Hailinel

@hailinel said:

@believer258 said:

@hailinel: Have you even seen Wall-E? Samus is hardly that deep, but someone who isn't brave and isn't powerful and isn't smart and isn't determined could never explore Zebes and SR388. Ever heard the phrase "Actions speak louder than words?"

Gah, some of you have the blank-slate protagonist idea so stuck in your head that you don't realize how you can't have a truly blank-slate. Some parts of a character are required for any story to be told.

Did you bump this just to say something you had already said?

Wall-E was more expressive than a set of 8 or 16-bit sprites. And I just chose to respond because I ended up back in this thread after my activity feed mistakenly said that a "new" post had been made (despite being several days old). I just felt like stepping in one more time, because I felt that your argument was flawed.

And while it is said that actions speak louder than words, actions alone do not shape a personality. Judging Samus by her gameplay actions in Metroid, you could conceivably think of her in any number of ways, but there is no solid portrait based on her gameplay actions alone.

I'm just trying to hammer it home that Samus is quaking in her boots in front of something that she's already killed four times, and that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Not to mention that it gets one of her teammates killed, or seemingly killed. What flaws are there? Why is she suddenly so afraid of something so familiar? Dangerous, yes, but again, she wasn't that scared beforehand, even in Metroid Prime where the 8 and 16 bit graphics part holds no water.

As I said before, she didn't actually kill him. Or if she did, not in such a way that he couldn't be easily resuscitated. However, Other M establishes at the very start that the space pirtates are no more. No more organization, no more Mother Brain, no more Ridley. The space pirates were completely and utterly defeated at the end of Super Metroid. Samus had absolutely zero reason to believe that she would ever have to see, hear, or deal with Ridley in any way for the rest of her life.

Posted by Slag

@believer258: @hailinel:

I still think the truth I think really lies somewhere in between your two positions. I don't expect to convince either of you, but hey opinions right?

If you asked me 15 years ago what kind of persona Samus was, my answer would have been probably closer to Believer's but I also would be forced to admit we didn't really know anything material about her. Most of what I would attribute to Samus were really actions I (or whomever took) as a player. The Classic Metroids aren't exactly known for their cutscenes and worldbuilding.

I do agree Believer that you can establish characters who are mute in fiction or characters through action only. Snake Eyes from GiJoe is a perfect example of this, but I don't agree that Samus was concretely established that way. There just wasn't that much material beyond actual gameplay. To me there is more than enough wiggle room in her portrayal that the Other M version could be 100% accurate to original authorial intent. That's subjective, but that's how I see it.

It's also arguable that the Metroid Prime version of Samus, not the Other M one, may be the divergent portrayal as Retro developed those games with more understandably Western cultural sensibilities than Nintendo titles typically exhibit. If you're talking original authorial intent in how she was originally envisioned by NIntendo, it's entirely possible Team Ninja's version might actually be closer.

I suspect that's not the case though, I do think from everything I remember about the development of the game that these aspects to her personality were probably among the changes encouraged by Nintendo in an effort to try to get Metroid a larger fanbase in Japan. So there is probably some deliberate change in order to re-establish the franchise. And that's where I agree with Believer that there is at least some difference in portrayal.

To be honest I don't Nintendo puts this much forethought into their Fiction and are perfectly willing to change it to suit their needs (see Zelda Timeline or every Mario game ever). I'm not sure Nintendo thinks or cares if there is one "true version" of Samus. My guess is the next Metroid game whenever it happens, she will be slightly different yet again. Kind of like King Arthur or Romance of the 3 Kingdoms or really even especially Zelda, her story and character will likely be slightly reinvented with every retelling.

fwiw I don't think being afraid is a lack of courage. If anything acting in spite of great fear, takes quite a bit more courage than being fearless. And it is certainly conceivable she is afraid because she HAS defeated Ridley before and that he is so familiar. Once you've been through a traumatic experience re-expierencing can be absolutely awful. Especially I'd imagine if you thought you had deal with the problem permanently. Killing Ridley 4 time may have been routine for the player, but it may have not been for Samus especially if she nearly bought it in previous fights. That would be a normal human reaction and would not lessen her heroism.

Posted by Hailinel

@slag said:

It's also arguable that the Metroid Prime version of Samus, not the Other M one, may be the divergent portrayal as Retro developed those games with more understandably Western cultural sensibilities than Nintendo titles typically exhibit. If you're talking original authorial intent in how she was originally envisioned by NIntendo, it's entirely possible Team Ninja's version might actually be closer.

I suspect that's not the case though, I do think from everything I remember about the development of the game that these aspects to her personality were probably among the changes encouraged by Nintendo in an effort to try to get Metroid a larger fanbase in Japan. So there is probably some deliberate change in order to re-establish the franchise. And that's where I agree with Believer that there is at least some difference in portrayal.

To be honest I don't Nintendo puts this much forethought into their Fiction and are perfectly willing to change it to suit their needs (see Zelda Timeline or every Mario game ever).

Nope.

I've said this countless times before, but this isn't Team Ninja's Samus. The story in the game was written by Yoshio Sakamoto, one of Metroid's creators, who has been involved in most every non-Prime entry to date. The portrayal of Samus on display in Other M is consistent with the way he thinks of Samus, and as she was portrayed in a manga he oversaw about ten or eleven years ago. This manga of course was never released in North America, though fan translations of it exist online, and tells Samus's life from earliest childhood up to right before the original Metroid. These weren't personality changes in Other M; this is how she has been viewed by her creator for years.

Metroid Prime was out of his hands, for the most part. From what I recall, he played a supervisory role on the original Metroid Prime to ensure that Retro made a game that actually felt like a Metroid game. Otherwise, the Metroid Prime series was meant to be self-contained in that space between Metroid and Metroid II so that it didn't interfere with other parts of the timeline, and the Prime series is beholden to established canon (note that ever Prime game released since Zero Mission came out depicts Samus in her ponytailed Zero Suit design).

The long and the short of it is that Nintendo doesn't and has never treated the Metroid series like Mario or Zelda. There's one timeline with one Samus. If/when a new Metroid game comes along set after Other M, it may or may not reference events in the game, but it is a part of the timeline, whether those that hate the game want it to be or not.

Posted by Brodehouse

Oh wow. Look what I did.

Being honest, I know just the basics about the Metroid games. But for the original, the Game Boy game, and Super, Samus is just a wrecking ball guided by the player. The game certainly makes the player feel things, but there is no way to discern what Samus feels about any of the events of the game. This isn't to say the game is not rewarding or emotionally affecting, but that this happens on a player level rather than a character level. Even something like the original Dead Space has a silent protagonist who has a unique personality, even if it's only told in text in a sub-menu you rarely visit. Now things have changed, Samus does have characterization that comes through in games, and I think that's where you get the Brad Shoemakers of the world expressing the idea that 'new' Samus isn't like 'old' Samus, and attributing traits to her past games that simply were not shown. A cipher, in that Samus was to Brad what he envisioned Samus to be through her actions, not that Samus is what Samus feels or thinks about anything in particular. I believe that qualifies as fundamental attribution error, but I may be attributing that to him erroneously.