Horizon Zero Dawn is with us, but there is no point in doing an in-depth review. It is such a good game and the developers Guerrilla were so confident that the big outlets have had their copies for weeks and the reviews are out. Enough of my rant, Horizon Zero Dawn and the main character Aloy, are part of the evolution of female characters in gaming and to a lesser extent feminism in gaming. Times have changed since all you had to do in games was rescue women.
As a qualifier, I am male so am hardly the best feminist advocate, instead it is better to show how my own opinions on the female characters I have encountered in gaming have changed. Starting with the case in point Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy is loosely based on Ygritte from Game Of Thrones. She has the same red hair and fiery temper and carries this whole game. Her being female never enters the equation. She is just the strong hero character who happens to be female. She outwits enemies and under your control takes down some of the largest on-screen beasts seen since Shadow Of The Colossus. Because I haven’t gotten far into the game, I cannot confirm if her gender ever becomes a storyline or issue, but from what I have played I expect not. With the game being set after the fall of humanity, maybe that’s where we need to get to before there is true gender equality.
To look at how we have got to this point in gaming it is probably best to reverse engineer our way through a few of the strongest females in gaming. Starting with Lara Croft. The modern Tomb Raider herself is more in the mould of the Aloy character. Influenced by the Uncharted series of games, Lara is now at least dressed for the occasion. Gone are the hot pants and sun tops, that were out of place for exploring and in come the heavy coats and survival gear. In the recent Rise of The Tomb Raider and the previous reboot Tomb Raider, Lara is very much in the Aloy style, she is just the main character of the game who happens to be female. No other mention of her gender should be made or spoken of. It doesn’t come into the equation other than some enemies in the first game perhaps overpowering her to their cost. Think back to the days of Angelina Jolie and the film version of Tomb Raider. She was purely a fantasy figure not grounded in reality in any way, much like the games of the time. As well as her unrealistic physical proportions, the outfits were pure adolescent male fantasy. This was proven in the failure of the film franchise and the near-death of the game franchise. As gaming changed, Lara had to change also.
While it is all very well having a good strong female character forced upon you, what happens when the choice is yours. With the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, the potential for choice throws up a number of issues and freedoms. The first choice in any of these games is your own character. Myself I always picked a male because I liked the escapism of trying to see how I would respond to the choices and circumstances in the game. To take the worst case scenario, people can use these games as a way of chatting up the various female characters they meet and it can enforce sexual stereotypes. However, the mere fact that all the characters in these games are available to romance no matter your gender makes these the high point of gaming for equality. While people can argue over the character stereotypes in these games, they cannot deny that the ability to have relationships with any character or even more revolutionary, have relationships with none of them have changed the gaming landscape since their release. The Sheppard character in Mass Effect, while of your own choosing is a pioneer for many gender and equality issues. Just google the term Femshep and you will find more qualified writings than this on the matter. The upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda and recent Dragon Age Inquisition, carry this trend on.
With all the recent good there have to be some bad examples of females in gaming. The recent Final Fantasy 15 has a female character at the beginning that stands out for all the wrong reasons. The mechanic character is basically a cosplay character, that again goes back to the early Lara Croft stereotype. A case of two steps forward with Aloy and Lara and one back with Cindy the mechanic, while some of this may be attributed to the eastern attitudes and styles in these games, it shows that the war for feminism in gaming is far from over. Women in Grand Theft Auto are equally marginalised. In GTA V it would have been nice to have a female character as one of the leads, especially in a game that is world renowned. FIFA have incorporated women’s teams, but it feels like an afterthought.
My own experiences start with Mario. Mario has to go and rescue the defenceless Princess Peach. Final Fight, Streets Of Rage and Double Dragon had women who need rescuing. Part of the problem is that I never thought this was a problem. The first time there was a strong character was in Street Fighter 2. Chun Li was one of the best characters and yet some people used to pause the game to look up her skirt. Bearing in mind I have been gaming for 25 plus years and there have been only a handful of credible female heroines or even characters, Samus from Metroid, Lara, Chun Li, Sniper Wolf, The Boss, Morrigan, and Aloy speaks volumes.
My own personal favourite is a controversial choice, Bayonetta. While some people will now call into question everything I have said before, Bayonetta to me is a good choice. What other character can dress and act like she does yet still be the strong female character? She actively uses her femininity not to succeed but because that is who she is. Because of her sexual orientation, she is not there to be titillation to male gamers. It is just who she is. Surely that is what we need to work towards. Strong female characters who cannot be pigeonholed and can act whatever way they want for all gamers, male and female. Hopefully, in a few years, this won’t even be a topic of discussion. Characters will just be characters, however, with the recent state of political affairs and the furore over the Tracer character in Overwatch, we are still a distance away from gender equality in game characters.