Has a character ever ruined your gaming experience? It may seem like a given that good characterization leads to enjoyable gameplay, but there is a persistent challenge in videogames: the depressingly stereotypical female character.
These characters still exist despite years of feedback from the gaming community, and despite the clear presence of women in the gaming industry. Why? Not only are these characters often jarring, boring, or insulting to play with, but perpetuating these stereotypes in video games perpetuates false ideas of womanhood, which is really just ‘personhood.’
Here are some yawn-inducing female stereotypes we need to move past, for the good of gaming.
Female Stereotype #1: The Damsel in Distress
Thankfully going out of fashion but still sometimes lurking in the background of modern video games, the overplayed damsel in distress character presents a nearly (or completely) helpless female constantly needing the hero to bail her out.
The “Peach” and “Zelda” of old are starting to be faux pas, but every once in awhile this character rears its head again. Elizabeth in Bioshock: Infinite is one recent example. Not only is this a tired out trope, but realistically a character acting the damsel in distress is usually an unimaginative addition to what could be a cool storyline. Let’s find a new reason for a hero to have to go on a quest down plumbing pipes or cities in the sky.
Female Stereotype #2: The Brainy Mary Sue
A “Mary Sue” is a girl who always gets the answer right, always knows someone who can help, always gets the guy and usually is super smart to boot. Examples that have become iconically smart without overdoing it are Daphne from Scooby Doo, or Hermoine from Harry Potter.
Those two franchises aside, there are lots of other videogame character that constantly help the hero along, while always being right, and just falling flat as characters while they do it. Triss in The Witcher is a prime example. Secret society- check. King consultant-check. Sorceress skills-check. Triss is often the end of a problem or shortcut in storyline, and it just gets old.
Female Stereotype #3: The Prostitute, almost all variations.
While there are instances when a prostitute is a well-portrayed, well-rounded character in gameplay (Sha’ira from Mass Effect or the ladies in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Jack The Ripper expansion) they are far outweighed by the many female prostitutes portrayed in demeaning, violent, and/or deplorable manners.
Grand Theft Auto is the infamous example, and with good cause. The portrayals vary from raunchy and lewd to straightforward ‘working girls’ with the option to disrespect, physically harm, or steal from them. A more demeaning female stereotype in the videogame world there is not.
Female Stereotype #4: The Love Interest For Looks.
This is one of the most unfortunate stereotypes because it contributes to the deflation of what could otherwise be a rewarding game experience or engaging storyline. These token girls are usually there just to provide a way to unlock a romance scene, a health bar re-boot or eye candy for occasional quests/missions.
For example, Liza in Far Cry 3 provides an initial quest, some hints at character development, and not much else, though you talk to her frequently. All Liza’s potential is still on the table as a rich character in this game, and it all gets wasted on a few paltry lines about how Jason’s “different” or “immature.”
Female Stereotype #5: Armor is optional for those with XX Chromosomes.
Skimpy, barely there armor is consistently present in video games: The Diablo Series, Final Fantasy Series, and virtually any fighting games, from Mortal Kombat to Soul Caliber. Not only is this objectifying women in videogames (making them simple eyecandy to gamers), but it just does not make sense.
Girls need to cover those parts more, not less, because basically every vital organ is at risk when a girl does not have proper chest armor on – right?
Female Stereotype #6: Too Sexy for my… Plotline
She’s smart, sexy, and ready for her role in the demise of bad vamps everywhere. But Bloodrayne is also arrogant, hypersexualized, and dismissive of human emotion because she’s busy being ‘All That.’ In addition to the skimpy armor, these stereotypical ladies often feature unrealistic or even physically impossibly bodies and the uncanny ability to kick ass despite sporting five inch heels.
Hypersexualized women as lead or secondary characters in videogames is another persistent gameplay issue that drains what could be engaging and powerful storylines. Again, they present a false idea of womanhood.
Female Stereotype #7: The Female Tragedy
Possibly one of the most unjust stereotypes we see in videogames is the regular use of a female when a storyline or character calls for a tragic catalyst. For some reason, it seems that when a backstory for a hero (who happens to be male) is needed, noble intentions, possibly a deep betrayal, maybe a shady past being atoned for, are common enough (think Masterchief in Halo, or Marcus Fenix in Gears of War).
But if a female lead or secondary character needs a backstory that will engage on an emotional level, usually we get rape, being abandoned, or more rape. We see this in Ayane in Dead or Alive, and the slightly off Betsy in Fallout: New Vegas, and it is not only boring, it is a shame.
Now, this list does not claim to be the end-all authority on female stereotypes in games, nor does it assume that male stereotypes in video games don’t also exist (realistic body types are only the start of that conversation). It does present commonly seen, over used characterizations of female characters into age-old stereotypes that present a false idea of womanhood.
These stereotypes are a drain on imaginative characters, but also a threat to understanding women and their roles in noble tales, or tragic accidents.
Instead of stereotypes that contribute to ideas and assumptions about the female gender that are not true, I look forward to playing more and more games that spark understanding, as Samus did, or pull my heartstrings as Ellie and Joel did, or finally allow me to relate a character on the screen to how my everyday friends and family would behave.
You might also like:
This article was written by Adrienne Canino.