Digital Changeling

June 12, 2013

Can We Stop Talking About “Strong” Female Characters Please?

Filed under: Angry,Games,Video Games — Eva @ 1:51 pm

Edit: I figured I’d need to revisit this at some point, but I think Sophia McDougall has covered the core of why “Strong” female characters drive me mad in other media far better than I ever could in an article very appropriately titled I hate Strong Female Characters

Can we stop talking about “strong” female characters please?

I hear a lot of appeals for strong female characters and I think we’re asking for the wrong thing. The gaming world is full of strong characters: they can fire hundreds of rounds without so much as putting the gun down, run for miles without sleeping, kill thousands of monsters with their bare hands, and climb tall buildings without pausing for breath. These physical strengths are ubiquitous because of the kinds of stories we tell and the sorts of mechanics we have in modern games.

Most of these characters also happen to be male.

There’s a separate phenomenon where many female characters in games are rewards, goals, background motivations, or set dressing. A lot of these women are not strong because it’s not narratively necessary. Often they’re overly used as “damsels in distress” for male characters to protect and save. Male protagonists have to do everything for them because otherwise the game makers don’t have anything to make the player do as the male protagonist.

There are two problems here: women don’t get to be competent in games and women don’t get to have agency in games. They physically can’t do things and they aren’t allowed to do things or make decisions.

When you say “strong” maybe you’re saying you want physically competent characters who could do things. That doesn’t mean they’re interesting. It doesn’t mean they have the agency to make their own choices. It doesn’t mean they’re well rounded or developed as people with motivations and stories. It doesn’t mean they’re main characters or playable.

I don’t want “strong” female characters who are physical super-people. I want competent female characters who are three dimensional and who are allowed to control their destiny. I want some of them to be playable.

When it comes down to it, that’s what I want for male characters as well. I want competent, believable male characters who are three dimensional. I’m sick to death of super-people. Men aren’t super-people in reality any more than women are and presenting them as such is increasingly boring with every similarly unrealistic game I see.

Can we change the dialog? Can we ask for competent female characters who are allowed to do things and make choices? Can we ask that characters be three dimensional, with interesting backstory and believable motivations (hint: because I’m evil isn’t a motivation for villains)? Can we say that we’re tired of fridging and damseling and otherwise using secondary characters of any gender as sacrificial narrative gimmicks?

“Strong” doesn’t mean those things. It means able to lift things. It means physically powerful. In gaming it often means “super-person with no basis in physical reality.”

Let’s be specific instead of using a word that doesn’t mean what we want.

June 4, 2013

Why is the spectre of rape invisible?

Filed under: Feminism,Sad — Eva @ 11:36 pm

When I was in my first year of high school I remember clearly having the teachers quote the “one in six women is raped” statistic to us. They had us seated at grouped sets of five or six desks and the teacher did the whole “look around to the people in your group… one of you is likely to be raped” that you hear about. I’m not sure if they expected that to make it more real for us or what they expected us to do about it. No one wants to be a statistic.

The first time that I had a friend tell me about being raped was in middle school. She wasn’t a particularly close friend, just another outcast who had no one else she could sit with at lunch. But people get lonely and in retrospect I think she felt that terrible pressure to talk about an experience that she desperately needed therapy for. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t even really understand what she was sharing with me and I had no idea how to help her. All I could do was listen.

I grew up in a happy home, was never abused or mistreated… and until that point, rape had no reality beyond the “scary thing” that happened off screen on TV or in backstories in books. After that, I’d been given a different narrative: one where the heros don’t help the innocent in time, terrible things happens just because terrible things happen, and then the victim had to live with the consequences.

Since then I’ve had three other people tell me the stories of how they were raped. Every story was different and terrible in it’s own way, and I’m not sure I was more help to these people, all of whom I care about deeply, than I was to that first lost girl. I could listen, and with each story the spectre of rape became more real to me.

Most of my friends are middle class with college degrees. I can’t fool myself anymore with the lie that rape is a thing that only happens to “other people.”

I asked my husband recently, “how many people have told you about being raped?” He looked at me a bit confused and replied, “None.” That was when I realized that not everyone hears these stories. Unless a rape strikes those few people who are the closest to them… how can I blame my peers for not seeing the spectre as looming or terrible? Why would it feel real at all? Maybe for some people rape feels more like far off lightning, hitting people who happen to stand stupidly on golf courses during rain storms, but not a thing that could hit them since they stay inside when it rains. Stay inside and don’t drink and don’t walk alone at night and have large dogs and have a black belt in karate, or are male and not in prison….

Is this why there are so many denialists out there? You can read an infinite number of stories on the internet, but if you’re already determined not to see the spectre of rape, it’s easy to dismiss imaginary internet people as liars, sensationalists, and fear-mongers.

It’s harder to dismiss a friend sitting next to you reluctantly telling you in a quiet, calm voice about a terrible, evil thing that colors their past… recounting their feelings and how bits of it still hang over them, changing how they live their lives to this day. It’s harder to dismiss someone as a convenient liar when there’s no public accusation and they’re someone you already love and trust… someone you wish you could help with more than just listening.


I know it’s pretty useless to tell everyone to listen in order to understand, because if people aren’t already telling you their secrets… you might not be the sort of person they’ll ever approach. But if someone you love starts talking, try to hear them out. Their pain may teach you something painful but important about the world, and if they’ve started to tell you it’s probably because they need you to listen.

I’m also not trying to imply anything about how often people are raped based on my own experiences. The things that I learned had more to do with how rape can hurt people and that rape has hurt people I love who aren’t so different from me. There are lots of groups out there collecting statistics if you want a more numerical view of the problem.

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