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.

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