Letter to Edge - Can I play as Her?

November 30th 2011

This month I wrote a letter to Edge about females in computer games. I am not sure if it will be published, but, for the record, it is copied in full below, along with a link to Edge's site...

http://www.next-gen.biz/

Sirs,

As a subscriber of edge I have always enjoyed your features on games, particularly those that take the time to understand and explore the impact of a game (GTA III feature in the most recent edge is a great example). One comment in the recent issue caught my eye -

"Uncharted 3 may retain the female characters of the second game, but Naughty dog appears to have run out of things to do with them"

Women in video games is a topic that has been often debated but not fully explored as far as I can see and I would really value Edge's / Edge readers thoughts on the impact and future of female video game characters. For me, someone who purchased the first Tomb Raider on my PC (back when games came with a big box, pun not intended), I have always wondered when female game characters would move beyond the caricature they so often are.

Tomb Raider was actually a great example of an empowered heroine, albeit scantily clad and with some serious attributes, however her character was anything but fleshed out. When I think about male's in video games, there are several epic stories that spring to mind whereby we have a leading man with genuine emotional development (Red Dead Redemption), internally conflicted (Solid Snake) and even truly emotional (Shepherd : Mass Effect). While Shepherd can be played as a woman, the point here is that it is almost perceived as a novelty, not the norm. Even male characteers in some of the less thoughtful games (GOW, COD) have story arcs and character background, but female characters with the same are the exception, not the rule.

Mass Effect and Heavy Rain (and Catherine, though I imagine that is meant to be slightly subversive) are two exceptions to this rule, but when I think of the number of actresses who are recognised for their leading roles in large scale films - Jodie Foster (SOTL), Halle Berry (MB), Maggie Smith (HP) etc - there appear to be many more than those who are believably realised in video games. As much as I enjoy Grand Theft Auto, it effectively uses women to satirise society, and many other games use women similarly to titillate (DoA), merely provide balance to the plot (Resident Evil 2) or provide variety on a theme (Silent Hill 3). I do wonder when we will get a video game defining performance on the scale of, say, Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

I feel that vide games have their equivalent to Christian Bale (Solid Snake), Bruce Willis (Marcus Fenix), Viggo Mortensen (Boy in Shadow of Collossus), Clint Eastwood (Marsden) and even a decent supporting cast with Cilian Murphy (Otacon) and Keanu Reeves (Drake). But, where is our Clare Danes, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman or equivelants in Video games. I cant think of many and it is a damned shame. Instead, we have Princess Peach (Mario), Lara (TR) and, the developed but underused females in Metal Gear (Sonny, Sniper Wolf et al)

It would be genuinely interesting to see a fully developed epic game that not only had an excellently written female character, but also a complex love story, emotional weight and, most importantly, believable attributes (physical and mental).

One last thought - though I don't know the industry well, one assumption would be that both a cause and effect of this is that games have historically been a male dominated industry, so perhaps the writers focus on what they know and publishers focus on the target audience. But if you look at HBO's game of thrones, there is a broad mixture of genuinely interesting Female characters - young and old - that add a wonderful blend of variety and realism to what could have been an old boys tale of swords and sorcery (albeit indebted to the excellent source material).

Many thanks as always - its been a great year for Edge, including the revamp and hope you guys om the editorial and business staff have a great Christmas and new year....

Best

D