“I want a sword too!” Heroines in E-rated Games

Female_Trainers_of_Pokemon_v2_by_teamr

In my opinion, one of the most appealing aspects about video games is the chance to play a hero. As the hero, you get to exist in a world specifically designed for you and your chances to triumph. There are hardships but it’s those hardships that provide an opportunity to empathize with the emotions and situations of the character you play. You learn to relate, and although you may not always view the character as yourself, you definitely grow an attachment. So, if there is a possibility to get so captivated with the game, shouldn’t there at the very least be a gender option for the hero? What I want to focus on in this article is the lack of a female option in E-rated games and how it may impact perceptions of self in children.

I recently read an article on Kotaku that talked about a father who re-coded a copy of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker to change Link’s gender to a girl. His gesture was noteworthy and more beneficial than harmful to the child but the comments still included remarks of disapproval.

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Gather from father’s website: http://exple.tive.org/blarg/2012/11/07/flip-all-the-pronouns/?buffer_share=b4e6a&utm_source=buffer

One of the arguments stated that the action of the father had good intentions but that he was doing the creators a disservice by altering what they originally designed for the character to be. They stated that characters in games are like characters in movies and at no one would ever replace a movie character with themselves. As we have discussed before in class, video games are much more interactive than movies could ever be by providing you control. Sure, when you’re watching a movie you may feel sad if one of the characters die but you will always be seeing it from a third person perspective. When you are playing a game, however, you control the character and the results from your actions are received from a first person perspective.

“I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers.” ~ Maya’s badass father

But, let’s stop looking at this from an adult viewpoint and think more about it from a child’s viewpoint. When we are children, our brains are a lot less developed but we still hold many biases and opinions about the things we like or dislike. A psychology experiment by Rebecca Bigler demonstrates that children have a natural tendency to gravitate towards things that are similar to themselves. In the experiment, preschool children were randomly assigned to a t-shirt color for three weeks. They were not told the reason for the experiment and proceeded to play among their usual groups. Three weeks later when asked which color was the best, every child stated that the people wearing the same color as them were better and even smarter than the other colors regardless of the fact that they might have never even played with another child with their shirt color.

So, let’s relate that study to reflect video games and children. It may seem harmless to exclude a gender option in a video game but by not having that option game makers may be unintentionally discriminating an entire audience. Like the experiment showed, children tend to gravitate towards things that are similar to them. If there is only a male option, male children may come to the conclusion that only males are strong, fearless heroes and females are always the weakling that needs saving. Females who do end up playing the game may project themselves as the damsel in distress and believe that they can only play a hero temporarily when they feign being a male. Video games to a child are like a hand held version of make believe. In their happy world filled with imagination, it is much more rewarding to think that they themselves can conquer whatever evil is conjured up without having to change someone as a significant as gender.

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“My name is Krystal!”

During my search for female protagonist in E-rated games, I barely found anything. What I did find was female character do exist in games but most of them are like Princess Peach from Mario Brothers where they only playable in the spin-offs, are love interests of the male lead and get kidnapped…a lot. Like, a lot. Seriously. One of the positive things I found that did catch my attention was a game called Dinosaur Planet. Dinosaur Planet was a game that allowed you choose your gender but for advertising they mainly used their female heroine, Krystal. Krystal was a strong, capable and fearless character that displayed all the aspects of a hero. Right when I found it I went to search where I could buy the game only to find out that it was never developed. Instead, the original game became part of the Star Fox series where Krystal’s heroic role is completely stripped from her and given to the male protagonist instead. In the end, Krystal becomes another damsel in distress with the male lead now using the magic staff that was originally designed for her.

Now, don’t assume that I’m saying that games without a gender option are terrible games and always badly influence females by not providing them an option. There are many, great games out there such as Pokémon that do allow the choice of female protagonist. It is, however, extremely important to remember that children’s minds are very simple and that these conclusions may seem extreme to us but to an impressionable child, what they see is what they believe and that is what helps construct our society. I do understand that there is little marketing for female protagonists in video games but if parents were brought to the attention on how even E-rated games could affect the confidence of their daughter, maybe it could spark a change. I honestly believe that we need to take a break from all the politics and business of games for just a little bit and remember that the main reason for their creation (at least for E-rated games) is for children to learn and have fun.

 

 

  6 comments for ““I want a sword too!” Heroines in E-rated Games

  1. jhernan2
    March 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    This is a very interesting case study to focus on for this blog post. It seems that we shape the minds of young kids because of the things that are going on around them. This might be why when someone that was born in the 90’s says their time period was better, it’s probably because they favored the things that they grew up with like the t.v shows or the foods. We might also see that with the in with this generation as well. This also goes with the notion of why girls expect to have a night in shining armor when they grow up. This shows that we influence their expectations from the time where they are actually vulnerable to learn anything they can.

  2. 302writing
    March 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    I think that for story oriented games, with set plotlines that require the main character to be a certain way, that altering their gender is a mistake. However, for open-ended games like Mass Effect and for simple games like Zelda and Mario, where the character is basically just an everyman sprite, including a gender swap option is a great option. Hopefully though, we’ll simply get more games with female protagonists and it won’t matter as much.

    • adavis7
      April 4, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Why would altering gender in those cases be a mistake? Its not super difficult to have a female player option and it would mean the inclusion of half of the population. I guess what I’m asking is what story oriented games would not work with a female protagonist? Wow though I really would like to buy Dinosar Planet as well! Any idea why it was scrapped?

    • eng1
      April 4, 2013 at 11:44 am

      I have actually seen that argument a lot but would changing the gender really deter from the storyline? Is it because, say, change Link into a girl and Zelda to a prince (everyone always thinks Zelda is Link anyway so names obviously don’t matter) that the story will somehow not seem right? The “not seeming right” feeling at a heroine fulfilling the duties of a male character is a norm built from social norms and gender stereotypes. If you think about it, if the all of the story-oriented games have always been female leads and we reverse my argument to me saying we should make Link a boy, we may be having the same argument now about how changing the gender is a mistake and doesn’t feel right. What I’m trying to say is that we need to dig even deeper and see how we build our gender roles through social expectations. We expect the hero to be male, therefore having a heroine feels like a mistake but if we always expect the hero to be female, we would feel like having a male hero is a mistake. In the end, the “mistake” is just what we’re used to. The story is not truly that affected but the impressionable children playing it may be subconsciously building the social roles people expect of them. Also, when we were all little kids we all watched shows that had hidden innuendos and references that were inappropriate but we didn’t understand them. Would the children really care or notice the detailed plotlines or would they just want to play the game as the appropriate hero or heroine? We decide a lot of things through intuition and feelings but what may feel like a mistake and what is an actual mistake is completely different.

      Oh also it wasn’t so much scrapped but more like turned into part of the Star Fox Adventures series. I think that creator of Star Fox adventures joked about it with the creator of Dinosaur Planet and then…it became a thing. Krystal is still there but now she’s the damsel in distress (wearing uhm, a lot less clothing but that’s another topic) trapped in crystal with Star Fox using the weapon that was originally designed for her….it’s so…sad. Actually, if anything it’s completely insulting.

  3. April 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Like 302writing and jhernan, I also appreciate the approach you’re taking here. Often (as we’ve been doing in class), when one talks about gender in gaming, it’s to look at the sexualization of avatars and the objectification of women that implies. That line of critique is well and good, but it tends to get caught up in issues around representation, which is not a game-specific phenomenon.

    What you’ve done here by turning toward E-rated games is look more closely into the archetypal language of the medium, including the basic associations we make with and through those entities which provide conduits for our agency.

    And while I’ve said before that a gender-swap hack is a very surface-level critique, your post is a reminder that surfaces do matter. Thanks!

    Is it worth asking, though, (to paraphrase some of your examples), whether having both male and female options fully accomplished gender diversity? Or are we not necessarily talking about gender here?

    • eng1
      April 4, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Although there is no direct research to see if having a female heroine really affects children’s perspectives of themselves, I think it will help the child identify to the character they’re playing. We discussed in class that sometimes people play a game because of the feeling of accomplishment. We identify and relate to the character we play, so much so that we feel happiness and success when our character succeeds in something. If games can have such a strong effect, then I hope that everyone can feel it equally without something so crucial (albeit it may seem trivial to some) in the way. By allowing a female option: 1) Girls may want to play the game more because there is a girl as a main character (or option of a girl). This is because children tend to gravitate towards things that are similar to themselves. 2) It might be able to help shape children’s (both male and female) social expectations of a female role. Like, oh YES girls can be heroes too, look, it’s a choice. The males may still pick a male character but knowing that it’s not ALWAYS decided as a male already could make a difference. Though, the thing I want to concentrate on most specifically is that is not JUST about gender stereotypes. Children aren’t born with the gender expectations we all have now so we have to look even deeper to make a difference before any expectations of gender is formed. So, in my article I was hoping to divulge more into the social norms and expectations that are subconsciously built. Like the comment I said to 302writing, we expect the hero to be male, therefore having a heroine feels like a mistake but if we always expect the hero to be female, we would feel like having a male hero is a mistake. In the end, the “mistake” is just what we’re used to and what we need to do is to end that norm and the first step could be just by allowing there to be a female option mostly in E-rated games directed at children.

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