A recent trip to the now defunct Core Design Studios, the same studios that created Lara Croft in 1996, got me thinking about the role and importance of female leads in our video games today. This is not a battle about the sexes of 'Male Vs Female' video game characters but more of a catalogue of thoughts about evolution of strong female leads.
If you ask anybody at school, in your workplace or at home, to name a female video character, I would hedge my bets on them replying "Lara Croft". Lara occupied millions of Playstation's in the nineties and was adorned millions of young men and women. I remember observing ALL of my male friends back in 1996 trying to line up a profile shot of Lara in order to sample the size of her upper polygons: her breasts. Would my friends have done the same if the character had been a man? I could not have imagined my friends saying "Look at his pectorals, wow". Ironically, Tomb Raider's early development was created with the lead as a MALE which obviously would have meant, No Lara. I think that Core Design had made the RIGHT choice by developing Lara Croft. She was tall, strong, witty, athletic, sexy, rich, independent and gutsy....and had boobs. WIN!! She was appealing and every trait she possessed WORKED! Now ask yourself this: If Core Design had stuck with their original Male protagonist, would the series have appealed as much? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know.
I have enjoyed many, many games with a strong female and male lead. I have also enjoyed games in which the female character had taken a secondary role alongside the lead character. Let's talk about Ashleigh in Resident Evil 4. Arguably, she is the opposite of Lara. She appears weak, innocent, fragile, small in stature, clueless, lost and definitely not as sexualised as Lara Croft. She is rescued and carried, literally. I find this interesting, particularly as female characters in Resident Evil games usually adopt stronger traits. Jill Valentine is a prime example of this. I will come back to this point.
I recently competed The Last Of Us on the Playstation 3 in which we see the second playable character, Ellie, accompany the lead, Joel. Unlike Lara who was originally portrayed as strong and gutsy all of the time, we see Ellie adopt a myriad of roles. She transitions between strong, passive, lead character, second character, victim and warrior. I find this more versatile approach in a game absolutely compelling and charming as I felt a deeper connection to Ellie than I had ever felt with another female character. There are SO, SO, SO many female video game characters that adopt a single behavioural mode within a game that I have begun to disengage with the actual IMMERSION of a story. Allow me to give you another example. I love Final Fantasy 10 of which I am currently playing through again. Yuna is cast (excuse the pun) as a Summoner in Final Fantasy X (and later in Final Fantasy X-2) and was surprisingly ranked as 20th 'hottest video game character of all time" in 2012. My perception of Yuna is very different. I don't view her a sexualised character at all. Although she is strong, brave, gutsy and kick ass (Like Lara) her personality is far too monotonous for my taste. In comparison to Ellie with her myriad of traits, Yuna appears flat, quiet, 'still like' and guarded. Most Japanese readers may argue this point with me. I didn't connect with Yuna as much as I would have liked.
I have made THREE categories of female video game characters that I want to share with you. Firstly, there is the 'Strong Female Protagonist'. Like Lara Croft and Commander Shepard (Mass Effect 3), two women that get stuck in to the action and have the ability to command independently or as part of a unit. Fear is a motivator. Secondly, there is a 'Strong Second'. Like Ellie or Alyx in Half Life 2, we see a prominent personality and a wealth of transitions within the story. Finally, we see a 'Weak Second'. Like Ashleigh in Resident Evil 4, she is the opposite of the strong. Fear is the oppressor. All three roles are as equally important in my opinion as they contribute to the story in some way.
In 2014, I dare say that it is not all about 'looks' when we are discussing female characters. We don't need to see a pair of breasts wobble across our 40" flat screens to be hooked on a game. No, but we can be immersed and entwined deep within the roots of a character if the story allows it. I am going to end on that note: for me 'feeling' and 'emotion' in a story is imperative to enhancing ANY lead characters perception by the player. What do you guys thinks? Be Social and leave me a comment in this blog.
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