As I’ve mentioned before, I have a tendency to play as female characters in video games, if the option presents itself. I’m still searching for the exact motivation for me to do so, but I think I’ve recently come to one of the reasons: it allows me a glimpse into a perspective I don’t get to see as a male. Despite being a feminist and despite my zeal for equality among the sexes and genders, I am still shackled into male conformity in society. People who don’t know my beliefs often spout some sexist or stereotypically-gendered nonsense when talking to me, and it’s frustrating beyond words. Occasionally I slip into such garbage myself; an unfortunate side effect of growing up in this misogynistic culture. I hate it, but I can’t erase who I am in the real world.
I can, however, step into a virtual space and embrace different viewpoints: those of a woman primary among them. Oftentimes, this has its own burden: sexualized costumes or bouts with what is perceived as “feminine” can wreak havoc upon my experience. One such example of the latter was in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals for the SNES. I had been enjoying the game quite a bit, but noticed some subtle sexism underlying the narrative. Some NPC’s made some disparaging comments about some character’s physical traits, or bluntly questioned the choice of female lead Selan as the general of the Parcelyte kingdom’s military. I shrugged those off, as Selan was an awesome character in battle and more than proved herself as a valuable component of my team. I gave her all of the strength bonuses I had floating around in my inventory, and they gave her a damage boost rivaling anyone else in my party. Alongside her array of spells, Selan was a force to be reckoned with in my playthrough. Her stoic personality was all about business; she got the job done, and she did it well. She too had her own doubts about her effectiveness as a leader, but she overcame them as she defended her kingdom from harm.
Alas, this empowerment was not to last. As a crucial plot point presented itself, Maxim (the male lead) made the chauvinistic choice to send Selan and Tia – another female character – away from the party. His logic is dubious and misogynistic: they would come to harm in the fights ahead, and only the men should go on to tackle this threat. I cringed as Selan and Tia suffered this indignant command and shirked away from playable status. I lost the two most valuable members of my team, and only because the narrative felt compelled to rely on the “weak woman” trope. Selan dealt more physical damage than Maxim or Guy by this point! Both Selan and Tia had magic spells capable of damaging entire rows of monsters; their replacements did not. Maxim was feebly gifted with some magic, but he alone could not carry the party’s HP burden. And, as much of a cliché as it is, Selan and Tia could heal the entire party and they could do it well. On top of that, Guy and Dekar were packed with overwrought machismo that was a bit sickening to bear. I tried tackling the tower that followed this roster switch, but I couldn’t stomach it. The challenge was too great without Selan and Tia -- the men proved ineffective at their task. I sold the game off after this; I had no desire to play it any further.
Games allow me to witness and feel these things women feel every single day: the doubt; the anxiety; the unfairness. It’s a perspective that grants me insight and motivation to do all I can to try to alter these misconceptions about gender in games. It’s disempowering in some ways, because I’ve seen these actions inflict so many narratives and cripple too many characters over the years. The industry has dug itself into a mighty rut. However, that doesn’t mean that things will never change. What I witness is what other like-minded people witness. And more and more of those people are becoming engaged and proactive. They’re creating games, criticizing faults through writing and other forms of media, and speaking out about the injustices. I’m proud to be counted among them.
As this feature progresses, I intend to point out these issues as they lurk in certain games, all in the hopes of countering against their use in the future. I hope you will join me in the endeavor and find your own voice and reasons to fight against misogyny in video games. Feel free to share yours in the comments!