Most annoying character in videogames ever? Women.

What follows is a piece I wrote as part of the 30 day videogame challenge on facebook. For day 6, the question was most anoying videogame character ever. I chose almost every woman in every videogame, with a special emphasis on JRPGs.

Warning. What follows is a stream of thought piece. It has been unedited and as such may be hard to read.

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I'm not much of an activist. I have a few areas I focus on, but women's rights aren’t one of them. Allegra taught me a fair bit though and it is an interesting field, it's just not something I've taken an overt active interest in. However, the presentation of women in games (and often in JRPGs) is often nothing short of utterly disgusting, often to the detriment of the game itself. Often these characters are so bad they actually effect my enjoyment of the game, as well as being demeaning.

I think the game that best exemplifies this trend is Star Ocean: The Last Hope. A good game mechanically and visually, but totally failing in every other way. As for the characters, well to be fair they were all terrible, the only exception being the lead, Rush, who actually develops and grows in some interesting ways. Now the female characters. You have Mrs ‘obviously sexually attracted to you but too scared to do anything about it, even though she’s already demonstrated she has the guts to fight legions of monsters from beyond space and time, but clearly the sight of a man brings her to her knees’ (I can’t remember her name as she was so utterly bland), Meracle, a pre teen, insufferably squeaky and happy cat girl who’s single defining character trait is a fondness for chicken and an outfit so tight that it, quite literally leaves nothing to the imagination. We’re in camel toe territory here- on a pre teen girl of all things. Oh, and there’s a scene where she is ‘in heat’ too. I kid you not that after that sequence I needed to turn off my xbox for a while, go downstairs and knock back some gin. Oh, and the busty seductress mage whose sole purpose is to be busty and seductive, and sometimes bend forwards for cleavage shots. There’s an angel girl who is so utterly stupid she quite literally can’t hold a conversation with you- I’m not joking here either, this character is so stupid that she forgets what she was saying 5 seconds ago. And that’s it. There’s a little girl called Lymyle (I think) who was also nothing short of annoying, but that’s more to do with writing a bad child, rather than writing a bad woman. This game’s characters where so bad, I never completed it. I paid £40 for it, and it was less painful to just trade it in.

Now to be fair, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the very worst game I have ever played with regards to the presentation of women. Much to my enduring shame in my teenage years I played some of those Japanese interactive hentai novels, and I am including those when I make that statement. At least those girls actually had some character traits beyond the stereotypes. Picked yourself up off the floor from laughing at me yet? Good, now let’s get back to the serious stuff. The reason I use Star Ocean as an example is because these female characters are quite literally the archetypes for every woman in videogames, bar one, which we will get to in a moment. First though, I want to classify these stereotypes. They typically appear in JRPGs, but mutated version can appear in other genres:

The Ditz- Provides comedy relief because she’s just so stupid or naive she can’t do anything right. Rarely if ever develops beyond that role. Usually deliriously happy for no reason, and believes that love kindness and sharing will win the day. Occasionally turns out to be the ultimate hero and saves the day at the last minute, as if that makes up for the previous fifty hours of torment. If voice acted, will almost always have an insufferable, usually weak voice (Fina SoA, Yuna FFX, Sarah SO:TLH, Merril DA2.) It is debatable if Tidus also falls into this category.

The Best Friend- This character may turn out okay, as you typically start the game with them and they have plenty of time to develop. It typically depends on if they turn into a love interest. If so, abandon all hope as they will be used for stilted, awkward comedy relief and be hopelessly reliant on the (always) male lead for support. If not, you might get some interesting development out of the two as (if) their friendship is analysed (Tifa FFVII, Aika SoA, Quistis FFVIII. Reimi, SO:TLH)

The Cougar- Sexy, seductive older woman, typically with bristols the size of Bournemouth that are as perky as a merecat on a cocaine rush. If she’s lucky, will tease the male lead about his sexuality (despite him often being less than half her age) and/or walk around with an air of confidence and authority. Sadly, more often than not these character trait will never be used as the designers are too busy trying to work out how to get cleavage shots in. Revelaing outfits are a MUST. (Lulu FFX, Fran FFXII, Myuria SO:TLH)

The Bad Girl- Main villain. Either drop dead gorgeous or utterly grotesque. Drop dead gorgeous ones MAY be possessed/under control/manipulated. Grotesque women are always villains. Always. These characters also establish the greater theory of body fat against evil- I.E the fatter a woman is, the more likely she is to be evil. Seriously, I challenge you to name five heroic female videogame characters who where even a little chubby. Boobfat doesn’t count. This is also an example of Boolean logic as in videogame land, all women are either stick figures, or sumo wrestlers. You never find a woman of standard body type. Finally, in any group of villains if there is a woman, she will be the one who is incompetent. (Edea FFVIII, Nabaat FFXIII, Elena FFVII)

The WTF Where you thinking?- So offensive and missing the point it’s unbelievable. Samus MoM.

The final archetype is what I like to call, ‘the compensator’. This is where writers think they are writing a strong, potent female character, but are just conforming to another stereotype. This character doesn’t need a man, to the point where she will usually inflict harm on any guy who so much as asks how she’s doing, mow down legions of enemies and be an unstoppable badass. That’s fine as a base, but at the end of the day, you’re still just writing another stereotype instead of an ACTUAL CHARACTER. Lightning from FFXIII is possibly the best example I have ever seen. She has the brains and emotional maturity of an ox, but hey! She’s an empowered woman because she kicks ass! No, she isn’t, she’s a bland two dimensional character with no originality or thought whatsoever.

I once asked Allegra if she thought that femshep in Mass Effect was a good example of a woman in video gaming, and if the fact her dialogue and interactions were almost totally unchanged from manshep’s worked for, or against her. Allegra’s answer confirmed a suspicion I’d had for a while. I’m paraphrasing but her answer was something like this: “Yes, it’s very important as it means she’s been written as a character who happens to be a woman, as opposed to a female character.” (No doubt Allegra will correct me if I am wrong in this). And that, in a nutshell is what’s wrong with ‘the compensator’- it’s an attempt to create an empowered woman as opposed to simply writing a strong character and worrying about if they have boobs or not afterwards. Women have weaknesses just like men- you can force a female character to rely on help, or have them show weakness, as such plot points often make for excellent characterization- just ensure that they are NOT brought about BECUASE the character is female- in just the same way you wouldn’t write a male character into showing weakness just because he’s got a dick.

Of course, there are exceptions to this and I know of a few games that tackle the issues of sexism quite well, but if you’re going down that road, be prepared to invest plenty of time in it and don’t use it as a throwaway plot device. Certain areas of storytelling are sensitive, and are no go zones unless you’re prepared to handle them in a mature manner, and actually analyse them. I personally don’t think sexism is quite as touchy as other areas (rape, paedophilia e.t.c), but at the same time you can’t justify using it as a throwaway plot point just because it’s not as bad as other things you could be using.

Now, I was careful in my opening statement to say ALMOST every woman in videogames, with an EMPHASIS on JRPGs. There are some exceptions. The most recent I found was Fang in FFXIII- a strong character for the most part, able to hold her own both socially and in combat, but still human and suffering from occasional weaknesses and problems. She had buttons that could be pushed, and indeed her own weakness plays an important part in the endgame, but she still manages to save the day. At least I think it was her, it was hard to tell in that convoluted, tangled mess of a story. Tales of Vesperia also had some strong female characters, but you can easily see which of the archetypes the characters where supposed to fit into- but thankfully through skillfull editing, localization and some very talented voice actresses, they managed to break out of the moulds- mostly. Aika in SoA was also an excellent example of character first, woman second.

I find that outside JRPGs, the problem isn’t quite as bad, western devs have a stronger idea of what they’re doing, for the most part anyway, and they certainly didn’t get there without travelling down a very bumpy leisuresuitlarry road. Even then though, progress outside of the RPG genre has been... slow. In DA2 I found a character who, by almost all rights should be considered nothing more than a ‘compensator’, but after a while it became apparent that Isobela was actually a very good character, and hugely entertaining too. Strange as if you break it down she’s just a compensator crossed with a cougar.

Which brings me neatly to my closing point. It’s arguable that, in much the same vein as ther are only so many stories you can tell, there are only so many characters that you can have. As such any character, male or female will always fall into certain roles. This is a perfectly valid point, at least it would be where it not for the fact it’s used as an excuse for laziness. There is nothing wrong with starting your character off as one of these stereotypes. But here’s the rub- people change. Videogames typically revolve around extraordinary stories, saving the world, surviving great hardships, quests for revenge, love, loss and the realization and destruction of dreams. People change when they go through these things, and if there was one thing sealed my opinion on the presentation of women in videogames it would be the fact that often, male characters DO change and grow, and female characters do not- they remain the archetype they started out as. And to cap it off, you can also create a list of male archetypes, much like I have done for women above that female characters will rarely, if ever appear in. Related to this, how often do you see male characters in the archetypes above? Finally, you can also get away with having people stay in these archetypes, but you need to explore why as a substitute for development. Let’s take a look at a male character in this case- Cloud from FFVII. Cloud was about as boring and 2d as they come, but as you play though the game, the reasons why he is like he is become apparent. It’s a defence mechanism against others and himself so he can avoid facing the truth he’s buried so deeply- that he’s a failure and a fraud. The man has deep seated psychological problems that keep him introverted and stoic- which manifests as him having the personality of a cup of service station coffee. He’s a prime example of the stoic, angsty silent hero, but as we play the game it’s established WHY he is like he is- and I don’t think any of the characters I’ve listed above have ever had any justification for why they’ve been forced into such lazy, borderline offensive roles.

What Bioware did with Isobella in DA2 was to have her start as a cougar/compensator archetype, but then allowed her to grow out and develop from that role. Even more importantly, she began ‘comfortably’ in that mode. He dialogue was not forced or contrived, her actions, while extremely sexual and highly aggressive felt organic- this was a character who revelled in sex and violence, who happened to be a woman. Her role as a pair of tits and knives to ogle was secondary. Compare this to Lulu in FFX who had about twenty lines of dialogue, and breasts that where almost always the focus of ANY shot featuring her. Seriously, her victory animation in battles was just to LEAN FORWARDS.

So yeah, my submission for the gaming 30 day challenge, day 6 is women in videogames, especially JRPGs. If they’re not being hammered into shitty archetypes, they’re being hyper sexualized to the point of sadness. Much like the ongoing march of women’s rights in general, progress is slowly being made, but there remain a ways to go.

Maybe one day a game will follow Ultima 3 and even let you play as someone of ‘unconventional’ gender. Oh, and the first person to mention Kainé with regard to that gets a stick in the eye.

2 Response to "Most annoying character in videogames ever? Women."

  1. Out of curiosity, what's your issue with Kainé?

    Granted, I've not played Nier, but I have read a very interesting article about her here:

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts on her.

    Evis T says:

    To be honest, I'm not hugely qualified to talk about her as a character. I loathed Nier so much that I never completed it, and consequently never got the full gambit of the characters. I found the gameplay to be terrible, the graphics bad, both technically and artistically and overall it was just a horrible experience. The one redeeming feature was the soundtrack, which was fucking excellent. I will however share my thoughts as far as I played, just remember that I didn't play it all the way through.

    She was utterly boring. All she did was swear a lot and wodner around in lingere. She left so little impression on me that that is all I can say about her. Lots of swearing, and a look right out of Ann Summers. Now, I don't expect all the intricacies of a character to be on display right away, but take Nier himself for example. We can estalbish a rapport with him very quickly, and get some ideas as to his motivation and personality. He's a loving, single farther (a demographic which is hugely underrepresented in the media as a whole, not just videogaming*), whose little girl is going to die unless he finds a way to stop her illness. It's a powerful motivation, and Nier himself is also shown to be a shrewd, driven man.

    In contrast, Kainé. Neglige and curse words. All I got for the few hours I knew her.

    *Come to think of it, the only other single farther I can think of in any media form is also in a videogame, Chuck from Dead Rising 2.

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