Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Need for a New Lead – Part 1

Video games have come a long way since its humble origin; graphics have improved, game design has become more intricate, and consoles/pc has become vastly more complicated to develop for. However, in all this time, the protagonists of the games we play have stayed mostly the same. Not that there is anything wrong with the generic male lead, but I believe it’s time for more diversity. It’s time to bolster up the female leads, but not at the expense of personality, and there are examples within the industry already to learn from.
Samus, at the very end of Metroid
Makoto Kano probably didn’t realize what a big deal he was going to make in 1986 when writing Metroid. He just helped to create a game with a strong lead going up against insurmountable odds. The player was taken on a journey with Samus, and when you finally got to the end of the game it no longer mattered that she turned out to be a woman. She was strong, bold, fearless, and thanks to the trials during the adventure, the gamer had an affinity with her. She has attained lasting fame, not only by being the first, but also by having a mostly great series of games (We'll ignore Metroid Other M). Nintendo has treated her, and the Metroid series, with tremendous respect, and this helps to explain why after 26 years she has remained relevant.
This is how a badass dual wields
Nariko from HeavenlySword (voiced and modeled after the wonderful Anna Torv), was another female character cut from the same cloth as Samus. She was strong, brave, and driven to protect her people. With her fiery red hair, she cut through the enemy, despite the physical toll it took on her. It was because of this sense of tragedy that the player got to care for her; she was trying to save her people at the cost of her life, and everything the player did hastened her death. She knew what she was getting into, but she showed such strength of character doing all she could to protect those she loved. These simple acts speak volumes, far more than Marcus Fenix’s four letter words and bulging muscles. I one day hope for her return, outside of an assumed All Star’s appearance.
There can only be one
But not all characters are created equal; Tomb Raider’s Lara was… different. She had big boobs and short shorts, and, that was kinda it. She was sold on sex appeal, and whatever personality she may have had was forgettable, but the game play was good for the time, and her world was intriguing. This may change in 2013’s reboot, but only time will tell. The Boss (we need a solo game with her), Alyx Vance, and Zelda are all great characters, but they are not leads. So those were some of the strong female leads that have graced video games, but the industry needs not only look within; film and TV is a great place to get inspiration from too.
Out in the wilds of fan fiction, these two must be kicking ass together
Ripley (portrayed by Sigourney Weaver) from the Aliens universe and Olivia (not surprisingly performed by Anna Torv) from Fringe are great female leads. Like some of the others mentioned above, they’re bold, strong, brave, and extraordinarily protective of those around them. When put into tough situations, they have the fortitude and patience to think things through, and act with deliberation, most time outsmarting their advisories. They’re honest and hardworking, almost to a fault, and they don’t compromise their core beliefs on a whim or fancy. They have constantly been the best part of their respective universes, and please note, carrying big guns or having superpowers are not a defining trait, just incredibly cool.
Korra, just doing her Avatar thing
Recently the show The Legend of Korra not only had a female lead character, but one that was a minority too. And unlike Japanese anime, Korra was not a caricature of a strong female lead. She didn’t need over sized boobs, tight barely visible clothing, and big luscious lips to be strong. She was independent, trying to discover who she is and where she fit in into her world. It was a fascinating and honest journey (who hasn’t struggled with their identity while growing up), and handled with integrity. And she isn’t the only strong female lead this show has offered. LinBeifong, and her mother Toph were just as well rounded as the young Avatar.  
Hey, what about us?
There are plenty of female characters I didn’t mention (Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, Chell from Portal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but there is plenty of room for more games with strong engaging female leads. Most of these women are strong, brave, smart, and willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. You could write nonsense about it only being maternal instinct, but it’s deeper than that. These leads are good people who have been thrust into difficult circumstances, but managed to rise to the occasion. It just so happens they are women. This industry needs more diversity, something the movie industry and the TV world has, by and large, failed at; for every Ripley, Korra and Olivia, you get hundreds of male leads. It’s time for the video game industry to move beyond the limitations that have defined other forms of entertainment, and take bold steps. Gamers are intelligent (you need to be for games like Portal), and I have no doubt that we can handle a shift to more diversity, so bring it on, I would welcome this opportunity. Next month I’ll write about the need for stronger, better fleshed out and engaging minority leads.

Click here for articles on Dishonored, Metal Gear, and E3 2012.

1 comment:

  1. I just orderd my Metroid other M from at PIJ . Its really awesome for pre order. you can also get yours there.