Friday, September 14, 2012

The Baseline is: Video Game Writers Suck

On September 12, The Atlantic interviewed Junot Diaz on his new book, but what came out was probably the most sought after explanation for tawdry, scantily-clad video game females this world over. Plainly said:

Guys, you suck.

In Mr.Diaz’s own delicate, refined prose, he states:

“The one thing about being a dude and writing from a female perspective is that the baseline is, you suck. The baseline is it takes so long for you to work those atrophied muscles—for you to get on parity with what women's representations of men are. For me, I always want to do better. I wish I had another 10 years to work those muscles so that I can write better women characters. I wring my hands because I know that as a dude, my privilege, my long-term deficiencies work against me in writing women, no matter how hard I try and how talented I am.”

Some part of me, honestly, gave men the benefit of the doubt. I simply assumed that they were doing it for marketing purposes or just illustrating the female form as it has been for centuries—as a sexualized object. But no, it hadn’t occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, men can’t write.

Can’t write women, of course.

When you take a look at the few female game designers that are out there, it’s easy to understand why so many Croftesque* characters make it to the shelves. In the UK alone, women make up only 12% of the industry. But the few women who work hard for their wages have made memorable games.

Amy Hennig, head writer and creative director for the immensely successful Uncharted series, helped create believable women, rooted in reality. The series' three main female characters—Elena, Chloe, and Marlowe—feature full clothes, strong wills, independence, and the average bust. None of that impossible bust to waist ratio. These are women you could picture seeing, maybe having a meal at the mall or walking their dogs.
Take a look at those massively average breasts (Source: Naughty Dog)

Hennig isn’t the only woman known for creating down to earth women. You’d be surprised to know that quite a few leading games have women behind the scenes, including Gears of War 3 and Deus Ex.
Now, this isn’t a new topic at all. This is an industry that has been dominated by misogynistic thinking since it's beginning, leading to the creation of many fantastic characters like Heavenly Sword's Nariko or Resident Evil's Jill Valentine, but also some that lacked, say, a women’s touch. This includes female characters that are extremely masculine, have no thought process, can’t dress (more so my own nitpick), and/or  are solely for rescuing.

Quite a good deal of games feature a male protagonist, or rather, a mandatory male protagonist. Many titles, like Infamous or Grand Theft Auto,  focus on solely one character's journey, who tends to be male.As such, it's easy for other characters, namely female ones, to fall short of grandeur and become a prop. Eventually, however, this wasn't the only option. One of the few genres of video games that first began adding the gender choice were MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Now we have PC and console games like Dragon Age and Fallout, which allow the player to customize their characters, gonads included.

Of course, the notion of what is a "real woman" will always come into play here, and by allowing customization, the "real woman" is up to the player's own definition. And like most things, this quick fix can also perpetuate these same misogynistic norms, but it's a step in the right direction (and maybe another post).

It’s clear that we could use more choice in the hands of the player, since, Mr.Diaz so eloquently put it, male writers suck at creating the real woman. More customization means more happiness for all of us. The boys get their bimbos and the girls get their heroes. In this way, women can become more immersed in the game world, as they play what could be a representation of themselves, instead of living out someone else's story. But writers also need to step up to the plate and reinvent the idea of woman as strong, yet sentimental, brave, but not afraid to admit fear, and real. Just real.

*Croftesque: Qualities of Lara Croft, including large breasts, tiny waist, and a get the point.


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