Every videogame player has in his memory the characters he has handled and with whom he has lived great adventures. The list is long after several decades of history and evolution in which many characters have become icons of current pop culture from the classic Mario Bross and Sonic to the current Nathan Drake and Kratos . But what about his female counterpart? It is true that there have been female characters who have reached the pantheon of consoles such as Zelda or Lara Croft – who has even released their own film in recent weeks – but still: Have they received the same treatment as their male counterparts? Or, instead, have they suffered discrimination ?
The documentary Mujeres + Videojuegos by Marina Amores begins by recalling the appearance of the first female character in videogames in 1981 . In Donkey Kong debuted Pauline , who was the girl in distress kidnapped by a giant monkey and who was finally rescued by a jumping Italian plumber.That same year, Ms. Pacman starred in her own video game. Of course, it was designed as a markedly feminine and stereotyped version of Pacman .
In the same documentary we find the testimony of Elena Candil , designer at THQ Nordic GmbH , who states: “The role of women has been an object, a princess in trouble to be saved or a trophy, obviously there are also exceptions.” Clara Harguindey , designer for the study Gammera Nest explains to Proweby the journey of the archetypes in the narrative narrations citing the hero of the thousand faces of Joseph Campbell and adds that “women are represented countless times under the gaze of man ( being his protagonist) and his presence is determined in so far as it affects this.The archetype in which the female figure fits is often that of damsel in distress, woman-mother, femme fatale … “
On the other hand, Andrea Sacchi , designer and co-founder of Tahutahu Studios , agrees with Harguindey that the female characters live around the male characters. According to her, man works in stories as an active subject and woman as possession, something common in history and culture: “When we speak of the human being, we think of a man, it is the universal measure of everything. measure of man “.
Eurydice Cabañes , philosopher specialized in technology and president of ARS Games not only shares, in statements to Proweby, that women are stereotyped according to masculine parameters; In addition, it differentiates male and female stereotypes, since “they correspond to the ready for violencewhile those of them are ready for sex .” Although with the emergence of the terribly sexist “video games for girls” we can also find the stereotype as a mother or caregiver. “ He also mentions the term “women in the fridge” , which is used narratively and which is that the death of a female character is the narrative excuse that mobilizes the male protagonist.
Sexualization as the basis of the characters
The sexualization of female characters is one of the most controversial points and is the order of the day. For Harguindey, it is “very acute, it goes so far as to reduce the value of the character to its physical aspect”. On the other hand, Cabañes affirms that sexualization reaches “to such unreal points that if those bodies were real they could not walk in . There are also armor for female characters that do not protect anything in combat, or they are forced to fight in impossible and uncomfortable heels “In addition, he adds: “The problem is that this continues to be the hegemonic discourse because it creates symbolic universes by which women are treated as sexual objects and valued merely in terms of their physicality.”
Sacchi includes another role that forces women to be mysterious . According to her, many times not only the archetype of “prostitute at the service of men” is sought, but also a virginal purity that follows the Christian model of the Virgin Mary, which continues to mark our society: “They sacrifice themselves for the sake of common good, putting their well-being before him and often they are martyrs “.
Why is sexualization produced? In the documentary Mujeres + Videojuegos , we find the testimony of Anneke Mikkers , designer at Vasco Games , who states that the key to this use of female characters is that it is profitable : “It attracts players, it is a business strategy that has always worked. “ 3D animator David Fernández , for his part, says: “You meet developers like Dontnod who did Remember Me or Life is Strange who declare that they would love to create more female characters, but it is a fact that they sell less .”
The latest statistics show us that 45% of the players are female , and therefore can no longer be considered a minority. The question is: do they feel represented by the current models of female characters? Cabañes denies it: “Many do not, or at least not for the majority, but I think there are also many women and men who do not feel identified with the stories that are narrated or with the mechanics of many video games.” The key, for Harguindey, is in the social model: ” Yes, we are represented, but in a nefarious, poor and dangerous way , as in the movies, always linked to the heterosexual man and his needs and desires, always secondary.”
And what about male players? How do they react? In recent years there have been controversial cases, such as Aloy from the game Horizon Zero Dawn , where part of the community of players complained that the protagonist was not eroticized . Cabañes says that many boys play with female characters, in the words of one of them because “if I’m going to spend 200 hours playing with a character, I prefer that I look happy”. Clara Harguindey sees it clearly: “The reaction is what is expected and what is fed, in addition to focusing on the representation of the feminine, I would bet to represent other masculinities”.
Do not forget that the world of video games is not isolated from society and lives with the machismo that still permeates today. Andrea Sacchi says that the characters are aware of how they are read and interpreted by their users and behave according to the standards by which they are judged. “The industry legitimizes stereotypes, but it does not invent them, it’s a mirror, it’s important to be aware of this: to consume is to approve, it’s to vote in favor, ” says Harguindey. For Cabañes, the industry “has a social responsibility on the type of discourses it generates”, which is why it considers it essential “to encourage the production of other inclusive and inclusive video games that generate other symbolic universes”.
On the other hand, Harguindey does not consider that all constructions must be “morally exemplary”, but he finds it necessary “to understand that art is a discourse of the real , an artifact, a representation mediated and crossed by a specific ideology. “ In what does not differ is that the way to change things is for the public to consume products that the industry creates without being “a new copy of a copied copy”.
The popularity of female characters
An evolution of the female characters is also observable, in which novelties emerge that move away from these stereotypes. The examples that point to us range from the aforementioned Aloy to Iden Versio in Star Wars Battlefront II , Samus Aran of the Metroid saga, the prominence jump given by both Chloe Frazer and Nadine in the latest installment of the Uncharted series , Chell de another iconic saga such as Portal , Faith from Mirror Edge or Chloe Price and Kate Marsh from Life is Strange .
According to Harguindey, this has been possible thanks to the fact that “feminism as an ideological current has also taken a leading role in the minds of creators and the public”, and that is why “in recent years we have seen how the public claims that female characters move away from these boring stereotypes and have a more complex and complete emotional dimension , occupying a leading role.We also have more references of women developers, and women are encouraged to create and give voice, to tell our experiences through the video game.
One of the great icons of video games is Lara Croft , whose popularity has crossed the consoles and has reached the cinema several times. Cabañes says of her that “it supposed a before and an after”.“Although physically very stereotyped, a woman in the leading role was not common , and that was strong and combative made that it was taken as a reference,” he says. It is also a character shows in itself the evolution of the female characters, moving away from the goal of being sexually attractive.One of the reasons, according to Cabañes, may be due to the presence of screenwriter Rhianna Pratchett in the reboot of the saga, which has given Lara “a greater psychological background and history that make her a much more interesting character”.
The entrance of professional women in the video game industry brings a new perspective to the situation of female characters. They are still a minority in proportion to their male partners and in several studies they have reflected problems due to their gender. Still, as Elena Candil says, “will change the role of women, because when a minority ceases to be a minority, there are certain behaviors that stop being accepted .”