On Tuesday I was driving with my youngest daughter (Essie, age 11). The conversation turned to PAX and I asked her opinion about some of the things that were discussed at the Females on Female Characters panel. Upon hearing her answers I decided to ask her older sister (Rach, age 13) the same questions, expecting very different answers. Despite them both being very much girl gamer geeks they have very different personalities and, usually, very different opinions about games. Their answers surprised me so much that I wished I had recorded them. I reinterviewed them so I could record their answers properly but they gave nearly identical answers to what they said the first time I asked. And this time, Rachel went first.
It all started because I still had the panel on the brain and was thinking about this new website and what I planned to write in this space. I had an hour drive with my girlie and so I started asking her questions about female characters in games. I desperately wish I could have recorded her answers. Please keep in mind: both girls have been exposed to a wide variety of games. They have played mostly Wii/Gamecube games with some PS2 games as well as Steam games thrown in. That said they have watched Shamus play a much wider variety of games (practically everything he has ever written about aside from a few that he only played while they were sleeping) including but not limited to all of the GTA, Mass Effect, Fallout, FFX games that he has played and reviewed. This means they likely have had a much broader exposure to females in games than the typical 11 and 13 year old girl. I interviewed them separately at different times and neither knew what the other would answer. Each girl also read through the interview after and made sure she was saying exactly what she wanted the way she wanted it said– I did not change their wording at all.
The following is my interview of Rachel, age 13. Rachel loves pink and is, in all ways, a girly girl except that most of her friends are gamer guys because, as she likes to point out, girls her age prefer to gossip and talk about makeup, boys, and music and she really just wants to play games. The questions I used for the interview are mostly those they planned to use for the panel with some slight adjustments to suit their ages or to remind them of things they specifically spoke about the day before when I asked.
Question: In general, what do you think of girl characters in video games?
Rachel: I like them a lot but I wish they would act more like normal girls. A lot of them are either really bossy or incredibly shy. They are always extremes never in between and that always irritates me. I don’t like that a lot of them (Princess Peach, Zelda, Princess Daisy), first thing is that video game designers seem to think that girls only like pink and pastel colors and that they giggle and they always act like teenagers no matter what age they actually are. I wish video games would make their proportions better– they always are either toddlers (like in Harvest Moon Magical Melody the characters, boy and girl, are shaped like toddlers and dressed like toddlers but the girls are the worst) or teenagers, not proportioned like anything older. Either they dress really skimpy or incredibly cutesy.
In grown up games (like Mass Effect, GTA, Prince of Persia) they are always dressed skimpy and they are always perfect, they never have any flaws, and they walk around the game for no reason most of the time, so they are there just to have someone in skimpy clothes.
Question: Sexy vs Sexist – when is it okay for a character to be attractive, and when is it over the line? (How much is too much)
Rachel: If you have a game and every single girl is walking around in a bikini, you have a problem. I guess if you are trying to give the idea that it is part of her personality then it is fine, and if that is so then give her a lot of dialogue so you know it is part of her personality.
Question: What makes a good female character?
Rachel: I like it when they are heroic. All girls aren’t just shy, they aren’t all just giggly teenagers. Heroic is good. Selfless is good. Too often they don’t have good qualities. I don’t like it when a character is totally flawless, they should have at least one main good quality and one bad quality– not all bad character and not all good. In a lot of games, if the girl is the bad guy she has no good qualities. And I always thought it was dumb, they always seem to dress up a bad guy in skimpy clothes: a bad attitude, a bikini, and a gun does not make a bad guy.
Question: Why default to male? – Some characters clearly need to be male, based on context, but for those that don’t, why does it always default to male?
Rachel: I think people assume that males are the ones going to be playing the game. Most guys don’t want play a girl so it defaults to guys. But girls play games too. I personally don’t like playing a guy. Sure I play one when I have to but I like playing a girl, be able to dress her appropriately, and be able to not automatically have to flirt in the dialogue. I think its a big problem that when games give you a dialogue tree as a girl they assume you want to flirt or be a jerk. In a lot of games they just give you those two options. The really bad one here is Mass Effect 2, it only gives you the be kind or selfless option on occasion and when it does, when you click on it, you realize that it doesn’t necessarily come out the way you want it to.
Question: Is this specifically a problem for girls or for characters in general?
Rachel: Yes, it is. I notice that the boy characters get more kindness options. I don’t know why. The guys get to be kinder which ticks me off. What if I want to play a nice girl. They always assume that because I am a girl playing I must want to be a jerk or flirty.
Question: What about games like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon?
Rachel: Those are my favorite games, not because they are cute and girly in some cases, but it is because they give you the choice between boy or girl right off, and in the dialogue tree they give you three options. They give you kind, intermediate, and mean. There is no flirting or big consequences because you click the wrong button or this character dies because you click the wrong button. In a lot of games being a jerk means you shoot the guy, which isn’t jerky, that’s just evil.
Question: What are your ideal female characters?
Rachel: Yuna, from Final Fantasy X. She is my favorite but what ticks me off is you can’t play as her. The best characters are always side romances. They are never the main character and when they are the main character you don’t get much dialogue, you pick boy or girl and that affects nothing. The other thing is, the one thing that changes when you are a girl. Say you’re a boy, you change to a girl, it just changes the romance, not much dialogue change. I like Alex (from Half-life) a lot and I wish they came out with a game that you could play as her. I personally don’t care about Chel from Portal because she has no dialogue and you only see her once or twice when you are jumping through portals, and you can hardly get the angle right so you can’t see her face. Princess Peach drives me crazy. Her only uses are getting captured over and over and sending you lives every once in a while. She giggles too much and my eyes hurt because she wears too much pink. Don’t get me wrong, I love pink, but even I have my limits. Princess Daisy, while I am talking about Mario, I have played a ton of Mario games and she has only turned up once or twice, and even then it if for a couple seconds with like three words of dialogue, even Luigi get s more. And they just changed Princess Peach’s clothes and hair color to make her and who the heck is she anyway.