The original, grown up version of the Females on Female Characters panel at PAX East(from which I pulled most of the questions I asked my girls, thanks Susan for sending me the original questions) has been posted in video form here (may be NSFW)– Essie’s responses to the questions wil be below the videos:
Again, let me remind you that 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 those on games on Shamus’ Steam account 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 out there. 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 and at different times and neither knew what the other would answer. I also want to note that we have never really discussed female characters in games and neither girl has seen the video of the panel, which made it especially interesting to see how much their answers lined up with what the panel had to say.
Rach and Essie playing Dance, Dance Revolution as twins.
The following is my interview of Esther, age 11 who spend a great deal of her time creating stories in Garry’s Mod and Minecraft, spends all her spare change on DS and Wii games, and has beat all the Harvest Moon games we own in record time.
Question: In general, what do you think of girl characters in video games?
Essie: Well, I think there are some good ones but usually they are flat, kind of 2 dimensional, like Princess Peach. I mean, she only exists so she can be rescued, which is boring and not at all like a real person. Meanwhile Zelda is more detailed and has that Sheik, the other side of her personality. She is very introverted as Sheik but is a nice outward person as Zelda.
Sometimes they can be kind of blank, kind of like Princess Peach. I think they just try to make women attractive and just plain old whiny jerks. For instance in GTA San Andreas, they are always calling up and whining about how they want more attention. They are always wearing teeny tiny skirts and little tops with no covering– partially naked. It makes me feel insulted, because in reality women are not like that.
Question: When is it okay for a character to be attractive, and when is it over the line? (How much is too much)
Essie: If they are in a game and going out to a really fancy restaurant then it is okay but it is over the line when they wear those clothes all the time. The really short skirts and really tiny tops, like sports bras all the time– that is too much. Most main characters it is okay if they wear a crop top or shorts but dressing skimpy all the time is just skanky. If it is part of their personality and there is a really good reason for it but they would have to have the perfect personality for that to make sense and for it to be all right.
Question: What makes a good female character?
Essie: I feel that a good female character, she has an even balance. Alex from Halflife is a good female character. She has a good personality but her little flaw is that she hates being bossed and pushed around and she doesn’t follow orders very well. It is kind of a flaw but that makes her more realistic, and she is a tomboy and she is just the perfect character. I just get mad because I can’t play her. All the best female characters are just sidekicks like Yuna and Alex.
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?
Essie: Some call for that in the storyline, some stories just don’t make sense. It would just be strange in some games to be a girl, but in Minecraft it wouldn’t hurt if you could play a girl. I don’t really mind playing boys but I tend to like playing a girl because that is my gender.
Question: What about games like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon?
Essie: It is a good idea to have the option of boy or girl and it is sad that Harvest Moon: It’s a Wonderful Life you can’t choose gender. I also feel that games like that should have different goals, like Harvest Moon Magical Melody because after a while you get sick of collecting notes and feel like you have accomplished everything after you get married and have a kid.
Question: What are your ideal female characters? You already mentioned Alex.
Essie: Yuna, from Final Fantasy X. She is a likable character, she’s not perfect but she is likable. There is also the first girl from Mass Affect 2, Miranda. When you first meet her I really like her. I like her even though she gets bossy and weird later. I liked how, in the first part she is straight forward and shoots the bad guy. She is no nonsense.