Small step or giant leap for females in 2013?
By Angela Espinoza, Contributor
Of the many games that came out in 2013, several of them featured crucial female characters, such as BioShock Infinite’s 19-year-old Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper), The Last of Us’ 14-year-old Ellie (Ashley Johnson), and The Walking Dead’s seven- to nine-year-old Clementine (Melissa Hutchison) in seasons one and two.
Each character shares some extremely important traits as personas and as characters that we, the player, have to invest in for well over 10 hours per character. For one, they are all escorts, which means the player is required to have them at their side for much of the game’s length. In past decades, the concept of an escort in video games had been an absolute nightmare. Previous games didn’t just make you walk around with various characters; they forced you to protect them from everything their designated game had to throw at them and you. Hours were wasted in order to keep often uninteresting if not terrible non-player characters from dying. The idea was that you were putting effort into caring about them, but they were a nuisance when all you wanted was to beat the game.
What’s special about Elizabeth, Ellie, and Clementine is that, through fantastic writing, the player legitimately cares about them. They are all developed, intriguing, and simply wonderful characters the player genuinely becomes attached to. Furthermore, they actually contribute to helping the player throughout their respective games: Elizabeth collects materials for you, Ellie fights and kills by your side, and Clementine seeks and finds many paths to get you out of dire situations.
What perhaps makes them even better is that they are all different. Most different is Elizabeth, who is not unlike the hopeful, wide-eyed, Disney princess—which I feel, in her case, is a good thing. Ellie and Clementine share some similarities in being children of the apocalypse, both being as tough and brave as they can be to impress their caretakers (the player); but whereas Ellie is old enough to crack a dirty joke or an awful pun, Clementine is still a little girl who is not yet hardened from just how evil the world can be. They all have their own reasons for causing the player to care about and love them, but what matters is that this bond the player forms is shared amongst hundreds of actual people.
But, while there are a lot of positives about our three heroines, they all come with the exact same, larger-scale problem. Elizabeth, Ellie, and Clementine, all of whom are difficult not to love, are still merely sidekicks. To be fair, in season two of Walking Dead, Clementine is the protagonist (which I think is the greatest design decision anyone has ever made), but for now I’m looking at season one. Yes, these three females are the centres of their respective games and stories. However, in each game, you are playing an older man—BioShock Infinite’s Booker DeWitt and Last of Us’ Joel (both Troy Baker) as well as Walking Dead’s Lee Everett—who protects the women and escorts them to safety. There may be less of an in-game threat to the females, but the setup remains the same. They all have their own reasons for taking on the role of guardian, and they are also very different characters, but the fact is you are playing as men, aided by helpful women.
That said, I still think all three games are amazing in their own right, and this is largely because of the excellent stories and characterizations. The strong females don’t end at just the leads either—each game has several interesting, likeable female characters as well as unlikeable female characters, especially in Walking Dead’s case. What’s important about these unlikable females is that they are not unlikeable because of their gender, but rather that they are terrible people, which is an actual issue not often tackled.
I’m not going to pretend that in 2013 games like Grand Theft Auto V didn’t desecrate female characters as an ultimate goal in their games (I’m strictly referring to the disturbing stripping sequences). But if BioShock Infinite, Last of Us, and Walking Dead taught me anything, it’s that, for the first time as a female gamer, I felt like women—good or evil—could be fairly represented in multiple games. And those three being the critically acclaimed blockbusters that they were (all three garnered various “Game of the Year” awards), I feel we’re going to see a lot more faithfully created female characters in the future.