Fear Through Her Eyes: Analyzing the Female Character in Horror Games

The Final Girl: it’s a trope that’s sure to resonate with any horror fan, regardless of their level of interest or devotion to the genre. Referential to the trend of horror media leaving a solitary female character as its “last person standing,” The Final Girl is generally defined as being that remaining woman or girl who’s left to confront whatever terror killed and/or eliminated the rest of said woman or girl’s group and initiate the final battle or confrontation. Although that’s all that’s necessary to qualify a character as a Final Girl, typically said girl also was comparatively innocent or naive prior to the horrific set of events she found herself forced into, is resourceful, is a brunette, and, over the course of the story, becomes a hardened survivor. As Carol J. Clover states in her book Men, Women, And Chain Saws: Gender In The Modern Horror Film, the trope was initially introduced into the horror genre in 1970′s and 80′s slasher films. However since then it’s burst into popularity, becoming practically a staple in horror movies.

While certainly not as prevalent as in horror movies (where I believe that the trope is in more movies than it’s not), horror video games have also not escaped the clutches of this prevalent trope. Rebecca Chambers from Resident Evil 0, Ripley from Alien: Isolation, and Ellie from The Last of Us are just two examples of the trope in action. While not all female protagonists in horror/thriller games technically fall under this trope – some were never in groups, some had a few others survive alongside them – many embody at least one or two qualifications, particularly the quest to overcome all odds so crucial to the “scary” aspect of horror movies. And while horror games have some of the largest amounts of female characters (and protagonists in particular), I’ve struggled with how to view these female characters in terms of proper representation and feminist-friendliness for the longest time.

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Minifigs, mini-dolls and my stubborn nostalgia

I was flipping through the new LEGO catalogue the other day (because what I really need is more LEGOs!) and I was thinking back to this post, where one commenter wrote, “the City line, at least, is moving nicely towards gender equality – at least one of every set of firefighters will have a traditionally feminine head with lipstick, for example.” I have also found this to be true in other lines of the LEGO products. For instance, I have a lady astronaut minifig (who apparently wears make up in space). Out of curiosity, I counted the minifigs included in the four new LEGO City sets featured in the current catalogue. Out of 17 minifigs included in these four sets only 4 are female. Not the equality I was looking for. This is obviously not a scientific experiment, just my impressions of what I’m seeing in the catalog. One of the new sets, Artic Helicrane, includes both a male and a female in a traditionally male occupation similar to the above commenter’s reference to firefighters. So, that is happening. I suppose we are plodding along toward gender equality in LEGO.  Read more »


Silencing is not the answer

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about Gamer Gate in light of the most recent doxxing event (Felicia Day, posting about her concerns, became a target). His response? By taking what he deemed to be an offensive action (posting about her feelings on her blog) she essentially invited the harassment. In other words, if you don’t want to get harassed, don’t open your mouth. Read more »

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Power Hour Review: Sid Meier’s Beyond Earth

Civilization, Civilization, Civilization. When I was in middle school I would wait until everyone was sleeping and then sneak into the office and play Civ II all night, going to school the next day with blurry eyes and disoriented speech patterns from a lack of sleep. I would fake sick to stay home and play. I even turned down free alcohol in high school on occasion because I wanted nothing more than to sit at my sister’s dorm room and play Civ III on her computer. It was in the world of Civilization that I discovered and grew my absolutely undying love of turn-based strategy games. While I may not go as far to say that my entire nerdom was developed because of Civilization, it absolutely played a crucial role in turning me into a gamer and a geek.

I give you this background so you can contextualize my review. It is not the review of an unbiased person. I love Civ. I talk about it in my scholarship, and I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it, making it a very important game to me. Most of the time when I turn a critical eye on a game, it becomes less enjoyable. Civ is magical.

So, does Beyond Earth hold up to my very high standards for the Sid Meier games? Undoubtedly yes. I only meant to play an hour to make this a true Power Hour review, but I just couldn’t stop myself and ended up playing for most of the evening yesterday. Here is a breakdown of some of the pros and cons of the game.

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Episode 88: Legos and Lady Parts: On Gamer Anticipation and Participation

Episode 88: Legos and Lady Parts: On Gamer Anticipation and Participation (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

In this episode we talk about the games that we are most looking forward to in the coming months and why as well as discussions on the latest goings on in #gamergate.

I Heart Games

Why Games?

Why Games?

I have a soft spot in my heart for slam poetry. I love words and I love music, and slam seems to find the balance between them. I’m also a huge nerd, so I was particularly happy when I found this gem by Rachel Rostad:

The thing about slam poetry is that, as powerful as it can be, the breadth of its influence is limited by the medium. While slam can be a bit more narrative than some forms of poetry, it’s still brief—given more to pithy statements than developed concepts.

Those limitations caused Rostad to get a good deal of negative feedback on her piece…and her response was beautiful. Most interesting to me was her response to the question of “Why Harry Potter?” Rostad says:

“I do not hate J.K. Rowling. I do not hate Harry Potter.  If I did, I would not have been compelled to write this piece. I grew up on the books. I went to all the midnight showings (like I’m sure you all did). I love Harry Potter. And I do believe that Harry Potter, as many people have said, is all about equality and compassion…To those who ask, understandably so, ‘Why Harry Potter? Why not a better example of racism?’ I say ‘You’re right.’ Harry Potter is not the most racist thing ever. In fact, it is probably one of the more progressive popular series out there, but the point is that’s not enough. I think we should re-examine if we think that the representation of Cho Chang and other characters of color…is the end of racism and I think Harry Potter offers a great platform for this discussion because the series is so popular. The point is that racism isn’t just present in small niche cultures. My piece is not a critique on J.K. Rowling as much as it is on the repeated tokenization and fetishization of Asian women in popular culture.”

So why games?
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GamerGate Fatigue

Before the week is over and you start getting your GamerGate fatigue (or maybe you already have it), I hope you will indulge me in reading this post, even if it’s the last one you ever read about GamerGate.

(For GamerGaters)

Let me start by saying that I want to thank the proponents of GamerGate. Gamers like you have been a constant presence in my gaming life, ranging from being a mild annoyance to a threatening, terrifying existence that has on occasion stopped me from gaming. You have really fucked yourselves this time. Sarkeesian was on the front page of the New York Times, gamers who have never read a forum in their lives now recognize harassment as a problem in video games, and companies who would have continued to sink money in games for the same tired old market have had their worlds rocked. You have done what 20 years of feminist critique and outrage could never have done: you have simultaneously forced everyone to recognize that this harassment is happening and forced not just players, but also companies, to recognize the need to work toward change. No company or player can go on pretending this is not a problem, and honestly from the bottom of my heart, thank you. The sound of a thousand feminist voices in unison could not be as loud as your angry, entitled cries of “whore,” “bitch,” and “cunt.”

I also want to send a special thank you to those who have continued diligently to be a part of this movement under the guise that you are “fighting to achieve something involving ethics in gaming journalism.” You have shown the world just how toxic gaming culture is. But your voices don’t matter any more, at least not really. You have shown you will reject any grain of truth that you indeed are being sexist and part of the problem, and you have shown that you will die clinging to whatever fucked up utopic vision of you have of “how games used to be.” Because you refuse to reflect on just how fucked up your movement is, people will never take you seriously. And those people have money. And last time I checked, gaming companies only cared about one thing: money.

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In Defense of Polygon

When you think about what comprises a game review, what comes to mind? Certainly traditional review elements like a critique of the game’s mechanics, its fluidity, its narrative if that’s something that’s important to you, its graphics and sound, and even its “fun factor” are all things that would be popular answers. But for a growing number of game critics, aspects like the presence of gratuitous fanservice/examples of the male gaze and other social commentary-based criticisms are becoming one of those staples too. And, as expected in the gaming community, not everyone is pleased about it. But often what that vocal group of angry commentators fail to recognize is how this sort of deeper criticism functions not as “click bait,” but as a legitimate addition to the standard definition of what game – and any media for that matter – criticism really is.

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Episode 88

Come check out episode 88 of NYMG, live starting in a few minutes: https://plus.google.com/events/c478cqg0is91a2v8od1o1nmo0jk


Vulnerability and the Female Character

Yesterday, I was reading this debate on Kotaku, sparked by comments made here by Shinji Mikami the creator of the Resident Evil games. As with any and all debates via Internet comments, you gotta take the good with the bad. But, I was surprised to find myself agreeing (at least in part) with some of the defenders of submissive female characters because while I would like to see a whole lot fewer submissive female characters, what I really want to see is a lot more well thought out characters that enhance the narrative, rather than detract from it or seem like somewhat of an afterthought.

In the Guardian interview, Mikami discusses character creation, specifically his thoughts on submissive female characters and he comments,

“If I had to name the woman character I most disliked in my games it would be Rebecca Chambers,” he says. “She’s submissive, she’s not independent. I didn’t want to include her but the staff wanted that kind of character in the game, for whatever reason. I’m sure it made sense to them. And in Japan, that character is pretty popular.” He shrugs despondently.

I can totally identify with that despondent shrug. We feminist gamers or Social Justice Warriors or whatever often get a lot of pushback for wanting more representation and more accurate representation because, apparently, “real” gamers want jiggle physics and non-threatening women in their games. (Someday maybe I will understand how strong women make some men feel somehow less “manly.”)

The comments on Kotaku start with,
“Something something Social Justice Warrior something something.
I say good on him for putting more thought into his characters, regardless of gender.”

And, while I don’t love the dismissal of SJW, I do agree that putting more thought into characters beyond the tropes would make for a richer game playing experience. (If, of course, you are into narrative, which I am.) Here at NYMG we have had many debates about what would make a good female character. Some of us want a totally badass female who takes no shit, while others are ok with a little vulnerability. Our debates over Lara Croft come to mind here. I really liked her in the latest Tomb Raider. To me, she felt real. She was dressed a bit more appropriately, and she was pretty badass. She was also at some points vulnerable. I’m thinking in particular of the scene when she was alone and scared and looking to connect with her teammates. Others felt this showed too much weakness in Lara, and I can see that point also. But, for me, if I were to think of putting myself in that situation, I would totally also be scared and looking for my team. But, I think some of the reaction to Lara’s vulnerability comes from the overall lack of really independent female characters. I may not be a badass, but I know plenty of independent females who are, and these women almost never get to play a relatable character.

Perhaps feminist gamers would be more open to a vulnerable female character (even, dare I say a submissive female character) every now and then. If it were every now and then, instead of every time. In the original Guardian interview, Mikami said, “I’m interested in vulnerable characters, in normal human beings. The horror experience is most scary when the player really isn’t sure whether their character is going to live or die – death and survival need to be on a constant see-saw.”

Mikami also directed The Evil Within, which I am playing now. As I wrote last week, I don’t see a lot of originality in that game at all, either in characters or story or even anything that happens. I listed a whole lot of games last week that The Evil Within reminded me of. A move toward more originality overall would be great. But, perhaps part of the reason I don’t find The Evil Within to be scary is because I literally do not care about any of the characters so far. So, while I agree with Mikami that “death and survival need to be on a constant see-saw,” I also need to care about the character.

I would love to see more varied characters overall. Independent women, submissive men (yes, that happens in real life), a mix of both, a variety of flaws. I would love to see all of that. The lack of this isn’t all that unique to games; we see this in other forms of entertainment also, hence the need for the Bechdel test. I would love to see a greater range of characters in general: characters that enhance the story, engage the player, and make it hard to walk away from the game before the story is over.