Remember Me, the recent cyberpunk beat-‘em-up from Capcom and Dontnod, is no stranger to scandal. Outspoken creative director Jean-Max Moris commented frequently on the game’s female protagonist and the industry at large throughout the creative cycle, telling the Penny Arcade Report and others there was resistance from potential publishers at putting a woman in the center of the story. Moris has been very vocal in defending the title, stepping up to speak not only on the importance of the female protagonist, but addressing sexual orientation and race in game heroes, and critiquing the industry’s assumption that only straight white virtual dudebros can run things in games.
Moris has said some very admirable things, and I’ll be playing Remember Me this week in support of the ambitious (though flawed, I hear) title, and I hope he continues to promote diversity in games. But how much of an effect did Moris’s critique have on the packaging and presentation of the title?
The main cover artwork, splashed not only on the box but all over the ‘net, makes me think the answer is not much. It’s hard not to look at Nilin’s prominently featured butt and think that someone isn’t trying to sex up this title in pursuit of sales. Anyone scanning the cover in typical fashion, reading top-down, will note the title and then immediately be drawn to that round thing in your face (as it were).
As interested as I am in the game, this cover has bothered me from the first time I saw it, and when I started looking at other games, it was easy to see why. Female characters in games definitely suffer from a presentation problem: they’re often shuffled to the back, or presented in helpless positions as compared to their male counterparts. They frequently wear less clothing. Somehow they are often wet, even when others around them are dry, since there’s nothing like a smooth expanse of soaking skin to get those ol’ motors revving.
This art from Heavy Rain is one of my favorite examples. Poor Madison. She’s the only character shown who doesn’t get a jacket, and somehow, only she managed to be doused with the titular rain. Rain, man. It’s pesky.
Female protagonists, as rare as they are, sometimes escape this. On the cover of Mirror’s Edge, Faith is shown from the shoulders up, with nary a boob or a drop of water in sight. Good show, EA. They took some flak for Faith’s design, however, with so-called fans giving the courier a little breast augmentation in Photoshop, and softer facial features as well. Surprisingly, a recent title with a decidedly nonsexy cover is the revamped Tomb Raider (though of course, that one had its own set of issues).
Nilin, though, isn’t so lucky. Something about her stance puts me in mind of those horrible female superhero poses the Hawkeye Initiative loves to lampoon, and while she’s not giving us the boobs-and-butt twist, there’s definitely a sexual cast to my eye that’s missing from comparable covers featuring male protagonists. BioShock Infinite’s grizzled hero faces forward, shotgun over his shoulder. He doesn’t have a hypermasculine body, and his downcast eyes grant a certain vulnerability (offset by that shotgun, of course). The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct features fan-favorite Daryl posing like Nilin, with the title in a similar position, but his butt is covered by the trailing hem of his shirt. Nathan Drake is similarly positioned for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, but a convenient bit of flora covers up the goods. For Uncharted 3 we get a Drake with tight pants and a clinging shirt, but while the masculinity on display might be a point to ponder, there’s still nothing particularly sexual about the presentation. That sort of thing is left to the women. Nilin’s not the first, and somehow I doubt she’ll be the last.