The Winding Way to Kickass Heroines
Guest Post by Kenneth Mugi
As a white male who constantly fights with his morning stubble, I have a bevvy of video-game characters I can relate to and imagine myself being. There’s Garrett swiping things in Thief, Booker DeWitt saving Elizabeth in BioShock: Infinite, George Stobbart who stumbles around in Broken Sword and…well, every taciturn hero who finds themself in a first-person shooter. It’s not difficult for me to connect with digital entertainment because most Xbox One titles are specifically crafted for my fantasies.
The downside of this enormous a la carte imagination parade (and my first world, white male problem) is that I usually find myself in the company of other white males. Mostly they’re good folk, using me as a way of getting their death-match score up, but there’s always one. There’s that guy. He’s in my headset, yelling, screaming and cussing up a storm about how ‘you b****** be owned’ until he gets dominated by one of the many females lurking on the server.
Which, at that point, he tells the female-gendered player she’s doing it ‘wrong’ and males are superior to women in video games anyway. After all, isn’t that why most titles feature rugged, Hercules-with-guns type heroes? Women don’t play games. Not real games. They just cheat and that’s why Y-chromosome-predominant characters aren’t interesting.
Except Lara because she’s got ‘jugs, man’.
To that guy, I say you’re a fake geek and should only be allowed to play Frogger.
There are kickass heroines who don’t have Lara or Croft in their names. There’s Jade who fights for her friends in Beyond Good and Evil, Samus Aran who used to save the galaxy without daddy issues and…April Ryan.
Possibly, my favourite game of all time (even more than Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or Mass Effect 1 & 2 or Command and Conquer: Red Alert) is The Longest Journey. And it features April Ryan as the main protagonist.
April’s just a typical, stressed-out uni student who’s dealing with ex-boyfriend issues, a boss who refuses to pay her and a grumpy landlady. She’s also living in the future and gets tired of you trying to combine the same items in a desperate, last-ditch effort at problem solving.
Unfortunately for her, she’s got magical powers and can dimension hop. That sounds like fun until she gets dumped with saving the world by some random old guy whom she took pity on. Well, bad for her… fantastic for us.
The Longest Journey is my favourite title by far because it has a flawed protagonist who doesn’t want to be there, struggles with their newfound responsibilities and yet uses their wits to keep going. She doesn’t strip off and flash the bartender to get a drink, or talk coyly into a man’s ear so he drops a magical key. Hell, April doesn’t even lose her clothes as the game progresses. She’s simply a human trying to make sense of the new world she’s been forced into.
It was one of the three titles that showed me games were about more than accomplishing set tasks; they were about generating emotional experiences with the player. That even though I was a twenty-ish-year-old male, I could connect with the struggles and challenges faced by someone outside my gender. She was me; I was her. It paved the way for me for to search outside of the chiseled-men-and-square-jawed-hero narratives that had dominated my youth.
It said, without fanfare, “The protagonist’s gender doesn’t matter. Art is f’ing art. Respect.”
So I did.
Now, when that guy lights up my eardrum with his profanities, I tell him he doesn’t know anything about video games. He’s still playing in the kid’s pool with his toys and floaters. The rest of us, we’ve moved on, and if he wants to join us…he should play The Longest Journey.
After all, April is waiting.