“Girls want superheroes, and the boys want superheroes.”
Why is it that it takes a four year old girl to tell us this? The answer of course is that it doesn’t, but you wouldn’t necessarily get that view by looking at one of the world’s premier entertainment – and storytelling – industries: video games. Here’s Riley Maida, telling us how it is:
I found Riley after she was mentioned in Polygon’s excellent editorial, No girls allowed. I’d recommend you go read it; it’s an excellent piece. The editorial got me thinking, because I love video games and the stories they can tell. I was thinking recently that I’m playing less games despite this, and not just because of “life;” I’m playing less games because less of the stories being told are interesting to me. War simulators and sports games don’t have great stories (generally predictable, if there’s a story at all), and some of the games with appreciably good story have unrealistic characters, musclebound freaks of nature I just can’t relate to, or near-naked women who couldn’t fight a horde of demons let alone make it through a mall.
As a storyteller, I find it kind of odd that there are books and stories made where people are not equal. I don’t mean not equal as in, a story about apartheid; it’s necessary for inequality to be a part of that story. I mean not equal as in, because you’re a woman your role is to have a) breasts and b) poor dialogue options. Being a dude who’s white, I kind of have life on easy mode, but that doesn’t mean I need to tell stories like an asshole. For me, I feel like the telling of stories is an honour, and I’d do a great injustice if I was to make the women in my books less than human.
Because that’s what they are. Sure, I’m a guy; I don’t have life experience as a woman, but I also don’t have life experience as a werewolf. I just try to let the people in my work tell their own stories. George RR Martin is an excellent model to follow; not only is he a Jedi at writing epic fiction, but his stories are full of powerful characters – their sex is irrelevant.
Having now got that rant out, things are not all bad. As mentioned, Martin exists – his work is top notch. But what about where this started: video games? Again, the news is not all bad. For all that there’s a mess of generic dudebro games that make me want to throw up my shoes with their grotesquely muscled men and women wearing chain mail bikinis (neither of which are good examples of humanity), there are cogent, relevant, and thoughtful works out there.
Remember Me, whilst a little flawed in its execution, has a main protagonist Nilin who is smart, streetwise, and working outside the law for greater good. Mirror’s Edge, a critical if not commercial success, has hero Faith who thinks and works differently yet still in an action context, a powerful context. Neither Nilin nor Faith walk around half naked; they wear clothing appropriate for their environment and their tasks, much like any human being might. And The Last of Us is great; it treats its subject matter with dignity and great respect, and I can’t praise it highly enough; both the main roles, reprised by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, have some of the best humanity I’ve seen.
I love games for the stories they can tell, and I don’t mind if the avatar I’m experiencing the story through is male or female. If companies make games with great stories, I will buy them, irrespective of whether the protagonist is male or female (or a robot, whatever). I want better stories, real stories, that make me laugh and cry and cheer for the hero and hate the villain. I want stories told by women and men, for all of us.
Is it too much to ask?