At the moment, it seems like the games industry is a bit of a sausage fest. In 2015 (so far), we’ve seen the return of brooding vigilante Batman in Arkham Knight and everyone’s favourite spec ops agent with a fondness for cardboard boxes, Snake Pliskin, in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (MGSV); met parkour master Jason Crane in Dying Light; welcomed Barry Burton’s return in Resident Evil: Revelations 2- Episode 1; and finally got the chance to dictate the actions of the guzzoline-guzzling Max Rockatansky in Mad Max as well as. On top of that high octane list of macho men, 2015 has also seen special editions of Dishonoured and Gears of War as well as Mortal Kombat X, adding yet more grunts and fighting to this article.
But what about women? How is 2015 shaping up for female characters in this year’s video games? Well…not great to be honest. Firstly, 2015 saw the release of Dead or Alive 5 (DoA5), the latest instalment from a franchise notorious for being a fighting game which doubles as a boob jiggle simulator. Not deviating from its predecessors, DoA5 gives us a roster of macho men and anime women, all of whom come with a cornucopia of costumes. For the female characters, this means: ‘sexy Santa’; school uniforms, bikinis, skimpy sportswear and a Grim Reaper like shroud…with huge slits up the side to show off skin tight spandex leggings. Also stirring controversy is Quiet, a mute sniper with seemingly supernatural abilities from MGSV, who appeared in the E3 content demo (aboard what appeared to be a large freight ship) dressed in only a bikini top and ripped leggings. While, this have led to fierce criticism, the game’s lead producer, Hideo Kojima, defended the design, stating in a series of tweets that the character was created as an “antithesis to the women who appeared in past fighting games who are excessively exposed” and that “once you realise the secret reason for her exposure, you will feel ashamed of your deeds and actions”. Now that the game has been released, some of Quiet’s backstory justifies her state of undress in the demo. Spoliers ahead but it transpires that while trying to assassinate the game’s main character, Quiet is set alight and suffers severe bunrs. As part of her therapy, she consents to be infected with a parasite used to create the some of the game’s more brutal enemies. This gives her innate camoflague abilites which affect her clothes as well as her skin. However, I personally don’t believe it goes far enough to full justify the character’s portrayal and while writing this, I have come up with several ways that the character could retain the same powers and not appear in a bikini and ripped leggings.
If things couldn’t get any worse, high fantasy RPG The Witcher returned this year with its third instalment. Something that developers hadn’t left out was the sexual rewards players got from completing certain quests. While the third instalment has significantly reduced the number of sexual encounters the players can involve the main character in, three of the five individual sexual encounters (not including the game’s brothels) are only achievable by completing a quest or quests. For example, to ‘romance’ feisty swordswoman Jutta An Dimun, you must beat her in a sword combat. That’s all you have to do. However, while the dubious nature of how sex is achieved in the game remains, gone are the ornate erotic ‘romance cards’ available after every sexual encounter, as seen in the first game in the series.
So, is there anything that can make up for the above? Fortunately, yes. The aforementioned Arkham Knight has two available DLC stand-alone missions featuring long time Bat-ally, Batgirl, and fan favourite villain, Harley Quinn. This is the first time that Rocksteady, the game’s developers, have included missions solely focused around a female character without the option or gameplay mechanic of cutting to a male character (Arkham City, the game’s predecessor, had the player do some missions with Catwoman but the time spent with the character was mostly superficial). However, in the interest of unbiased journalism- only the Harley Quinn DLC features such gameplay as Batgirl is accompanied by Nightwing for her DLC.
In contrast to the women of DoA5, the female characters in NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat X are subject to relatively little sexualisation- while they appear in a variety of outfits, these outfits are (mostly) suited to the character’s background and would be deemed practical. For example, Cassie Cage- daughter of MK veterans Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade- appears in either her Spec Ops uniform or in practical workout attire. I’m not saying the game is perfect but for a fighting game with a typically straight male player demographic, its female characters are less sexualised than many others in the same genre.
Furthermore, the next instalment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise (due out in late October) is to feature a playable female character. The player will control the Frye siblings, Jacob and Evie, and will have the option to freely switch between the two. Two things are notable about this inclusion- Evie will be the first playable female character in the main series of games and she will also play very differently to her brother, allowing for a unique and rewarding gameplay experience rather than simply a gender-swapped clone thrown in for ‘variety’.
However, one of the stand-out highlights of the year must be the second release in the reboot of the Tomb Raider series. Rise of the Tomb Raider, due to be released in late 2015, is the second adventure to star the new Lara Croft, a grad student who seems to be dogged by bad luck as opposed to a haughty aristocrat with some questionable polygons. As with its predecessor, 2013’s Tomb Raider, Lara once again has to rely on her survival skills, instinct and knowledge to traverse a harsh Siberian environment. Written by Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of the late Terry Pratchett and writer behind games such as Mirror’s Edge and the aforementioned Tomb Raider, and continued with a stronger, more realistic Lara, In the words of Pratchett herself, she aimed to “connect to the human side of her [Lara]…which we felt had been lost over the years”. In short, Rise of Tomb Raider has said to an eager goodbye to the hyper-sexualised Lara of the 1990s and is giving the new generation a more realistic female hero.
A lesser known hit that is also making waves is Life is Strange, an episodic adventure from Dontnod and Square Enix. You play as Max, a plucky yet somewhat awkward photography student at a prestigious academy in Oregon, who discovers that she has the ability to rewind time. The game features a cross-section of student life from the rebellious drop-out to the snarky outcast to the Queen B with internalised emotional baggage. While it sounds like the game is populated by stereotypes, it is a game set at a high school. However, the female characters are strong and diverse with your actions in the past and present affecting their individual relationships with Max. Furthermore, no character comes across as the weak link with all of the cast holding a unique backstory (and how much of that you discover depends on the level of interaction you give each character).
At the other end of the spectrum of genres, in a historic move, the 22 year old FIFA franchise will feature women’s international soccer teams for the first time in FIFA 16. While many sports games do, such as EA’s UFC games and the numerous tennis and Olympic tie-ins, have included playable female characters, their real-life counterpart already have an established and well publicised women’s side to that sport. However, after the popularity of the Women’s soccer world cup in Canada earlier this year, women’s football has edged its way into the spotlight. 12 international teams (Germany, USA, France, Sweden, England, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Spain, China, Italy and Mexico) will all be available to play as in 3 game modes. However, women’s teams can only compete against other women’s teams- so sorry to anyone who wanted to add insult to injury and prove that the English women’s team was superior by having them beat the men’s national team. While the inclusion of women is rather limited in this game, this does show change within the franchise and the promise of things to come If EA, developers of the franchise, are thinking along the right lines, then FIFA 17 or even (please don’t hurt me) DLC should include women’s football at a club level, with the option to play full seasons and create players. As a Polygon article on the issue states, FIFA 17 will show how EA really feel, when there isn’t a major women’s tournament to piggyback.
In conclusion, 2015 has been a mixed bag in terms of female characters in video games. While sexist and sexualised characters continued to be churned out by certain developers, there is a growing group who are giving people what they want- better female characters who are likeable and relatable as well as realistic! It will be interesting to see what the rest of 2015 and beyond holds but I can say with some degree of confidence that I think we are beginning to take steps in the right direction. The fight continues and will continue for the foreseeable future but while they are people out there still fighting for the ‘good’ side, then I think we are on our way to change.