Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Guns Are Up Here - Female Roles in Video Games

Over the centuries, women have been repressed and shoved back into certain roles in their communities, those roles having usually involved children or cooking. But in modern times, the idea of a powerful woman is becoming more appealing to a lot of people. Power that gives us all tremendously great women to look up to and admire. This could be powerful in a business or otherwise corporate sense, in the sense of sheer popularity, or--as the focus of the article will be about--impressive physical strength or agility such as in video games and movies.

Ferocious Divas

Throughout the years, there are been a significant number of incredibly influential women in the media, such as
movie actresses and music sensations. But lately, even though there are quite a few ridiculously popular and incredibly powerful women in the mainstream media, some of the most interesting women in current times aren't even real! Which shows how badly humanity is craving strong women to look up to. The video game corporations seem to acknowledge this by constantly bringing strong female protagonists to the forefront of the industry and they're commanding a lot of attention by doing so.

With strong female leads like
Bayonetta and Heavy Rain's Madison Paige giving a lot of us video game-fanatics strong incentive to buy video games just to see a woman kick some hardcore butt--you have to wonder where this trend started and why a lot of us seem to love it so much more than even the most worthy male leads lately. One theory is that the Tomb Raider  series had a significant impact on the demand for video games with strong female leads. This type of game seems to have taken a step in a direction that was purposefully intended to break the stigma surrounding games with a single female protagonist being a 'girl's game.' Now-a-days, guys are much more interested in playing as female characters than they might have been a decade or more ago. We can probably thank Lara Croft for that. Well, her and the fact that a lot of guys are perverts. But most of us just want a bad-ass woman to cheer on.

Fantasy And Reality

As we rush swiftly into the future, it is hard to look back and believe women couldn't even vote just a little over a century ago. That means my great grandmother and her Mother were unable to vote, and my grandmother just barely avoided that dreadful era. What a scary and disconcerting thought. And yet, just two years ago for the first time in history, a woman
participated in the primary elections to be President of the United States of America. That is a great feeling knowing that humanity has some form of hope if we can come so far in such a small amount of time.

The harsh reality of what women have been through seems to fuel many people's longing and adoration for the concept of a strong woman standing up and taking charge. Even more-so when the whole planet, or even the entire universe rests on a single woman's shoulders. Such as has been the case in countless fantasy-themed video games. Specifically, the Final Fantasy series and the trend of female summoners and sorceresses saving all life as they know it.

Rising to the Challenge

Throughout the Final Fantasy series, we have watched strong female leads play intricate roles in saving the world. But as each new installment falls into the hands of the eagerly awaiting public, it seems the female protagonists become even more and more prominent. Looking way back when the series first turned 3D with the Playstation release of Final Fantasy VII, we see Aerith and Tifa playing significant parts in the story, and in the end, Aerith actually being the one who saves the world from Sephiroth's Meteor by amping up the power of Holy to counter it and protect the planet. All this after she dies and becomes some kind of spirit of the earth apparently (spoilers from 13 year old games don't count!)

As the franchise continues, we see Rinoa take on the powers of the sorceresses before her and help save not just the world in Final Fantasy VIII, but the entire time-space continuum! From there, Square-Enix takes us to the multiple worlds of Final Fantasy IX, where Princess Garnet/Dagger learns of her Summoner heritage and teams up with another young female Summoner named Eiko, where together they summon impossibly strong 'Eidolons' like Alexander to counter the summons Garnet's adoptive mother stole from her in an attempt to dominate the world. And then we come to Final Fantasy X. Yuna's role was so significant in this game's storyline that it virtually eclipsed the 'main protagonist's' role completely. His part in the story was simply to be Yuna's guardian and lover as she traveled the world to collect up her Aeons to summon in the fight to save the world.

Coming Out on Top

Skipping Final Fantasy XI because of its general lack of a main protagonist, because every player's individual character can be considered the main character of the game, we're going to move on to Final Fantasy XII, where again--like in Final Fantasy X--the female lead's role overshadows the 'main protagonist's' role so severely that--this time--the main character has literally no role in the story at all. Honestly, it seems that he is just there to be there. But this seems intentional by Square-Enix, as they seem to have been inching closer to this new approach they take in most recent installment for quite some time. The company looks to have slowly worked their way up to the first ever game in the franchise where the female lead is quite literally the main character. They did this by slowly pushing the male leads into insignificant story roles while bringing the females into the spotlight one game at a time. But I have to say, Square-Enix did good. Many of us long-time Final Fantasy fans would go as far as to declare that Final Fantasy XIII has one of the most kick-ass main characters in the franchise. The last Final Fantasy game I can probably say the same about, was way back in Final Fantasy VIII with Squall and his Renzokuken and Lionheart combo Limit Break.

In Final Fantasy XIII, Square-Enix went all out with their first true female main protagonist, giving her the attitude, body, weapons, strength, and acrobatics to make her one of the best fantasy game characters in a very long time. The best part about it though? A lot of men are having fun playing as female characters. I'll let you decide if that is a good or a bad thing in the end!

   Author: Devin Gaughan  2010
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