The older I get, the more I realize I’m growing into the issues of adulthood and of my gender. I have a clear memory of sitting in church as a child and hearing one of the lectors reading from the Bible, and every time she came across the word "man" or "sons," she would change it to "man and woman" or "sons and daughters."
This was way back when women were first starting (at least where I grew up) to express their dismay with the male dominated language in the Bible. At the time, I remember wondering why she was making such a huge fuss; if "mankind" was really meaning to address "all people," was it really such a big deal? I didn’t understand what the problem was.
But, as I get older, I understand; and it is a big deal. It makes me sad to think about how this is the year 2013, and yet, women are still paid less than their male counterparts; that we still have to worry about discrimination; that, when we show up in the media, it's either as sweet airheads, raging bitches, or sex symbols.
And then, I was introduced to casual games, and I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I don’t know if you’ve taken the time to notice it or not, but a lot of casual games have strong, non-sexualized female leads (take that, Laura Croft’s boobs).
In games like Abyss: The Wraths of Eden, you play the part of a woman who’s searching for her lost fiancé; you’re not the damsel in distress; he is. It’s a similar story in Haunted Halls: Revenge of Dr. Blackmore where the love interest (a dude) spends the entire game lashed to a chair, while the lady runs around saving the day. And that’s AMAZING.
And here’s another aspect of being a woman that casual games highlight: the mother. I can guarantee that if you open a game where a woman’s child has been taken, she is not only going to get her child back, she’s going to personally take down the individual responsible and make him pay for his transgressions.
In Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga, the heroine picks up a giant sword and just about wages war against an ancient evil witch and her plant demons of doom to get her daughter back. The lead in Nightmare Realm: In the End is a mother who willingly crosses into an unimaginably scary world for the sake of her child, and then later also fights to save her husband (Bonus! Double awesomeness score).
I’m not sure if the developers realize they’re making a niche for strong, non-sexualized female leads, but either way, I’m grateful. (Check out that PS in the image below... Heck yeah, moms are dangerous!)
Speaking of sexualized females... the height of my joy in running across an amazing leading lady is completely comparable to the depths of my anger when that strong character is SURROUNDED by sexy side characters.
There is nothing wrong with being sexy; I myself enjoy dolling up on occasion. But, when you put a woman in a warrior role, and then dress her up like a hooker with a leather fetish, I’ve got a problem. A really great example of this is Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters, which features a great female detective as the lead and a bunch of Red Riding Hood Sisters as cameos throughout the game.
The premise behind the Sisters is AWESOME: The original Red is taught how to take out wolves by the huntsman who rescued her, and then she starts the sisterhood so they can, in turn, save people in need. But, when you take these strong, brave women and slap them in impractical short-shorts and thigh-high boots, you’re kind of shooting the woman power vibe you’ve got going in the foot. I also popped a vessel when I noticed they had the sound of high heels follow you around wherever you go, including in the unpaved woods, as though clacking high heels is the perfect identifier for a woman. Argh!
I wouldn’t take a hike in the woods in what some of these women are wearing, but I’m supposed to believe this is their Fighting Evil Ensemble? Get real.
There is still a long way to go in the fight to make all people equal (getting some folks to admit there’s still a long way to go is, in my opinion, a big part of the problem). Again and again I have witnessed women I know getting passed over for promotions - simply because they are women.
A lot of the time, I look around and get depressed by how much has to change for women to be seen as people and not sex-symbols (when they’re pretty), bitches (when they’ve got a strong opinion or personality), or delicate flowers who need a man (when they are shy or quiet). But casual games give me a little bit of hope, because most of the time, the women characters are strong, take-charge individuals, like Angelica Weaver in Angelica Weaver: Catch Me When You Can.
She’s not a sexy detective, or a busty detective, or a detective who needs a male partner to help her solve the crimes. She is a professional, who dresses appropriately and uses her skills as a detective (and, ok, her psychic abilities) to fulfill the requirements of her job. And, the best part is, in the game, her gender isn’t really an issue either way.
I guess, when it comes down to it, I’m most encouraged when you know a character is female, but it’s just not the biggest part of who that character is. I know the lead in Botanica: Into the Unknown is female, but it’s not a central part of the game. Her botany experience, her abilities as a scientist... that's the important part.
Equality isn’t being extra sensitive to the parts of a person that distinguish them from other kinds of people. It’s learning that those differences are minuscule in the grand scheme of life. The gender of your doctor has no effect on their ability to make you well; their experience does.
In a small way, casual games have helped me realize that there are places where women can be heroes without having to dress like a skank or faint at the first sign of danger.
And, it may seem silly to you, but it means the world to me and gives me hope that casual games can help pave the way for a new kind of heroine. One we can be proud of because she embodies everything we know she can be: strong, capable, professional, and able to put together a sensible outfit...