Originally published 7/05/2015
I would like to take a look at two female characters I have always considered to be quite strong: StarCraft’s Kerrigan and The Witcher 2’s Saskia. Kerrigan is a bad-ass psychic, Queen of Blades and Commander of the Zerg army. Saskia is the leader of a revolution and a freakin’ dragon. Both of these characters are women to be reckoned with and pretty sexy, in my own opinion; while some would consider them sexualized, I do not feel that it has any impact on their strength as characters. While Kerrigan never appears scantily-clad, her outfits are skin tight and Saskia wears a full suit of armour with the exception of some cleavage. However, how women are dressed in games is not nearly as important as the context. Kerrigan’s outfit manages to be practical and sexy, and while some argue that exposed cleavage is very impractical on a medieval battlefield, Saskia is a freakin’ dragon – in fact, later in the game she is impaled and walks away just fine. When it comes to issues around dress I firmly believe that a woman, or man, can and should wear what pleases her/him/them and without fear of objectification or persecution of the gaze.
Unfortunately this is not a perfect world and female characters are not conscious people who can choose how they dress. Even so I believe that these characters’ general bad-assery supersedes what they wear, and to fixate on any female characters attire would make me no better than red-carpet journalists. Games are just a new form of art, and just like art throughout history, both women and men have been idealised and it is not unreasonable to expect strong powerful women who are also attractive. In fact I think that it would be unfair to expect every powerful woman to be like an androgynous Brienne of Tarth: while we love her strength as a female character, we also like Daenerys, whose beauty in no way diminishes her empowered role.
Neither of these women are meek nor conform to traditional gender roles. I began writing ready to firmly defend their right to be both sexy and powerful, but when I began gathering the necessary research I did find something that really bugged me. As strong as they are, both are, at some stage, in need of rescuing from the games’ main protagonist. Kerrigan is rescued by Raynor and Saskia is rescued by Geralt, however in the witcher’s defence he can also kill her. I do need to acknowledge that neither have had any sort of romantic involvement with the protagonist, and their rescue is an part of the story. However I feel that, as game designers, we can come up with a million more creative ways to progress these stories without needing to rescue damsels.
We need to acknowledge the strength of the characters more and not constantly look for the negative, or see male players as drooling simpletons who can only see boobs. I would like to believe that male players see these fierce characters for who they are. While I also know that the games industry is far from being at that point; in an ideal world we could have femininity for the sake of it, without needing to consider the ‘gaze’. We could also have those who reject the idea of femininity without being any less valid. Not everyone needs to needs to subscribe to the same brand of feminism but as an industry it is important that we consider these issues and continue to look for more progressive ways of representing women.