In history, when men like Simo Häyhä and Vasily Zaytsev killed hundreds upon hundreds of people in the Winter War and World War 2, respectively, their respective governments didn’t feel the need to humanize them or attach a woman to them to make their propaganda seem more believable or elicit a greater emotional reaction from the people. They were heroes of the war effort, a shining example for all to follow. Their personal ideals, thoughts, and very souls removed from the dialogue about them, they became soulless icons, destined to a fate of being masturbated over by armchair generals and war nerds who fell in love with what Enemy at the Gates and Call of Duty had shown them of the horrors of war.
It is a common, some would say overdone concept in video games for a lone man to kill hundreds upon hundreds of men and other beasts upon their quest - for the endless hordes of men programmed to stand in the protagonist’s path and work to end his life are relentless, and without feeling. No awkward letters to the family of the great sacrifices they made for the motherland or visiting the wounded men horribly disfigured by a blind grenade throw in an attempt to reconcile.
Recently, as this console generation has started to come to a close, developers have taken on a new crusade to seek legitimacy from the avant garde art critics, and attempt to deflect the feminist criticisms of their misogynist practices. The sham of games criticism has lapped it up, without a hint of irony, and it’s quite frankly disgusting how titles like Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us have become recognized as “true art” and “Citizen Kanes” as they happily partake in this shallow, empty concept.
It’s become an all too common practice to attach a female companion to the angry, arguably uninspired hyperviolent white male protagonist, who seems to exist solely in service to the protagonist and exist only for the purposes of the player character’s journey, to the extent that the developers will actually code them to be invisible to the enemies.
For you see, these women, they don’t exist in the world. The enemies can’t even see them, they exist without consequence. Mechanically, they’re there for you, they bring you ammo and money, they aren’t truly in the way. They exist solely for you.
They’ll dance and find cute little ways to entertain you, and when something bad happens you can Press [F] to Comfort Them, so you can feel good about yourself as a supposedly empathetic person as you feel the blood from jabbing a knife into a man’s neck as he begged for life start to dry.
It’d almost be interesting, if games like The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite did any sort of interesting commentary or some sort of acknowledgment of the misogynist absurdity at play here. The gritty, all powerful angry white guy who doesn’t take no guff and will kill at the prompt of a B button, hanging out with the innocent, yet not afraid to do a little shanking if the plot calls for it, subservient, innocent white girl.
Say what you will about Resident Evil 4, but at least they made the innocent white girl have a presence in the world, and you had to actually make an effort to protect her well-being. At least she existed as something other than your personal servant for the sake of the plot. That’s how fucking low we’ve fallen, in that “Rescue the President’s Daughter from Zombies” treats the female companion like more of a person than modern titles with budgets in the hundreds of millons. In Resident Evil 5, you could even play as a black woman. Well, not to give that game any credit, because it got horribly racist very quickly. With the tribal zombies and all the… actual… spear chucking. Yeah.
Yet The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite aren’t new or innovate for their use of women as emotional tools to forward a plot. A great number of games in the past few years have used women as an emotional motivator for the murderous male protagonist. Hell, some games that even I have personally enjoyed.
Splinter Cell: Conviction has a hilarious storyline where Old Sad Man Sam Fisher is Still Mad about his dead daughter that was hit by a drunk driver in Splinter Cell: Double Agent but actually the drunk driver was a hired killer by Third Eschelon (a secret government organization that doesn’t play by the rules) and actually she was never murdered, just kidnapped and put into witness protection, so Sam would get really mad and serve his country, and so she’s alluded to in flashbacks, until you find out she’s still alive, then you talk to her on the phone, then you save her later on for a cutscene, and yeah, she is entirely helpless and exists solely for Sam to make things “personal.”
Hitman: Absolution has a young girl formerly held by the protagonist Agent 47’s employer, “The Agency,” that is thrown around like a hot football between 47, his handler Diana, and the Agency’s goons. She also shows up in cutscenes and a sequence where 47 carries her in his arms through an orphanage being occupied by hired goons, and this scene exists solely so 47’s entire schtick of being a spergy weirdo who was raised in a test tube for the sole purpose of killing people and doesn’t really have the ability to interact with society can be wiped from relevancy.
Instead, it starts to go somewhere interesting with 47 starting to get emotional and empathetic with her fate, but instead, 47 goes on to dress up as a luchador and punch a genetic freak that isn’t Scott Steiner in the face to death. With quick time events. Which isn’t too far from the standard of wrestling games, WWE13, so I can’t say I blame them. At least WWE13 has a downloadable storyline about the Friend Zone, where John Cena learns about negging and it blows up in his face. WWE13: Most Feminist Game of 2012, you heard it here first.
At the end of the day, it’s become an all too common and utterly dreadful and insulting practice of pigeonholing women into these roles where they exist solely for the plot development of the white male murderous protagonist, so much to the extent where the developer will code them as invisible or invulnerable to the enemy - because to have to worry about them in any sort of gameplay related matter would not be “fun.”
Big fucking surprise people, human drama is not “fun.” Just to jump ship and go full Godwin here, since video games are trying to hit that same emotional bone as film - Schindler’s fuckin’ List isn’t a “fun” fuckin’ movie, but it’s an important movie and one of the greatest films of all time. It’s an exhausting film to watch and doesn’t exist for you to feel better about yourself at the end of it. If Schindler’s List was a game, it’d be an obscure German developer making “Mid-20th Century Labor Management Simulator 2013” with neutral graphics and a happy soundtrack and mild allusions to the history of the time.
If games want to be serious, and realistic, and gritty, then they can’t just be “fun.” Or “awesome.” Or whatever bland adjective you want to use, they have got to be as exhausting and demanding and quite frankly, as draining as films like Schindler’s List. If a game is mechanically well-made and engrossing, and treats it’s world like a real place, allowing the player to have real interactions with consequence, it doesn’t need to be “fun.” Fuck Fun, is what I’m saying at the end of the day.
Yet developers want to have their cake and eat it too, falling back on the decades-old arcadey ideal of an action hero mowing down hundreds of nameless goons without consequence, whilst having those “emotional” moments, and to get those, they need someone to motivate the angry white guy, so they throw a woman into the mix. Typically white, and young, yet still conventionally attractive. She doesn’t have any real consequence to gameplay, she’s invincible and/or invisible to enemies, she fetches loot for the protagonist, and they, not the player, interact in cutscenes.
In other words, she’s completely irrelevant to the actual game, and exists solely as pandering for gamers who seek to be culturally relevant in their circle of “cultured” friends by having a “strong female character” that “can take care of herself.”
It’s kind of horrifying. Especially when it’s so acceptable, to see games that use this overdone, unimaginative concept as an emotional crutch to drive a plot along and critics lap it up, screaming “Citizen Kane!” and “True art!” from the rooftops. It’s a fucking embarrassing, soul crushing sham that these creative practices are not only acceptable, but praised.
It’s even more horrifying when two of the most critically acclaimed titles of the year are also pretty big on a black woman leader being brutally murdered for the sake of a young white woman’s benefit. That’s got to be a depressing fucking resume for black women in videogames - “yeah, in my two biggest roles I got horribly demonized and murdered for the sake of some murder-duder’s plot.”
Maybe instead of Citizen Kane, games critics should be crying out for The Color Purple of videogames.