Faith: The Next Jade?

Ask anyone to name the best female game character, and chances are the answer you’ll get is Jade, from Beyond Good and Evil (the other likely answer would be Alyx Vance from Half-Life, though she’s not the player character). Jade is a fantastic character in addition to being a capable and intelligent woman, well deserving of all the praise she’s gotten since the game came out in 2003.

But that’s the thing–BG&E came out in 2003… a full five years ago. That’s a long time in video game land. Yet we haven’t seen a female protagonist at least on par with Jade?

Luckily for us, that could change with the release of Mirror’s Edge next month. The protagonist is a young woman built similarly to Jade, though in keeping with ME’s more realistic art style. It’s a great start, but what remains to be seen is whether Faith is as interesting a character as Jade is; personality and relationships are the other, arguably more important half of what makes a strong female character. The fact that they are both women of color is awesome as well.

While I’m writing about Faith, I’d like to take a moment to write about this Kotaku article. I discovered it via a post on Gaming Angels, which is celebrating Love Your Body Day with some fantastic posts. (I pretty much boycott Kotaku.)

The article posts a piece of official art of Faith, followed by a fan alteration of the image. The changes appear to be simply: a rounder face, rounder eyes, removal of the badass eye tattoo, and much larger breasts with visible nipples (implying she is not wearing a bra, which would be extremely painful considering the fact that she is a RUNNER).

The changes are not surprising. The face was stripped of all character and made into Generic Final Fantasy Heroine (commenters who preferred the fan-made image’s face because it’s “softer” and more “feminine”–because women shouldn’t be tough). And of course women need to have C-cups or larger to be attractive. That someone had the gall to declare that Faith wasn’t hot enough and actually take the time to alter the image in that way is sad but not surprising, either. (Has this ever happened to a male game character? No, really, has it?)

What really irritated me about the post was the vast amount of assumptions made by the “artist”. This is how Kotaku describes the fan’s intent:

As reader Torokun points out: “There is always a huge complain from Asian gamers whenever Western developers design Asian female characters…” As Torokun continues, this is mainly because many Westerners’ definition of what is considered as “Asian” beauty is very different from what Asians consider beautiful.”

While I have no doubt beauty standards differ slightly around the globe, Torokun makes the assumptions that:

  • Faith’s appearance was designed to be attractive to straight American men, rather than as one aspect of her entire character.
  • Not only that, but she was specifically designed to appear as an idealized Asian woman for straight (presumably white) American men.
  • All Asian men are attracted to one specific body and face type, to the exclusion of anyone else.
  • That a female game character must meet certain beauty standards in order to be viable.
  • Tough =/= feminine =/= attractive.

All of which is really bothersome to me, especially the first part. She’s a character, not a pinup. No one complains that male characters aren’t hot enough. It’s pretty sad that some can’t even accept female game characters–who, by and large ARE made to be attractive even when they’re not blatantly sexualized and/or idealized–as they are without feeling the need to break out photoshop and make them “better.”

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8 thoughts on “Faith: The Next Jade?

  1. Ooo, I like the idea of Faith being the next Jade. There is just so much that is awesome about Faith, even based off the little information of her that we have.

    That fan-altered picture really pisses me off. Your analysis is spot on. That her breasts went from A-Cup to C-Cup (with nipples yay!), and her expression from fierce bad-ass to a cross between fear and surprise, is really disheartening. They never let us forget that we exist to serve them and their fragile masculinities, do they?

  2. I’m really looking forward to Mirror’s Edge and part of this anticipation is based upon the fact that Faith doesn’t look like the standard hyper-sexualised female videogame character. I really hope the story and the character hold up.

  3. The visible nipples made me facepalm.

    I’m really optimistic about the story since they have Rhianna Pratchett on board =D

  4. i saw this article too, and i mirror (haha!) your feelings in your post. the assumptions that most of the commenters are posting under are really sickeing (as outlined by the blog and olimoon). What would happen if a female character was craeted to be lead in a game who was not attractive at all? I guess the game probably wouldnt sell, but i, personally, dont find male lead characters to be attractive… that isnt the point of their design.

  5. I think the being redone more attractively happens to a lot of video game characters through fanart though this is far and away the most blatant example I’ve seen of just taking what the original team has done and manipulating it to better suit their tastes (Possibly only.) It’s a weird issue for me, (Character design not changing someone else’s art to be a creeper) because as an artist I personally am a lot happier doing work that appeals to my aesthetic sensibilities than something I’m disinterested or actively uninterested in doing. Painting someone that I would be attracted too is more enjoyable to me than painting a zombie demon dog (though a zombie octopus might win, as that kicks of my novel/amusement factor.) Guess what I’m getting at is a tangentially related issue to this of professional character designers and how much I want to inject my politics into my work (Example: I finally gave up championing a female protagonist for indie game I’m working on due to apathy from most of team and open refusal from the writer after a month or so of arguing for it and compromised on a strong female character which isn’t a protagonist who I will NOT be sexualizing in my designs. I still wish the protagonist was the female character though >=[ )

  6. While I agree – strongly – with the sexism portrayed here, that wasn’t the issue of the original post (well, it’s Kotaku, after all. *sigh*)

    The flap was over the exoticization of an Asian woman protagonist. The remake is certainly sexist – it turns her into a lust object, and more stereotypically female – but the protest was that the version of Faith was an exceptionally exoticized version of Asian beauty, the version that white American guys are supposed to like: slender instead of curvy or busty, with unusual exotic facial features. Asian women seem to be the new arm candy – guys in the 70s boasted about having “jungle fever” and now it’s “rice fever” instead. Asian women are stereotyped among the frat pack as petite, feminine, delicately built with slender figures, childlike, and often also as conflict-avoidant (read: subservient and easily pressured), economically disadvantaged (read: vulnerable) and willing to do anything to be loved.* The men who stereotype Asian women this way frequently don’t distinguish between countries and cultures of origin – I remember seeing a white guy try to pick up a young Asian woman walking quickly past by calling out to her in Mandarin only for her to look back with a pained expression – “I am Korean.” Not to mention, what if she had been a third-generation daughter of Japanese or Vietnamese heritage who simply thought of herself as “American”?

    Whether or not it was appropriate to suggest an equally male-gaze version of East Asian beauty seen from the inside – as in, the features that men born and raised in modernized East Asian culture consider beautiful – the point they’re making is legit. (I think it’s important to note that the canon version looks more like stereotyped Asian beauty and is supposed to appeal to white guys, and the fan-made version looks like the westernized version of Asian beauty and is supposed to appeal to Asian guys, so this delightful racism/sexism blend runs both ways. From firsthand experience, I can tell you that the height of beauty in Chinese culture is pale skin (which is ancient), and wide eyes and a largish bust (which are new) – and that a white girl exhibiting such traits in China will be complimented, not just on being a beautiful girl, but specifically a beautiful American girl. Unless she corrects the nationality, in which case it will still be specified.)

    So this is why sexism really, really sucks. Faith is “just herself” only in the same way that Lara Croft is “just herself” – while there are certainly women who look like that in real life, and they might be (or want to be) excited about seeing a reflection of their appearance in games, the video-game portrayals have been created specifically to appeal to men’s tastes in women, not as an expression of the diversity of human beauty. Or in other words, until we reclaim the culture for everybody’s use and not just the elect few, women will be hard-pressed to find any depictions of themselves in any medium which aren’t really just about what men like.

    And why racism really, really sucks, because instead of looking to everyone like “just herself”, a lot of Asian people and a number of outsiders are seeing this as the appropriation of an Asian character identity and appearance to appeal as exotic to the perceived white-het-cis-male audience of gaming, and minority peoples will be hard-pressed to find any depictions of themselves in any medium which aren’t really just about how the majority culture and ethnicity sees them and wants them to be.

    * Alternately, though less frequently, they’re tough, ruthless, intellectual dragon-ladies, often pictured in fiction with cybernetic attributes, wielding Japanese katanas but wearing Chinese qipao. This is essentially the image given to Faith – tough and , and though it’s heavily marketed to white guys, it also appears in Asian culture – see Major Kusanagi.

  7. Ephemerae, wow, thank you for taking the time to leave such an insightful comment on this old post. You’ve given me a lot to think about!

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