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.”