Designing good (Female) characters

In this day and age, developers and publishers know better than to create characters that seemingly degenerate females in the slightest possible way. Do so and prepare to face a fierce horde, rallying behind the notions of “Equality” and various similar strands of moral fiber.

Because of this, corporate companies have taken note of the following crude advice when it comes to designing female characters:

1) Must not be scantily clad in barely a metre of cloth.
2) No over-emphasis on breasts and body curves.
3) For NPCs, they must not act like a whore.

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But of course, games like Dead Or Alive market their games on their highly promiscuous girls. And as always, there are always people out there that continues to support such franchises, hence setting the foundation for future and continued releases. We tell the industry that such a marketing technique is not only working, but is also an indispensable element in video game design.

For the rest of us who know better than to dabble in that sinful branch of artistry, we try to keep our girls within varying levels of acceptable decency. Such moves have been warmly received by critics and the general consumer base. Then again, when we tether a little off the boundaries of attractiveness, we are once again reminded of the fact that some of our audience would appreciate more “femininity”.

Designing good female characters

Original (left) vs Fan “Improved” (right)

It doesn’t take a keen eye to realize that the Fan’s ‘improved’ version of Faith rendered her with bigger breasts and eyes. The tattoos near her eyes are also removed, resulting in a slightly more “gentle” demeanor. For the record, I applaud the efforts. Being human, we all have a natural attraction towards the aesthetics, so much that we coined multiple words to sate our needs to describe beauty.

Did I think that the fan “improved” Faith is more attractive? Perhaps.
But which Faith would much better befitting to the world of Mirror’s Edge?
Thank you, DICE, for sticking with the former.

If you sincerely think that limiting your consumer base to a demographic of horny male teens and preteens is the most profitable decision, then you might want to consider a career change to work under Playboy or your any similar alternatives.

video-games-half-life-alyx-vance-hd-wallpapers

So how do we go about designing a good female character?
A lot of people heralded Alyx as a brilliant female character; because there was no over-emphasis on her looks. Additionally, she also look pretty average; nothing was exceptionally noticeable about her. You might not even give her a second look if the two of you passed each other down the street.

This bold attempt was well appreciated, even by radical feminist standards (aside from her being a deuteragonist). However (initially) she was shown mainly as a support character. She is only there to further the plot, she was nothing more but a tool. It was clear as day that she was only there for the player. Her appearance may befit that of the post-apocalyptic world, but her existence felt incredibly forced.

It was only in later installments and after some feedback from players, that we saw more “life” being injected into her character.

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At the end of the day, why do we need to take special care into creating female characters? Great characters, whether male or female, will remain great regardless of gender. Who cares if Chell was a male? Or instead of Alice, we get Alan in Wonderland?

Create characters, dialogue and events that correspond and harmonize with the virtual reality; gender should be a secondary concern.
But seriously though, less of that “sex appeal”, please.

This is an article written by PP1MT.
This article is free for reblog, sharing and all commercial uses.

17 thoughts on “Designing good (Female) characters

  1. There is no way I would have enjoyed Mass Effect as much as I did if I wasn’t able to be Femshep. I identified with her. It’s incredibly difficult to identify with alpha males in video games, when you’re a female. In Call of Duty, or Battlefield it doesn’t matter because it’s first person, but in campaign heavy and campaign only games and 3rd person games, there’s something awesome about being a girl, and playing as a girl. Everyone likes to pretend they are actually in that moment, actually in that game universe, that’s what gaming is about, it’s WAY more interactive than tv or comic books.
    It is important. There are other girl gamers out there, and there needs to be strong female protagonists, because in the real world there are strong women. We’re not all, “YAY Shoes!”, obsessed with the way we look, scantily clad obsessed with instagram selfies and tiny dogs. Screw that, I’d rather play video games.

      1. Sorry for the late reply; I sat on this for quite some time.

        I too, felt disturbed when a MMO genderlocks a class. Like, “Why do I have to play as a sorceress, instead of a sorcerer?” But I was totally cool with TombRaider’s Lara, Nilin from Remember Me or Alice in Madness Returns.

        But I get it: if its a character I’m creating for myself, or in a game like Mass Effect where I was given a gender choice, I would always go for a male. I’d even go as far as to customize him to best resemble the real me. All that so that I could better connect with my character and “project” myself onto him. I think it depends, really. If a game was meant to tell a story rather then be immersive then I’d stick with whatever choices I have been given.

        I’d like to see more of such games as well, where we’re allowed to control the gender of our protagonist. As long as it doesn’t break the virtual universe!

        And yes! “Games for girls” are the absolute scourge of video game marketing. I’m pretty sure this female friend of mine has more unusual TF2 hats than I’ll ever be able to collect…

    1. I completely agree so many games need sting female playable characters. As for the supposed improvement made to Faith I for one don’t agree to me she just looks silly and impractical with those things hanging off he especially in her line of work but that’s just my opinion.

  2. I think you trivialize Alyx a little too much in your counterargument. As a game that doesn’t break away from its first person perspective at all, even for story, of course she is there for the player: the entire game world is. And while she does play a supporting role, she’s still a great example of a female character in a game that isn’t oversexualized or fit into the plot only because she is female (love interest, mother, etc.). She’s also incredibly capable in her role, and, despite Valve’s hesitance in giving us more Half-Life, a prime candidate for a spin-off game even now.

    1. Maybe I did; I definitely regard Alyx as one of the top female video game characters. In terms of dialogue, animation, mannerisms I can see why people thought of her as one of the best female characters out there. For many, she is able to draw out emotions in the player, and sometimes a genuine likability for her character. I believe they even delayed release for months just to perfect her character.

      And she was no damsel in distress; I felt she spends more time fending for Gordon then the other way around. But nevertheless, she(together with the rest of HL-universe) has this somewhat strange confidence in Gordon. Perhaps thats the suspension of disbelief we are supposed to buy into when you boot up the game.

      I wished Alyx had a more complicated personality, and wished that there was more development with her character and more about her background. You’re right – Alyx is great, and she could be even better.

      1. Oh, I definitely agree with that. Even in such a undeveloped state, she’s a phenomenal character. Maybe it is suspension of disbelief or just a byproduct of a hero-focused narrative, I want to see more Alyx for sure.

  3. I’m curious about your thoughts on Samus Aran from Metroid. We see her in three different “outfits”: her power suit, her skintight Zero-suit, and a bikini/swimsuit if we work hard enough for that 100% ending.

    The power suit usually incorporates large round shoulders and an hourglass waist. I’ve always interpreted it as Samus being able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any other bounty hunter, male or female. Then we have her thin waist (check the box art from Metroid Prime) which reinforces the idea of her femininity–after all, I doubt a male could fit the suit’s frame.

    Then we look at Zero Suit Samus in her skin-tight blue suit. At first glance you might label it oversexualized, but remember this is what she wears while inside the power suit–a sweatshirt and jeans wouldn’t work.

    Finally we have swimsuit Samus, the reward for completing a Metroid game at 100% or under a certain time limit. The idea of “rewarding” gamers with a woman in a swimsuit caters to male tastes, sure. But let’s not forget the classic soccer moment when Mia Hamm celebrated a victory by taking her uniform top off on the field. Is it a stretch to suggest that Samus is celebrating “freedom” from the mission by removing her suit?

    1. The thing about Samus/Metroid is that it seemingly rocket-blasted all the general Damsel in Distress tropes used by many games during its time of release. Back at that time, it was quite a big deal that a pilot of the Power Suit was a female- who kicked major ass. And now we look at the latest Metroid releases, and all of them smacks that reality right into your face. “Samus is a badass. And she’s hot.”

      I think that was not what the first Metroid game set out to do; they purposefully kept her gender a secret until the very end. It worked well – it showed as that gender assumptions were all in our heads. After that, the newer Metroid games made no effort to conceal her gender, but instead slightly sexualized her. The message wasn’t exactly the same now.

      As for the swimsuit part… I think it was all for publicity. I remember the Lara Croft games having similar rumors floating around for quite some time. There were people who did all sort of things just to make that happen. Although Metroid came out first, I think the developers were hoping for the same thing – that players would help them rack up this somewhat perverse form of publicity.

      For Mia Hamm, she was the one who decided to take her jersey off, but developers always had the choice to allow Samus to leave her top on at the end of the game. Did we buy the tickets to watch her play or just to watch her take her top off? But did some players spend hours trying to get Samus to strip, and in consequence helping the game gain publicity? I’d say yes.

      I cannot say that Samus’s character design have not been influenced by sales and marketing, but did it ruin her character? I can’t really tell, because aside from the first metroid I hardly had any experience with the rest of the series. I think what we should worry about, is that Samus could have been a role model or a hero to female gamers. But now, I think her reputation as a respectable, empowering role model has been somewhat tainted.

      Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Samus should have been flat-chested and less attractive. I just think we should have left the “rewards” part out.

      1. Good post. I agree that the original Metroid tackled gender assumptions well. While we’re on the subject of badass chicks and flimsy damsels, I want to point out that badass chicks often possess “male” personalities, attitudes, body types, etc. As a guy who writes fiction and creates characters all the time, I’d like to hear your input on what would make the ideal badass chick or strong woman. In what areas does she need to be strong/ruthless, and where can she afford to be feminized? If we have a female character who coddles babies or loves flowers, do we need to give her a competitive, shark-like personality to balance it out? And when do we run the risk of making a female character who’s “too male”?

        One more Metroid-related thing I’d like to add on… Samus’s in-game death animations in Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion involve her power suit vanishing, followed by a brief glimpse of her in a swimsuit. Instead of the swimsuit being a reward the gamer works toward, it serves as a symbol of failure in this case. Does the idea of swimsuit Samus as both punishment and reward change your feelings at all?

        And is there any way we can consider Samus’s underwear choice as practical rather than sexualized?

      2. I think the “swimsuit glimpse” is a rather subtle Carrot and Stick approach to the game. But isn’t this a little strange for a character who was supposedly created to empower women and female gamers?

        There was always a choice to not show Samus’s underwear/swimsuit. There’s a bit of questionable logic leaps from battling space aliens and pirates to bikini-clad celebrations.

        Her promiscuity in death had no purpose. I can’t say that it isn’t sexualized. But I’m only saying this because I heard the original version had her being nude. Metroid Fusion’s death scene looked pretty tame to me. Perhaps, it was just there to hint the player of a possible ‘reward’ at the end. Perhaps.

        Samus being in a swimsuit, all in all, would always be out of context.

        As for female character creation, more often than not her gender becomes a dominating feature in character development – to the extent there is little room left for anything else. With male characters being the ‘norm’, the author would not have felt that she/he had to account for gender; hence allowed themselves to develop the characters further. Try not to obsess over gender stereotypes.

        Then again, it is not wise to completely divorce gender from character creation; the readers need something to relate to. Just like with video games- female gamers need to be able to identify with the female protagonist. There should be more to the protagonist than a model and voice swap.

        The lines and mannerism are just two of the things that you’d need to take note of. Otherwise you might just end up with a man with female genitalia. That being said, is only probable when the world you are mimicking has similar social standards to the one we live in. Our world has already been shaped by notions of gender role whether we like it or not, and in order for the readers to be able to perceive themselves in your characters, you will need some tropes in your writing.

        After all, it’s not only writers who bring their social/cultural perspective into projection πŸ˜‰

      3. Thanks for the well thought out answer. Normally when I draft female characters, I start with a “strength” whether it be her intelligence, wit, persistence, etc., and work it from there.

        Then I’ll give her a goal and apply gender role traits to keep her authentic. I love creating chicks who battle gender conventions and expectations. For instance, right now I’m working with a character who wants to become a rock guitarist, yet while searching for the right group she encounters badnmates who can’t get past the idea of metal chicks being much other than groupies. Still a raw work in progress, but I’m having a blast with it.

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