At last month’s GEEK expo in Margate, Replay Events converted the massive Hall by the Sea into a retro gaming heaven. Hundreds of consoles ranging from the NES to the PlayStation 4 were placed around the space, every one of them with a player sat right in front. It was good to see older gamers smile at the classics they remembered from their childhood while their young kids picked up the controllers with the same level of enthusiasm.
While my stepson was taking on my other-half at Street Fighter, I noticed a family standing nearby. The son was competing in a Halo tournament as his parents looked on; and his younger sister had decided to sit down as a nearby PlayStation while they waited for him. She was happily playing Street Fighter V and had set up a match between R. Mika and Cammy when I saw her.
On one hand, this was lovely to witness: it was obvious the family had got their GEEK tickets primarily for the son, but the daughter was getting stuck in too. She didn’t care who was watching, or that she was a girl, or any of that other stuff which usually bothers you when you’re eight-years old. She was simply there to play and you could tell she was having a good time doing so.
On the other hand however, it kind of struck me that the only female characters she had to choose from were all of a particular… type. She clearly wanted to play as someone the same sex as herself and her options were limited: did she go for a wrestler whose special moves made her butt the centre of attention; or a member of the British special forces team whose thong looked as if it was about to cut her in half at any moment?
The situation made me realise just how few female role models – and even fewer appropriate ones – we had to choose from in video games when I was a kid. It wasn’t a reflection on Street Fighter alone; the then-iterations of the helpless Princess Peach and triangular Lara Croft weren’t particularly better than the scantily-clad fighters. If girls wanted to game back then, the most they could hope for was a protagonist who either needed a man to rescue her or who showed a certain amount of butt-cheek while wielding her weapon.
There are many gamers out there who say that we haven’t progressed far from this point, and even more bloggers who still write about poor depictions of females in video games and other forms of media. It’s not that I disagree entirely; show me a protagonist like Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, or tell me that a character has been removed from Assassin’s Creed Unity because she’s too hard to animate, and I’m going to get as irate as the next woman.
But sometimes you need to take a step back to see what’s been achieved, even when there’s still so far to go. In a recent post about cosplay I wrote that diversity is everywhere in gaming today. Characters such as Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition, Faith from the Mirror’s Edge series, and Lee Everett from The Walking Dead are pushing the boundaries and giving us ever more to look forward to.
Yes, there’s still work to be done. But knowing that little girl at the GEEK expo will grow up knowing some amazing female protagonists, while depictions like those in Street Fighter V will become relics of the past, is a pretty great thought.
Game on, little sister.