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Pratchett: “2013 was a pretty good year for female characters,” new interview suggests diversity is improving

Monday, 13th January 2014 11:44 GMT By Dave Cook

Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett has discussed the state of female protagonists in gaming and the issue of diversity at large among the games industry. 2013 was a good year, the writer agreed, but stressed things are getting better on the whole.

It follows Pratchett’s confirmation that the author will not pen DICE’s Mirror’s Edge reboot, and felt her work on the original game was hacked pre-release.

Now, speaking with IGN, Pratchett agreed that the games industry isn’t about to ditch that worn visage of the muscular dude-brah, bro-man with guns, but agreed that the industry is opening up to new, diverse protagonists.

Pratchett suggested, “The industry isn’t going to ditch guns anytime soon. Not completely. They’re just too heavily entrenched. However, I do hope it starts expanding its verbs and finding new ways for players to interact with worlds, characters and game mechanics. From a gamer perspective I can’t help but think that it would be nice to sometimes travel to these amazing, exotic and imaginative locations, and not have to shoot the locals in the face.”

On gender, Pratchett continued, “As for the ‘men’ part – Again, I think 2013 was a pretty good year for female characters, both NPCs and protagonists. Although in gaming terms ‘pretty good year’ means that there were some, and they were cool, interesting and well thought out, rather than anything approximating equality. As well as more female protagonists (and antagonists) I hope we start to see a broader spectrum of representation in age, ethnicity, sexual and gender orientation and ability.

“You only have to look at TV shows like Breaking Bad, Luther or Orange is the New Black to see how popular a bit of diversity (or as I like to call it, ‘real life’) can be. On top of that, I still think there’s a lot of scope in broadening the way games approach depictions of masculinity, which is still extremely narrow in scope. It would be nice to see a panel about gender in videogames and it not just be about one gender! Because, frankly, they could both use work.”

Do you feel that protagonists need work? Are we still far from reaching the diversity seen in shows like Breaking Bad and such? Let us know what you think below.

Via OXM.

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6 Comments

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  1. Ireland Michael

    Media in general is vastly improving in its presentation of women. I think part of this has to do with the people who grew up with a more diverse view of the world are now the ones becoming influenced in the creation of media itself. There seems to be a huge generation shift in regards to content creators at the moment.

    There’s still a long way to go, but it’s a much better sight than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. When the issue of the portrayal of women stops needing to be an issue at all is when we’ll finally reached the end goal.

    #1 3 months ago
  2. salarta

    I think it can be said objectively that women were represented much better this year than in the past decade, for multiple reasons.

    1) The so-called “common wisdom” that female characters aren’t viable as protagonists or important characters in their own right was challenged by virtually everyone. That all by itself means this was a good year for female characters. When you have stories like “Call of Duty to add female characters” becoming major headline material, you know that consumers want to see more female characters in video games, and developers are listening to consumers. There was also a strong focus on how companies need to stop seeing “sex her up” as the only way to treat women in games.

    2) Lack of female character representations that are offensive or turn the clock back (aside from a couple games). In the past few years, formerly strong female characters like Aya Brea, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield and Samus Aran got really, REALLY screwed over by companies. Each of them became treated like pathetic damsels that couldn’t be strong for themselves, when historically they were badasses even better than men. Aside from Chell from Portal, the best representations of women over the past couple years were also hypersexual parodies, Juliet Sterling from Lollipop Chainsaw and Bayonetta.

    3) Prominence of women being either protagonists or personally important characters, without victimhood or sex appeal as the focus of their existence. This year, we had Beyond Two Souls, The Last Of Us, and Bioshock Infinite making headlines for starring female characters. The first two emphasized young girls becoming women in more genuine ways than most of the industry’s history. The last one raised some serious questions for me when I saw ads seeming to promote the image of Elizabeth as a scared weepy damsel that needs this cool badass man to come save her, but I’m told the game completely turns that idea on its head by the end as a sort of critique, and it also helps that Elizabeth is a brand new female character rather than a strong female icon reduced to something much lesser than she used to be solely for some writer to force a narrative they want to see.

    We also had Milla from Tales of Xillia, an older game finally localized and somewhat lesser known but still providing the same kind of awesome, badass female character we’ve been missing as formerly badass ones are stripped of their admirable qualities. What’s more, the other, male protagonist was presented as a generally non-combatant inspired by Milla’s example and developing a desire to help her because of who she is. In the past, it would be the other way around.

    That’s not to say there were no problems last year. Squeenix seemed to be the frontrunner for repeating the mistakes of the past, turning women into either sex objects or victims. That’s Squeenix for you, though. They’ve been gradually heading in that direction since 2003, and they show no signs of stopping.

    Though I’m speaking personally, of course, on that last one. I’ve also seen enough to know people yearn for women to be depicted the way Squeenix games depicted them last year, so we’ll probably see women treated more like those Squeenix games than like Beyond Two Souls and The Last Of Us.

    #2 3 months ago
  3. Ireland Michael

    @2 Agreed on most of your points, except Beyond: Two Souls. That game’s story was terrible.

    The lead character is portrayed as a victim throughou the game, and is almost always at the mercy of other men. She becomes attracted to a guy who treats her like garbage from day one, and her main connection is with a father figure who abandons her. She is abused and victimised in almost every segment in the game. There are scenes where you can give a blowjob to someone for cash, and numerous shower scenes.

    It is utter garbage.

    Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite is absolutely great, and something of a revolutionary breakout character. Why not play these games and experience them for yourself? You’re missing out, honestly.

    #3 3 months ago
  4. salarta

    @3: I have to admit that I could be wrong about Beyond: Two Souls and The Last Of Us. I haven’t played either game, and unlike other games I’ve criticized, I’ve honestly only looked at the surface. I mentioned them largely because they’ve been talked up so much as being progressive toward female character depiction, and I personally haven’t seen anything terrible to suggest otherwise.

    So yeah, citing those may be a huge mistake on my part. I can’t defend or attack either of them because I didn’t bother to learn enough about them. I will say that Tess almost got me to buy The Last Of Us, though.

    Depending on how it was handled, I could see Beyond: Two Souls being fine. I could see a potential reason for such a depiction being to make people think about how women are affected by such things and not to judge. However, it sounds like she was depicted horribly, and if it was as bad as it sounds from your description, then yeah, not good. From your description, I’m imagining the scenes being excessively gratuitous with no reasonable narrative merit. I wasn’t interested in Heavy Rain either, and that’s another game I hear people talk up.

    The only game I played last year starring a female protagonist was Tales of Xillia. I liked that one so much that I ended up buying Tales of Graces (and regretting it). That’s why I went out of my way to mention it. In a year of heavy promotion of female characters as being important to the medium, Milla’s the only one that actually meant something to me in a positive way, and she was the star of a game that got absolutely no fanfare in mainstream video game circles for having a female protagonist.

    There’s technically a downside in that her reactions aren’t realistic to how a real person would react to what she experiences (a real person that becomes paralyzed from the waist down would freak about it; Milla only sees it as a setback and is determined to continue her mission). But, I don’t want every female character in every game I play to be “realistic.” I want a character that I can look up to and admire, and I’m kinda sick of only men being those characters and seeing the female characters that used to fit that bill having it taken away from them. I’m not in need of “realistic” portrayals (or rather, “realistic” by Hollywood standards) of things that happen to real people all the time.

    Someone bought Bioshock Infinite for me on Steam last year (along with like fifty billion other games, because he spends way too much money on me, but I appreciate it), I just haven’t gotten around to playing it yet. There are other games I’ve been more interested in playing.

    #4 3 months ago
  5. Ireland Michael

    @4 The Last of Us is fine, but yeah, Beyond: Two Souls… not so much.

    Think Fahrenheit’s second half, but worse. Much, much worse.

    #5 3 months ago
  6. monkeygourmet

    http://i533.photobucket.com/albums/ee340/Acidonia150/Barbarian2.jpg

    #6 3 months ago