The Role of Women in Pokemon Colosseum vs. Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness

By: Isaac Schutz

To start this off, I do have to say that these are two of the best games I have ever played in terms of my own enjoyment. In spite of this, however, it has to be acknowledged that there are several issues with how women are depicted in the games. It is important that even if you may love something, that doesn’t make it perfect by any means. What is a better thing to criticize than something you personally have spent so much time interacting with, such as your favorite game?

Pokemon Colosseum

Wes and Rui, the protagonists of Pokemon Colosseum

In Pokemon Colosseum, the player is (after a brief exposition video) dropped into the Orre region as Wes, the male protagonist, and only real playable character. Technically speaking the player also controls the movement of Rui, the female sidekick. Described by Bulbapedia as “determined, caring, and brave, but can be a bit bossy and stubborn at times.” it is clear that this character is every generic female protagonist in a video game. To add onto this, the player is introduced to Rui by rescuing her in the early stages of the game from being kidnapped by some thugs who turn out to be members of the overall evil force in the game. The game then forces you to be Rui’s bodyguard for the rest of the game as you take down the evil organization.

Rui’s primary function is as a tool to be used throughout the game. The premise of the game revolves around an evil organization, Cipher who has been stealing and then making pokemon evil through some undisclosed process. These pokemon can be distinguished by a dark and shadowy aura that floats around them. Conveniently, Rui is the only person who can see this aura. Rui’s only function throughout the game then becomes to point out which pokemon are evil and need to be stolen back by the protagonist.

Cipher Admin Venus

This is also one of the few inclusions of women in the game in general, at least as important characters. The only real inclusion of a woman in the game outside of the generic news reporter/secretary and strangely enough fortune teller. In addition, one of the leaders of Cipher is a woman named Venus, who also happens to be stereotyped as a pop star/diva. To add on to this, all of Venus’ pokemon know the move “attract” which causes pokemon of the opposite gender to her all-female team to fall in love and stop attacking.

Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness

Michael, the protagonist of Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness

Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is the sequel to Pokemon Colosseum and follows the resurgence of Cipher, who have now stolen a cargo ship full of pokemon and converted them. The protagonist, Michael, must then travel throughout the region and defeat them once again to finally stamp them out once and for all.

Technically, it could be said that we’ve made progress in Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness. A couple more female characters have been introduced including one of the leaders of the resistance movement, Marcia (who of course happens to have short hair and wears a t-shirt). Of course, even this is not that simple as the first time you meet her you must rescue her from a captor. Other female characters include another member of the resistance movement, Megg (who has some very apparent self-esteem issues), the player’s mother and younger sister, and the younger, angrier diva Lovrina who has slotted perfectly to fill in for Venus in this game.

Cipher Admin Lovrina

You might ask about the key element missing. With Rui not present, how will Michael find and retrieve the pokemon? Nothing is impossible with the power of technology. The headset visible in the image of Michael at the top of this section is able to detect and reveal the aura around the pokemon, and also reveal Rui’s thinly veiled role as what appears to be a product that could have been made out of spare parts from Radioshack.

A Problem in Game Design

It would nice to be able to overlook this one little example of the lack of presence of women within games, and how they are treated by the games themselves however this is not some isolated incident. Of the games showcased at E3 in 2016, only 3% featured exclusively female protagonists in contrast to 41% featuring males.

Designers have a responsibility to make sure that they are conscious of world issues such as the underrepresentation of women and people of color and allow that to impact their decision making. It is important to social progress that in all forms of media, especially in games due to its prevalence in youth culture that an accurate demographic representation is displayed.

Some of this can be attributed to the lack of female designers in the field, who would be more likely to design games with female protagonists. It also ties into the men in the industry however and their belief that men inherently deserve certain things from society simply for being male. Many men in the games industry do not fit into the stereotype of the typical man. This creates a sort of tiered system in the minds of these men based on the societal rules as they are perceived that the “alpha” men are at the top of. It is seen as some sort of personal attack on the male gamer that women are suddenly moving into their position within the power structure of society.