Strong female characters taught me how to be myself
And why it’s not an “SJW” thing to want more of them
I’ve seen some wild things in my 16+ years as a gamer. But the thing that blew my mind the most was the great gulf created between feminists and gamers when gamergate reared its ugly head.
The vast, harmful schism gamergate created is still coloring the outlooks of so many of my fellow gamers.
Many are still reacting to boogieman threats that never existed in the first place.
Games aren’t fragile. We are allowed to critique them.
We are also allowed to just play them and not give a crap about the politics.
We are allowed to have our own opinions about the media we consume. Good, or bad.
And yet, critiquing video games, or heaven forbid — asking for more strong ladies to be represented in the media — becomes some kind of heresy.
I don’t agree with every feminist critique towards every game or game character ever. In fact, I disagree with most of them.
But you need to know something, truly know it:
Wanting more strong female characters doesn’t mean the SJWs are trying to take or ruin your games.
Video games are mine too. And I’m allowed to want more people like “me” in them.
I’m going to share with you my journey on how strong female characters helped shape me into the woman I am today.
How a game series I loved let me down in the worst way possible.
And that asking for more strong ladies in video games really isn’t such a bad thing.
I’m not saying that there are no strong female characters now.
What I am saying is that you don’t own a medium that I’ve probably been using before you even knew how to pee standing up.
How it all started.
I was a very nerdy kid. As a lot of people interested in nerd culture in the 90’s and 2000’s can attest to — it wasn’t a very cool thing to be a nerd.
In fact, showing any sort of affinity towards comic books, Magic: The Gathering, and video games made you a prime target for bullying.
And as a very awkward girl, this was a thing that affected me greatly.
But I had an escape with video games. And I had strong women to look up to and emulate.
I credit video games with shaping me into the woman I am today.
I grew up with titles like Darkstalkers, Resident Evil 3 and Code Veronica, Parasite Eve, Silent Hill 3, and Final Fantasy VI/III.
Parasite Eve was, and is, my favorite.
But my first stint into aligning to a female game character came in the form of Morrigan Aensland from Darkstalkers. My hair is still dyed green to this very day.
Darkstalkers is a fighting game that features various demons and mythological creatures duking it out for supremacy.
And the above? Our very own hypersexualized, bad-ass, kickflipping Morrigan Aensland.
In Morrigan Aensland, I saw what I wanted to embody. Power, and beauty. But mostly power.
Did seeing this scantily clad lady flipping around the screen make me feel bad about myself?
Playing as a powerful, beautiful female fighting character taught me I could stand my ground, and gave me confidence to do it.
I didn’t care if Morrigan Aensland was boobs incarnate — she was powerful and I was amazing with her.
I took down plenty of my male peers with her — a “lower tier character” — because I wanted her to succeed.
Because if she succeeded, I felt that I — an outlier in a boy’s club of nerds — could succeed.
Seeing an aspiration of myself in a game— no matter how misguided and no matter how young I was — felt empowering.
I became a tiny little bad-ass because of my prowess with Morrigan.
Even if the popular kids still hated me, I was the leader of a group of nerds. Who were all boys.
It gave me confidence.
And that felt amazing.
Being a teenaged girl is absolutely impossible. Unless you have a role model.
Heather Mason, of the Silent Hill series, is a boss-ass lady. The lore of the game is pretty confusing, so I’ll spare you the details.
Suffice to say she has to fight through her own mental hellscape made manifest and avenge the death of her father.
While just being a teenaged girl.
The game has large swaths of symbolism, running the gamut from: female body autonomy, religion, abortion, puberty, mental illness, and a bunch of other things I can’t really cram into just one article.
By playing as her — trying to solve her darkest demons, avenge her father, and confront her painful past…I found a bit of myself.
Being a teenager is hard. Heather made it easier.
Puberty is weird as all hell. It made me self-conscious and made me shut myself in again. But…
Seeing that this teenaged girl had to struggle with such impossible, painful things, made me think I wasn’t so alone.
And because I felt less alone, I opened up more.
I, again, became the leader of a small group. I, again, was able to show people that I could do something amazing.
I could play a game that scared even the boys shitless.
And then something was taken from me. Something I considered mine.
The comparison between this loss, and blaming SJWs for ruining games, is an important one to make.
Because it highlights what the “ruining” of a game for a demographic’s interests really, really looks like.
Now we’re going to enter a time when gamer drama seemingly didn’t exist.
A time before the gulf was created between two demographics that shouldn’t have even been at war in the first place.
We’re going to enter a time where I saw a very deliberate push from something that was “mine” into something that was for “boys”.
There is no greater descent into having a game series reconfigured for the opposite demographic, than this.
I dare you to find even one.
The Parasite Eve Franchise
Parasite Eve was my very first Playstation game. It remains my favorite game of all time, even now.
For those not in the know, the first Parasite Eve game is based on an obscure Japanese science fiction novel.
Aya Brea — our heroine — is a bad-ass cop lady who saves all of New York from a creature who controls mitochondria.
Because of Parasite Eve, I learned so much. About science, how to think critically, and feel confident.
I learned about mitochondria and antibiotics. I learned new vocabulary words. I learned about dinosaurs. I was 11 — so all of this was extremely fascinating to me.
I learned that I could save the world. All by myself. That’s a lot of power to give an 11 year old girl.
I remember being so incredibly happy that I had learned about mitochondria before everyone else in my age group.
My grades grew by leaps and bounds.
I was no longer just the nerdy girl.
I was the nerdy smart girl, and knowledge is power.
Enter Parasite Eve 2: The Pandering
Parasite Eve 2 featured a needless shower scene with Aya Brea.
The way the camera pans over her naked body doesn’t feel like she’s taking a personal moment and spending time washing up after bashing some baddies.
It feels like titillation.
To have your heroine treated as a sex symbol feels invasive as all hell.
Sure, the character art for the original game had plenty of titillation. But the game itself was never about her booty, it was about saving the world.
And now the series had started to sexualize her.
With Parasite Eve 2, this game series had changed audiences.
But I was left behind, as I think very many other fans of the first game were, too.
I put this hero down, and I had to pick a new one up. Because somewhere along the lines some executive decided the game series wasn’t for gamers like me.
Parasite Eve was no longer “girl against bad things”, it was “hot girl against bad things”.
Still, I prayed for a sequel. Hoping that I’d get to save the world again as my favorite heroine.
I got my wish, 12 years later, while I was in college. A bit older, a bit wiser, and more myself than I’d ever been before.
Then, the music died. Completely. Parasite Eve: The Third Birthday gutted my heroine.
As dramatic as it sounds, I saw a dream destroyed.
I saw, specifically, when they made Aya Brea of Parasite Eve into a feeble shadow of her first incarnation, equipped with mechanics that rip her clothes off if she’s beat up enough.
I saw them take this amazing, powerful, voracious one-woman-army and dumb her down into a simpering piece of booty who seemingly had no idea who she was or what she was even doing.
I’m well aware of what her true identity is in The Third Birthday. That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt to see her this way.
Here I was, in college, holding my friend’s PSP that I had borrowed just to play this stupid game, staring at the screen as my #1 best girl romped around getting her clothes blasted off.
How does this game, where she knocks away her date to kick some ass:
Or even this, where she’s shooting down baddies with a giant gun:
Become this abomination:
The answer? Pandering. To. A. Demographic.
You can gut an amazing character by pandering to a demographic in order to increase sales or make it more relevant or some other nonsense reason.
This is what gamers complain about when they talk about SJWs ruining their games. Game developers pandering to unreasonable feminists, or something.
But I’ve never seen a demographic flip as fiercely as the Parasite Eve series. Never in my life.
Asking for more powerful ladies isn’t an SJW thing:
However, fighting against more diverse options for characters that are different than yourself is a gatekeeping thing.
You still have your male heroes to emulate and can still escape into their world and feel powerful.
You still have plenty of attractive women to stare at. That has not, at all, changed.
And in an industry that already panders to you, do you really need to keep all the toys?
No. I don’t think so.
These games are as much mine as they are your’s.
These games are as much a PoC’s as they are your’s. They are as much a transperson’s as they are your’s. They are as much a homosexual person’s as they are your’s.
They are as much for girls, as they are for boys.
And asking for strong female characters — asking for diversity at all — isn’t an SJW thing.
It’s a sharing thing.
Special thanks to Renato P. dos Santos for his continued support!
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