9 December 2012

Sworn to carry our burdens...

"I'm glad you're here - I don't think I could be doing this alone..."

The words are delivered blandly enough but their impact is far deeper than was perhaps meant by the writer who penned the line.

I'm playing Dawnguard: the latest Skyrim expansion (not counting Dragonborn as that's currently 360 only) and my feelings towards my current ward are going sour. Compared to mere hours ago when I first met Serana, the character in question, I am now tired of her company and, worse still, tired of her place in this world and story.

When I first took her from her resting place I was immediately intrigued and charmed by her.

I need to you to carry some items...

I might have said in a short dialogue, hoping to offload some of that extra weight that had been awaiting a Lydia-esque mule. In response, Serana, stepped back and crossed her arms defensively.

"How about you keep ahold of your things and I'll keep ahold of mine..."

She says in a prickly manner. I stopped and did a double take at the screen. Did she really just say that? So cool! A character with some personality at last!! Or so I thought. Now, several hours later, she readily carries my burdens, although with a half-heartedly peevish line instead. Reading between the lines she either likes me but has to put up with the pretense of being "a badass female character"... or she doesn't like me or want to carry stuff but is forced into it because I'm the frickin' dragonborn (who is also now a Vampire after I was "intimate" with her) and she's only just a vampire who (without plot armour) I could probably take in a fight.

She's been de-clawed or, if you find feline/female analogies too sexist, been moulded into the usual ideal receptacle for the male gamer: Feisty but submissive... because you know she wants to really...

Why... and I almost find myself hesitating to ask this question.... Why can't games writers write good female protagonists? Out of all the ones I can think of, off the top of my head, the only decent character is the Elika from Prince of Persia (2008? Man, I feel old!). Even the standard "strong women in games" that are wheeled out time after time are terrible examples of the roles of women in games. Alyx, Half Life 2, a simpering freshman-sophomorish crush is one of the primary protagonists in that neverending parade of what I feel are "disguised slaves".

Even Elika isn't that great an example - though at least her "giving in" to the man's will at the end of the game is explainable by the fact she's probably drained and dejected from everything that just happened... But, other than that she's pretty well-dressed, has sharp, witty conversation and doesn't flirt at all until you talk to her a lot and develop the "relationship" through optional dialogue and over the time you spend together. She's not weak either but not strong in the "I'm a badass woman" vein of clich├ęs, one which I've never encountered in a real world strong woman. She's human and, at the end of the day, that's more of a valuable goal than presenting any particular character set tickbox that fits the tone of what the designers/writers wanted to do today/this game.