Monday, October 29, 2012

Women in video games: Bad solutions don't fix problems.

The video game industry has recently been getting a lot of flak for having too many overtly sexual female characters.  I have seen several people say that a potential solution to the problem would be to include unattractive women in games. When given examples of unattractive women in games, these people inevitably respond in one of two ways, and often both at once:

1. Those characters are the exception, not the rule.
2. That character doesn't count because they are bizarre or outlandish.

These responses are ridiculous. This is why.

Video games are not movies or books, they do not need a good story to be good. They can stand on their gameplay alone. Street Fighter, for example, does not need a good story and I would even go so far as to say it would be worse if they had tried to shoehorn a deep story into the game. Not every game needs a deep story, not every game should have a deep story.

What every game does need are interesting characters. But if you are not going to have a deep story, there is no point to having deep characters. There is no payoff and that characterization becomes time wasted that detracts from the game.

Because of this, developers are often tasked with creating interesting but shallow characters. This is accomplished by making the character outlandish, especially on a visual level. They need to stick in the mind from the moment they are seen. This basically means they need to be notably strange, ugly, or attractive. Notably ugly is generally not used because no one wants to look at an exceptionally ugly character for any length of time. This leaves us with notably strange and notably attractive. Visually uninteresting characters (average looking) only work when they can be fleshed out by deep story and engaging dialog, which is often not possible

Even when a good story and engaging dialog are possible, average looking characters will always be in the minority because they are boring. The only time it is good to have such a character is when their lack of exceptional features contributes to their character, such as Lucca in Chrono Trigger (setting her apart as the only average looking person in a group of freaks,) or the setting, such as Alyx Vance. Otherwise the developer is passing up on an opportunity to put something interesting in the game for no reason and the game is worse for it.

In summary, average looking or ugly characters will always be rare because it is a really bad idea, with a few exceptions. This is not the solution to the overt sexuality problem. Stop suggesting it.

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