Workbench by Alex Tinsley

Breaking the Narrative Episode 2: 1995-1999 The End of the Bit Wars

Last time we started with basic gaming history with the first four generations. We covered them so quickly because it took that long to develop the basics. From this point forward we’ll be going by generation. As such, we need to define exactly what a generation is. A generation is the time during which a set of competing systems exist, the most commonly known example being the Fourth Generation of the 16 bit systems. The main three were the Super Nintendo, the Sega Genesis, and the TurboGrafix 16/PC Engine. There were a few more, but they weren’t well established due to their costs. Today we are going with the Fifth Generation of gaming systems: the Nintendo 64, the Sony Playstation, and the Sega Saturn. Let me hammer this in.

Starting off we’ll go with another five examples of strong female characters in video games. I know the go-to would be Lara Croft but she is too easy and well, feminists constantly complain about her. I guess we could begin with Resident Evil, known as Biohazard overseas.

You had the basic choice of Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. What most don’t wish to admit is Jill has become the overall identified heroine of this series. But in addition, there are a huge amount of strong heroines in this series, so we are going to list them all with this first example just because we can. Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, Rebecca Chambers, Sherry Birkin (yes even the little girl is a bad ass in this one), Helena Harper, Moira Burton, Sheva Alomar, Natalia Korda, Manuela Hidalgo, need I really go on? The series is about to hit 20 years old and without trying almost broke double digits on strong and diverse female characters, most of these characters spanning multiple games. This is a Triple-A series, no less. Oh, and since I just recently beat RE: Revelations on Hell mode: The outfit that Anita criticized so heavily is a SCUBA infiltration suit designed for practicality in the Mediterranean. Just gotta love that context don’t you Sarkeesian?(Source: http://residentevil.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Playable_characters?display=exhibition&sort=mostvisited)

So now that we’ve already hit overkill, let’s get to example 2 shall we? Ok, we’ll get Final Fantasy out of the way…This was prominent in the third and fourth generations too, with strong female characters such as Rosa, Rydia, Celes, and Terra. There were ones that were first introduced to the West such as Faris, who cross-dressed as a man to be considered a pirate captain though she was a princess, as well as her impulsive little sister Lenna in Final Fantasy V, but the ones most may know more about are Final Fantasy VII’s Tifa Lockheart, Yuffie Kisaragi, and Aerith Gainsborough. The feminists mainly only touch two of those for the points of ‘objectification,’ even though Tifa is an expert kickboxer and Aerith is the last of her race and was communing with the planet in order to save it when she was stabbed. Don’t even get me started on Quistis Trepe as an instructor or Garnet being a rebellious princess overthrowing her own mother. Gee, we are just killing it today! (http://www.ffcompendium.com/h/chara.shtml)

Now let’s move on to our third example: the LUNAR series. Sure it was originally a SEGA CD and therefore 16 bit classic, but the game series was popularized through the 20,000 each limited release complete editions released in this generation. This was the version most people played directly. Now not only do you get to play as a reincarnated goddess in the first game as the game’s strongest healer and range user in Luna. But you also have Mia as the most powerful mage and Jessica as a priestess who is  a solid front line character with her heavy maces. Then the second game giving you a full goddess to play alongside (You can’t control her, implication is she is too powerful to be controlled.) A dancer who is a former assassin and the descendant of the mage from the first game are also major characters in the game, not to mention that the big team of powerful villains in the first game were a trio of femme fatales that use their abilities to overtake the strongest magical organizations within the realm. (http://lunar.wikia.com/wiki/Characters)

Whew, barely halfway through and we are getting up there in strong female characters. It’s almost as if Sarkeesian really doesn’t care to know what she is talking about. So where do we go from here? How about we touch upon another mentioned in Rantzerker 61? Perfect Dark. A game based around futuristic super spy Joanna Dark. According to the character designer they desired to not make her look like a supermodel, but like a semi-androgynous regular woman, so despite the marketing and what Anita tried to pull, sexuality was the last thing on Rare’s mind.  She is a highly trained sharpshooter and is perhaps one of their most recognized characters next to Banjo Kazooie and Conker the Squirrel, although I will admit this is perhaps the ‘weakest’ character on this list. Then again, seeing as we’ve named goddesses, super-mages and survivors of a zombie apocalypse in our list so far that’s not exactly unreasonable. (http://perfectdark.wikia.com/wiki/Joanna_Dark)

For our final series before we begin talking about female developers again I gotta say this was a very difficult thing to work down towards, so I thought, why not a fighting game? Tekken. This goes beyond simple “strong women.” This Namco classic alone demolishes the whole of the social justice argument on ‘representation’. I mean you can pit a kangaroo against a panda. Believe me, you can’t find anyone who isn’t represented somewhere in the largest rosters of this series. Most of them being worked out within the first three games which is what was around in this generation. Nina and Anna Williams alone prove the diversity but you also have Michelle Chang who is half Chinese and half Native American. Jun Kazama who is a main protagonist who eventually becomes the mother of the secondary protagonist Jin. The series eventually gaining characters like Christie Montiero, Ling Xiaoyu, Miharu Hirano, and several more. (http://tekken.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Characters)

Whew, that was a mouthful… Its almost like there is absolutely no shortage of positive female representation. That there never has been. Now what about developers? We touched upon two of the first ones last time so do we have consistency of development? Well this was when Amy Hennig was starting to climb the ladder at Crystal Dynamics, particularly with the Legacy of Kain series. Not to mention that since this was when the Direct 3D and eventually Direct X graphic processing software was being developed by Corinne Yu alongside a board of experienced programmers. The reason this was happening was due to the fact that she was the Lead Technology Programmer at 3D Realms at the time. She has also worked on Halo, several Naughty Dog games with Hennig and now is in working on Amazon’s Prime Air project. What we find with the prior mentions and who we’ve mentioned this time is they tend to be in lead positions. So when a woman enters game development from what we’ve seen, there is no glass ceiling. In fact not even the sky is the limit here. (Hennig – http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,53703/ ; Yu – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CELffroSjo )

So what can we gather from just the fifth generation? Women are more than represented here. They are an integral part of the culture. We haven’t even broken into the 2000’s yet and already we’ve found the argument of games as ‘sexist’ more than lacking.  In fact its all but non-existent, not to mention in some of the game series mentioned here there have been some men who were depicted as having failings that were supported by some of these strong female protagonists. Cloud Strife comes to mind. These also aren’t simply cheap archetypes on both ends. They are complex well written and fleshed out characters. One of my favorites upon this list being Luna, a character who, while the reincarnation of a goddess, has insecurities and dreams, strengths and flaws. These characters are human, more human than characters we’ve seen come from social justice games to be sure.

As always please put in what you find from your own research into the subject in the comments below. Because at this point it seems all we can do is break these narratives like so many stained glass windows in the church of feminism.

Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.
Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.