Rhianna Pratchett, award-winning writer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, has stated in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz that she would like to see more diversity in video game characters. In the interview Pratchett expressed concerns regarding the way in which lead female characters are portrayed. One issue Pratchett raised was regarding the use of the term “strong female lead”
We do tend to overuse the words ‘strong female character’ – you never hear them say ‘strong male character.’ It’s almost like that’s inherent. What we really mean is good or interesting or textured or broad or exciting. It’s more than strong and strong I think does these characters a disservice… And I know calling it a strong female character is just a step we go through before just calling them characters in the same way male characters are just called characters ..
When the numbers go up and we start having more diversity in the characters and we have more female antagonists and more female antiheroes, I think that’s going to be really interesting. And I’d love to see more diversity within male characters. I think there’s a lot we can do there with diversity of all our characters. It’s not just the female characters…
Pratchett also expressed worries regarding the way in writers are drafted into video game projects, claiming that this process is often somewhat overlooked.
The industry is just not used to working with writers or thinking about writers. It’s getting better but writing used to be done by anyone. You need to shift your mindset to think, ‘Ok, I’m going to get the writing done by a professional writer because I’ve got the art done by a professional artist and the music done by a professional composer.’ And that mindset is shifting but it still does feel like there is an undercurrent of, ‘Well, anyone can do it so writer is just the title we give to the person who does rather than that they have a specific skill set.
But Pratchett also has some suggestions for AAA developers who are worried about the style of their writing. Pratchett sites That Dragon, Cancer as a game that included “amazing work with empathy”. For those of you who don’t know That Dragon, Cancer follows the story of two parents who learn that their child has cancer and plays as a exploration game. Players play as the parents, as they get taken through the process of learning of their child’s condition all the way up to his unfortunate passing.
Although already sounding like a heartfelt enough game, it tugs on the heart strings more when you learn that the team who created the game included Ryan and Amy Green. Ryan and Amy are husband and wife and began creating the game as a form of coping mechanism to help with their son’s diagnosis of cancer aged 3. That Dragon, Cancer received excellent reviews around the board. A quick Google search will show you the game scoring 75% or above. Having just read some reviews it’s easy to see why.
Now I’m sure there are some out there who will try to discredit what Pratchett said in her interview. But personally I agree with her. 100%. Video games still feel to me as if they sit in a very unequal realm for both genders. Men have to be strong, to be brave, courageous and to save the day. And when they do there’s very much a “All in a day’s work” vibe to the entire event. Female leads aren’t represented much better, with character like Lara Croft of Tomb Raider and Faith of Mirror’s Edge being labelled as strong. Why must they be labelled as strong? This just suggests to me that other women are not seen as strong.
Video games are a form of media, much the same as TV or film. And much as the same way as TV and film does, video games can shape human opinion. These gender specific stereotypes of men saving the day, and only some women being strong, are shaping the way that we view our fellow people. Video game developers, indie or AAA, must understand that your game does play a part in either encouraging the stereotype. Or breaking it. That choice falls to you and how you write and portray your characters.
I believe that indie developers are the way forward for video games. Independent developers who are not being held down by publishers and boards. Free to do what they please (which admittedly is not always a good thing). Indie games will continue to push the boat out, with unique writing styles that will continue to make us question the way we label people and illnesses in our modern lives.
That is something I personally welcome …
If you haven’t already I recommend that you read Pratchett’s interview with GamesIndustry.biz. It is certainly worth the read.
What do you think though? Do our video games need more diversity? Are indie games the way forward? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments.