Before I begin this article I just want to warn readers that it includes minor spoilers for several recent movies including Star Trek: Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and The Dark Knight Rises. If you’ve already seen these movies and/or don’t care about spoilers then read on. Otherwise, you have been warned…
It’s a comforting thought to consider that our day and age is chock full of heroes. Thanks to the wonderful innovations of media, movies, and marketing, we can bask in the visual glory of thousands of heroes both real and fictional and be inspired by their greatness. However, another important yet not as equally noticeable element of our fascination with heroes is that, nine times out of ten, these heroes tend to be men.
I don’t mean to say there’s anything *wrong* with having an overabundance of male heroes; as a male myself, I naturally find it easier to empathize and connect with male characters more easily than female characters. However, the gross imbalance that exists in popular media such as games and movies of male leading characters versus female characters is alarming.
If you were to head down to your local movie theater and peruse all the different posters showcasing current and upcoming films, you’d most likely see a lot of male leads placed front and center with female characters either hanging off their arm or stuck into the background along with other secondary characters. People who wonder why the movie industry has so many critics bemoaning a lack of creativity or effort need not look past these posters to understand at least part of where all this negativity comes from.
The box art for games is no different; often putting male characters (even if they’re not necessarily the *main* character) front and center with female characters either absent or stuck in the background. When a female character *is* featured on the front of a game’s box, she’s often either dressed in a revealing outfit, put into a vulnerable pose (kneeling, hiding, cowering), or sometimes even both. Naturally there are always exceptions to the rule but unfortunately these exceptions are vastly outweighed by the stereotypical norm.
Sadly this patriarchal attitude has become rather cyclical over the years. Gamers and movie-watchers have gotten so used to seeing male leads that game creators and screenwriters are often scared of even entertaining the notion of a female lead because of the risk of backlash or poor sales. Even when a game developer *is* willing to chance putting a female character in a prominent role, they are sometimes even discouraged against doing so by publishers and marketers; as was the case with DontNod Entertainment’s and Capcom’s upcoming sci-fi action game Remember Me or Naughty Dog’s soon-to-be-released Last of Us (fortunately, in both cases, the developers stuck to their guns).
However, as someone who watches movies quite often, I have noticed a growing trend in some of the more recent blockbuster showings; a trend which I hope continues to grow in both the game and film industry.
When Spock has to subdue and capture Khan in order to save his friend Kirk in the climactic finale of Star Trek: Into Darkness, he seems to be hopelessly outmatched by his stronger and more skilled opponent. It is only thanks to the quick intervention of his lover and squadmate Uhura (who up until this point had a rather token role in the film) that he is able to prevail.
Tony Stark faces a similar situation during the final battle of Iron Man 3; having to face down super-powered adversary Aldrich Killian without the help of his iconic iron suit. Things seem bleak for our hero until he is rescued by his own love interest Pepper Potts who dispatches Killian with brutal flair thanks to her own recently acquired super powers. This unforeseen end of the fight is an unexpected yet refreshing change since Ms. Potts has often been shoehorned into the Damsel role in the previous two films (and even a bit in this third one).
A brutal rematch with his nemesis Bane all but assures victory for Batman at the end of The Dark Knight Rises; but who should bring the great caped crusader low but Miranda Tate, a.k.a. Talia Al’Goul? Miranda’s revealing betrayal not only brings the entire Nolan trilogy full circle, it also proves that as brilliant, powerful, and cunning as Bane was, he was just another pawn when compared to Miranda’s machinations. The fact that Batman is saved by Catwoman soon after is just the icing on the delicious cake of irony.
If these scenarios sound familiar to gamers, it’s probably because they’ve most likely seen them before when playing as a familiar green-clothed hero of time. Many of the more recent Legend of Zelda games including Ocarina of Time, Windwaker, and Twilight Princess have protagonist Link teaming up with a female partner (often Princess Zelda but not always) to help put down Ganondorf once and for all during the game’s final boss fight. It’s sad that these female heroes are often forced to suffer through the Damsel in Distress role throughout most of the game but it is heartening that the developers are at least dissatisfied with keeping them there.
I hope this concept of the “last minute heroine” is just the start of a new age of gender-diverse heroes. In the past, game developers and movie screenwriters have shown trepidation towards putting their female characters front and center, fearing the repercussions of going against the grain of a society that idolizes male dominance. However, these examples I’ve listed could be the start of a massive change that would soon lead to a more balanced scale of gender equality; but game developers and movie makers need to be willing to do more than dip their toes in the water; they have to be willing to make a few waves as well.
Could female game/movie characters survive in the spotlight without having the over-used crutches of sex appeal and vulnerability forced upon them? Would gamers be willing to accept a Legend of Zelda game that, you know, actually starred Princess Zelda? Will we one day see Peach saving Mario for a change? Only time can tell at this point but I’m confident that, despite its slow pace, the change that’s coming is for the better.