Game Heroines Intro: Confessions of a Girl Gamer

Posted: September 1, 2014 in Game Heroines, Gaming
Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s  something I’ve been meaning to dig out for a while now – a series on Game Heroines I wrote for the (sadly defunct) Pixel Nation magazine. I’ll be posting the rest piece by piece over the next week or something (I don’t do too well with self-imposed schedules!) So here’s the intro and the articles on Chun Li and Tifa will follow shortly-ish. The original article on Lara Croft that was the basis for this series is already on the blog. I’ve also got a second batch that includes Samus Aran, the Williams sisters from Tekken and some other round-ups of classic characters.

I might do more of these in the future if I feel inspired – suggestions are more than welcome! Also I’ll be returning to The Femshep Experiment (yeah, it’s been a while!) and looking at one of my favourite characters in the series, Thane Krios.

“Confessions of a Girl Gamer” (originally written for Pixel Nation, 2012)

I’ve been a gamer all my life. From platformers and arcade shoot ’em ups to text adventures on the BBC Micro (“It’s okay” I’d tell my teachers, “It’s educational”) I was into anything and everything. It took me a while to realise that I was actually a bit of a freak – video games had been declared “boy’s toys” and somehow I’d missed the memo. Most likely I was too busy racking up a high score on Galaxian to notice. The judgemental looks I got from boys, girls and grown-ups alike didn’t put me off but something else bothered me. Somewhere on my umpteenth effort to help Mario save the princess I started asking myself some questions. Why did the girls always need rescuing? Why didn’t they have their own adventures? Why couldn’t the princess save Mario for a change? After all, the Eighties had given us heroines in other media like She-Ra, Cheetara and Ripley (even if I wasn’t supposed to be watching Aliens at my age). Games were still in their relative infancy and it would take a little while to catch up.

Chun Li

One Friday afternoon on an after-school arcade trip with my Dad I tried out a new game, Street Fighter II. My world changed that day – imagine my delight when, lo and behold, I saw a girl on the character selection screen. After picking Chun Li my Dad gave me a few words of advice. “You’re not the strongest but you’ll be the fastest” he said. “Try to take them by surprise, give a few quick hits then get out of the way.” Wise words indeed as I won two fights in my first go. What a revelation! Not only did I have a new favourite game, it had a girl in it and she was awesome. Using my guerrilla tactics I found I could defeat almost anyone. I’ll never forget the baffled faces of teenage boys as a skinny nine year old in pigtails stepped up to the machine, nor will I forget the look of shock and humiliation after Chun Li and I had given them a right good thrashing.

Lara Croft artOther female characters came and went over the next few years but none of them made quite the same impact. Then along came Lara Croft – her face was everywhere you looked and she seemed to be enjoying A-list celebrity status despite the obvious drawback of not actually existing. Bizarre as the whole ‘Cult of Lara’ thing was it still put her game in my radar. Tomb Raider blew me away with its 3D worlds and I remember thinking that this was the future of gaming. While I still found the pin-up image to be tacky and a bit pathetic I made my peace by disassociating it with the in-game character. “You can keep the Lara who poses for calendars and sells Lucozade” I’d say. “My Lara goes treasure hunting and fights dinosaurs.”

Later in my teens, I fell in lTifa Lockheart artove with RPGs. I’d never realised that game worlds could be so richly detailed, not to mention the stories and the characters, many of whom were female. I’d seen a lot of cool girls do a lot of cool stuff but with games that weren’t exactly dialogue heavy there was only so much you could read into their personalities. RPGs delivered the goods in terms of stylised fight moves but you’d learn just as much about the characters off the battlefield. I’d even feel emotionally connected, seeing them through their highs and lows and relating elements of my own life to their abstract, often surreal experiences. The line between games and art was definitely blurring. Not being much of the ‘hearts and flowers’ type I’d feel more at home with the tomboyish characters and there was one who I particularly admired. She was down to earth, emotionally mature and showed strength and bravery that I found genuinely inspirational. Put it this way, whenever I’m renaming characters in Final Fantasy VII I always give my own name to Tifa Lockhart.

Times have changed and it took more than a few kick ass chicks and warrior maidens to break the mold, so here’s a tribute to some of the greatest. They may not be perfect (who is?) but their impact on the gaming world and beyond can’t be denied.

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