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LadyBrain_64Puncherson_64

Note: non-spoiler commentary on The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, and Fallout New Vegas. Slight spoiler about the end of BioShock.

Context: Butch noticed the lack of women in the group of murderous ‘hunters’ who pester Joel and Ellie in Pittsburgh. This prompted a lengthy debate involving comparison with the lack on women among the murderous castaways (Solarii) on the island in Tomb Raider. Various other games also come up.

Feminina:

It IS interesting…the women seem to have stayed in the military-controlled cities, don’t they? Like, only men are bold (and/or brutal) enough to strike off into the wilderness of Pittsburgh and make a living waylaying refugees? Or maybe they ineffectively sacrificed all the women with them to the Sun Queen.

Or, I suppose, the hunters could have a camp somewhere that we never see, and they keep their women and children safely out of the way there (or as safely as one can under the circumstances): one could imagine traditional gender roles being asserted in the face of catastrophe, because it gives people SOME sense of stability.

So that’s my vote: the hunter women are in the same place as the hunter children, whether that be
a) non-existent or
b) back at camp.

Butch:

There WERE women soldiers. When we first learn Ellie is infected, and our heroes kill three soldiers, two were female.

But it is weird that we don’t even have any of the “window dressing” females in Pittsburgh. I mean, every post-apocalypse everything from Mad Max to FONV has the obligatory seedy brothel. Not even that, yet.

Which is all the odder as the game established two women who were not only powerful but feared. Marlene is certainly a boss of the fireflies, and there’s a lot of dialog from the first hood to Bill that suggests that Tess called the shots in her enterprises with Joel (Bill asks several times “What does Tess think of this? Did Tess approve of this?” etc.) Certainly, that first dude (that Tess shoots) was more afraid of her than of Joel.

And then poof! The women are gone.

Odd.

At least TR gave us some plot reason why they were too cheap to hire a second set of “additional voices.” No such explanation here.

Feminina:

Yes…we must ponder the absence of women. It really does seem like a city/wilderness (where wilderness means “not protected by the military”) kind of divide so far, doesn’t it? I feel like we saw a few civilian women while wandering around Boston, and as you say there were at least two who were quite important and powerful people there, but they kind of vanished outside of town except for the infected (since we see infected women as well as men…but not a lot MORE women, such as might suggest that it’s a matter of them being more susceptible to the fungus or something).

I mean, I tossed out the idea that the hunters are part of a group that’s established traditional gender roles and keeps a camp or a seedy brothel full of women and children ‘protected’ somewhere. That’s not a terrible explanation, because one could imagine it happening (although one could just as easily imagine it happening that in a situation like this the important question would be more “can you pull a trigger/stab with a shiv?” than “what sex are you?” when it came to deciding who goes out and about on ‘hunting’ trips).

But if it were true, wouldn’t you think that the “stop and help an injured refugee” trap would work better with a woman as the bait, if only because people assume women are less dangerous? Surely they would spare one woman to act as bait if it meant a higher likelihood of snaring prey?

So we return to the idea that maybe they don’t have any women at all, in which case, why not? Is this some sort of Manly Man Hunting Club that intentionally doesn’t admit women? Are women naturally too gentle and kind to participate in this kind of thing? (I’ll answer that NO: we can see from Tess’ character that the game doesn’t make this argument.)

Where are the women, Hunters?!

You know what, I’m kind of leaning towards the Manly Man Hunting Club theory. These guys are too tough to allow women to participate. Women distract them from their important cause, which is killing refugees and taking their stuff. Give guys a seedy brothel and before you know it they’re spending all their time there, and then they start fighting over women, or getting someone pregnant and then wanting to care about the kid or something.

That’s not what Pittsburgh is about! Pittsburgh is about loot and surviving!

And, eventually, presumably all dying of infection, starvation, or violence. So is this merely a depiction of another way to fail at society in the post-infection world?

Butch:

We did see some women around Boston, even in the ‘extra’ capacity. Maybe it’s nothing more than not wanting to pay extra actors, but I doubt it.

And Tess was badassed. Indeed, we saw her kill a guy with a broken arm in cold blood. If she can do it, so, too, can the women of Pittsburgh.

Good point that women would make better bait. Remind me to team up with you when the zombies come.

I’ll throw out another theory, one that sort of occurred to me when I was noticing the absence of children amongst the infected (one would guess they can get infected, too, yes?) It’s a game convention. We don’t want to shoot kids. That’s just nasty. Taboo. Maybe the dev world thinks that too many of the people that play these games would balk at killing women. It is worth noting that the women soldiers we see killed are killed during a cutscene. You, the player, do not kill the women. So maybe there’s some market research that there has to be some tampering with logic in the vein of “well, there’s just no kids” because of what we, as players, can tolerate.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw a woman die, at the hands of the player, with your hands on the controller in ANY game? Probably the banshees in ME3. And that was long ago, and they were hardly women anymore.

Now, here’s a neat question: Is rigging the game so the player never kills a woman sexist or not?

Feminina:

Skyrim, last night. Killed a woman who attacked me when I broke into some dude’s house (not hers, she was specifically labeled a ‘bandit’). Plenty of women randits out there in Bethesda games. We killed plenty of Asari mercenaries in the ME series, too.

But as a general rule, I agree that you’ve got something here. Especially when you say that players don’t like to kill children. I’ll freely acknowledge that I personally would be uneasy with playing a game where I had to kill children. BioShock worked with that reluctance to interesting effect: I never did kill any of the Little Sisters, but from looking over shoulders it seemed like even if you did, they turned out to be…not real children, with the way they shook and became that weird metallic thing. Even though later the ones who survived WERE real children because they grew up…but basically, it was a disturbing thing to have to decide, right? And the game tried to downplay it, almost, by making it seem as if you weren’t TOTALLY doing what you were doing there.

Limbo is faintly shocking because you see children die, and they’re only silhouettes!

Part of that is probably the fact that no one wants to deal with the bad press of being “that game where you kill children,” but it’s also true that a lot of people just plain don’t really want to kill children, and/or that we as a society, game developers included, don’t really want to be the kind of place where people play games about killing children. Even infected, zombie children. Which, you’re right, we should see plenty of all over the place, just as we see plenty of adult infected, because there’s no way kids are better at evading/fighting off merciless, maddened zombies than adults are.

So yeah. Killing children = BIG DEAL, approach with extreme caution, issue. And I agree, that’s probably the practical reason for why we don’t see many children in games. They have to either be killable (bad press, general icky feeling) or weirdly invulnerable (for no apparent logical reason, you can’t hit this child with a sword no matter what you do), and you have to work out the implications of either decision, and man…let’s just leave out the children. They can all go off to summer camp and come back when they’re old enough to shoot at.

As for women, I agree that given the “women and children as vulnerable group” idea, probably a lot of times if you don’t see women, that’s why. Some writers/developers probably don’t want to deal with deciding whether or not players should kill women and what that says about their game, so they just leave them out.

And I would say yeah, that’s kind of sexist if you just decide to build your game without women to avoid this problem (“let’s just assume women don’t exist” is…sort of an issue). But not as sexist as including women, but only in the seedy brothel (“let’s assume women only exist as sex objects” is…also an issue).

But given that we’re talking about TLOU, I think your question is more “if there are women, but the game only lets you kill men, is that sexist?”

Because there’s totally an argument to make that if it’s OK to play games where we mow down hundreds of male characters, why shouldn’t it be OK to play a game where we mow down hundreds of female characters? In an equal world, if we recognize that both genders are capable of actions both heroic and deplorable, why CAN’T we kill women if they’re on the Bad Guy side?

To which I would say, it is totally OK to mow down women in games, provided that the mowing down is equally distributed. If you’re killing female randits and Asari mercenaries (who, yeah, technically aren’t female, but they’re certainly going to be read that way 99% of the time), people you would have been killing no matter who or what they were because they’re trying to kill you–if the gender of the character is irrelevant and could be switched without making a difference to the story–then that is totally OK and not sexist.

In fact, I regularly salute Bethesda for recognizing that women as well as men can be random bloodthirsty thugs. Go equality!

If you get to a situation where you’re killing women AS WOMEN, if you’re killing characters who could not have been male without the scene being completely different, then I think you have to be more careful. Like, why is this scene about killing women, specifically, instead of being about killing…name your villain? And it’s not that there couldn’t be a narrative reason for it, but again, I think one would need to be cautious. Why is this character you’re fighting/watching depicted as female? So we can see a hot female body? Or does it actually make sense for the story/world?

Back to TLOU, I think if they had made some of these hunters women, but not changed the scenes otherwise, it would have been totally fine, which is why it’s interesting that they didn’t. I honestly don’t quite buy that they were so concerned about player sensibilities that they made sure none of the hunters were female just to make sure we wouldn’t have to kill a woman, but I don’t really have a better explanation other than your “not wanting to hire more voice extras” one.

Which is kind of sexist. Not in a major, over-the-top kind of way, but just in a sort of dismissive “this isn’t important enough to bother with” way.

Butch:

As soon as I hit send on that one, I thought of Bethesda. Bethesda doesn’t care. Plenty of women randits in FO, too. But they’re the exception.

I did kill one of the Little Sisters, and it was incredibly upsetting.

Even Bethesda doesn’t let you kill kids. You can’t target them with VATS, and if you do try to do anything, they run away, disappear, and pretty much everyone on the planet tries to kill you for it.

That being said, there is a bit in FO3 where you can, offscreen anyway, trick a bunch of kids who have set up a Lord of the Flies society into being captured by slavers. If you so choose. For some reason, that’s ok….

I would say “as long as the gender could have been swapped it’s OK” AND the killing isn’t some salacious pseudo torture porn. I mean, there was even some criticism on that front re: Lara’s deaths in TR (we discussed same, at some level). I mean, if the women went down the same as the men, that’s one thing, but if you’re in a position where there’s some overtones, that would creep me out.

There’d be some of that if they were depicted differently. Like if the men had on what they have on in TLOU or TR and the women all had on halter tops. But if they dressed like Tess, or soldiers, then why not?

Feminina:

Bethesda is truly a shining example of egalitarian ideals in gaming. Anyone can be a randit! And EVERYONE will be hideous! Maybe that’s why child slavery is OK: it just increases the odds of them being hideous and potentially growing up to be a randit. Plus, if children can’t be killed, who ELSE are you going to send to do the most dangerous jobs on the planet?

I know, I know, just because YOU can’t kill children doesn’t mean other people can’t. The remnants of that happy, trusting Vault that was overrun by thugs in FONV still haunt me. Again, though, it happened well offscreen.

The Limbo deaths are quite gruesome. Heads pop off, limbs go flying, bodies are impaled by spikes…and as you say, deaths also make a difference–if you killed male characters and they just dropped dead, but female characters would, I don’t know, somehow strip off all their clothes as they fell or something, that would obviously be a problem. And some of the TR death sequences pushed it a bit.

I do think TR got around a lot because they
a) had an explanation for why there were no women on the island
b) had Lara as a strong character, and
c) also had a female ultimate villain, as well as Reyes, who was pretty tough even if she didn’t agree with Lara, so its percentage of female characters with names (i.e., non-randits) was actually pretty high for a major release.

But yeah, as to why no randit women in TLOU, when it seems like it would have been easy to include some among the hunters in a non-controversial way? I got nothing.

I really don’t remember anything like an explanation for this, which is why I can freely speculate without fear of spoilerizing, but maybe you’ll find something as you go that could work?

Butch:

Indeed. Though Mattias was a more vocal baddie in TR.

I haven’t found an answer yet. Maybe when I get to the boss of the hunters. We shall see.