Some spoilers for themes and plot points in Red Dead Redemption 2
Well, did the Black Belle bit, and yeah, not all that surprising, really.
It’s funny. We seem to be more willing to have good women die in games than bad women. Seriously.
The dead wife/mother being the motivation for the “good guy” to go all revengey is a trope as old as tropes. Poor, innocent, loyal women are cannon fodder. But bad women? They almost always avoid the villain’s end that bad men meet at the end of everything. I have a feeling that the other two gunslingers I’m going to meet are going to end up like bad, bad Flacco Hernandez: Dead. But bad Black Belle? Portrayed as likeable, lovable even. Arthur’s journal even says he’d go after her if they were the same age!
This doesn’t make much sense.
Bad women even do better than good women in how they’re portrayed re love and sex. Good women, almost always, the best they can hope for is being the “prize” a the end, the women who gets to swoon all “My hero” and smooch. Bad women have it much better. Sera? Ended the game hand in hand with Evelyn, equals (she was also very much in charge in bed). A certain black haired sorceress I’ve mentioned before dictated ALL the terms of the relationship, including when to have demon babies.
The most stark display of this dynamic was Uncharted. Elena was the swooner at least twice, and, in the end, goes into Drake’s line of work (the fact her name was first in their company name is window dressing: she gave up her career and did his) and has his kid. Chloe has all sorts of fun with Drake, leaves ON HER TERMS (he asks her to stay) and gets her own game.
This, too, makes little sense.
And it’s not offensive, per se. I didn’t come away from Black Belle thinking “sexist garbage.” It wasn’t a bad mission. Belle was cool. (My one complaint was being convinced that there was something in that shack and being wrong. I think.)
But that dynamic, man. It’s pervasive.
It is pervasive. And we’ve talked at length about reasons why it might be the case that female characters don’t get the same kind of death rate that male characters do.
In a way that’s not exactly offensive, but that we notice.
I would somewhat question “good women are more likely to die,” only because often the revenge-catalyst women who die are barely–if at all–actual characters, and so if we’re talking about CHARACTERS (people with names, and dialogue, and some actions) they hardly register, and so assigning them a quality of goodness is doubtful.
Are they actually “good women”? Who knows? We assume so because losing them drives the hero into a homicidal frenzy, but let’s be honest: that probably isn’t particularly hard to do.
Anyway, I would recite the usual couple of arguments:
1) Few women characters means players pay special attention to the way they’re treated, and “we don’t kill off our occasional female characters” is probably less likely to get you the angry frowns of bloggers than “we introduce an occasional female character in a sea of men and then kill her.”
See once again: Bethesda. If you introduce 500 female characters, you can do whatever the hell you want with any given one of them, because none of them is standing alone to represent “the way Bethesda treats female characters.”
2) Some people suck and that’s why we can’t have nice things or complex stories. Some people would totally get off on bloodily murdering female characters BECAUSE they were female. Do we really want to provide murder-fantasy fodder to terrible people? Probably not a huge selling point. Bloggers will frown. Maybe let’s just go ahead and not let those people do that, even if it also means limiting the options we have for wrapping up female characters’ storylines. (Limiting…or reluctantly expanding? I mean, when you get to it, there’s not a whole lot more limiting to one’s career options than “I fought the hero, and now I’m dead.” Male characters are the ones who should be complaining here.)
The obvious answer is, there should be a lot more female characters!
And people will certainly protest that it’s just not REALISTIC to have women doing anything, you know, action-y. In their specific games. Unless they’re wearing fantastically skimpy armor.
And these people should carefully consider the painstaking realism of everything else in the particular game they’re thinking of, and ponder to themselves whether a woman in the combat sequences is the most implausible thing in it.
Now something with a lot of semi-accurate (place-names aside) historical detail like Red Dead has more of a leg to stand on here than a lot of games. And I actually think it does OK–as you said, I’m not going along constantly thinking “this is a load of sexist garbage.” It’s true that the average person you met guarding stagecoaches or getting into gunfights in this time period was not a woman, so we wouldn’t likely fight many of them. It’s also true that there were women around, in various roles, and you’d see them here and there working on farms or in saloons and occasionally one of them would be a gunslinger, or a multiple murderer. Women: they exist in society!
I would even think that this game, with its setting in a particular time period, can better justify its treatment of female villains than some, because that’s likely how they WOULD have been seen. Sheriffs would probably stress that they wanted female criminals alive, because asking for them to be killed would violate their own sense of the need to protect the gentle nature of women, or whatever.
So, yeah, I didn’t really have a problem with it. But as you say, it’s pervasive. And always good for a discussion!
As for me–NOW I’m in Chapter 3. It had nothing to do with Blackwater.
I could tell when I got to it by the subtle narrative cue of the words “Chapter 3” written on the screen. Observant, that’s me.
Hmm. Good point. The early-deceased women are more ideas of characters than characters themselves.
And, there has been a bit of backlash against this very game. I won’t link it, cuz I’m lazy, but some of those very people that suck apparently figured out the game would let you beat the shit out of sufferagettes, and they thought this was hilarious. So even with the women this game provides, shitty people found a way to be shitty.
As for plausibility, see this in Battlefield 1. People were bitching cuz the game was about World War one, but it had a woman soldier on the cover. ACCURACY! Now, the fact that this woman soldier also had a robotic machine gun prosthetic did not seem to bother them, but women? ACCURACY!!!!!!
Anyway, all good points. But how do you feel about the, what, glamorization of the “bad woman?” Because Black Belle was cool. Very cool. Much cooler than male bad guys were made out to be! See also Chloe, Sera, Lelianna, Morrigan. Vetra was a smuggler. Even PB was a “rogue academic.” The role of lily white paladin hero is strictly for men. Female “good guys” have to be “bad women.” They even felt the need to make Lara Croft much more morally complex, where they didn’t do that with Nathan Drake. We have all kinds of shiny shield, square jawed space marine “I SHALL SAVE US because that is WHAT I DO!” male heroes. SuperMAN, for fuck’s sake, is the epitome of that. But women? Unless you make a FemShep and play her that way, you ain’t getting a “good guy” woman who isn’t a “bad woman.”
Or, to keep this on Black Belle, “bad women” are often portrayed as WAAAAAAY cooler/funnier/smarter/sexier than “bad guys.” Compare Flacco Hernandez to Black Belle. (I’m about to do Billy Midnight. I’m in Rhodes. Got distracted with a bath and blackjack.)
Ooo! Chapter 3! What missions did you have to do?
Thank heaven they did a written title instead of a long, multi-verse song called “This is the Start of Chapter Three” cuz you would have missed that entirely.
What about Aloy? She was so nice, she literally couldn’t refuse to help people with their problems, and that had nothing to do with how we chose to play her. (We could have chosen not to actually complete the quests–but we had to take them, so we had to SAY we were going to help.)
Aside from that, I think that’s an interesting question, but I would also question how many lily-white paladin characters there really ARE in at least the games we play. (And I hesitate to expound too much on games we don’t play.)
I mean, you say that Lara has to be made more morally complicated than Nathan Drake, but calling Nathan Drake ‘heroic’ is a stretch. He’s not a bad person, but he’s totally a rogue, not a paladin. He’s not out to save the world, he’s out for loot, and he winds up (maybe) saving the world by accident along the way. And yeah, they didn’t go out of their way to infuse him with as much personal angst right off the bat (although the last game did some of that), but he’s not exactly a square-jawed Marine.
Who, in the games we play, IS a standard “I’ll save the world because that’s the right thing to do!” character?
As you say, Superman, sure, but we don’t play games where we’re Superman. I think, at least with story-driven games such as we tend to like, that the trend is strongly towards more complicated characters, with more shades of both good and not-so-good for both men and women, because Superman is…kind of boring. Sorry, Superman. You’re the best! Just not the most interesting.
But I think it’s definitely true that maybe this is even more than case for female characters than for male characters, because we have the standard narrative of “good boy goes out to adventure and seek his fortune” and we don’t so much, with the good girl. Going out to adventure is something good boys can do, but good girls are supposed to stay home and take care of the house and wait for the good boy to come home and marry them.
So it makes sense that the girl who goes to adventure and seek her fortune needs more explanation, needs more backstory…and necessarily becomes, almost by definition, less good in the process. Men don’t need a capital-R Reason to adventure, it’s just something they do. Good men, bad men, indifferent men, they go forth and seek adventure and fortune.
But that’s not true for women. Why would a woman be doing this unless there were some REASON? It doesn’t make sense! So a female character needs a story, and it probably has trauma or wickedness somewhere involved, because if everything were good in this good girl’s life, ain’t no way she would have left the comfort of home.
No way, man.
Again, I don’t think that we really play a lot of games where a good and simple male hero goes adventuring with no complicating backstory, either. (And again, you can say Nathan Drake wasn’t super complicated, but I would argue he also wasn’t exactly good.) It’s just not the kind of thing we’re drawn to. But certainly, one could see it happening more easily that way, than with a woman main character.
Fair about Aloy. Maybe that was another reason Horizon felt so new and refreshing. It did do a lot of stuff that was different that wasn’t just ROBOT DINOSAURS.
Ironically, as I think about this, I see a paradox in us. Yes, we like story driven games, and yes, story driven games do tend towards complex characters cuz Superman is boring. That said, when I think on the games I’ve played that come the closest to white knight protagonists, I come back to Shepard and Evelyn and Hawke. That is, characters I CREATED. So here I am, all “Yay! Story!” and I seem to be the one most responsible for putting boring assed Supermen (and women) into games whenever I can. You’re the same way. We tend to choose to distill out the moral complexity of the characters we play when given the opportunity to do so. We’re even playing Arthur as straight as we can! The game is FORCING us to keep moral complexity in there! The characters we make ourselves….kinda suck.
Now I feel bad.
At least mine tend to be hotties.
That makes sense, about good girls. But then, to go back to Aloy, who was the whitest knight female we’ve played (that wasn’t of our own creation), she, too, had a pretty good amount of trauma thrown in there, what with Rost dying and the whole outcast thing. That was really her motivation, not “The universe must be saved and I am the one to do it!” Indeed, there’s a scene in there where the Nora are bowing to her as a savior and she is saying “No! No! Stand up!”
Shepard wouldn’t have said that. Even FemShep.
Look at how well we do at discussing stuff, when we play.
Told you this game would lead to bloggage.
So what DOES lead to Chapter 3?
I don’t think our characters suck–I think our characters are very nice! Ha.
Because we play them, as much as possible, to be the kind of people we would actually like to know and hang out with. And we want to hang out with people who are helpful and cordial to other people. Basic social skills: we value them.
Which is certainly the issue if you’re trying to craft a compelling narrative. Nice people like us and our characters are not particularly interesting in fiction. But I think this is where role playing games can differ from set-narrative games: in a good role-playing game, the character is interesting to us because he or she represents us in the setting of a story that has its own conflicts and interest. We don’t have to make an interesting character by anyone else’s standards (or even by our own standards if we were hearing about the story secondhand), because the interest lies in the ‘me-ness’ of it.
I’m not sitting there thinking “what would be the most interesting way to tell this story later?” I’m thinking “what would I do if I were this character in this situation?” Putting myself into this place and this character I helped design is the source of the interest, not appreciating someone else’s complicated and fascinating character design.
Immersing ourselves in the story and the character is the point, more than appreciating the character’s finely crafted role in the narrative, and I think it’s perfectly fair if that works better for us when we don’t play the character as a total jackass whom no one would willingly put up with.
Now, in your stories with a set narrative, you can (and games do) make the protagonist as dark and morally compromised and personally unpleasant as you want. (Up to a point. We still have to be willing to tolerate his or her company. Usually even when they aren’t nice people, they’re kind of witty and cool, so you can at least imagine they’d be fun to go on a murder spree with.)
I don’t think we’re under any obligation to try to create more interesting characters when we play RPGs, any more than I think we have an obligation to try to be more interesting people in real life. (You know what would complicate and liven up this boring day? A messy divorce and a drug problem!) That’s not–to my mind–the point of RPGs.
Let me put ME (in some imagined form) into an interesting story! Don’t make me write an interesting, complicated character I don’t really like (and who might not even be that interesting, because honestly, messy divorces and drug problems are a dime a dozen too) to go with the story.
And there’s another aspect of it: it’s hard to write dark complicated characters that are actually interesting and well done. It’s going to be really hard to do that with the blunt tools of “do you want to be nice to this person in this conversation, or mean?”
When you get right down to it, the choices in RPGs are still very limited, and the options they give us for true character development are fairly shallow. I still love them, and this isn’t really a criticism: they’re doing the best they can with the medium as it exists, and that best can be a lot of fun. But for us to say “oh, I don’t want to play the boring good guy, I’ll pick the mean option” doesn’t actually result in us having created a complicated and interesting character, it just results in us having decided to play the boring mean guy instead.
Give us a tabletop game where we can genuinely make up the character from scratch, and yeah, we can come up with someone who’s interesting and complicated and a little mean but also at heart wants to do the right thing…or whatever. But video RPGs don’t allow that level of complexity.
So, again–given the choice between picking the boring nice version or the boring jerk version of the scripted dialogue, I’m going to pick nice. Pretty much every time. And I don’t feel the slightest remorse for it, and I would argue you shouldn’t either.
Oh, and chapter 3 comes after…some stuff goes down. Tip: you might want to just make sure you do everything you wanted to do in the general area where you are, before you meet Dutch in the saloon in Valentine.
Hmm. Ok. Defense of nice characters. But, going forward, does that mean that when we hand down our brilliant analysis of narrative, should we judge the likes of Dragon Age differently than, say, Uncharted? Or the “middle ground” games like RDR2 or TW3? If they’re going for something different in what the narrative IS, then are they different beasts?
It’ll be interesting to see, as games get better and bigger, if these lines get blurred, if there’s going to be more than nice/mean. I think we’re going that way.
So you did Micah’s bit? With the coach chase you couldn’t do before? Was it ok with the aiming stuff?
I can’t meet Dutch yet! I have Micah (which I don’t want to do if it’s still really annoying) and John’s wagon.
Oh and I played some! I robbed the side business of the gunsmith in Rhodes. Have you figured out how to rob side businesses?
I kinda feel bad about myself now.
I’ll let you do it if you haven’t cuz there’s both story and theme.
I totally forgot about the side business! I have not robbed it.
But yes, I did Micah’s coach bit, and it was better with the aiming. I forgot to take the carbine repeater off my horse, but the sawed off shotgun also worked OK. It was a big score, too. Worth it if you need some cash.
Also, some moderately interesting conversation. I still don’t LIKE Micah, but he made some fair points.
As for how we handle narrative in different types of games, I say we handle it the way we have been, which is talking about whatever we feel like talking about. If we happen to think of an interesting angle that we think might work differently in an RPG than a set-narrative game and we want to talk about it, we should. If not, whatever. I think that meaningful distinctions could be drawn, and we should totally cover them in detail in an academic paper very soon, but I don’t see making it part of our process that every time we start a game we first check off on our list “OK, is this a role-playing or not?”
That’s just way too organized for us.
Oh, dude. We’re going to talk about whatever we feel like talking about. It’s how we do.
Unless the game hasn’t shown the nudity it promised. Then we can’t talk about that.
Yeah, so, apparently, once you figure out something is off with a business (in this case, talking to….someone….), you go in, point your gun hit ROB, and it’ll give you a choice to either rob the guy outright or “rob basement,” which gets you the side business deal.
This particular one was….unexpected.
Coach robbery: Oh, good. I don’t want to do something that’s gonna take me 22 tries.
I’m not sure Micah’s ever going to be someone we like. I don’t think the game wants us to like him.
I have to say, so far the nudity has been a no-go. But maybe Chapter 3 will the The Naked Chapter.
We can dream.
Man, even the vaudeville is no-nudity? Damn.
It says “nudity” right there on the box. Not “partial,” either.
And lord knows I’ve been keeping an eye out.
The vaudeville is very risque!–for 1899.
Still entertaining, but no nudity that I’ve seen.
Ooooo! Full kneecap nudity!
Oh, and is the Micah thing necessary? Or is it just “if you want cash?”
Pretty much just if you want the cash. (And the conversation with Micah.) It had no real story impact as far as I can tell.
The kneecaps are VERY enticing.
Someone else got laid at the party, but all I got to do was dance.
Maybe if I had found the booze sooner.
That Mary Beth is sweet on me, she is. Maybe if I find her a fountain pen, I’ll get to see her kneecaps.
I looked around the general store for a pen, or a storybook for the kid, but couldn’t find them. They must be hidden somewhere.
I tried doing something with the pen that that dude gave me, the guy who recognized me from Blackwater, chased him, decided not to let him fall off a cliff, that one? But no dice.
Ooh, that was a good thought, though! I’d forgotten about that dude and his pen. But now, if I remember, I won’t try to do anything with it. Thanks for checking that out for me.
Well, unless I’m doing it wrong.
I’m still hanging onto it as it says more than just “a gold pen,” it says “A pen given to you by [name of dude]” and “unique item” and I always think that means it’ll matter later, when it’s that specific and unique.
Which is why my inventory is usually 43975439857345 of those things at the end of every game I play.
I’m glad we haven’t had a lot of keys in this. I always end up with 500 unidentified keys I’m afraid to throw away.
Much like in real life.
Oh the keys! And you have to search through them all to find the right one! Like in real life!
A wonderful thing in the history of gaming was when a developer said “You know? The fucking door should just open if the player has the key. This ‘find it and use it’ bullshit’s gotta end.”
I love that developer.
Good day of bloggage!
But, as for next week (Shit, we have enough themes I can think ahead!), I’ve met a few Leymone Rangers or whatever. Here, we have dudes who’s way of life IS over. If Arthur’s is ending, theirs has, and they won’t accept it. I have a feeling we’ll have a few reams to say about all that, but I’m not sure we should start on it now, as I have a feeling I’ve but scratched the surface of it.
Ah, the Lemoyne Raiders. I haven’t actually had that much interaction with them, other than a couple of roadside shootouts and me bringing their leader in for the bounty. He was a chatty fellow, though. I’m sure we’ll find something to say about it.
You brought in their leader?
Yes. Yes he was.
It was actually relatively painless…the SECOND time I did it.
I’m not sure “nostalgic seething” is a T SHIRT but it certainly should be a something.
Maybe just a key chain.
No…. I got it….It’s our new business venture for 2019!
We shall capture the scent of nostalgic seething. Pair it in a gift box with “White Hot Rage.”
How have we not been doing this already???????
And, for those romantic nights, may we suggest a little jazz, a little wine, and our “enticing kneecaps” votives?
We’re off to a flying start.