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Trabia Garden
You May Have Seen A Million Entries About This, But This One Has Pokémon.
Nora Would Probably Be Visser One. 
5th-Jan-2014 08:31 pm
sort of exhausted really
Lightning Returns, the final game in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, is coming out in Europe in about a month and a half. To remind myself of what preceded it, I've resumed my replay of Final Fantasy XIII.

Final Fantasy XIII has rather more 'I'VE JUST REALISED WHAT'S BEEN DRIVING ME THE ENTIRE TIME AND NOW I'M GOING TO EXPLAIN IT AT LENGTH, ALOUD' moments than I'd remembered. Stop that, Final Fantasy XIII. If you keep it subtle, some people aren't going to grasp the flaws that motivate these characters to make terrible decisions, true, but you have to accept that. Having the characters explicitly say 'oh my God, I've just realised that this character flaw of mine has led me to make all these terrible decisions!' sounds incredibly unnatural and moreover takes all the fun out of character analysis. Leave something for us!

Whenever I get annoyed with this game, though, there's a really lovely bit of character interaction and I have to forgive it. Plus the battle system is twice as great as I remembered. In most Final Fantasy games, my strategy is 'hit things, cast Cure, ignore all other abilities'. In XIII there are six different combat roles, and I make regular use of every single one of them.

One interesting thing about the XIII battle system is the way in which it reverses traditional JRPG gender roles. Although each character can take several roles in battle, each has a particular role in which they excel: Fang is an incredibly powerful Commando, for example. Vanille is the best Saboteur, Sazh the best Synergist, Snow the best Sentinel, Hope the best Medic. The best Ravager can perhaps be debated, but I personally feel it's Lightning for her versatility; I'd certainly make her my Ravager if I had to assign each role to a single character. And this means that all the women excel in offensive roles, whereas the men excel in support roles. The women damage and weaken the enemies; the men heal and support the party. I'm not saying that all female characters should be cast in offensive roles forever, of course - Yuna of Final Fantasy X, who is a healer and can only be built into a physical fighter with some very determined levelling, is one of my favourite characters of all time - but they're certainly cast in support roles disproportionately often, and so Final Fantasy XIII makes a pleasant change.

I also really like that Final Fantasy XIII is very much a story about women and the relationships between them. That's shockingly rare in a videogame; I think Portal is the only other game I've played in which the relationship between female characters drives the plot, and the plot of Portal is fairly thin.* In Final Fantasy XIII, the four most important characters are all female: Vanille, Fang, Serah and Lightning, with Snow maybe coming in a distant fifth. Take Lightning out, and there's no resolution to topple the Sanctum. Without Serah, most of the characters don't become l'Cie in the first place. Without Vanille and Fang, absolutely nothing in the game happens. The male characters aren't superfluous, but their roles in the plot tend to be secondary. It's incredible to realise how rare this is, and how commonly we see the reverse. It's fine to have stories about men, just as it's fine to have stories about women, but it'd be nice if the balance were a little less skewed.

How did this turn into a lengthy ramble about gender roles in videogames? Moving on:

I think the scene on Pulse in which Hope tells the others to go on without him, just before the Alexander fight, might be one of my favourites in the game. Hope's not amongst my favourite characters (it doesn't help that his role is frequently relegated to 'summarising the plot so far'), but there's something really likeable about him in that scene. The poor kid's terrified that he's holding everybody back, and he tries to put on a brave face and tell everyone that he'll be fine if they carry on without him, even though there are monsters everywhere and he can barely stay on his feet. (And the moment when he falls forward and Snow catches him!)

I found myself wondering recently whether it would be possible to write a Final Fantasy XIII/Animorphs AU, in which the cast of XIII, rather than becoming l'Cie, become Animorphs. Superficially it seemed to make sense, because both Final Fantasy XIII and Animorphs are tales of a group of people who, having been drawn together by chance, experience something that binds them and changes their lives forever. On further consideration, though, I don't think it can be written. Too many of the Final Fantasy XIII cast are warriors. The point of Animorphs is that these are ordinary kids, thrown suddenly into a war that's far bigger than they are. Characters like Lightning and Fang are too used to fighting already. Hope's the only real Animorph candidate amongst the l'Cie.

Which sort of breaks my heart, because I'd love to see that crossover.

(No, wait, Serah would be a Controller, wouldn't she? I WOULDN'T LOVE TO SEE THAT CROSSOVER; IT WOULD BREAK MY HEART.)

* I've seen criticism of Portal saying that the fact Chell is female does nothing for female representation in games, because she's a silent protagonist and the game would be no different if she were a man. I personally think that makes Chell incredibly important. She could be male, true, and nothing would change. But she isn't! Having a female main character doesn't have to be a plot twist, or a source of titillation, or a vehicle for telling a particular story; it can just be because, you know, sometimes people are female. There doesn't have to be a reason for someone to be a woman. I'm a woman for no reason at all.
(Deleted comment)
5th-Jan-2014 10:44 pm (UTC)
It's you! With your username on! Hello!

That does sound interesting! I'm incredibly bad with horror, though (I'm having trouble working up the courage to replay The Last of Us, and I don't think that's even technically a horror game), so I'm a bit reluctant to play it. (I just looked up the game website and that's already unsettling me. I'M STILL HAUNTED BY THE PATH, EVEN THOUGH I JUST WATCHED A COUPLE OF GAMEPLAY VIDEOS AND NEVER ACTUALLY PLAYED IT MYSELF.)
5th-Jan-2014 11:00 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about a pleasant change. There are definitely instances where I'm all "Wait, she's not being cast as the love interest/the sensible one of the group/the support person/the healer? Awesome!" And that's not because I think women shouldn't be cast in those roles, just that they've been done so much that variety is badly needed.

And I agree with you about Chell. Stories about female characters shouldn't all center on gender, and it's actually really messed up to assume that it should always matter that a female character is female. It's the same kind of thinking that leads to "Well, this character is a normal person and not defined by gender, race, or sexuality, so I better make them a white, straight male" and disproportionate representation of that demographic.
6th-Jan-2014 08:32 pm (UTC)
It's the same kind of thinking that leads to "Well, this character is a normal person and not defined by gender, race, or sexuality, so I better make them a white, straight male" and disproportionate representation of that demographic.

Exactly! And as a consequence of their underrepresentation, characters that aren't white, straight males often end up being expected to be PERFECT SHINING EXAMPLES OF HUMANITY whenever they do show up (for example, if there's only one major female character in a film, the writer might avoid giving her character flaws for fear of accusations that he's attributing those qualities to all of femalekind), and that's no good for anyone; it makes characters less interesting and denies people attainable role models.
7th-Jan-2014 06:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, if you can't write anyone other than a white, straight, cis, able-bodied male character unless their gender/sexual orientation/disability/etc. is central to their role in the story, and you can't write a flawed woman/person of color/disabled person/etc. unless there are enough other people of that demographic in the story that you can visibly go "They're not all like that!", then it becomes extremely difficult to write diversity into the story at all. (Among other things, this is making me feel a lot better about how eighty percent of the major characters in my current original works in progress are women, and probably fifty percent are lesbians or bisexual.)
8th-Jan-2014 01:30 am (UTC)
Huh, see, that thing about female characters and silent protagonists got me thinking: what was the last game I played in which the main character being a dude was central to the plot? And I can only think of one, and strangely enough, it was to undergo trauma that usually only gets visited on female characters in media: violent sexual assault. Nothing subliminal or symbolic about it. That was what happened to him.

Personally I think Chell's femininity might not be super-relevant to Portal, but it sure made a lot of GLaDOS's insults more...I don't know. I just got a perverse satisfaction out of being insulted for my clothes, looks and weight, because those are feminine-coded insults, while usually the player character gets insulted with the assumption that the person behind the screen is male.
8th-Jan-2014 08:56 am (UTC)
I just got a perverse satisfaction out of being insulted for my clothes, looks and weight, because those are feminine-coded insults, while usually the player character gets insulted with the assumption that the person behind the screen is male.

That's an excellent point, and actually I remember that fireholly enjoyed that as well! Hang on, I'll see if I can track down the exact quote:

it still feels good playing as a female character who is a stand-in for me in an FPS, and I love how the game actually talked to her like she was a girl to make the player sympathise with her, rather than worrying about scaring male gamers off. I wouldn't be surprised if people who play games to get away from that kind of stuff found it bothersome, though I actually really enjoyed being insulted for my weight and fashion sense rather than my cock size and balls quantity, as is the video game standard, because it meant the game was trying to hurt my feelings, eeeee. (from here)

I recently tried to list all the videogames I'd played in which the main playable character is female (not counting independent freeware game Iji), and what I came up with was this:

Portal, Portal 2
Final Fantasy VI, X-2, XIII, XIII-2
Freddi Fish 1, 2, 3

That's it. And off the top of my head I can only list four main-female-character games/game series I haven't played: Mirror's Edge, Tomb Raider, Metroid and I think one of the Assassin's Creed games (Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, now that I've looked it up). (EDIT: Oh, a few more: Silent Hill 3, Rule of Rose, Project Zero and at least some Clock Tower games. I don't play a lot of horror. AND BAYONETTA okay I'll stop editing now.)

Interesting, now that I think about it, that of the human female protagonists I can list who originated in the West (Chell of Portal, Faith of Mirror's Edge, Aveline of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation and Lara Croft of Tomb Raider), only one (Lara Croft) is even possibly white. A 3:1 (or possibly 1:0; I'm not sure about Lara) ratio of PoC to white protagonists is... not at all close to the ratio amongst male protagonists developed by western studios. I suppose developers are more willing to take risks when they're already taking a risk by having a female main character.

Edited at 2014-01-08 09:00 am (UTC)
8th-Jan-2014 10:15 am (UTC)
Huh! I think I might have accidentally been parroting that post. I remember reading it now.

I play a lot of games where you customise your protagonist and pretty much always go for female. (And I don't care how hipster this makes me: Commander Shepard is, was and will always have been a woman in my mind. Race and attitude variable, but she is a lady. Something in my head actually does go "clunk" when I hear of Shepard being referred to as male, like I missed a gear.) And I mean, I am a lady myself. But it's also because it's the only way I can play as a lady a lot of the time, and it has its own problems - customisable characters are always going to be mostly-blank slates, rather than fleshed-out characters with voices and backgrounds, tics and habits. Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fable, Neverwinter Nights 2 - they swap a certain level of detail for customisation. Although Black Isle/Obsidian is a bit better about this just because of the sheer number of variables that go into their games, and Dragon Age 2 had an interesting method where the main character's overall personality took on the tone of the responses you chose most often - diplomatic and honourable, devious and snarky, or blunt and violent.

The Walking Dead: Season Two has a lady main character! Clementine, my sweet-pea! I haven't played it yet, though. And Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea has the lady sidekick taking centre stage for its second part, which sounds super-cool - even in the Infinite base game, she was such an active part of the story I would say she actually shares top-billing with the male protagonist, Booker DeWitt. There was Remember Me, but as I understand it was...not very good. Gone Home was an indie game with a lot of other elements the industry is allergic to (going into detail would bore and depress you) and people are still arguing about it, naturally. Oh, and Heavenly Sword! Remember Me was another game with a racially ambiguous protag, as well as TWD.

I do know for a fact, however, that game pitches have been rejected out of hand because "female characters don't sell". I would also say that the climate of the industry - devs, players and publishers - is hostile to...alternatives, I suppose, and as long as the majority of devs are male, it's going to stay that way. Unfortunately it's self-enforcing. Being a lady/PoC/trans/queer/basically non-white-dude is awful; the pressure to stay within the perceived "safe" design restrictions is intense.
13th-Jan-2014 07:06 pm (UTC)

Also hello! :3
13th-Jan-2014 08:11 pm (UTC)
!!! I REALLY HOPE YOU ENJOY IT. It is one of my favourite, favourite games. I replayed it a couple of months ago and was sort of amazed by how much I adore everything about it.

And hello to you as well!
14th-Jan-2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
So far, Phones is a dick, I'm not completely sure what is going on but I think everybody is trapped in a game??? and the music is very catchy. I love it.
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