I mostly talk about writing here, but I'm not just a writer. I'm also a girl who plays video games. The two topics are more related than you'd think, as video games are nothing more than a slightly fancier, more interactive means of storytelling than your typical book. And so I think about storytelling and characterization in video games quite a lot.
I'd been meaning to do a post about heroines, and what actually makes a strong female character. Then this article popped up, and made it almost imperative, because while I understand the need to assert yourself as a woman in an almost exclusively male genre/community, I feel like she's got it completely wrong.
I don't care what characters look like. I'll admit, I was pretty amused a few years ago to read an article suggesting that an inordinate number of YA novels features redheaded sidekick characters compared to the number of redheads in the population, as well as to those that feature redheaded protagonists. I understand that for some people, the way you interact with a story can depend on how closely you identify with the characters, and that it can be frustrating if you never, ever see a character depicted heroically who looks anything like you. Oh, believe me, I know. I grew up fat. But the thing is that it's still characterization that's more important to me.
I see these lists of "Top 10 Ass-Kicking Female Characters" on video game sites, and they make me sigh a bit. Because in response to the complaints about depictions of females in games, most companies have decided that if they depict women who are physically powerful, they've addressed the issue. And besides, if they're that well-muscled, they'll look really hot in whatever you decide to draw them wearing. It's not the outfits that bother me. It's the lack of nuance.
You know who my favorite female characters are? Kitty Pride. Kaylee. Willow. They're all women who are powerful in non-standard ways, and they all look different. They're not super-sexy, but they're not your typical Mousy McSit-in-the-corner female geek character, either. I can't stand Penny, or most of Felicia Day's characters, for that very reason.
I really feel like the woman who wrote that article about Mass Effect is missing the point. For one thing, I find it hysterical that the only difference between the two comparison screenshots she uses, claiming that one is much better than the other, is the haircut and color. Same body, same face, even. She's claiming that people are shallow for picking the blonde when all she's done is discard it for the exact same reason in reverse. I agree with Tycho. It's still Shepard, either way. And because female Shepard and male Shepard are identical in terms of story options, I frankly think she's one of the best deals going at the moment for people who want heroines.
Maybe I'm taking it too personally. I'm blonde (blame my northern European descent), and I have inordinately straight hair (blame the Native American descent that nobody in the family will talk about). Her suggestion is therefore that I must be a bimbo. I've grown up all my life making blonde jokes about myself (being a percussionist as well didn't help), and I've never really been offended by them. But to see someone who's claiming an interest in gender equality immediately dismiss a section of her own gender due to personal prejudice? Not cool.
Judge character on character. Write good characters, and nobody should give a flying flip what any of their physical characteristics are. We're all just sentients.