Who Gets to Be a Hero? A Case Against the Default Protagonist

The phrase “default protagonist” has been used quite commonly in recent years in order to examine and critique issues concerning representation in media. This “default” is affected by the cultural context that any given piece of media is produced within, as well as the long-standing canon that has shaped popular cultural and academic perspectives.

Regardless of the medium, you have probably observed what the most common trends are: the protagonist is usually a man or a boy, he is white (or has a noticeably lighter skin tone), and he is heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and neurotypical. Many a marketer in the world of multimedia has claimed that this character is most “relatable” or “identifiable,” but viewers who do not fit one (or all) of these categories will probably tell you differently. Seeing this same protagonist, day in and day out, is boring at best and self-esteem impacting at worst.

Video games provide an interesting take on the discussion of default protagonist. Many video games — especially ones that focus on a specific narrative such as Night in the Woods or the Ace Attorney franchise — follow the story of specific player character(s) through the typical three-act structure. However, not all video games follow this narrative design. Instead, some games provide a story type that no other medium can: one that focuses on the player as the main character.  

Thus, the protagonist of the game is no longer a character with a pre-determined appearance, personality, sexuality, and skills, but rather, they are a character based on the player’s actual or idealized self. Granted, several of these games have their own pre-determined plots for the player to undertake, but the fact that the player is able to play as themselves provides a very different connection to both the story and the game world. This feature is especially prevalent in role-playing video games, which makes a great deal of sense as you are essentially viewing fantastical worlds from the perspective you want to pursue as opposed to a specific linear progression that is associate with other game genres.

With this ability to create one’s player character becoming more widespread, one might assume that developers would continue to expand upon those available customization options. Unfortunately, the video game industry still lags behind in terms of providing gamers with a diverse range of options. This can be seen most recently in the lack of romance options for gay or bisexual men in Mass Effect: Andromeda, the Pokémon franchise’s continued reliance on the gender binary for their player character, and the lack of options available to black gamers who want to create an accurate representation of their hair and/or skin tone when creating a character.

Continue reading “Who Gets to Be a Hero? A Case Against the Default Protagonist”

Advertisements

Stay Tuned for Danger(ous Adaptations): ‘Nancy Drew’ From Page to Screen

[Editor’s Note: All screencaps are courtesy of littlenancydrewthings.]

When Her Interactive (HI) was still a division of American Laser Games in 1995, there were at least 128 titles in the main Nancy Drew book series and a handful of spin-offs, including the darker and more intense Nancy Drew Files. I can only imagine it was not an easy task for developers to choose a precise starting point and tone when adapting a single game or even a series from these books.

A lot can be said about the books and games individually, but I haven’t come across anything — apart from the occasional HI board topic or Arglefumph book review — that directly compares the books to the games upon which they are based. On the one hand, they shouldn’t have to. The Nancy Drew games must be able to stand on their own, and they definitely do. You don’t need to read the source material to understand the stories or characters because you can appreciate them as they are.

But are there instances where the game missed opportunities that the book provided? Or even moments when the game actually managed to surpass the book? It’s more complicated than an absolute yes or no, as the games are only loosely based upon the books. Generally, they are used as a blueprint in order to set up the mystery and suspects rather than as an absolute rigid guideline.

Therefore, I’m not going to cover every single book that was adapted or write an in-depth ‘book versus game’ analysis for the entire series (or, at least, not in one article). Instead, I’ve chosen select titles among the ones I’ve read that were adapted into games. Namely, the books that two of my absolute favorite games in the entire series were based: Stay Tuned for Danger (STFD) and Secret of the Scarlet Hand (SSH). [Warning: Major spoilers ahead!]

Continue reading “Stay Tuned for Danger(ous Adaptations): ‘Nancy Drew’ From Page to Screen”

Horror Movies Are Full of Leading Ladies. Why Not Horror Games?

Across every genre, horror is one of the few anomalies otherwise dominated by men that we, as an audience, are regularly exposed to. When you think of horror movies, a series of scrappy women likely parade through your mind. Many of the most famous horror movie franchises feature women at the center: Halloween, Scream, Alien, Friday the 13th, The Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as foreign films such as The Ring and The Grudge, just to name a few. In fact, horror is one of the few film genres that produces more movies with women leading the narrative than men.

Yet, for whatever reason, this preference for women is not as readily apparent in its sister medium: video games. Though by no means devoid of women, there is a clear tendency toward men in many of the most popular horror games.

For instance, last year, GamesRadar compiled a list of the 20 best horror games of all time, and only four out of the 20 had leads who were explicitly women: Alien: Isolation, Resident Evil 2, Fatal Frame II, and Until Dawn. Even then, only two of those four games had a protagonist who featured a woman as its sole lead, and the other two games split the narrative between a woman and a man.

The protagonist is often a man even in first-person perspective horror games that feature a lead with no character design or voice actor. For instance, the named protagonists of the popular Five Nights At Freddy’s games are men, and even the unnamed protagonists are implied to be men.

Continue reading “Horror Movies Are Full of Leading Ladies. Why Not Horror Games?”

Why Ganondorf Was Wrong in ‘The Wind Waker’

The Wind Waker

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is that, as the player, it’s not your job to prevent the end the world. Rather, your goal is to ensure an apocalypse that has already occurred is not reversed. In an ironic role-reversal, it’s the villain of the game, Ganondorf, who wants to save the world by correcting a cataclysmic ecological disaster. He is not wrong to do so. Why, then, is he the villain?

The Wind Waker encourages the player to understand that the natural world must be allowed to transform itself at its own pace without drastic human intervention. Ganondorf is not wrong for wanting to save the world, but the deeper message of The Wind Waker is that the world does not, in fact, need to be saved.

The Wind Waker has a backstory that is surprisingly dark and complicated for a game with such cute graphics. It’s difficult to explain how the apocalypse that proceeds the game happened, but suffice it to say that, because of an environmental apocalypse, the once-flourishing land of Hyrule lies beneath a seemingly endless body of water referred to only as “the Great Sea.” No one remembers the ancient kingdom, and people live on small islands rising from the waves.

Link’s journey begins on one such island, appropriately named Outset Island. A giant bird suddenly appears and kidnaps his sister Aryll, so he hitches a ride with a passing gang of pirates who deliver him to another island called “the Forsaken Fortress,” which is rumored to serve as the base of operations of someone searching for girls with pointed ears — a marker of the ethnic heritage of the royal Hylian race.

The master of the Forsaken Fortress is Ganondorf, and he is in fact searching for the descendent of Princess Zelda. Before Hyrule was flooded, the Hylian kings and queens guarded a magical artifact called the Triforce, which was said to have the power to grant the wishes of anyone who touched it. Knowing that Zelda’s descendent will be able to lead him to the Triforce, Ganondorf scours the Great Sea for her, hoping to use the Triforce to make the waters of the Great Sea vanish. Link’s sister turns out to not be Zelda’s descendent, but this has nothing to do with the boy’s desire to rescue her, and so his quest begins.

Continue reading “Why Ganondorf Was Wrong in ‘The Wind Waker’”

The Search for Positive Portrayals of Fatness in Games

atelier

From childhood bullying to fake concern from friends and family to society physically and emotionally rejecting your body, being fat has always been hard. Where can a fat person turn to for an ounce of respite? Video games might be a viable option, but alas, they are sprinkled with all the fat-shaming a person finds in the real world. I decided to dig deeper into how fatness is portrayed within video games and I found the impossible: a positive portrayal of fatness. However, before I can showcase that example, I need to explain a bad one, which will be easy due to the abundance of negative portrayals.

I decided to pick a character from the games series that I am currently playing. It is called Atelier, a typically super cute series that features adorable girls. These games revolve around a central protagonist (sometimes two) who is an alchemist. They must either solve some kind of overarching problem with their alchemy or simply train to become a better alchemist.

In Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, Sophie is our main protagonist. She desires to improve her alchemy skills, and one day, she finds a book from her late grandmother … that can talk. This book ultimately guides her through becoming an alchemy master, however, the book has lost all its old memories. While Sophie continues to build upon her skills, she looks for a way to recover what was lost. Sounds cool, right? I mean, I like them. They can be a bit corny (okay, a lot corny), but sometimes a girl wants corny games.

The character from Atelier Sophie who is shown as fat is named Oskar Behlmer. Although he actually looks realistically fat and not like a balloon, the game still ends up making his weight a crucial part of his personality. He is described as extremely lazy and irresponsible, and throughout the game, Oskar leaves his mother to maintain their shop alone while he lays around in nature. Except his special ability is talking to plants. Who wouldn’t want to be around nature if they could talk to plants?

Sadly, Atelier Sophie portrays Oskar’s love of plants as shirking his duties. Even on the Wikipedia page for his character, Oskar is described as “lazy and unfit.” He also constantly gets fake concern from literally every single character in the game; from comments like “Wouldn’t you feel better if you lost weight?” to the grossly inappropriate “You would be so handsome if you lost weight!”

Continue reading “The Search for Positive Portrayals of Fatness in Games”

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑