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.
I like to call myself the Slowest Gamer Ever. I’m sure that isn’t strictly accurate, but I tend to be several years behind the curve when it comes to popular games everyone else has already played. I go for long stints where I don’t play anything except mobile games and maybe the odd MMO.
Among other things, this means I still haven’t finished several of the games I list among my favorites. The Fallout series definitely suffered from this. I adore the setting and its aesthetic, I think of it whenever I see something from even a vaguely related time period, and I probably own more merchandise from that series than I do any other game. But until recently, I hadn’t played Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas since 2012, and I didn’t buy Fallout 4. I kept meaning to get back to the series, but for one reason or another, it just never happened.
Then Trump got elected.
Like most millennials, I don’t remember the Cold War as anything but a somewhat distant period in our history. I remember being afraid of nuclear war as a kid anyway because I read a lot and I worried about pretty much everything, but at some point, I accepted that the ever-present risk of nuclear war had ended when the USSR collapsed.
Over the past few years — mostly thanks to increasing aggression from North Korea — nuclear war has started to feel like a slightly more realistic fear again, or at least within the realm of possibility. The cavalier way Trump talked about nuclear weapons on the campaign trail was unnerving even when I didn’t think he could possibly win (and arguing with people who told me Clinton was more likely to start a nuclear war was incredibly frustrating). But watching him provoke both China and North Korea before he even took office — on Twitter, no less — was a lot worse. Suddenly, I was worrying about nuclear war again, only I had reason to this time. I wasn’t sure if I could deal with returning to the Fallout games after all. It was all a little too real, and the use of China as the enemy in the Great War felt uncomfortably prophetic.
It was like adding insult to injury: in among my fears about what the Trump administration would do to harm marginalized people and destabilize foreign relations, there was this extra little twist of bitterness that they might have taken away my ability to enjoy a short escape from reality with one of my favorite games. A friend of mine encouraged me to get back into Fallout 3 anyway, though. So I made time for it and discovered that the world presented in these games struck me as paradoxically hopeful in exactly the same way it always had — that is, before I thought it had any potential to reflect the future.
I can’t decide if I’m going to play Persona 5 or not. It’s 2 AM, my eyes are fixed on the searing blue of my computer screen, and I’m railing on Atlus with the two people closest to me, a week’s worth of frustration and feeling condescended to by randos, peers, and friends alike pouring out. I don’t love Atlus. Well, scratch that, I want to love Atlus, and that’s what makes this so painful — like a specially tailored hurt that’s at once callus and personal.
I wouldn’t be writing this piece if I didn’t care. I do care about these games, and I find immense value in having played them. It was in my freshmen and sophomore years of high school that I took the Atlus plunge headfirst into Persona 3 and 4. I was sick back in those first two years of school, mostly bedridden and trapped in a bubble of close yet distant friends. Two friends — no, then one friend — were the only social interaction I had every Friday night, and my schooling consisted of a personal tutor in a public library for around two hours a day. I couldn’t walk without a cane, and the level of exhaustion I felt always tethered me back home.
In his recent review of Persona 5, Kirk Hamilton described the game as an ideal high school sim, but for me, these games took on a special meaning — a perfect escapist fantasy where I could explore themes of identity and friendship during a time when I felt so hollow. I could have a small shred of wonderment satisfied, suspend disbelief, ignore my social famine, and pretend to soar outside myself.
While I used to feel so strongly tied to these games due to their affect on my life, it’s been just over a year since I began transitioning, and my perception has changed. Those early months were something of a marketplace, where a feeling of gut-sinking betrayal was the currency paid to gain an understanding of my place in the American medical, political, and social cosmos. I could no more identify with my old icons than find any solace in them. It felt like a betrayal of the value I once found in these games.
[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!]
I never really had a ‘crew’ like the one at FemHype before. The first real online community I joined was on YouTube. I had been actively following content and watching videos since 2008 — and probably even earlier — but I never really found my niche. So I bounced from community to community in search of one. I liked certain platforms, but I never really connected with anyone.
Then FemHype became a huge part of my life. First my sister started it and then, a year later, she invited me to join the team as Social Media Manager. I had always loved video games, but never really got involved online. Despite my lack of knowledge, you all welcomed me with open arms. I don’t know if I ever said thank you, so here goes: thank you.
When we were recording videos and creating content, I was struggling with really bad anxiety. I had panic attacks every week, and sometimes even twice a week. Still, the comments were upbeat, the feedback was genuine, and the response was far more positive than I had hoped for. I didn’t realize that I even needed a community like FemHype until I had one.
Everyone here opened dialogues for me that I had never felt comfortable discussing before. You taught me the patience and grace necessary to learn from varying perspectives and to know when to listen. Not only that, but when I finally opened up about my anxiety, you encouraged me to reconnect with myself and validated what I was feeling.
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.