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”

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Hope in the Wasteland: Revisiting ‘Fallout’ in 2017

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.

Continue reading “Hope in the Wasteland: Revisiting ‘Fallout’ in 2017”

You Helped Me Realize I Was Bisexual (And Games Did, Too)

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.

Continue reading “You Helped Me Realize I Was Bisexual (And Games Did, Too)”

The Biggest Missed Opportunity in ‘Skyrim’ (Cry Moar, Ulfric)

Skyrim

[Trigger warning: brief mention of abortion.]

When I first popped a copy of Skyrim into my Xbox 360, I had no idea I was about sign away the better part of five years to a love affair with RPGs. I’d played video games as a child, but I never felt like those types of games were something I’d be interested in (or, quite frankly, that I’d even be good at them). I began to realize I might have miscalculated after I checked the number of hours I’d spent just rearranging Breezehome in Whiterun.

I still haven’t stopped playing, either. For me, revisiting the snowy, winding steps up to High Hrothgar felt like coming home in a way that playing other games didn’t. I’ve found myself repeating lines like wrapping a well-loved blanket around my shoulders, familiar and safe. Sure, I took issue with the way most women were represented (or rather, rarely represented at all), but my affection for Skyrim never dwindled. It’s ultimately a good thing that I stuck with it despite the flaws, because I recently discovered a plot point so staggering you’d think I’d been hit with an arrow to the knee. (Forgive me, I had to!)

Before we proceed, I’d highly recommend that you play (or watch) the Thieves Guild quest in Riften. Minor spoilers ahead! If you have played it, did you pay close attention to Karliah? She was a dark elf, formerly of the Thieves Guild inner circle alongside Gallus Desidenius and Mercer Frey, and current member of the fabled Nightingales.

What’s so special about her apart from the obvious, you ask? Not only is there strong evidence that Karliah was directly descended from Tiber Septim (yeah, that Tiber Septim), but she could also very well be Dragonborn. Poor ol’ Ulfric. He might want to consider a career in shouting at people on the streets of Whiterun instead of taking over Skyrim. Just my two cents.

Continue reading “The Biggest Missed Opportunity in ‘Skyrim’ (Cry Moar, Ulfric)”

The Room Where It Happens: Novac in ‘Fallout: New Vegas’

Fallout New Vegas

[Editor’s NoteBritish spellings have been preserved upon request.]

Hey there, FemHype crew! Welcome back to “The Room Where it Happens,” where we take a look at some of the best areas in games — ones that serve as a microcosm for what’s great about the worlds that they belong to. This time around, we are travelling to the Mojave desert of Fallout: New Vegas and, specifically, to Novac.

Early in the game, you — as player character the Courier — will learn that the Mojave is a place that can slalom between deadly and welcoming. You begin the game by being shot in the head, but recover in the small town of Goodsprings thanks to the help of the local doctor. The people there are friendly and will give you money, weapons, medicine, and training until you are ready to head out into the wider wasteland. The first stop on this journey is Primm, which has been overrun by lawlessness after its sheriff was murdered. Not long after that, you are likely to stumble across Nipton, the site of a massacre perpetrated by the horrific Caesar’s Legion.

You would be forgiven, then, for fearing the worst of the wider Mojave. But just beyond Nipton you will see a massive statue of a dinosaur on the horizon. (Permit me an aside here, dear reader: that dinosaur is inspired by a real giant dinosaur in the Mojave, which is a creationist museum claiming humans lived alongside T. Rexes. The more you know!)

At the foot of the dinosaur, you will find Novac. It’s small and run-down, its walls formed by the shells of prewar buses and old tyres with many houses boarded up, but it’s also a home to a community. It has a shop, a doctor, clean water, and security. There’s an old gas station where you can fix or craft items and a ranch with friendly two-headed Brahmin. You might even make a home there yourself in one of the motel rooms.

Novac is emblematic of the communities that have managed to carve a place out in the wasteland, characterising New Vegas as less desperate and more homely than other Fallout games — for better or for worse. Personally, I think it’s for the better. The theme of coming together and making the best of it for everyone is central to New Vegas, and Novac is a symptom of that.

Continue reading “The Room Where It Happens: Novac in ‘Fallout: New Vegas’”

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