The Female Character in Fantasy Games
Fantasy games is a very broad genre. It spans card games, board games and video games to name a few but I will use these three genres and one example per genre to focus this entry and try to give us a framework. And in the vastness of the realm of games, the female antagonist seems, often, little more than eye candy.
Let’s first take the card game genre. The most iconic and enduring of which is Magic: The Gathering. In Magic, there is a card type called “planeswalker”. These are supposed to represent the different pivotal characters in the vast lore of the game. Because, the premise of the game is that you and your opponent are planeswalkers, powerful sorcerers who can traverse time and space, jumping from one world to another and using the knowledge gained to defeat your foes.
As I was saying, there are cards called “planeswalkers”. A majority of them are humans but there has been a golem, a dragon, a goblin, an elf and a mermaid. Although the division between the two genders has been fairly equal, the images of the women are often buxom, beautiful femme fatalles. This is clearly meant to appeal to the male demographic that Wizards of the Coast targets.
All the while the demographic of women who are getting into the game is rising. After speaking to some female friends about their thoughts on the female planeswalkers, was that they enjoyed each of their individual back stories.
For example, the planeswalker Chandra Nalaar, http://mtgpasion.blogspot.com/2011/07/chandra-nalaar-vs-chandrala-instigadora.html. She is a flame mage who can summon phoenixes and destroy things with all consuming fire which is what one would expect of one who wields the power of fire, however, she is an orphan, a thief, and a mentor. Teaching others of her kind how to harness the fire from a warm glow to a ravaging blaze.
Or Liliana Vess, http://nerd-blog.com/2011/08/07/innistrad-liliana-vess-v2-e-garruk-verde-nero-tra-i-nuovi-planswalker/ who is a necromancer and to gain this power made a deal with four archdemons and is now searching out those four demons to free her soul from the contract.
In this sense these women are more than shells that have been filled. They are given character and are made to feel more three dimensional and human. The female characters here are strong and each has a uniqueness that sets them apart from the stereotypical pyromancer or necromancer that peppers fantasy literature.
I don’t want to use the term antagonist because in the multiverse of Magic, the stories of these planeswalkers often interconnect and at any point the protagonist in one story, is the antagonist of another.
Now when I speak of fantasy board games i don’t mean the likes of monopoly or clue.I mean some obscure games like the Return to the House on Haunted Hill.
This games sets you and the other players as investigators in a house whose rooms are randomly generated and all the while trying to solve a mystery. Spoiler, there is a traitor in your midst.
In this game, you are assigned a pre-made character.Gender does play a role in some of the over 100 possible scenarios that you discover but most of the time it is arbitrary. The game uses the haunted house trope as its backdrop and players are most of the time dropped into these as unsuspecting victims.
The characters are one dimensional and the back story is almost nin-existent except for a snippet of flavor text on your character tracker.
And now to they youngest among these three genres; video games. And for this, I would like to look back on one Final Fantasy X-2 which is produced by Square Enix. In this installment of the Final Fantasy series and the very first direct sequel that was made, we follow Yuna who is a summoner and her friends Pahn and Rikku.
This game was marketed for female audiences and meant to increase the number of female video gamers. To me it was a mix of dress up game and fantasy rpg or Role-Playing Game because the powers and skills of the three main characters depended on what costume was equipped to them at the time. Yuna’s were based on nature and beauty like living plants that would devour foes, Rikku’s were based on her peoples tech of cannons and grenades and Pahn’s were based on armor and close combat. Which are typical roles in any fantasy party.
However, the game failed to expound on the background of Pahn. (Rikku and Yuna are returning characters from Final Fantasy X whose back stories were well told) The game took from the signature art style of the series and thus was visually amazing even for today’s standards. However, I felt that it took the female stereotype of infatuation with clothes and forced it into a game whose story was reminiscent of a romance novel, where Yuna was searching for Tidus, the antagonist of X who had gone missing.
It was promising to me as to how these women were the only playable characters of the game. All the while it was disappointing that there were female stereotypes that were interspersed throughout the game’s mechanics, gameplay and story.