Recently, I had the opportunity to play the video game Life Is Strange on the Xbox One. The game follows a female protagonist, Max, a high school student photographer. In the game, she witnesses her best friend get shot and killed and in the moment she reaches out and time rewinds. She suddenly has the ability to rewind time and constantly change choices aiding her in her quest to discover the disappearance of a girl in her town while maintaining positive relationships with others at the school.
Maxine Caulfield, female protagonist in Life Is Strange. (Fandom.com)
I enjoyed playing the game being a female protagonist with many other lead female roles. It was a very different experience for me because the majority of games involve male lead roles with women as a “side companion” or as an optional choice to a male protagonist. However, this game solely has a female protagonist to play as and most of the major antagonists were male. But, even with females as the key components of the game, they are still depicted as helpless, childish, and beautified.
Many of the women were portrayed as helpless in the game, such as Rachel Amber (who went missing), Kate Marsh (a depressed and highly emotional girl), and even a random character who you have to save from a football hitting her head. The girls seemed to cause drama within themselves as they cause gossip over sexting, pregnancies, and disdain from one another. While these things do happen in real life, it is amplified in the game. As for the guys in the game, they are not represented in this way and instead represented as more manly, holding high positions in the school, and as figures “keeping the peace”.
As much as the women are depicted as helpless, they are depicted as childish troublemakers too. Maxine causes “trouble” by being nosey, standing up for herself and friends, and sometimes just being herself throughout the game, causing some characters to feel uncomfortable with her in a more general sense, but with the male authoritative figures in the school threatening her expulsion. Chloe Price, Maxine’s best friend, is portrayed as a pot-smoking punk who lives with an abusive stepfather who is ‘only looking out for her best interest,’ hitting her, scolding her, and isolating her from her friends. Other characters cause trouble, again, by causing by bullying one another and causing drama.
Chloe Price, getting slapped by her stepdad. (Tumblr.com)
Finally, the female characters are largely beautified. All of them are visually appealing, and that is great to depict women as beautiful, but it is unrealistic. It excludes women who perhaps cannot relate or feel that way about themselves. The beautification of women in videogames is constant, and in a videogame that seemingly pushes in the right direction for the inclusion of women and positive feminist components, they could have done a lot better than having only one or two looked “average.” The only real “average” looking women are the girl that almost gets hit by a football, who is a bit overweight, and a science professor, who seems nice, but is pushing a petition against surveillance of the school, which might be against the interest of preventing the disappearance of another person – the essential point of the game.
I applaud the game for including many women and pushing for a female protagonist, even if there are areas that I think they could have improved. There were a number of efforts against this inclusion of a female lead. Paste Magazine has an article by Jennifer Champagne called “Life Is Strange Creators Met Resistance Over Having a Female Lead”, where Sam Machovich writes, “While describing the new game’s touchy content-including topics like domestic violence and bullying-the team revealed a surprise about Life Is Strange’s development: it met a lot of resistance from almost all of its potential publishers due to the game starring a female character in the lead role.” Similarly, Business Insider’s article, “The 5 Worst Reasons For Not Including Women In Video Games” by Tim Mulkerin says, “Boys wouldn’t find female soldiers ‘believable.’ A game with an all-male cast is ‘more approachable.’ ‘It was really a lot of extra production work.’” And finally, on CNET, the article “The Risk of the Female Game Protagonist” by Michelle Starr states, “The reasons for why this might be the case are well documented: from the belief that games with male protagonists make more money (which could very well be explained by the fact they receive more marketing money) to the fact that games development is massively dominated by men—women only make up 22 percent of the game industry workforce—and, of course, the idea that the larger core gaming demographic (men) don’t want to play as women.” All of these are terrible reasons for excluding women in games, and I am glad that the producers stood firm. We need more females in games that do not serve as a trophy or token character, and “Life is Strange” took a solid step in the right direction.