Game heroines as affirmative models

Game heroines as affirmative models


No longer the side-kick healers or evil witches, women carry guns, kill with ease, and move like acrobats, while enjoying the smell of napalm in the morning, just like any male hero before them.

Subversive ideals of feminine beauty and strength: D’arci Stern and Alyx Vance
Lets us move on to see how the game heroine functions in a more subversive context, distancing themselves from the white race and overt-sexuality of the legendary Lara croft. Action-adventure fans will certainly remember Urban Chaos, a debut video game from Mucky Foot Productions for PC, published in 1999. Like Tomb Raider, this game also features a strong female as the lead character. With one crucial difference: this woman is black.

Game heroines as affirmative models

D’arci Stern is a police officer in the compelling environment of Union City, who starts off as a rookie eager to learn and evolves during the game into an experienced cop whose primary goal is to stop the crazed criminals from destroying her town. D’arci is skilled in combat and utilizes kicks, punches and throws, as well as knives and baseball bats to deal with the criminals. Urban Chaos is important because it offers an empowered female character who is non-white; this very aspect distances D’arci from the white female heroine standard and places a frequently marginalized social group into a position of power. D’arci is an authority figure, a strong, courageous and determined individual who throws away obstacles of race and gender and asserts herself as a truly inspiring character.

When we consider D’arci’s appearance, it is quite clear she remains beautifully genuine, which is important since mainstream media often insists on non-white female leads to appear as Caucasian as possible, excluding from the aesthetically appealing arena everyone who does not fit that norm. D’arci has a practical haircut with dreadlocks and is usually seen in her black sleeveless bulletproof vest, gloves, beige pants and brown boots, with a bat attached to the belt on her waist and a knife stuck in one of her boots. D’arci is, like Lara, very athletic and can easily overpower big, buff men as she takes them down and arrests them without flinching. Attractive, yet not overtly sexualized, D’arci is a definite role model for her strength and motivation.

Another subversive heroine who breaks gender and racial stereotypes is Alyx Vance, appearing in Half Life 2. Alyx is an intelligent young woman of Asian and African American descent and Gordon Freeman’s close friend. Her mixed race and her outfit make her a truly specific heroine. She wears her hair short and keeps it from falling into her eyes with a headband. Unlike Lara, who wears tight fitting, skimpy outfits, Alyx’s clothes are worn and damaged, for she wears a plain leather jacket with the right sleeve attached to the rest of the jacket with duct tape, jeans and brown boots, as well as a plain grey sweater with the Black Mesa logo, a green belt for her gun and EMP tool and fingerless gloves.

Alyx is all about survival: in a post-apocalyptic world where your life is hanging by a thread, the superficialities of appearance are hardly an issue, as well as any romantic attachments. Like Lara and D’arci, Alyx does not require a male to justify her existence or re-enforce her assertiveness as a character. She is athletic, knows how to use firearms and can kick the sh** out of any zombie that attacks her. Alyx is intelligent and educated; a skilled hacker who uses her gift in order to survive.

It is interesting to note that although there were many attempts to objectify Alyx by uploading her ‘nude’ shots and similar wonders of modern graphics, numerous fans of Half Life have in fact objected to the possibility of making Alyx more sexualized by offering the option of sexier outfits. While Lara is often criticized for her overtly sexual attributes, Alyx seems to be respected as a ‘decent’ girl whose attitude, personality and charisma outshine her worn, shabby clothes. I believe she is interesting not only for her mixed race acting as a refreshment from white heroines, but also for showing a shift of focus from the superficialities of appearance to assertive character traits.

The overall impact of these two genuine and intriguing heroines is positive and inspiring, for they aesthetically challenge the standard norms of beauty, fascinate with their intellect and independence and definitely reflect a positive trend in conceptualizing female heroines different from the norm.

What is next? - Girl power in pixels
Female heroines are becoming more and more popular, as their diversity seems to increase. From the tough ‘girls-next-door’ Claire Redfield (Resident Evil), Heather Mason (Silent Hill) and Zoey (Left 4 Dead) to the sexy half-vampire Rayne from Bloodrayne, female heroines are taking up the stage previously reserved for macho's like Duke Nukem and show their skills with rocket launchers, revolvers, Uzis, grenades, hooks, desert eagles, crossbows, knives and other weapons of choice. They are athletic, determined and intelligent and will not be put in a corner.

Their commercial success may have started because of their sexual appeal, especially when we consider the phenomenon of Lara; however, things are changing as attention shifts from the appearance to the overall personality as well as intellectual and athletic abilities. This can only prove to be an empowering model which does not alienate players but attracts them and allows positive identification.