When I was in high school, I learned about something called the hero’s journey.
Every story you’ve ever been told, or the good ones anyway, tends to follow this structure.
In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” American historian and mythologist Joseph
Campbell describes the hero’s journey as one where a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
In plain English, our hero starts off at a point where life is dull, boring, and uninteresting.
Eventually, our hero is called to a grand adventure where he must struggle against some
opposition, overcome his faults and flaws — sometimes with the help of companions — and return as a changed person, having become a better version of himself.
“The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” illustrates this point quite nicely, where a child Link becomes a great hero through intense trial and tribulation to eventually defeat the King of Evil and save the princess. I’m really digging into this hero’s journey thing because I think it’s relevant to what seems to be a lack recently of well-written female characters in narrative-based games.
I’ve talked about the concept of a “strong female character” on Playing Politics before, a character who can have no flaws and is practically invincible. But with news that “Horizon Forbidden West Burning Shores” is in production — the newest game in the Horizon series
complete with “strong female character” Aloy in the lead role — I think the topic deserves another look. Because the hero’s journey, the basis for nearly every story told by humans since the beginning of time, falls apart if there’s no growth. And to have growth, there must be faults and flaws to make the character compelling to watch.
Aloy doesn’t have faults or flaws. Consider how she was received when “Horizon Zero Dawn,” the first game in the series, originally came out back in 2017. Malindy Hetfeld, writing for leftist gaming journal Polygon, said that “Heroines like Aloy are more superhero than human: Aloy is pragmatic, strong and has little to lose.”
“She’s destined for greatness and has access to a power that those around her can’t fathom, let alone control.”
Hetfeld argues that while Aloy is captivating and inspiring, a description I disagree with, she’s not particularly relatable. This is objectively true and plays into a larger political issue surrounding how women are viewed in society today. The identitarian left views women, much like it views sexual and racial minorities, as victims who need to be coddled. Any media they view as depicting their preferred groups as anything less than perfect is considered to be “punching down” and should be scorned.
One problem here: if you can’t depict somebody as flawed, they’re not very interesting, and your product probably sucks. We used to make fun of those types of characters because they’re not very good. They’re impossible to write around because there are no stakes. Now they’re celebrated by leftists whose brains have been rotted by identity politics. Like our good friend Aloy from the Horizon series, who is getting her third game where she’ll just continue to curb-stomp everything. How thrilling.
You know, this reminds me of a thought experiment from back in the early days of Gamergate. I swear I’ll get to that one of these days. But consider this: In 1990, Lucasgames released “The Secret of Monkey Island,” a game set during the Golden Age of Piracy featuring lead character Guybrush Threepwood. Guybrush is a weak, socially awkward coward who’s treated like crap and used as the butt of a number of jokes, but he eventually succeeds at his goals and becomes the captain of his own pirate ship.
Now let’s imagine we’re making a new game and Guybrush is a woman called Galbrush.
Galbrush is a weak, socially awkward coward who’s treated like crap and used as the butt of a number of jokes. Unfortunately, Galbrush doesn’t get her own ship because alarm bells were already going off in rabid leftists’ heads the second I said Galbrush was weak and her game was never made.
Because to the left, men can be stupid because they either genuinely believe all men are stupid. Or they think it’s okay to mock men because we live in a patriarchy or something silly like that. Women can’t be depicted as stupid or flawed because a bad female character reﬂects real women, and real women are victims. Politics surrounding gender and victimhood has started to infect gaming, and is ironically making worse female protagonists than if leftists just let creators create.
Some will point out that there are well-written female characters in modern gaming, and that’s obviously true. Ellie from “The Last of Us” comes to mind as a well-written female character. But look no further than “The Last of Us Part 2” for them to completely destroy her arc and create a “strong female character” who is also reduced to being a token lesbian because let’s just tack on some LGBT propaganda while we’re at it.
One more quick example of a well-written female character is actually one of my favorite video characters of all time. In the “Mass Effect” series, Tali is part of a species of nomads who wander the stars trying to gain the strength to retake their home planet, that’s been conquered by sentient AI. Tali is incredibly smart and crafty, she’s able to hack basically any type of machine. But she’s young and impulsive and ignorant of the larger world outside of her home. She gets into a number of really stupid decisions that almost get her killed, and it requires the player and their companions to help her. And throughout the series, she doesn’t achieve everything on her own. It takes her efforts as part of a larger team to reclaim her homeworld.
As the series progresses, she learns to become more measured, more controlled, and more aware of how the rest of the world works. And she gets her own ship. Frankly, the people who should be the most upset that women can’t seem to catch a break in gaming aren’t guys like me, it’s women!
Why would you accept that, increasingly, the only options to play as a female character in story-driven games are just men or boringly one-dimensional? To return back to where we began, women can be great heroes on their own hero’s journey. But they have to actually go on that journey, not just start out at the end with a dead dragon and godlike powers.
We need more Galbrushes and Talis and fewer Aloys.