LOS ANGELES – Lara Croft. Samus Aran. Jill Valentine. Chell.
In the realm of video games, it’s not difficult to identify tough-as-nails women who uncover ancient treasures, blast away aliens, battle zombies and outwit malicious robots. However, when it comes to finding fictional females who take down terrorists, call in airstrikes, frag combatants and capture enemy outposts, you’d probably be more likely to walk in on a woman in the men’s room.
While video games aren’t totally devoid of strong female protagonists, the interactive medium has typically only cast ladies in support roles when it comes to such popular military shoot-’em-up franchises as “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield.” Yet could the recent announcement that the Pentagon is ending its long-standing ban on women serving in combat roles in real-world battlegrounds extend to virtual ones, too?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers working on these shooters incorporated it as a story point in their games,” said game designer and “Sex in Video Games” author Brenda Romero. “It could make for an amazing narrative: ‘It’s her first role in combat and she’s determined to make a difference!’ Who wouldn’t want to pursue something like that and have a bad-(expletive) female soldier in a game?”
Romero’s husband, John Romero, who worked on such landmark first-person shooters as “Doom” and “Quake,” agrees with his wife. As games have evolved beyond rescuing princesses from gorillas, players have come to expect deeper levels of personalization, evidenced by the popularity of such be-whatever-the-heck-you-wanna-be role-playing games as “Skyrim,” “Mass Effect” and “World of Warcraft.”
“I can’t see anything negative about having more choices in a game,” said Romero. “Everyone likes having more choices. There’s never been a backlash when ‘World of Warcraft’ added a new race, so I can’t imagine there would be one if a shooter added a new gender. Franchises that come out with a new version every year like ‘Call of Duty’ strive to be topical, so I imagine they would address it.”
With just a few international exceptions (like French resistance fighter Manon Batiste in 2000’s “Medal of Honor: Underground,” Russian soldier Tanya Pavelovna in 2004’s “Call of Duty: Finest Hour” and South Korean operative Park “Forty-Five” Yoon-Hee in 2011’s “SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs”) playable female characters are usually absent from military shooters, even with more female gamers playing them.
“Our games strive to reflect real world events and military conditions,” said Lincoln Hershberger, marketing vice president at “Medal of Honor” and “Battlefield” publisher Electronic Arts Inc. “Women in our military games have appeared in a variety of combat and support roles. In 2011, ‘Battlefield 3’ included a female fighter pilot, and we expect to see more women appearing in combat roles in the future.”
Brenda Romero, who recently worked on the Facebook strategy game “Ghost Recon Commander” – based on the Ubisoft Entertainment tactical shooter franchise “Ghost Recon,” which has featured women characters – is hopeful that if military shooter developers do include a female combat soldier in future editions, the squad mate with double X chromosomes doesn’t amount to just another video game vixen.
“The only way I could see this becoming controversial is if the character is oversexualized,” said Romero. “I would hope that she’s treated realistically, especially in how she’s visualized. I think a female character in a combat role should have the physique of an Olympian – not a Playboy centerfold – and for the love of God, she better not be wearing a camouflage thong on the battlefield.”