Girl in the Machine
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Healers: A Female Dominated Profession

It's nice to be back at Girl in the Machine. I'd like to apologize for my long absence--my real life job had a relentless grip on my (non-existent) free time, then moving back home again left my head spinning. I feel like I've missed so much in only seven weeks, but now that things have calmed down, I'm back! Anyway, on to my musings.

I’ve always loved role playing games for the magic. As I traipsed through my typical "I wish I was was a black mage" daydream, I found myself wondering why I’ve rarely seen any male healers in role playing games. I tried to name some from the top of my head, but nothing came to mind. I figured there had to be a few, and so I decided to compile a list with a random sampling of games thanks to my mp3 player.

Let me say that I was pleasantly surprised. Before I even began, I feared that I would find the healer population to be overwhelmingly female. I soon learned, however, that over half of the games I examined allowed the player enough customization that practically any character could be the healer. Here are a few examples:

Baten Kaitos I

Final Fantasy Tactics

Chrono Cross

Genso Suikoden Series

Digital Devil Saga

Koudelka

Disgaea

Phantom Brave

Final Fantasy II

Shadow Hearts II

Final Fantasy III

Shadow Hearts III

Final Fantasy V

Valkyrie Profile

Final Fantasy VII

Valkyrie Profile II

Final Fantasy VIII

Wild ARMs III

Final Fantasy XII



These games employed various methods to allow any character to utilize healing spells, ranging from equipped tools like materia and crest graphs to game systems like job classes and mantras. Both the men and women can be powerful fighters or defensive spell casters. Personally, I love this degree of adaptability. I think it’s good to see the characters are not being limited by their sex.

Out of the thirty-one games I examined, nineteen of them were sex neutral. I still found a dozen games where healing powers are assigned to specific characters, though. Let’s take a look:

Game

Crono Trigger

Character

Marle

Final Fantasy IV

Rosa

Final Fantasy VI

Terra / Celes

Final Fantasy IX

Garnet / Eiko

Final Fantasy X

Yuna

Shadow Hearts I

Alice Elliot

Tales of Symphonia

Raine

Wild ARMs

Cecilia Adlehyde

Wild ARMs II

Lilka Elenaik / Tim Rhymeless

Wild ARMs IV

Yulie Ahtreide

Xenogears

Citan Uzuki / Billy Lee Black

Xenosaga

Shion Uzuki


Before you get flustered with me: in the case Final Fantasy VI, Terra and Celes are the only characters with “natural” magic, and they both begin with the Cure spell. In Final Fantasy X, anyone can learn white magic, but Yuna starts off in the center of the white magic portion of the sphere grid (and other characters have to overcome locked barriers to gain access to her skills).

So out of twelve games and sixteen healers, three games have three male healers. Many of the female healers are heroines in their respective games, and I see two possible reasons for this:

First, a female healer serves as a counterbalance to the (more than likely) male warrior figure in the RPG. It’s almost romantic. The warrior fights to protect the healer, and the healer supports the warrior. Sounds like a good ol’ fashioned marriage, huh? From the examples above, just look at Crono and Marle, Cecil and Rosa, Zidane and Garnet, Tidus and Yuna, Yuri and Alice, and Jude and Yulie. They all have that tender connection--it’s the knight protecting his priestess.

Second, women are often portrayed closer to nature. This supposed connection to the earth and its mysteries would account for a woman’s mystical abilities. I’m not claiming that this explains the origins of the female healers’ powers; I do believe, however, that subconsciously accepting this hypersensitivity as naturally “female” makes it more acceptable for a woman to play the role of a healer. Some might see a male in that position as emasculated. After all, shouldn’t he be leading the charge from the front row? Xenogears “avoids” this problem with its healers. Citan the doctor and Billy the priest are both employed in acceptable male positions, and it makes sense in a fantasy setting that they’d also have knowledge of healing magic--a justification for their feminine arts. Both of them receive compensations, as well, in the form of a katana for Citan and pistols for Billy.

These kinds of situations perpetuate stereotypes about male and female behavior, though. They suggest limitations for the sexes and impose notions of exclusively violent masculinity and nurturing femininity. This is harmful to both sexes; denying women’s fury simultaneously prevents men from expressing sensitivity.

I’d like to see more male healers in video games, as well as more female warriors! Or, if the man is going to be the leading warrior, perhaps his idea of support could extend beyond hack-and-slashing enemies to the ground. Of course, the woman would step into the front row and prove she doesn’t exactly need someone else to protect her… she just likes having him around.

(Image from page seventy-nine of the Heroes of Horror Dungeons & Dragons supplement)

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