Girl in the Machine
Monday, December 17, 2007
Kings and Queens

I've been a huge fan of fantasy ever since I was a little kid. From books to movies to comics to video games, fantasy is a wonderful form of escapist fiction that lets me take a break from the "real world" and experience things I normally couldn't. Playing video games is a prime example because of its interactivity: the player inserts herself into the game and navigates the story through her own actions as opposed to passively watching a film or reading words on a page. However, despite the limitless possibilities that the fantasy genre offers, many "real world" conventions are often incorporated into our otherworldly realms. My main beef is with the "realistic" depiction of oppressed and/or subordinated women in many western-style fantasy games.

We've all seen it a million times before. Final Fantasy XII's Archadian senate is composed entirely of men. In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the all-important Amulet of Kings can only be worn by sons of the Septim bloodline. Queens take an automatic backseat to their husbands, militarymen are always just that, men are the heads of the household, et cetera, et cetera. All reflect the patriarchal injustices of the western medieval world that, admittedly, a huge number of fantasy games are based off of.

My question is "Why?". Why, in an in-game universe that has flying ships and summonable monsters and the irritatingly-spelled "magicks" and "technicks" can't there be high-ranking women in government? Why can we navigate ghost-infested tombs and traverse flaming gates to hellish worlds but totally halt at the idea of a significant female descendant in a royal family? I'm already completely sick of the male-centric conventions in my world, so why am I so often faced with the exact same thing in fantasy for the sake of "realism"?

I don't have a problem with other conventions of fantasy -- the stone castles and the mystic forests and all that, as cliche as they are, just plain work most of the time. More importantly, they aren't to the detriment of a specific group of people. The fantasy genre remains an acceptable bastion for relegating women to servitude and it just doesn't have to be.

Take Chris Lightfellow of Suikoden III's Zexen Knights. She's tough, strong, and wholly competent in battle, and her fellow knights follow her without question. She's no gimmick, either: her motivation to lead stems from her own strength and not from a lovey-dovey devotion to a male character, her kick-ass armor is sensible and lacks the much-hated Boob Cuirass, and her subordinates don't "comedically" sexually harass her. My only gripe is that she has no female equals, but -- as irritating as it is to always say this -- it's better than nothing.

When it comes to fantasy, some archetypes are better than others. I love epic sword battles and brilliant thaumaturgic displays, but as far as the needless subjugation of women goes in the name of tradition, give it a rest already.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 3:53 PM + Link to this post
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