I really enjoy weekends. They’re nice respites from the everyday stresses that come from my job (I know, this is not the most profound or insightful thing I’ve ever written). One aspect of weekends that I’ve come to enjoy in the past few months is the regular sales that crop up on Sony’s Playstation Store (I was gifted with a bunch of store credit for my birthday this year, and I’ve been hoarding it, waiting for those special moments when games I’ve wanted to play for years are suddenly available for under $10; it is this store credit gift and the weekend sales that you can thank for my recent spate of game-related series). It’s become part of my Friday ritual that I come home from work and see if there are any gems available.
This weekend, Sony’s done a themed sale around the concept of “heroines,” which is just a fancy way of saying they put together a list of sixty games and movies that feature female protagonists. I’m not a huge fan of buying movies these days (with Netflix and the world’s best local video store, I don’t really feel the need to own a bunch of movies), but the video game list is interesting.
First, take note of the fact that in a sixty item sale from a digital store for devices that are primarily used for gaming, only a third are actually games (I don’t know that this necessarily reflects poorly on Sony, but it’s kind of sad that a game sale has to be padded out with movies because they couldn’t find more titles to participate that had female protagonists).
Second, let’s look at the games themselves. Notable entries that are totally worth being featured are Portal 2 and Mirror’s Edge (I consider Portal 2 to be one of those games that’s good enough to have a permanent place in my personal game library, and although I sold my hard copy of Mirror’s Edge a few years ago, I’ve been itching to replay it, and two and a half dollars is a small price to pay for such an outstanding game). Other games that deserve attention are Remember Me, which didn’t perform particularly well when it released (the reasons I remember were because its play mechanics were considered conventional and the voice acting was a little rough), but was significant because of its status as a new intellectual property from a developer that insisted the protagonist remain a female person of color despite pressure from publishers to change her to a more conventional male hero, and Bayonetta, which is a well-regarded beat-em up style game that suffers from having a highly problematic heroine whose superpower is her magical ability to transform her hair into useful things like weapons and clothes (the obvious connection being that as she devotes more energy to fighting, her clothing disappears). I personally know very little about the other games that are included in the list, though a good number come from Japanese developers, who tend to be more equal opportunity in the presentation of female protagonists, but have an extremely poor record of breaking from stereotypical female character molds (and almost always incorporate problematic character designs like in the case of Bayonetta or the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, which features sexualized moe style girls who represent various video game consoles).
In light of all the stuff that’s been going on with GamerGate lately, I suspect that this sale is Sony’s subtle way of throwing support to everyone who’s been vocal in arguing that the movement is more about misogyny than any perceived ethical problems in video game journalism. It’s a nice gesture, but it also highlights many of the problems that critics of GamerGate and the larger misogynist streak in game development have been discussing. We need more games about women, and we need those games to offer better and more varied representations of women that don’t reduce them to sex objects or make their character all about their physical features (the inclusion of Fat Princess, a game that involves using the titular princess like a football where you make her harder to rescue by stuffing her with magical cake, is the one major misstep that I see on this list).
I’m happy to see some good games on sale, and I’ve already picked up a couple for the weekend that I’m looking forward to playing, but I’d like it a lot better if these kinds of sales weren’t necessary in the future, because games about women were just de rigeur instead of some special category that requires celebration.