By Aleah Tierney
As a female gamer, I'm a stranger in a strange land. I play in a male-created virtual space.
Male video game characters embody the fantasy of what men want to be. Female characters represent the fantasy women men want. But I have my own desires, and most games fall far short of fulfilling them.
Characters like Tomb Raider's Lara Croft allow women gamers to get tough and "play the lead." While their presence is a positive step toward female inclusion, there's something about the gargantuan breasts and the tiny clothes that leave real women cold. Believe me, women gamers feel frustrated and excluded.
I couldn't wait to load and play Tomb Raider when it first came out, but when I saw Lara, I just couldn't take the game seriously. The giant twin pyramids mounted onto her chest look like something she could use to impale her enemies. In many ways her kick-butt presence is a triumph, but the designers' decision to sexualize her to the point of deformity angered me. I couldn't get past her proportions, so I put the game away. I'm waiting to see if Lara (or her designers) will evolve in future versions of the game.
My appreciation for video games as an art form outweighs my disappointment in the makers. I love gaming, and I often enjoy playing with my husband, Bill. But I'm always secretly searching for games that will make me feel like I belong.
One recent evening Bill fired up the Super Nintendo game Super Metroid. I was intrigued. The main character wore an elaborate, weapon-loaded space suit. Even though the graphics weren't spectacular, I was thrilled to find it was a true sci-fi marvel.
Bill looked over at me with a smirk. "She's cool isn't she?" he asked.
I was confused. "Who is cool?"
"The main character, Samus Aran," Bill said. "The one in the suit — she's a woman."
I couldn't believe it. This character was powerful, versatile, physically tough and female. I watched cheerfully for the next hour and a half as Bill flawlessly played and beat the game. The reward? Samus removed her suit and revealed herself to be a small, pixilated woman in a bikini. I was sad and mad at the denigration of my new video game superhero. But I decided I wasn't going to allow this to completely invalidate everything good that Samus represented.
As new additions to the Metroid series have emerged, Samus has developed into the kind of female force I always hoped for in video games. Her suits have become more elaborate, her power more complex. Also, new games lack the "rewarding" images of Samus sans suit.
Samus embodies the potential for diverse female representation and inclusion in video games. Give us more games with characters like Samus — she's what women want.