June 20th, 2006

A little while ago (okay, like eight months ago) I started a train of thought I never really finished, about current gender expectations and a game format that might, at the least, shake things up a bit.  “The Truth about Little Girls,” out today at The Escapist, picks up around where I’d left off.  The piece focuses on playable “little girls” in video games: where they’ve gone, why their so infrequent, and what their inclusion would mean to us.  It also tackles a larger issue–one that’s also interest to me outside the game world–namely the sexualization and the sexuality of female children.

Meanwhile, something not mentioned in the article is that I’ve been working on and off on my own game concept–one that follows the suggestions mapped out in the piece.  I’m having a blast, but I have to admit, I’ve got no idea where to go from here.  Is the market ready for this kind of thing?  Nope.  But there still needs to be a valid, artistic venue for games that break the mold.  Suggestion from the (much beloved) peanut gallery?

Tags: Blog

14 Responses to ““The Truth about Little Girls””

  1. Adam Says:

    Hey, I just wanted to drop in and thank you for the wonderful article in the Escapist. Genders in video games is an all-too-often-explored subject (at least in my circle of friends) but what doesn’t get explored are the topics you wrote about.

    Little girls and old women are pretty well on the outs, at least in Western pop culture. And sure, someone could pull out the eye-rolling exceptions like the little girl in Silent Hill or the fact that many elven women are thousands of years old, but those are bunk.

    Of course, the “picaro” character concept doesn’t seem to have a gender opposite “picara”. It’s not even a new trend in Western literature / culture to avoid little girls altogether when casting for a story. And the old woman concept is basically reserved for Ye Olde Crone or Weird Sister roles.

    This didn’t even get brought up in my Freshmen world lit class, though now I wish I’d done so. It’s at least worth pointing out, if not discussion.

    Thanks again,


  2. Anonymous Says:

    escapist link is broken

  3. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    Link fixed. Gracias, Señor Anonymous.

  4. Matt Sheridan Says:

    Heya. Just read the article, and I’ve got more to say about it than I’ve really got time for, but here goes:

    First off, I definitely think there’s room for little girl protagonists in games, and the exploration angle does seem like the best way to go. The linear fiction examples that I can’t help but point out would be Miyazaki’s heroines: Brave, inquisitive, charming, non-sexualized preteen girls who find themselves dropped into fantastic worlds or situations, and triumph through pluck, cunning, and friendship. I could very happily play as a little girl like that. (Unfortunately, I’m not much of a console gamer, and something about the games that trope suggests just screams “never coming to the PC, ever.”)

    However, I’ve got to call you on the assertion that little boys are common as game protagonists. As long as we’re focusing on Western releases, at least (and I believe you decided to address only the Western market when it comes to little girl protagonists), I can only think of very, very few preteen male heroes. I think it’s pretty much Captain Keen, Willy Beamish, and that kid who ran around with that blob. I could be wrong, though.

    Actually, if you want to define the “Western” range of games you’re looking at as including localized Japanese products, then you’ve definitely got loads of little boys–Link, Ness, that annoying Pokemon kid, etc.–and you’re still left lacking little girls, because all the little girl hero games never get imported. (Which is probably just as well. I suspect they can get creepy.) So I guess your assertion works.

    Okay, that was much more than I intended to type. Thanks for your patience, and for a great article.

  5. 100littledolls Says:

    But I love Ash in Pokemon! :)

    Anyway, a little tangential–I love the article. Also, because the mention of Pokemon reminded me: I just plain like it when games let you choose the gender of the protagonist (like in Pokemon), and I enjoy it especially when the game’s plot doesn’t change based on the gender you choose.

  6. Patrick Says:

    Bonnie, I’m also working on a game design that incorporates some of the ideas you mention, though I suspect the “wrapper” on the core social mechanics may be a bit more marketable than what you have in mind. But then again, I’m not sure what you have in mind, I’d really, really like to hear about it in some detail. The social engine I’ll be working with might just be the key to make your idea a reality, please drop me an e-mail at 666to777@gmail.com and we’ll talk.

  7. Bonnie Says:

    Genders in video games is an all-too-often-explored subject (at least in my circle of friends) but what doesn't get explored are the topics you wrote about.
    Hey, Adam, so glad to hear you say that. Sometimes I feel like we’re beating a dead horse (God, I sound like my mother. Ah!) with the same old gender-equality in gaming talk, when there’s so much else to be discussed. Hopefully we can expand things…

    I can't help but point out would be Miyazaki's heroines: Brave, inquisitive, charming, non-sexualized preteen girls.
    Of course, they’re not game characters, but I see your point. Miyazaki’s preoccuptation with this type of girl has always fascinated me. Call it my suspicious/hopeful mind, but I’m reluctant to say there’s nothing charged in the equation. At the same time, all signs point toward innocence. There must be something I’m missing on that one ;).

    100littledolls, your name rocks!

    Hey Patrick, I’ll definitely do that. I’m commuting back and forth from Manhattan right now, so my brain is pretty much fried, but give me a couple days and I’ll totally send something over.

  8. AcidCat Says:

    Just dropped by to say I enjoyed your article and it really made me think of my 6 year old daughter. She already loves gaming, and playing pretend and exploring and adventuring – she’d be the perfect protagonist for a videogame! And I mean protagonist – forget the tired old “child in jeopardy” plot device, she’d be out there exploring the forest and looking for treasure and using magic to defeat the bad guys.

    I like to show her games with a female lead – we’ve been playing the new Tomb Raider off and on and she digs it (she got ahold of two squirt guns and was running around the house doing the dual-pistol thing at one point). The fact that this is a “sexualized” character just kind of goes right over her head. She just sees a chick out there exploring and getting treasure and kicking ass and she loves it. And of course she likes the different outfits – and let’s face it there’s nothing wrong or unwholesome about big boobs – heck her mother has ’em and they provided some great nutrition early in her life! Imagine that … I’ve always wondered at what point breasts are supposed to go from a symbol of nurturing motherly love to the Devil’s mounds that must be hidden from sight …

    Anyway I’m rambling. We’ve also played Beyond Good & Evil, which also has a proactive female lead – which is actually portrayed completely nonsexually. But most games do seem to feature females as “eye candy” – for example something like Dead or Alive. Which my daughter actually kicks much ass on .. and she likes unlocking the different outfits for the girls. So while someone could probably argue that DoA features a crass and exploitative cast of girls used just for some T&A .. well my daughter just sees it nonsexually as girls up there kicking ass in a variety of cool costumes.

  9. Bonnie Says:

    Hey, AcidCat, tell your 6 year-old daughter she rocks my world :).

    You raise a good point though, that all of this sexualized/non-sexualized talk is in the eye of the beholder. And for someone like your daughter, there’s no reason to get caught up in the politics, just the thrill of playing. She certainly seems to be interested in a variety of game play styles. Hope for our next generation!

  10. Coldstone Says:

    I loved that article! And why didn’t they use Misty from Pokemon as a character? She was a freaking gym leader, she would have rocked.

    However, I feel like you are making a broad assumption about the lack of young female characters in video games, but I am lame and can’t back it up. Its been forever since I have been in an actuall brick and morter store looking at non-console games. But I think there is a ‘Dora the Explorer’ game (am I on crack?). And then theres Harvest Moon, etc. Of course, I suppose you could argue they aren’t pushed as heavily as DoA, but I still feel like there are games out there.

    Hopefully someone will make a Spirited Away type game, I think it would have cross-gender appeal. But I wanted to play devils advocate on the point about hedgehogs not being the target for Sonic. The idea of a main character any medium (movies, books, games) is that there is something relatable, some link between the consumer and the main Character. For some people this is big, for some it isn’t (I personally _hate_ movies where I _hate_ the central character).

    So how does that work, if men don’t need to play boys in video games, do women need to play girls? Please don’t think I am arguing against the idea of a female main character, even a company like Pixar has yet to release a movie where the central character is female.

    Rather, it seemed like you were very close to suggesting that boys don’t need to play boys, but girls do need to play girls (hopefully I am not making an ass out of myself, thats just something I percieved). I would just love to see you expand on that area.

    Sorry for the long post.

  11. Coldstone Says:

    Also … On the sexualized/non-sexualized issue …

    Its not just how a girl percieves it, but also how society percieves it too. While a young girl maybe mimicking someone like Brittany Spears, that does not remove the sexual connotations someone else will have when seeing the young girl perform some of her dance moves.

    I think a great example is the fact that a company (I belive VS) release a pre-teen thong. Some parents were outraged, yet others defended buying them for their daughters because the children didn’t associate them as sexual (yet didn’t explain why their children where wearing pants so low cut they exposed traditional underwear). Our culture has grown from ignoring molestation (creepy uncles just do that) to sexualizing the children through marketing, advirtising, and fashion.

    I think its creepy, but then I love cheddarwurst, so what do I know.

  12. Bonnie Says:

    But I think there is a "~Dora the Explorer' game (am I on crack?). And then theres Harvest Moon, etc.
    A game like Dora the Explorer doesn’t quite fit the mold, since it’s for children, not the normal gaming market, although the article does make the Barbie point, and your Dora example is definitely a counter to that. As for Harvest Moon, I’m pretty sure the article does make an exception for community sim games (although even there young girls are rare).

    Rather, it seemed like you were very close to suggesting that boys don't need to play boys, but girls do need to play girls.
    My point isn’t that girls need to play girls, it’s that girls should be represented (for a number of reasons). Who’s behind the controller, in one sense at least, isn’t really important.

  13. Coldstone Says:

    True, and I get your point about now I think. Why aren’t games for a given (non-child) game audience equal in the main character department.

    I really appreciate your article, my partner and I have talking about this all weekend and its very easy to fall into gender stereotypes. Perhaps its because of the male-dominated game development houses. The idea that we have to protect young girls prevents them as being used in the same way that male characters (like windwaker link) are used?

    I gotta say though, I have been stumped on what a little girl would use as a ‘weapon’ in a side scroller type game. Boys I thought, are easy, slingshot, baseball bat, etc., but then I wondered, why would only boys use those things? I don’t know, I think I need to find some focus groups.

  14. Bonnie Says:

    I gotta say though, I have been stumped on what a little girl would use as a "~weapon' in a side scroller type game.
    It would sound horribly stereotypical to say, I don’t know, flying dolls, or plastic ponies. But then again, like you mention, what’s not stereotypical about a baseball cap? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if I were a guy, I’d be upset about all the assumptions that go on about me. Not only girls are entitled to complain ;-).

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