Sunday, May 31, 2015

Short white hair. Blue-green eyes. As tiny as can be.

Short white hair.  Blue-green eyes.  As tiny as can be.
Vs.
the Old Gods.

When confronted with character creation tools, I always produce the same woman.  A woman as petite as can be, with a short shock of white hair and pale blue-green eyes.  She has, in various incarnations, been my avatar since I rolled a Rogue in World of Warcraft, and endures to this day.

It's might just be pure habit, at this point, but she is my hero.  Her name is Chance, and last fall, for example, she made an appearance in Dragon Age Inquisition.

Short white hair, blue-green eyes, as tiny as can be.
Vs.
immortal demon-wizards from beyond the veil.

Perhaps it began as creating the most pleasing Night Elf I could back in WoW, but now she's just My Hero.  No matter what, she always looks a bit... foreign and innocent and unprepared for whatever world-changing gambits she's forced in to.  Is her hair white because she's seen too many horrors?  She's occasionally sassy, usually quite kind-hearted, and is invariably the scrawny-looking too-short figure who walks calmly towards the catastrophe when everyone else is running away, dwarfed beside the impossibly large weapon she carries.

She's so short it sometimes messes with in-engine cutscenes.  Huge events occur and her face will be obscured behind a tankard of ale or someone's shoulder because the developers didn't anticipate the player producing someone two inches taller than a midget.

I don't know why she's so short - but she is.  There is something lovely about being two heads shorter than everyone else and also the most feared, powerful creature in any given scenario.  It's more interesting to have a little five-foot-nothing hero surrounded by a bunch of cackling, bloodthirsty highwaymen than it would be to have a seven-foot-tall bull-shaped man in her place.

Short white hair, blue-green eyes, as tiny as can be.
Vs.
random engram drops.

She's always a she, as well.  I know it's a hot-button issue, and it's true that rare is the triple-A game with a female protagonist (Remember Me, Mirror's Edge, Final Fantasy XIII-3) while legion are those with a handsome white man at the helm - but her gender isn't a statement.

It's just... more interesting, to me, than another male hero.  We've seen men saving the day against impossible scenarios for aeons.  There's nothing curious or surprising or even very interesting about that, to me - but as soon as you snap your fingers and re-cast the Space Trucker Who Finds Their Inner Badass and Survives Against All Odds as a woman, you've just made a given scenario much more intriguing.  You've created Ellen Ripley.  Something iconic and...

Well, interesting.  We instantly buy that Mad Max has survived the apocalypse and roams the wastes in his awesome car - we need no further explanation - but the very existence of Imperator Furiosa is fascinating.  What did this woman do to earn her place in Immortan Joe's terrible army, and the right to drive a War Rig?


To our culture, she is instantly a far more interesting character than Max - for a distressing reason.  We comfortably, thoughtlessly accept that Max is such a badass, but the fact that a woman could be equally badass still - twenty-five years after Ellen Ripley blew the Xeno out the airlock - still feels novel to us, and makes her more interesting than she would be, if she had a penis.  Her gender evokes questions and makes us more curious about - and more invested in - her.

Which is a statement.

But you don't often see my heroes.  You create whichever ones you want, and mine is invariably a woman with short white hair, blue-green eyes, as tiny as can be - not because I'm making a statement about women in games - and it may simply be due to force of habit, but I feel it's also because I am, still, subject to that unconscious surprise at a heroic woman.  It's because I'm aware that, to me, a female silhouette holding a colossal weapon somehow becomes invested with more meaning and import that a man would, in her place.

I am, essentially, leveraging my own culturally-bred prejudice to make my video game experience more meaningful.

Short white hair, blue-green eyes, as tiny as can be.
Vs. 
dystopian rule at the end of days.

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