To: The Game Industry
From: Gen Katz, Editor
Topic: E3 2002 -- Looking for Female Heroes
Date: May 2002

The huge game tradeshow, E3 held in Los Angeles May 21-23 provides the preview of games that will be coming out in the second half of the year. This is not a female friendly environment but I go anyway. I start out looking for female heroes, then female tag-a-longs, then just female characters. This year's games accelerated the progression towards women accommodating to the game industry's offerings rather than the game industry catering to women.

At the show, Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) claimed that 43% of the game players are women and that women are the largest group of new players. If we are playing games where are the women in the games? I started looking for protagonists females as the main characters - the ones who live to make a sequel.

The first one that comes to mind is Lara Croft, who is still raiding tombs in her newest 5th sequel Angel of Darkness (Enix). If the preview shots are true she has come down from a DD to C bra size, and I hear that in the latest game she does without her usual weaponry and will have to get by using her head and hands. Women are finding the game Croft more acceptable after seeing the Tomb Raider movie. The visual persistence of Angela Jolie's real buffness carries through to flesh out the game character.

Konami is coming out with Cy Girls. Two cyber operatives - Sky, skilled in long range combat weaponry, and Shadow, ninja trained and good in close combat. These two cyber pals are the yin-yang compliment to one another.

Lucas Arts' non-Star Wars epic Gladius features two heroines, Ursula and Valens, recruiters and trainers for the gladiator games. Ursula, a big blond Valkyrie hefts a huge sword and gives as well as she gets.

Majesco's BloodRayne is a half human, half vampire with an intense lust for blood and action. She battles Nazis any way that she can slicing, gouging and sucking. The bloodiest, most gruesome game I have seen nasty girl.

JoWooD, a new Canadian distributor give us K. Hawk Kitty to those who know her. A buff, sexy helicopter pilot, downed on a Pacific island , out to exact vengeance on those who killed her boyfriend, and while she's at it to take out a mad Colonel who is creating genetically enhanced super killers.

Vivendi is distributing three games with female protagonists. Dark Angel is resurrected from the defunct television series. Max, is the genetically enhanced super-soldier on a quest to reclaim her past and find her sister. Malice, a wide eyed, tough feisty teenage heroine wielding a giant hammer, looks like Pippie Longstockings cut off at the knees. Somehow anime and cartoon characters can get away more easily with violence. Characters with big Keene eyes are above reproach.

In a completely different vein we get Cate Archer in The Operative A Spy in H.A.R.M.s Way - the figure behind the guns in this shooter. She comes with an arsenal of powerful weapons and spy gadgets. Wisecracking in the cut scenes, she bears a slight resemblance to Emma Peel of the Avengers fame.

In games as in movies, strong branded male characters have the obligatory female tag-along. Zoe Night in James Bond's Nightfire (Electronic Arts) and Mei Ling along with Indiana Jones, once again battle Nazis to recover a powerful artifact in Emperor's Tomb (Lucas Arts). Both these male characters are appealing enough to females that identifying with the semi-protagonist may provide sufficient engagement.

But if women are to kill designers will have to provide the right villains. Nazis are a cop out and don't loom large in female legends. How about a serial rapist, a pederast, abusive husbands and lovers? Now, we could get steamed up about those boys. If game designers want to connect with the violent core in women they should look to the novels of Joan Collins, whose books like Deadly Embrace, Power, Vendetta have females who truly get even with men. She has mined a deep vein and her books have sold over 100 million worldwide.

Very few heroines have eschewed blood violence. The one that promises the most is found in Dreamcatcher's moody and mysterious Syberia. Kate Walker, a sophisticated female lawyer is in search of an elusive and possibly mad heir of a defunct robotic toy factory. This item was made in Canada and has a uniquely different sensibility from adventures made state-side.

Simon & Schuster's Darkened Skye, last year's PC game, is coming out for the PlayStation2. Skye is a heroine in the classic hero image. This motherless, country girl finds that she is endowed with magic and takes on a quest to save the world from evil could be Luke Skywalker.

And finally, another Nancy Drew mystery Secret of the Scarlet Hand. This series has players that range from 12 to 30's. No blood, not even a murder but interesting and detailed environments to wander througn in search of clues.

These last three are the exception. In the main, what we have is equal opportunity violence. The take charge, hard and sexy bodies of the new female protagonist can shoot, maim, slash and kill as well as any man. Will they also have judgment, empathy, and female sensibilities? Probably not. What I would like to see is a game with Alison Jamie as the main character. She's smart, witty, elegant and articulate, holds down a good job (West Wing's Press secretary). In the mean time, if exposure to violent images and violent role playing games do have an influence, what is the message in the games being released for this season? Will dressing up male games with female bodies be enough to engage women? We may have to be satisfied until there are more women designing games.