Recently on a podcast a viewer tweeted in to ask “What was my favourite female protagonist growing up?” It should have been an easy question but after pausing for an extra long 10 seconds where “Tails is not actually a girl” was spinning round my mindhole over and over, I defaulted to Lara Croft who was the ONLY female protagonist of my childhood I could think of. Despite me wanting to throw the PS1 controller (and the subsequently attached PS1) out the window as her hexagonal head dumbly stared away from attackers or she moaned “No, wrong key” in her ever present monotone, she was my only option.
As the younger of two sisters, even in games where you could choose a female character, such as Streets of Rage, my sister ultimately got first pick and so chose the token female before I even got a chance. It probably wasn’t until I started playing Tekken many years later that I even played a female character I actually liked. I loved Nina Williams electric punches, but still if given the choice I would go with Eddie Gordo due to my young hearts fascination with Brazil and his fighting style Capoeria.
In fact looking back through the roster of games I loved, Sonic, Ape Escape, Disney Titles, Spyro, Final Fantasy all had male lead protagonists. In Pokemon from the second gen I could play as a boy or girl, and while I was delighted by this, it was mostly superficial, and I still often play as the boy to liven things up a bit. Despite this as a child I don’t think I even noticed the lack of female protagonists. If I was given a choice I would always choose the character I most identified with, this was often a girl, but could be the feminine haired Hwoarang for example.
I think this is something everyone does. Whether it’s my sister and I fighting over who got to be Miss Scarlet in Cluedo or her picking the white female character in Micro Machines, leaving me with the black female character. On reflection, I found this interesting as I obviously identified with my gender first and race second. Though had there been a feminine looking male with long, blonde hair, I could have just as easily chosen him.
Looking back on the past and still present lack of female protagonists in video games, I pondered on whether this was the huge problem everyone claims it to be. While I would say that my experience of playing the recently controversial Bayonetta 2 was certainly heightened by the character Jeanne, who I identified with as a gorgeous, kick-ass version of myself, if say Rodin had her moves, I could have as easily chosen him. When playing recent games such as Hyrule Warriors or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! I chose Link and Claptrap respectively based on their special abilities. While admittedly a female character could have been given these special powers I personally enjoy playing, they weren’t , in the same way that male characters aren’t given Jeanne’s high attack, low defence fighting style which suits mine.
I think what’s more important than having a playable character of your gender is to have a character you identify with. While more female protagonists, or simply choice of protagonists in general is always nice, personally play style and identification is far more important. As the younger sibling, my sister often ran off ahead of me, leaving me in the dust, she was in complete control, and while I had my own special skills, she only waited around if she needed me. In other words I was Tails. I identified with the character so strongly I believed him to be female, because I was female and I was him.
So if you ask me who my favourite female protagonist of my childhood was, it’s Tails. Genitals irrelevant.