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Something other than a man: 15 games that pass the Bechdel Test

In search of games that meet three simple requirements.

By Anthony John Agnello, Joe Keiser, Samantha Nelson, Derrick Sanskrit, and John Teti • July 18, 2012

1. King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (1994)

The Bechdel Test is a litmus test for female representation in film that was first popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For. As outlined in a 1985 strip (which gives credit for “The Rule” to Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace), the test requires that a movie fulfill three requirements:

One, it has to have at least two women in it, who
Two, talk to each other about
Three, something other than a man.

The test has endured as a potent form of commentary because its requirements are so low, yet a great many movies fail to meet them. The Bechdel Test proves equally interesting when you try to apply it to video games. (Since games are generally less dialogue-driven than films, we considered tweaking the second requirement to allow two women who have a meaningful, distinctive interaction with each other, even if it’s wordless. This proved to make little difference, though.) Even when a game passes a test, it can be revealing to look at how it passes. For instance, the adventure game King’s Quest VII, which features two women as its heroines, should be a slam dunk. Yet the opening scene sees Queen Valanice and her daughter Rosella arguing over the need for Rosella to find a man and get married already. It’s always the third component of the Bechdel Test that proves to be the sticking point, and while King’s Quest VII ultimately passes—for instance, when Rosella seeks the aid of a female troll—it takes longer to clear the hurdles than you might expect.

2. WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2010 (2009)

While the Bechdel Test is an interesting lens for pop culture, it’s important to note that it’s not a “feminism test” or a test of progressive-gender-politics “goodness.” On occasion, though, it can highlight bits of female empowerment in unexpected places. Wrestling is hardly a great bastion of feminism—we’re talking about a pretend sport where tall drinks of testosterone and protein power are pressed into humanoid shape and sent to do battle. And yet, nestled deep in the heart of WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2010, we find the tiny exception that proves the rule. Here, the talented female wrestler Mickie James tells her suitor of the moment, Brian Kendrick, to take a hike so she can discuss a Women’s Championship opportunity with talented female wrestler Natalya Neidhart. The Women’s Championship is all very cordial (by pro wrestling’s standards), and there’s hardly any sexy posing. Since the game’s release, though, WWE has retired the venerable, decades-old Women’s Championship belt in favor of the new Divas Championship belt, which is shaped like a butterfly. And female wrestler storylines are nonexistent in WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2011, so this moment in the Bechdel Test sun was a brief one for the franchise.

3. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (2011)
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

When you’re knee-deep in the laudable quest of vanquishing the Gogolithic Mass, there’s not really time to linger about, twirling your hair and gossiping about boys. Heroes take action, and that’s exactly what the noble female hero of Superbrothers’ Sword & Sworcery EP does. The Scythian, as she’s known, collects a Megatome, slays beasts, and claims the three shards of a powerful artifact known as the Trigon. Like all good fantasy epics, there are villagers to protect from evil and to provide context and rumors. The village girl, known simply as Girl, wonders aloud why a flock of sheep have fled from their field and proposes that the Scythian might free the hiding fairies by singing her song of “sworcery.” Fluffy animals and songs about fairies may be “girl stuff,” but it’s but totally-important-regarding-the-end-of-the-world girl stuff.

4. Space Channel 5 (2000)

You wouldn’t expect a Japanese game where a space reporter in a dayglo miniskirt named Ulala dance-battles a chick with blue hair named Pudding to pass muster with Bechdel, yet here we are. Ulala doesn’t have too much time for idle talk, as she both reports on and prevents alien abductions by dancing. Most of her interactions are actually with her male producer, who basically functions as a narrator. The exception is Pudding, Ulala’s rival anchor from Space Channel 42. They talk briefly and then get to dancing, which involves quite a bit of yelling at one another.

5. Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

Given the Bechdel Test’s roots, the post-coital performance analysis of a lesbian fling in Dragon Age: Origins might get extra credit. But the conversation between busty sea captain Isabella and the usually demure Leliana is only one of the interactions in Origins that passes the test. The game also features an early scene between the witches Morrigan and Flemeth, where Flemeth kicks her daughter out of the house and sends her off to help your party fight the Darkspawn that threaten to destroy the world. One of your party members may be a man, but it’s really two women talking about monsters—in other words, it passes.

6. Bayonetta (2010)

It can be hard to shake the feeling that Bayonetta is too genuinely horny to qualify as satire. The only game in history that has you play as a witch in a catsuit made of her own hair, Bayonetta spends a lot of time below its titular heroine’s equator as she slaps around phallic angels. Yet a little salacious camera work doesn’t disqualify a game from Bechdel eligibility. Bayonetta’s best friend and erstwhile nemesis Jeanne is always swooping in, making fun of Bayonetta, kicking her a bit, and then flying off. In the scene above, one of many that pass the test, Jeanne explains to Bayonetta precisely why she’s so miffed at her.

7. Castle Of Shikigami III (2008)

The localization of the Japanese shooting game Castle Of Shikigami III is so strange that it passes the test almost by accident. Let’s set the stage: Two young ladies, Reika and Yukari, are floating in the air above a gothic cathedral. Yukari vamps for the players at home, then cryptically tells Reika she can go no further. So Reika threatens to reveal Yukari’s deepest cosplay secrets, which she knows presumably because time cops use their infinite powers to visit all of history’s greatest Comic-Cons. This actually would have defused the confrontation, but the people at home demand bullets, and so bullets they shall have. Also Reika wants us to know that “the summer makes a woman feel free.” It’s not entirely clear what either of them are talking about, but it’s probably not men, so the game technically passes. That is unless Yukari’s cosplay secret is that her costume is a live human man, which in this context is…plausible, but let’s give it to them anyway.

8. Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix (2001)

Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix is mainly remembered 11 years after its release for eclipsing Lara Croft as the poster femme fatale for sexual exploitation on the PlayStation. Actually, it’s not even the game that’s remembered so much as its print ads from around the world. (Translation from the Italian: “Don’t let us play together alone.”) The game doesn’t really seem like it likes women very much when you fire it up, either. The very first image in the game after you press “start” is a half-naked man throwing money on top of a sleeping naked woman. Nonetheless, just five minutes after that, the game passes the test as main characters Hana and Rain discuss the mundane details of their super-secret mission. The two spend plenty of time talking about dudes later in the game, but more often than not, they’re talking about each other or what to do next.

9. Final Fantasy XIII (2010)

Final Fantasy XIII commits many sins, but the biggest is the central cast. Many of them are unlikable nimrods whose relationships with each other only make them more offputting. Pretty boy Snow? Of course lady warrior Lightning can’t stand him—the guy’s trying to marry her 18-year-old sister. Sisters Fang and Vanille, however, while annoying independent of each other, have the most human, affecting relationship in the story. Final Fantasy XIII’s rare stirring moments come mostly from these two talking about their history growing up in the game’s feral wilderness, Gran Pulse. Their reunion scene here also earns the game Bechdel Test passage. There are plenty of women throughout Final Fantasy history. Some are fierce and independent, while others are relegated to support, in battle and in story. Final Fantasy XIII is singular in that it only soars when its leading ladies talk among themselves.

10. Mass Effect (2007)

Many BioWare games present a tricky proposition for the Bechdel Test since the player’s character can be either male or female, so a conversation that passes in one player’s game may fail in another. For Mass Effect, we had to go an extra level to debate whether the Asari, a mono-gender alien race, actually count as women. But in the end we decided to include Asari in femaledom—the game’s Codex says that the Asari are female, and they certainly read as female on screen, which is probably the pertinent consideration here. So the game passes for this alternately disturbing, touching, and tragic scene between Dr. Liara T’Soni and Matriarch Benezia, which shows the complicated relationship between a daughter and her badass brainwashed mother.

11. Batman: Arkham City (2011)

Tens of super villains, dozens of incarcerated police officers, hundreds of high-risk convicts, and all they can talk about for hours on end is Batman, Batman, and more Batman. It’s enough to give a certain caped crusader a swollen cowl. Thankfully, Arkham City is also home to a number of femme fatales, and when Catwoman decides she needs help breaking into a vault, she turns to her old friend and roommate, Poison Ivy. Pleasantries go out the window faster than you can say “defenestration” as the ladies break into a domestic dispute over the proper care and maintenance of house plants. When the men are all talking about blowing each other up, leave it to the women to argue about keeping things alive.

12. Gravity Rush (2012)
Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush is beautifully enigmatic. There are plenty of hints about the former life of gravity-manipulating protagonist Kat, but you never get her full story. You never get to know much about her adopted home, Heskeville, either. It’s a game that opens in medias res and never really ends. If there’s an arc of beginning, middle, and end, it’s the story of Kat’s relationship with the world’s one other gravity manipulator, Raven. Raven tangles with Kat time and again on orders from the leader of Heskeville’s military, but their relationship is always deeply personal. Come the back half of the game when they make their peace, Kat and Raven discuss both practical matters and how to use their abilities for good. They’re the only truly detailed characters in the game.

13. Steal Princess (2009)
Steal Princess

A talkative female protagonist helps Climax Entertainment’s puzzle-platformer Steal Princess pass with flying colors. Master thief Anise spends time chatting with the pompous Princess Charlotte and thief-turned detective Delta, but the most common interactions are between Anise and her fairy sidekick, Kukri. While they do sometimes talk about a man—the prince that Kukri wants Anise to save—Kukri mostly offers tips on how to deal with puzzles while nagging Anise to stop stealing things and act like a proper hero.

14. The Misadventures Of Tron Bonne (2000)

Tron is the star of the Bonne family in the odd Mega Man Legends series, but the men in her life define most of her screen time. If she isn’t directly talking to or about her nemesis/crush Mega Man Volnutt, she’s listening to big brother Teisel Bonne, who tells her what to do and who to rob. Tron’s own adventure The Misadventures Of Tron Bonne is actually about the plucky air pirate trying to pay off ransom for her brother. It’s also the game where Tron makes her first friend, the hapless police officer Denise. They start out as sworn enemies, as Denise tries in vain to stop Tron from pillaging, but eventually Tron sympathizes with the officer and they bond over their shared struggles to succeed in their chosen professions. What’s impressive is that the Tron and Denise never fall into the “trying to make it in a man’s job” conversation. It’s hard to be good at what you do, period, and that’s mostly what their conversations are about. That and Tron mocking Denise for failing to catch her again.

15. Perfect Dark (2000)

Toward the end of the superspy shooting game Perfect Dark, agent Joanna Dark has been captured by a race of aliens that disguise themselves as Scandinavian men but are really space lizards of indeterminate gender. Her cellmate, the villainous business leader Cassandra De Vries, was working with these fictitious Nordic fellows until she discovered they were just reptiles with less of a taste for herring and more of a taste for intergalactic war. De Vries tells Dark that these horrible creatures used her, and that she hungers for revenge, so she sacrifices herself to distract the guards—thus giving Joanna a chance to exact sweet justice on her behalf. It’s a quick conversation, but since the scaly, screeching aliens are as much men as a crocodile in boxer shorts is, the game squeaks by on a technicality.

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  • HobbesMkii

    Bechdel herself notes that her test is no indicator of quality, and that plenty of movies that pass it aren’t worth watching. It’s fun to see that quickly applies to some games as well. By the by, I encourage everyone to go hear her talk about her comics, should she ever have a reading or something at your local (disappearing) bookstore/library–she’s really a treat to listen to.

    I haven’t gotten super far in it, according to the completion counter, but I did enjoy in Arkham City that Catwoman briefly entertains the idea of joining Batman, before deciding to go off on her own. I’m sure they did it because she’s technically Day 1, On Disc DLC, so they didn’t want her interfering too much with the main narrative, but it was a good bait-and-switch.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I agree the test is no requisite of quality, nor is the fulfillment thereof an assurance of quality, but it is so simple and so broadly applicable, I think about it almost every time I’ve watched something since my wife first told me of it.
      Dames, always tryin’ to learn ya somethin’, amiright?
      But that said, in tv and movies the Bechdel test has proven a pretty strong indication if I’ll like something or not. It shows, if little else, that the writers are being a bit more thoughtful with their craft and what makes for interesting characters.
      Video games, on the other hand… Two ladies may not be talking about men, but them talking about collapsing ion columns on a Century class starship or the breakdown of diplomacy of the Elven Kingdoms… I guess what I mean to say is the writing is still not the central reason I play games.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      “Bechdel herself notes that her test is no indicator of quality, and that plenty of movies that pass it aren’t worth watching.”

      This is true. Furthermore, a game that passes the Bechdel test can have very problematic portrayals of women, and a game that fails the Bechdel test can have very positive portrayals of women. I find it kind of hilarious to see Arkham City of all games included on this list.

      • gandhi_07

        I was going to say Half-Life 2 (and the subsequent episodes) fail the test, but don’t Alyx and Judith talk about something other than Eli & Gordon? 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I honestly don’t remember. My inclination is to say that their conversation is mainly about Eli. In any case, neither of them is talking about Eli in a romantic context, so even if the test is failed, the game at least captures the spirit of the test.

        • jmarquiso

          Alyx is designed to be a character motivator, and as well realized as she is – and she is – she exists to drive the player/Gordon.  She feels more engineered than her own character at times.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @jmarquiso:disqus: That’s exactly my problem with Alyx. She doesn’t feel like a real character to me; she feels as if she was engineered by committee to be a “strong female character.”

        • jmarquiso

          @Merve Errant Signal does a great job with it here - 
          http://www.errantsignal.com/blog/?p=151

          You honestly could say the same about GlaDOS, Wheatley, and Cave Johnson though. Valve does a great job of using these characters to subtly guide you through the experience. Bioshock has an interesting take on this very thing as well.

        • lokimotive

          @Merve2:disqus My impression is that the spirit of the test is that women are almost exclusively portrayed in media as being in the shadow of a man in some capacity or other. They are used as a catalyst for the men in the story, whether that’s to meet the female protagonist, or to accomplish their goals in any other manner. I don’t think it has to be romantic in nature.

          In which case, Half-Life rather spectacularly fails the test. As the story goes on everything is about Freeman.

        • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

          @jmarquiso:disqus I love Valve games but their guidance is often way too heavy handed for my taste. Especially Episode 1.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @lokimotive:disqus: To be fair, that particular conversation doesn’t have anything to with Gordon; it’s just part of a side plot that doesn’t exist to prop up the protagonist. That being said, your wider point about the game as a whole is right on the money, and the Errant Signal video that @jmarquiso:disqus linked does a good job of examining it.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Shit. Quintuple post.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @lokimotive:disqus: To be fair, that particular conversation doesn’t have anything to with Gordon; it’s just part of a side plot that doesn’t exist to prop up the protagonist. That being said, your wider point about the game as a whole is right on the money, and the Errant Signal video that @jmarquiso:disqus linked does a good job of examining it.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @lokimotive:disqus: To be fair, that particular conversation doesn’t have anything to with Gordon; it’s just part of a side plot that doesn’t exist to prop up the protagonist. That being said, your wider point about the game as a whole is right on the money, and the Errant Signal video that @jmarquiso:disqus linked does a good job of examining it.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @lokimotive:disqus: To be fair, that particular conversation doesn’t have anything to with Gordon; it’s just part of a side plot that doesn’t exist to prop up the protagonist. That being said, your wider point about the game as a whole is right on the money, and the Errant Signal video that @jmarquiso:disqus linked does a good job of examining it.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @lokimotive:disqus: To be fair, that particular conversation doesn’t have anything to with Gordon; it’s just part of a side plot that doesn’t exist to prop up the protagonist. That being said, your wider point about the game as a whole is right on the money, and the Errant Signal video that @jmarquiso:disqus linked does a good job of examining it.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         …and freaking Fear Effect. Good grief!

      • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

         I like to think of the test as something like a first hurdle to pass into the realm of more equal gender dynamics.  It’s the bare minimum you have to do to get your game/movie/whatever on the right side of the conversation.  Because even if a story has a very benign view toward women, treating female characters with a modicum of dignity, if they’re not able to talk about anything besides men then they aren’t really being presented equally.

        • Citric

          In some games it’s very difficult to have them talk to other women, since you’re put into the point of view of one character most of the time. There might be a very positive female character, but she’s always talking to a man, because your character is a man and you’re in every scene.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @trilobiter:disqus: I’m a little wary of that viewpoint, especially as applied to individual games. I’d argue that a game that features mainly male characters and fails the Bechdel test as a result isn’t necessarily problematic in its representation of women. What is problematic is that so many games fail the test. I like to think of the Bechdel test as a way of illuminating a trend, not as a litmus test for individual games.

          @Citric:disqus: For the record, all of the Mass Effect games pass the test, even if you play as a male Shepard. (Just step onto Illium in ME2, for example.) But if you play as a female Shepard, the games definitely pass the Bechdel test several times over.

        • Citric

          @Merve2:disqus It’s likely that I missed some incidental stuff, but I honestly can’t remember much that the main character isn’t involved in, at least in the first Mass Effect, the only one I played.

          It’s interesting to consider how character customization plays into this, anyway. Personally, I tend to play as dudes with big beards when I’m allowed to choose, because that’s who I aspire to be, so I’m going to see way less Bechdel success than someone who always goes with a female character.

    • caspiancomic

      Agreed of course, and it’s always worth pointing out. The Bechdel Test is not a cudgel to be used to pummel individual movies (or games), but is instead most useful used as a tool for understanding the industry in which these works are made, or even more broadly, the culture in which they were made. Scores of movies that fail are otherwise excellent, and plenty of movies that pass are otherwise trash. Still, it’s a tremendous tool, and interesting to see applied to games like this.

      Edit: welp, @Merve beat me to it by an hour, so now I feel kind of silly.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/tmjw,83477/ TMJW

      What a sane application of the Bechdel Test! So many YouTube twits posting these long diatribes critiquing/dismissing it without any understanding or context – it clouds any ability to discuss how women are portrayed in our pop culture at large.

      Bravo Gameological!

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

        I find trying to discuss anything even remotely related to racism or feminism online or offline to be a Herculean task. To even suggest someone may not actively hate or ridicule a particular group but still belong to a culture that has growing and correcting to do is a quick way to get on someone’s bad side.

        A number of times I’ve seen a discussion of portrayal of women in games devolve into “Feminists are never happy with any portrayal of women and just want to ruin our fun.”

        The thing that bothers me most about this is how it assumes all feminists and their supporters are, somehow, like a hive mind. I see this crop up a lot in politics, too. Every Jewish person, every gay, every conservative, every liberal, every Muslim, they ALL have the same agenda, apparently. They all believe and want to same things. Thus, a couple people claiming that Alyx Vance is a poor representation of a female character and that means everyone believes that.

        • Mike_From_Chicago

          In the political arena that has a lot to do with the legacy of identity politics – which, in some ways, creates political legitimacy for underrepresented groups by homogenizing them, hive-mind and all. Since the notion of identity politics holds much, much, much less power now than it did in decades past, we’re left with a cultural conversation where young feminists try to initiate discourse, and the reactionary old-guard invokes a misguided notion of identity politics to contradict them.

          Probably you could argue that the current cultural conversation represents the conflict between those who grew up with the Internet (which has room for an exceedingly large number of unique identity groups) and those who grew up with network television (which allots minimal time to a minimal number of identity groups, forcing them to unify and boil down their positions).

          Anyway, infecting hate trying to discuss feminism around anyone but a few friends. It leads to sone ugly shut otherwise.

    • http://electricsistahood.com KL

       I also encourage people to read her comics. She’s pretty fantastic.

  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    Woohoo articles talking about gender n shit in games! 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I think they were a little harsh in lowering the bar so much.  Space Channel 5 1 and 2?  If that’s the standard, video games tend to be long enough that the split’s 50-50.  That’s better than you can say for American mainstream comics or movies.

      I think the equivalent test for video games would be, “Would lose something if the character were male” and “1 of the characters is a featured protagonist or antagonist.”  Then, we’d be down to the 10 percent that makes us wag our fingers.

      • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

        The whole point of the exercise is that it’s a really low bar. Even if your 50-50 estimate were on the mark—after having worked on this list, I suspect it’s a little generous—that’s a surprisingly modest success rate for such a simple test.

        Of the 3,268 movies in the unofficial Bechdel Test Movie List database, 53 percent pass the test.

        • blue vodka lemonade

          I think it’s useful to alter the test a little bit to account for the length of some games, and for the ability to change player-character gender.
           The Bechdel Test site itself notes where certain films slip by on technicalities or interactions so fleeting you’d miss them if you blinked, so having the option of saying something “sort of” passes has plenty of precedent.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          I mean,  most fighting games with a story mode, most role-playing games, most simulation games, most tactics games, et cetera all work.  I’m not complaining about the list.

          I’m saying a 2-hour movie and 1-hour comic have more limitations on that front than 10-60-hour video games do.

        • underscorex

          @GhaleonQ:disqus : yes, but there are entire *genres* that fail the test. (sports games, shmups, and beat-em-ups all come to mind immediately)

          Some of the biggest franchises of all time fail this test – I’m wondering how well the Grand Theft Auto games fare, for instance.  I don’t think the Mario franchise is that hot, either…

          So while there are limitations, that just means failing to meet them is kind of even sadder.

          (of course sometimes the limits are inherent – what, exactly, is there for anyone, never mind two women, to talk about in Madden ’12 besides the men on the field?)

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @underscorex:disqus Sure, sure, although I don’t think it’s fair to gender Vic Viper.  Still, there is Parodius, Twinbee, and a few Cave games where females “interact” without romantic weakness or sexual exploitation.  Like I mentioned, I think other genres are really high, and I think simulation sports games (among others) are pure abstractions and ought not be counted.  Unless it’s Windjammers or Mario Tennis, Panel De Pon or Twinkle Star Sprites, it’s as silly as asking for more women in abstract film and animation.

      • Enkidum

        Dunno about the “would lose something if the character were male”. I think there could be a lot more generic female characters whose gender isn’t really an issue. I mean, unless the character’s arc explicitly involves flirting, sex or reproduction*, there aren’t a whole lot of gender-specific activities than go on in games. Would it make any difference to Donkey Kong if it was Maria jumping over barrels?

        Not only could there be a lot more, there should be.  Girls shouldn’t be exposed solely to representations of women who exist solely in relation to men. Honestly, I think that’s something of an ethical imperative for any truly decent society.

        Didn’t mean to be rant-y there. And I think you’re definitely right about the “featured protagonist/antagonist” thing. 

        *Does any game involve the main character getting pregnant? I’m sure there are some, but I’ve never seen one I can think of.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          I don’t think we have to go to stereotypes/typical expressions of feminine behavior or biology.  This doesn’t have to be Wonder Momo.  I’m talking, like, Shanoa in Castlevania, Lip from Panel Pon, Lucia from Lunar, Franziska von Karma in Ace Attorney, Hibiki in The Last Blade, or the Goketsujis from Power Instinct.  (All of them pass this test, by the way.)  They could be swapped out for males, sure, but the characters would lose a critical part of their character.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

           Some of the Harvest Moon games, like Magical Melody, let the player be female and later pregnant. But that’s pretty much all that I can think of without resorting to listing some rather unscrupulous titles from overseas.

        • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

          I think the problem with  ”Would lose something if the character were male”  is that it assumes that male is default and female is other. I agree that it is preferable to have well drawn characters but it is also desirable to have worlds with a reasonably sized female population.

          Also, what about women voice actors?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Oh, no, not Conception!

          Colliewest You’ll note that games on the extreme fantastical and extreme realistic ends of the spectrum tend to involve women being women. If you’re playing either a role-playing/puzzle game or tactics/life simulation game, it’s pretty easy to have women in non-romantic situations.

      • Enkidum

        Sure, those characters (most of which I’ve never seen, but I’ll take your word for it) are likely fine examples, and their femininity may be an integral part of their character. But I think that integral-ness shouldn’t be the standard – so much of what we do in games is controlling some form of superhero, essentially, and there’s no reason why a woman can’t have said superpowers. 

        I’m thinking something like Metroid – can Samus’ sex really be that important when probably 80% of players will never find out what it is, since they’ll never get to the final screen? And so if they had made it clear that she was female from the start, would it make any difference? To marketing, yes, probably, but not to the actual gameplay itself, I think. (Confession: I’ve never played more than an hour of Metroid, so could easily be out to lunch here. The critical thing is that it’s possible to have these kind of female characters whose gender just isn’t a real issue.)

        I’m happy to have diversity for its own sake: if you can make a character female* without it really affecting anything, then I think you should, at least a large amount of the time. That being said, you should also have female characters whose gender is an important part of their portrayal, like, presumably, the examples you give. The more the merrier!

        *or black, or any other under-represented group 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

           I think that’s where we part ways.  That’s not to say I disagree with anything you wrote, just that I prioritize it much lower.  I’d much rather have a creatively designed majority character than a minority character that came from a template.  To draw from the list, I think a male Kat would be a bigger achievement than that Catwoman.
          More importantly, 1 of the reasons I dislike quotas is that it emphasizes character-driven fiction/gameplay over plot- and idea-driven fiction/gameplay (which I prefer).  It’s why I wasn’t bothered by the Ueda dress comment, apart from the silliness of using the word “realistic.”  He makes design decisions based on what he wants to say.  If he says Agro is female, it’s because that means something.  If he didn’t have a female star in his latest game, it’s not because “all females wear dresses and are physically weak.”  It’s because, in his world, males wear tunics, women wear dresses, and the protagonists are already frail-looking to emphasize their vulnerability.  Ideas determined mode of expression, not the other way around.  It’s clear that he’s expanded the female role in video games more than badasses in Mirror’s Edge or Bayonetta.  In the end, I think that produces slightly more shallow, more interesting characters.
          Moreover, I don’t think the effect of quotas is at all quantifiable, whereas it is in the way ideas shape characters.  (I should say it IS quantifiable in movies, because women actors depend on there being a market for them.)  By rights, King’s Quest IV: The Perils Of Rosella should be a bigger coup for women protagonists than King’s Quest VII: The Princless Bride.  Both use the protagonists’ gender, but IV was earlier and required greater heroism and endangerment of its protagonist.  Between that and the game’s difficulty, Rosella is badass.  However, VII expanded the capacity of possible female roles in video games by delving into mother-daughter relationships, 1990s-Disney-esque fantasy, older women protagonists, the scope of female voice acting, and the game’s unique reactions between female protagonist and female antagonist.  Think of it as the Lara Croft/Nathan Drake conundrum.  They’re both equally unimportant to the artistic advancement of gaming.  However idolized they are, they’re just coats of paint on experiences we’ve had since 1985′s Challenger.
          Of course, as you ended, we should expect both.

          I should ask: is it just that you like the diversity or do you think diversity means something?  If Street Fighter 2 had an all-female cast or if Mother 2′s party were all of Colombian ancestry, would that make them more significant or just “cooler?”

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

          I’m definitely with you. It can be great to have games with a female character explicitly showing she is just as good than her doubting male counterparts. However, a game where female characters are just that: characters that just happen to be female and aren’t regarded any differently, can also be a great example. Samus is a good example of this.

        • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

           The problem with Metroid (and I say this as someone who really, really loves Metroid) is that Samus’s sexuality is not really an issue… until suddenly it is the biggest issue.  When the immediate reward for good performance is seeing her in increasing states of undress, it sort of undermines all the effort to portray her in an independent way.

          The game spends all this time creating an illusion of a lone female adventurer fighting monsters for reasons that have nothing to do with men or sex, and then at the last possible moment offering herself up for the gaze of the male viewer who has apparently been there the whole time.  It doesn’t ruin the game, but it does cheapen it a little bit.

      • Enkidum

        Nice reply, thanks!

        Just to get to your last question… I think the diversity in and of itself is valuable, not just cool. And it’s more valuable when (a) there’s more of it, and (b) it’s not made a big deal of. Paradoxically, this kind of requires that it is made a big deal of behind the scenes. That is, I feel creators should make a conscious effort to reflect the makeup of the actual world in their character choices. But that effort needn’t actually come across in the actions of those characters.

        I think it’s often easier to identify with characters who share traits with us (like, say, our gender), and it’s important for us to be able to identify with characters (which is one of the reasons we’ve been using character-driven stories for thousands of years). So by providing a more representative sample of genders, races, etc in our media, we encourage a broader swath of people to identify with these characters. This doesn’t mean that a woman can’t identify with a male character, or vice versa. Just that aspects of the character such as gender can help. But unless that gender is somehow important to the plot, it can be almost ignored. (Think of Chell in Portal – yes, there are clearly interesting dynamics between her and Glados that depend in some respects on her being female, but honestly the game would be only marginally changed if she were male.)

        If Street Fighter II was all female, would it be better? Well, that’s hardly more representative of the population as a whole than the current state of affairs. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think of it this way: Guile, or Blanka, or Ken, or whoever… they’re all interesting characters to play because they have interesting moves and powers. Chun Li or whoever the other female characters are, are, I think, partly interesting because they are female – it’s like an additional twist on top of the moves and powers. The maleness of Ken is the default neutral standard, the femaleness of Chun Li is something extra. I’d rather see media where both genders were equally neutral, I guess, where it’s not a big deal either way. (Except, of course, when it is a big deal  - which is why games that deal with romance and so forth SHOULD make gender a real issue – but that isn’t the case for Street Fighter II, nor for most characters in most games, I think.)

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Cool, cool.  What’s funny is that I care very little about ideological or biological representation in games as a matter of social import, but I’m a sucker for it as a matter of personal interest.  I don’t think the Street Fighter series having an all-whatever cast would create greater interest on the consumer side or better art on the developer side, but I think it’s really cool when a fighting game character is from Australia (Jeffrey, an aboriginal Australian fisherman with a Greek fighting style, is just as unique as Craig, a stereotypical Australian dumb, brutal professional ultimate fighter) or whatever and I’m more likely to buy the game or play the character.

          I think the moral of the article and the very interesting posts is that the thoughtful portion of the video game-playing population is ideologically diverse, and developers should take advantage of that.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          I somewhat agree with you that Chell could be male to minor distinction in Portal, except for my favorite joke.
             One of Glados’s quips when beginning a stage was how surprised she was that even in suspended animation, Chell managed to put on a few pounds.
             It was a nerdy, obvious joke, but both so artfully delivered and also, so intrinsically female in theme, I was disproportionately pleased by it.
             So that, to my current count makes Parks and Rec and Portal 2 the two pieces of media I can come up with off the top of my head that tell distinctly female jokes, with that air of neutrality you discuss.

    • caspiancomic

       Kotaku recently posted another gender politics related article, and the comments were, as expected, not exactly erudite. It’s nice to have a place online where this sort of thing doesn’t result in internet knife fights.

      • Fixda Fernback

        BUT I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BLOG ABOUT VIDEO GAMES WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT FEMINISM?!?!?

        The more I visit that place, the more my hatred for it seethes.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Kotaku posts a lot of great articles. But, as is the case with most websites, it’s best to steer clear of the comments.

        • Fixda Fernback

          @Merve2:disqus Yeah, but so many of the articles they post are pretty much begging for a discussion. And I like to believe that there are intelligent people that play video games (as evidenced by this site). So why the hell does every post about sexism, racism, or not about “straight white guy problems” (and I say this as a straight white guy) they put up have comments that, if not complaining about how it’s not about video games, is complaining about how women, or minorities, or LGBT are somehow making all their strife up, or blowing it out of proportion. UGH.

        • HighlyFunctioningTimTebow

          Some refer to Kotakistan as K-Mart, and not without good reason; they poach other sites’ content at will, and will pay for guest columnists to contribute higher quality articles. They, like their Gawker overlords, engage in antagonistic headline writing designed to provoke ire, all for the sake of a few indignant click-thrus, and they actively promote troll comments front and center to instigate their special brand of bile, undermining any critical afterthought in their articles.

        • Chryso42

          @HighlyFunctioningTimTebow:disqus  Saved me a lot of ranting; Gawker’s never been all that scrupulous, but this last year or two things have gone completely downhill. Kotaku’s commentariat in particular went from a reasonably thoughtful cluster of folks to hovering somewhere between the level of discourse found in a typical youtube comment section, and a pack of overexcited chihuahuas.
          I used to be a big fan of Kotaku and Jezebel (Relevant Irony!), but between the constant clickwhoring and their pathological need to cram in useless, if not outright counterproductive new “features”, I am done.

        • Fixda Fernback

          @Chryso42:disqus I think that’s exactly why I hate Kotaku so much. When I first started frequenting it, after finding the whole Gawker network via LifeHacker and io9, I was pretty impressed with the level of intelligent discourse. I can’t put my finger on when, exactly, but at some point… things definitely changed in that regard, haha. I actually got chewed out by multiple posters today for claiming that the place was getting nearly as bad as reddit and 4chan in regards to the level of intelligence, and that people were often saying misogynistic things for the sake of offense, especially in relation to articles about feminism. Yes. Clearly, Kotaku’s commentariat are far above that.

          I don’t know if you guys can tell, but I’m rolling my eyes as hard as I possibly fucking can.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           The latest abysmal Gawker “design” decision has also turned the comments into a garden of forking paths that is a major chore to navigate.

          The pros to this situation are that, as Kotaku comments are generally pretty awful, the new design hides the majority of comments from view, and makes it less inviting to read through them and lose hours of your life getting involved in flame-wars with sexist idiots operating at a 12-year-old social/cognitive level.

          The cons are that, in the event you genuinely want to participate in the comments, its a huge hassle to do so, and your voice is less likely to be heard, as it is now several clicks away from visibility, buried in some screwy dialogue tree.

          I had already become tired of the commentariat there ages ago, and now that the medium for participating in comment threads has itself become mechanically objectionable (and there are better places, like Gameological to read essay-style ruminations on and reviews of games), I don’t really ever go there unless I’m following a link that happens to go there.

        • caspiancomic

           Like the others here, I find that the Gawker sister sites tend to share the same problems. As pure news sources, they tend to be (or at least were) pretty competent and reliable. But their editorials are usually shamelessly fishing for pageviews and inflammatory comments, and the comments have gone from serviceable to execrable over a couple of years. Plus, as @bakana42:disqus points out, the new comments section is dizzying to even navigate, I can’t imagine actually using the thing.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

          I can’t say that Destructoid is much better. It was at some point – I used to visit it even more than Kotaku because it could be thoughtful AND goofy fun, but it seems like once more and more people started to address the “feminine portrayal in games” idea, the misogyny within gamers sudden reared its ugly head and got everyone stupid and angry.

          The Lara Croft/Anita Sarkeesian related posts there have been utterly, utterly sickening.

          I wonder, though, if it’s because the discussion of female issues in games is so new, and if there’s always an egregious backlash at first – because it happened with movies (Hitchcock), then TV (Whedon), and it’s only recently that it has gotten safe to talk about feminine portrayals in comics (god, remember how sad those days were). Maybe we need a few more years at it before gamers finally get it. I mean, even if they spit hatred and vitriol, it’s still an idea planted in their heads, yes?

        • Fluka

          @bakana42:disqus Thanks to your post, I now have this image in my mind of Kotaku comments as an infinite Borgesian labyrinth of shittiness.

          I actually do have to thank the recent Gawker redesign in one sense: I’ve been trying to train myself to not read the comments for the sake of my mental health.  The redesign has made it so fucking onerous to read discussions that I’ve actually begun to be successful.

          Gameological here has reached a nice sweet spot, having both thoughtful and fairly progressive articles and comments, but without having the often exhausting activist leanings of other feminist/progressive gaming websites (no one has been accused of being “ableist” yet, as far as I can tell).  I’m actually hard pressed to think of another site like it.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        I really can’t think of another place (outside of explicitly feminist blogs and what have you) on the internet where this kind of thing doesn’t result in a horrible comments section. Much less another website about games. I say this a lot, i know, but I really love it when the topic comes up here and everyone is actually reasonable and intelligent about it. So so so refreshing.

        • Fixda Fernback

          Really. Thanks, thanks, and thanks again Gameological. I really hope you guys know just how much we seriously appreciate the atmosphere you’ve cultivated here, as well as the work you put into having well-written, thoughtful articles. 

        • Fluka

          Rock Paper Shotgun doesn’t make me want to curl up in a little ball and die most days, but they also tend to not post gender-related things.  There are also explicitly progressive sites like the Border House Blog, but they tend to just focus on feminism/LGBT/racism issues.  And the comment sections there (like any feminist blog) can quickly turn nasty if someone hasn’t totally caught up with the program yet.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          @Fluka:disqus I read RPS as well, and while the comments usually aren’t completely awful, they are very very rarely what I’d consider good. And all that goes out the window if there’s a post about gender. It’s maybe a half step above most other videogame blogs, which is a shame, because they post excellent pieces quite often. So yeah, I really don’t read the comments anywhere else. RPS may not have blatant trolly shitheads, but they do get a lot of obnoxious fanboy whining and shit.

          Also, I remember enjoying The Border House Blog enough, but the writers there never really seemed all too great. I love the idea, but i’m pretty sure most of the writers were just amateurs. Which is cool, but, y’know.

        • Fluka

          Yeeeeah…it’s sad when “not completely awful” is high praise.  The main distinction between tiers of comments being between something like RPS or Ars Technica, which leave me grumpy for hours afterwards at the fanboyishness and general douchery, and something like Kotaku, Destructoid, or the Escapist, which leave me having to suppress fantasies of physical violence.  Future news article: “Video Game Blog Comments!  Are They Responsible for Real World Violence?”

        • X_the_Anonymous_Man_or_Woman

           @Fluka:disqus Only if I get my wish.

        • AmaltheaElanor

           Amen to this!  I’ve been to so many gaming websites where the commenter conversation so quickly devolves into hate, trolling, and flame wars, that coming to a place like this – where people are engaging in civil discourse! Even about feminism! – is such a breath of fresh air.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        I think Kotaku exists in a bubble universe where time moves opposite of ours.  When I first discovered the site, I was impressed by their willingness to address gamer culture outside of the medium itself.  And the commenting system actually maintained a lot of thoughtful, long form comments.  But since then the tenor of the site keeps slipping backwards, to adolescence and ultimately, I suppose to the floating, iridescent 2001 baby.
           I believe Stephen Totillo is a good writer, as are most of the staff, and I’m grateful that they offer a voice that is conspicuously lacking from almost all other major game sites.  But anymore, posting there makes me feel like a non-trad student in a Freshman comp class, a little embarrassed and too self-aware.

        • stakkalee

          Are you a Philip K. Dick fan?  Have you read Counter-Clock World?  Maybe Kotaku has entered its own Hobart Phase, and Kotaku is busy erasing all the improvements in games and representation that have occurred for the past few years.

        • Fluka

          I think the Gawker sites are all doing the same thing.  Jezebel has gone from being the thoughtful site that reintroduced me to feminism, to being a parody of modern feminism.  Gawker itself has devolved from being a mildly amusing gossip blog to some kind of questionably sentient slime mold just above TMZ on the tree of life.

        • X_the_Anonymous_Man_or_Woman

           @stakkalee:disqus I just finished reading that last weekend. Cool idea but not a particularly strong entry in Dick’s work.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN VIDEO GAMES WHEN CHILDREN ARE DYING IN AFRICA

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          WHY AREN’T THERE MORE AFRICAN CHILDREN IN VIDEO GAMES?

        • underscorex

          You know, in all seriousness, someone could do a pretty interesting analysis of how Africa is depicted in video games (hint: SAVAGES, YO.)

        • X_the_Anonymous_Man_or_Woman

           @Merve2:disqus Because they’re too busy dying.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @underscorex:disqus: I’d love to see a video game set in sub-Saharan Africa, and not just in the jungle or on the savannah, but in a city like Lagos or Nairobi. I’d also love to see a video game set in Southeast Asia. Or India. Or Scandinavia.

    • caspiancomic

       Oooh baby, now there’s an article critical of gaming culture up at Cracked as well. That obviously went down smooth with the commentariat.

      • stakkalee

        Great article!

        don’t read the comments don’t read the comments don’t read the comments

        Fuck.  I read some of the comments.

        • Fixda Fernback

          Oh man. I can’t like this comment nearly as much as it deserves. This goes x1000 for sites like CNN or Yahoo (well, minus the “Great article!” part, usually)

      • Captain_Booyah

         I read that thing just yesterday, and God help me, scrolled down through the comments. The usual crowd was in (“but guys want t&a in their vidja gaems, omg”), but from what I could gather a lot of people were complaining about the article’s sloppy research and bad examples and such (as well as the writer apparently acting like an immature douche on Twitter). I thought the article raised some good points, but I agree it was somewhat poorly-written, which is a shame.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Say! Another reason to mention Gravity Rush! Has anyone else here played it? Anyone except for you, Gameological. We know you get your fingers in everything.
    The combat may be a titch wonky, but otherwise I can’t possibly understand why this game isn’t being lauded every damn place. It’s fun, innovative, beautiful and clever. It is the kind of game that reminds me why I like gaming.
    Also, given the somewhat wearisome trope that Japan has forgotten how to make good games, Gravity Rush is a lovely rebuttal to that claim.
    Gravity Rush! The flying game that also lets you decorate the sewer pipe you inhabit!

    • rvb1023

       One word: Vita.  Very few people like to admit there are creative minds at Sony and that something good came of the Vita.

      • George_Liquor

        I think we all would love to admit that, just as soon as it happens.

      • PPPfive

         It’s more that no one owns one. It’s a steep price for one good game.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          It’s true, and frankly I don’t blame ‘em.  I guess I’m more hoping for greater enthusiasm from critics.  Which is not a sentiment I often indulge in.

        • rvb1023

           I’m not denying that the Vita is worth owning or that Sony even seems to care it exists, if anything that was my point.  The Vita is just the it thing to hate right now, like the 3DS was a year before it.

        • George_Liquor

           For what it’s worth, I don’t hate the Vita; I hate the cost of entry. I hate how, like the PS3, Sony threw in useless feature after useless feature and drove the cost of the Vita through the roof. I hate the fact that Sony created their own proprietary memory cards for use with the Vita that cost five times as much as a comparable SD card.

          I played a demo of Gravity Rush and liked it. Just not enough to overcome all the barriers to entry that Sony has thrown up with the Vita’s launch.

        • rvb1023

          If there is one issue with the Vita, it’s the cost of those damn proprietary cards.  Turns a $250 system into a $400 one.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          @George_Liquor:disqus   That’s a completely fair point.  I bought the Vita at a discount, but buying the memory card chafed fierce.  I thought I was done with that proprietary storage nonsense when I sold my 360.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

          I happen to own a Vita, but not Gravity Rush. Yet. Mostly because I’m on a budget (though that is kind of a silly excuse given how much I’ve nickle and dimed my way past it mostly via the Steam Summer Sale).

          I can certainly understand the unwillingness to drop $250 on the system ($350+ if you’re also insane and want to make a 3G contract to go with it) on top of another $40 at least for a ridiculously overpriced memory card and then you still need to get some actual honest to god games.

          And no discount if you’re buying PSP games you own on UMD already.

          And honestly, I only own one for the upcoming Persona 4 Golden release, which is, to me, the type of game you decide you’ll get on release day even if you have to start selling your own organs to afford it. Or someone else’s.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         I think a corollary of that is that, since most people don’t see anything good coming out for Vita (rightly or wrongly), most people haven’t shelled out for one, and consequently have no way to play the game.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Despite my enthusiasm for this one game, enthusiasm significant enough to erase the my slight buyer’s remorse at purchasing the system, I think most people have a point.
             Sony, to no one’s surprise, is doing a wonderfully shitty job motivating people to buy the system.  The two games that really piqued my interest, FF X HD and Bioshock haven’t even begun development yet.  And given the state of the Vita, that’s borderline just announcing them as vaporware.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus When I see Sony acting like this, I can’t help but feel that they have these wonderful, brilliant engineers who know games, know how to make them, know what gamers want, and they are consistently drowned out by executives who read an article in the bathroom on the way to the meeting and know it needs this newfangled, unproven feature.

    • blue vodka lemonade

      I would play it, if I had a Vita. I would have a Vita, if I had dollars.

      I have no dollars. Well, I HAD a few dollars, but then the Steam sale happened, and, well…

    • HighlyFunctioningTimTebow

      I myself am fighting to walk without the crutch of the Bad Japanese Games stigma. It’s a lazy bad habit that allows for easy dismissal of Japanese idiosyncracies without actual merit.
      Uninspired, generic, and poorly designed games can be found in any regional market. It Is Possible For Japanese Devs To Create Good PC Games. They Exist. There. I said it.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Truly.  Given the bounty of mediocre games for our consumption, it hardly seems fair to single out the Japanese.

      • George_Liquor

         I’m a stranger to most Japanese games released after, say, 1994, but I’ve been playing the shit out of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift for weeks now. That game is an insane neon-colored anime amphetamine, and it gives me plenty of hope for the future of the Japanese gaming industry.

    • Raging Bear

      I’ve played it through, and I adore it. The plummeting-as-flying mechanic is just plain thrilling; this is particularly important given that, like basically every open world game not called Assassin’s Creed, there’s not really a level of activity commensurate with the amount of space, and movement needs to be an enjoyable end in itself.

      I also love the general air of freakish and sometimes actually disturbing mystery about everything. It’s rather nice to think you’ll end up tolerating some cartoony fluff that just accompanies the mechanics you came for, and what you get instead is, at times, a David Lynch/Silent Hill-style nightmare (no coincidence as far as Silent Hill, I know, but still a surprise at the time).

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

        “like basically every open world game not called Assassin’s Creed,
        there’s not really a level of activity commensurate with the amount of
        space, and movement needs to be an enjoyable end in itself.”

        Also Prototype. It has a lot of issues, but holy crap, it was fun to run up and down buildings.

    • eggbuerto

      I’m playing it now and I love it. Flying around hits that sweet spot of empowerment-with-limits that I loved in Arkham City and inFamous 1/2.

      • Raging Bear

        Oh man, inFamous clicks for me in a hell of a big way, largely for the same reason. I recently got my copy of 2 back after a long loan, and even with all the Steam goings-on, that’s what I spent pretty much the entire weekend playing.

        • X_the_Anonymous_Man_or_Woman

           inFamous 2 sucked me in so bad when I just randomly booted it up after getting it for free on PSN that I after I played through as a good guy I started a new game to be bad.

          Playing as a bad guy doing the bad guy scenes was pretty awful for writing since he adopts a completely different attitude compared to the rest of the game.

          Just Cause 2 also sucked me in like that, the story and writing is atrocious but going around an island country using a parachute and grappling hook to parasail around so so fun.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    For the record, Perfect Dark actually passes the Bechdel test in the very first mission, when Joanna breaks into Cassandra’s office to interrupt a conversation she’s having with one of her female friends.

  • SisterMaryFrancis

    Oddly enough, Halo 2 and 3 also pass the test, as well as Half-Life 2 and (I think, I can’t remember all of the dialouge) Gears of War 3.

    • Mookalakai

       The Berserkers in Gears 1 are female locusts, so I think it might pass, assuming she and Anya stopped to talk about shoes before you kill it with a space laser.

  • rvb1023

    Since we are including games where you get to pick the gender of the PC, then Knights of the Old Republic II is another fantastic example.  The games two most important characters are female, the entire game is based around their relationship, and it is without a doubt one of the most thought-provoking entries in the Star Wars universe period.  Also helps the Kreia is one of the best written video game characters of all time.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Is that game worth playing through? After going through the first, I’d considered playing through the second, but heard that it was horribly plagued by rushed development issues.

      • underscorex

        There are, I understand, a passel of aftermarket mods that repair a lot of the wonky dev problems.

      • rvb1023

        I’ll admit I am the kind of person who can overlook a bevy of bugs and glitches if the core experience is fantastic (One of my favorite game series is STALKER), but given the the many fan patches content restoration mods have fixed up problems for even most naysayers.  Definitely worth the play through, I would say it’s the better of the two.

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

        Honestly, the game is unpolished, rough, and clearly rushed through the development. As @underscorex:disqus points out, to get the full experience, you need a fan-made patch to really enjoy it. (Which, obviously, means the PC version, which is sadlly not available on Steam) And even then, expect some bugs and some other issues.

        However, if you do manage to get a copy up and running, and get the Restoration Project’s mod, (Google returns it pretty quickly) I think it’s the best Star Wars game ever. It often takes apart Star Wars’ insistent black and white morality, plays with the notion of one lone figure solving everyone’s problems being ridiculous, and yes, Kreia is one of the best written characters in the history of video games.

  • MarcoPoloMint

    Don’t know about Halo games, but in Half Life who does Alyx speak to that passes the test?

    Also, anyone remember No One Lives Forever games, where you are Cat Archer, female superspy? She may not pass the test but there was definitely some fun to be had with style and dialogue.

    • George_Liquor

      Alyx has a few choice words for Dr. Mossman after she sells out her dad.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Wouldn’t that make the conversation about a man then? It’s been a while since I played through, I’m sure there are probably other instances of them talking to each other too.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Judith Mossman, I’d imagine. She’s the only other lady character I can think of. 

      • HobbesMkii

         I’m pretty sure Female Resistance Member #2 shouts “Striders!”

    • SisterMaryFrancis

      In Halos 2 and 3, Cortana and Miranda Keys are usually the ones setting up the plans together, or updating each other on mission statuses.

      • Mookalakai

         Not to mention all the titillating conversations between Covenant of indeterminate gender, some of whom surely are female.

    • lokimotive

      I don’t think No One Lives Forever passes the test, mostly because I can’t recall another female in it. The second one may pass the test, however. There’s a female antagonist in that game who may or may not engage in some non phallocentric dialogue with Archer.

      Those are great games and it would be nice if Monolith didn’t continue to suck and went back to releasing something interesting.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I think the original NOLF does pass the test when Cate meets the Baroness, who is actually the villain behind the entire thing.

      • HilariousNPC

        In the Ninja village, there’s a long conversation where two of the ninja sisters are talking to each other about how one of them talked back to their mom and their mom got pissed off at her and started flying around the room. (This may be N.O.L.F. 2, though.)

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          That’s definitely the sequel. I don’t think there are any ninjas in the first one.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

      In No One Lives Forever, Cate Archer has a number of dialogues with [Spoilers!] the villain Baroness Felicity Dumas, mostly in the form of the “We’re not so different” type speeches.

  • George_Liquor

    I’d say both Longest Journey and Dreamfall qualify. Both games have a female protagonist who interacts with other female characters about subjects a bit more heady than romance.

    • lokimotive

      Yes Longest Journey almost definitely qualifies (though I can’t remember specific examples off the top of my head). There’s even some rather progressive homosexual characters in that game.

    • dreadguacamole

       I was wondering how long it’d take for these games to pop up in the comments- good job bringing them  up.

       Dreamfall’s got a coversation between two girls near the end that is possibly the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen in a videogame. I’m not a huge fan of the gameplay, but the emotional maturity it displays is staggering. They’ve also probably got some of the most well-rounded characters -not just female characters- in gaming as well.

  • TaumpyTearrs

    Actually, in between talking about Batman alot of the inmates make lurid comments about Catwoman and wanting to do stuff to her if they catch her. And since i was playing the game minus the Catwoman DLC, in the first 5 seconds she shows up the game she is called a bitch by Two-Face. Yay!

    Seriously, I know the game is supposed to be “dark” and “mature”, and I can deal with my 12 year old nephew breaking arms and hearing the occasional damn, but I don’t want him constantly hearing rapey chatter about Catwoman and Harley Quinn. If I can silence my rapey chatter around him so can the game.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

      As much as I hate the rapey chatter, too, the idea is that the prisoners are supposed to be terrible, terrible characters. You’re supposed to hate them, and that adds to the flair being in a prison of killers, rapists, arsonists, and so on. It’s very problematic, but I think in the context of the game it works. Sort of.

      • ToddG

        I remember reading someone say they would have a lot less of a problem with the rapey chatter if it was also occasionally directed at Batman.  Which I found really interesting.

        • Mookalakai

           Seriously, Batman’s a good looking dude. I’m sure some of the inmate wouldn’t mind taking him for a whirl.

      • stakkalee

        That’s really a cop-out, though.  These aren’t actual convicts, they’re computer-generated opponents with voices provided by voice actors reading words somebody else wrote.  Sure, they’re using the rapey comments as character shorthand, but it’s uninspired, poorly written, stereotypical shorthand.  Directing the rapey comments at Batman, too, wouldn’t really fix the problem, but they could have just used the Batman-directed shit-talk for Catwoman as well.  Why do they need to threaten to rape a woman?  Can’t they just threaten to break her bones?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I think the rapey chatter would be a lot easier to stomach if there weren’t so much of it. I can deal with a few inmates spouting that kind of talk, but I have a hard time believing that all of them are sexual deviants.

      • underscorex

        @BreakingRad:disqus : that would certainly help, especially if it was all Iron Sheik-style FUCK YOUR ASS MAKE YOU HAAAAMBLE rambling.

        But no, it’s just plain gross as-is.  Ew.

      • dreadguacamole

         I think the standard line of defense is something like: “it’s realistic that they would talk about raping her all the time – they’re criminals, and she’s running around in a catsuit.” It doesn’t hold any water at all – I mean, it’s not as if realism is pursued anywhere else in the game; in fact, it’s thrown out the window as soon as it interferes with enjoyment of the game.
         It’s a very serious, touchy (heh heh, touchy) subject that’s treated extremely shallowly in a game that makes itself very clear that it’s only shooting for dumb entertainment (emphasis on dumb!)

         If you fight a mob of guys while playing as catwoman and lose, the game makes it very easy to think you’ll get gang-raped. It’s pretty easy to see why a lot of people would find that pretty horrible. I like@BreakingRad:disqus’s suggestion a lot, though – just think about what all those thugs will do to Batman or Robin the next time they beat them up…

  • TaumpyTearrs

    It’s tangential to the article, but I just had to take the opportunity to mention how awesome Mickie James is. I haven’t really watched wrestling alot since i was a kid, and I usually just stop on lady wrestling to see if they are hot, but Mickie is an amazing and entertaining athletic performer. I never understood why WWE shit on her and ran out her contract, she has more enthusiasm and energy than most wrestlers male or female. Atleast  now she’s with TNA, which lets the women actually wrestle and have full length matches, instead of bikini contests and 60 second fights.

    I’m going to write an action flick for Mickie James and Gina Carano. Filiming will start in my basement soon. Also, watched the Trish Stratus “action” vehicle Bounty Hunters out of morbid curiousity and it was painfully dull. Somebody give the Mick-ster a movie, she’s more attractive and bad-ass!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       ”Atleast  now she’s with TNA, which lets the women actually wrestle and
      have full length matches, instead of bikini contests and 60 second
      fights.”

      I like how the acronym seems to explicitly promise something lurid like “bikini contests,” but (apparently) ends up providing genuine quality wrestling. Seems like a good bait-and-switch to trick nobrow wrestling fans into watching women be awesome.

      • http://twitter.com/ElSanto45 El Santo

        The promotion is now called Impact Wrestling now. It was called Total Nonstop Action Wrestling originally, though, because it did used to be about bikini fights. The success of the Gail Kim/Awesome Kong rivalry, though, did a lot to change minds about women’s wrestling.

  • jmarquiso

    Arkham City got flak (notably from Film Crit Hulk) for using “bitch” too much in the enemy barks.  Largely because it was one of the few words they could say in a Teen rating (yet I believe they could have been far more creative – comics and television has done it for years).  That being said, there’s nothing in the Bechdel Test that covers that.

    Edit: not to mention a lot of male gaze.

    • HobbesMkii

       Yeah, Catwoman appears to gravity-defying breasts in that image at the top.

    • PPPfive

       In general that word is hopelessly overused in video games. I recently played New Vegas and every time a man was pitted against a woman he would call her a bitch, to the point that it got silly and easy to predict. NV has an 18 rating too, so there’s no excuse there. I’m not convinced it is the result of active misogynism, I think it’s more about a lack of creativity and maturity.  Also, because gender issues seem to go hand in hand with sexuality for some reason, I couldn’t help but notice the concious effort to include lots of gays in NV. Of your four potential human companions, two were lesbians and one was a gay chap. Actually, that game passes this test easily.

      • stakkalee

        That’s the thing about this toxic-sexism shit – it isn’t done with active misogynistic intent.  Most of the people making these games are (probably) decent people who’d be genuinely aghast at any active, blatant sexism, and many of them would probably (hopefully) speak up if they saw it.  But when our culture says it’s okay to call a woman a bitch, because you don’t mean all women, just that bitch there, or when our pizza delivery comes in a box that says “No Is The New Yes” we can’t help but internalize those toxic messages.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          And that’s why it’s such a tough problem to solve. If we single out individual games for their transgressions, then we risk curbing artists’ freedom of expression. If we talk about culture as a whole, then we lose the power of specificity.

          I think the solution is to get as wide a variety of voices as possible in the business of making video games, and hopefully, that diversity will translate to the products they make.

        • PPPfive

           I couldn’t agree more about the lazy and destructive use of ‘bitch’, but aren’t ‘no’ and ‘yes’ used for things other than sexual consent?

        • stakkalee

          @PPPfive:disqus  Of course, but that pizza box isn’t some discrete piece of culture; it’s part of the same culture that gave us those charming lads from Yale DKE.  The ‘No means yes’ phrase, and the accompanying stereotypes about women that it reinforces (women don’t like sex, women don’t say what they mean, sex is something men ’receive’ from women) have been around for a long time, and is part of the same culture in which we’re all swimming.  We all internalize it to some degree.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         I’m pretty sure that Fallout 3 and Skyrim also pass the test, and you don’t even have to make  the player a lady.

        Not-at-all-coincidentally, Skyrim is one of the few games that I own that my sister really likes to play.

        • jmarquiso

          Mount and Blade gives the option of playing a woman in a medieval setting, WITH THE WARNING that a woman is a second class citizen in this world, and characters will treat you as such.  It makes victory as a woman all the more satisfying.

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

        I agree, but who were the two lesbians in New Vegas? Veronica was, but even looking up her info on Cass, the only other human female companion, the closest I can find is that she makes one comment about occasionally getting too drunk to notice or care who she ends up in bed with.

        Come to think of it, all the companions in NV were pretty great and likable.

        • PPPfive

           I seem to remember when you meet Cass you can come on to her and she shoots you down, citing her preference for the fairer sex. Having just looked it up however I can see you are right. Huh. I take it back.

        • PPPfive

           No wait, what about Fisto

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @PPPfive:disqus: Is Fisto the sex robot? (In my playthrough, I definitely had sex with the sex robot.)

        • jmarquiso

          Veronica’s girlfriend was a character in one of the DLC’s.  

      • jmarquiso

        It’s worse.  It’s laziness.  If the lazy go to word is misogynistic, that’s a problem.  Again, the Batman comics and animated series got away with insulting heroes and heroines, anti-heroes and anti-heroines for years without resorting to repetitive insults.  1) it’s a problem in video games that barks are repeated so often, 2) it’s a problem of the ratings system that there are few acceptable swear words in this situation, and 3) it requires some creativity and awareness on the writers’ part to handle this.

        I have the same problem in Splinter Cell games when they constantly call out “Fisher!”.  

        • PPPfive

           I would cite l4d1&2 as an example of good barks

      • Captain_Booyah

        “Also, because gender issues seem to go hand in hand with sexuality for
        some reason, I couldn’t help but notice the conscious effort to include
        lots of gays in NV.”

        I noticed that too. Conscious or not, though, I give the developers a pass on that because at least your companions actually have well-rounded personalities, as opposed to sloppily-writing their main defining characteristic as being “I’m flaming!” The references to their sexuality are pretty blink-and-you’ll-miss-it.

        Also, do people call you a bitch a lot in NV? I play as a female Courier and I’ve never noticed. Or is it just between NPCs? I’ll look out for it either way.

        • PPPfive

           Absolutely! Arcade in particular is great. The only companion I didn’t care for was Boone.

           I guess whether or not there’s lots of use of ‘bitch’ depends on what course you take and what dialogue options you choose. I didn’t play as a female, and it was bitches up the wazoo. But this is as a pot-sodden memory serves, I was already wrong about Cass being a lesbian so maybe I got this wrong too. In fact I think I was playing Tetris.

  • azudarko

    Both Persona 3 and Persona 4 pass this pretty well. Persona 4 just barely, if memory serves. 

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

       The Shin Megami Tensei doesn’t always do well on the virtue of there being very few scenes that aren’t the male protagonist talking to a single character. Nocturne in particular probably fails because there are all of 5 or so actual plot-centric humans and other than a few scenes in the opening, they’re never seen together. The game is somewhat dialogue-light.

      The Persona sub-series usually does a lot better by just having a much larger cast, most of whom are present in most scenes.

    • HilariousNPC

      I think that the “P4 just barely” bit all depends on how you’re interpreting part 2. Is she talking to another woman if she’s also talking to another man in the same conversation?

      There are at least a few female NPCs in the school that are talking to each other, so, I’m of the opinion that P4 easily clears the bar, not “just barely”.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CNVAGCBMVBMIKRHMV2EB7WQ64E mcbengt

    Ignoring the fact that it is possible to use magical artifacts (or traps) to change between man and woman in Nethack, I thought it might pass the test if you play as a Valkyrie.

    (Ignoring the technicalities above) Valkyries are only female, the Valkyie quest leader (a Norn) is also female, and of the two pieces of dialogue you are obligated to have with the quest leader if you want to finish the game (one on accepting the quest, and one on returning), the second is about the quest artifact and its powers, not a man.  (The first and longer dialogue unfortunately _is_ all about a man— the one you have to kill to get the quest artifact.)

    Is there a better way of establishing Nethack as a passer of the Bechdel test?

    • The Guilty Party

      … Nethack has conversations?

  • caspiancomic

    When I saw Final Fantasy XIII representing the series I kind of scratched my head, but the more I think about it the more I think that most of the entries in the series might not actually pass. I don’t remember Terra and Celes having any meaningful conversations in VI, although you can kind of cheat it by having one of the two of them as your party leader, and then talking to the other one. In VII Aeri(s/th) and Tifa talk about Cloud or Sephiroth most of the time, although I think Aeris also talks to her mom. Plus, Tifa and Elena have a big catty slap fight, so that’s… what it is. In IX, Dagger and Eiko talk a lot about Zidane, and a little bit about the Summoner culture, so it might squeak by. Oh, and Dagger talks to her mother as well, in like one scene. Does Freya ever talk to Beatrix? They have a lot of shared screen time but I don’t know if they actually talk to each other.

    Basically every Final Fantasy game, at least the ones that I’ve played, seem to limp through on a technicality. I was expecting them all to go flying across the finish line because by and large there are usually a lot of well written female characters throughout.

    The more I thought about it, the more I started to realize a lot of JRPGs that ought to pass don’t. These things have enormous casts, how could they fail? A lot of them seem to have lots of female characters, who are otherwise reasonably written and capably executed, who merely exist parallel to each other rather than really interacting with one another. I suppose in a lot of ways it’s more evidence that a failure of the Bechdel Test isn’t automatic disqualification from the world of solid female representation. But on the other hand, it’s disappointing to see so many games fail that, with a little bit of extra effort, could have passed with flying colours.

    (Also, it’s nice to see S:S&S EP on the list. Scythian represent! It might be worth noting as an afterthought that in the final episode of the game, Girl leads the Scythian through the final labyrinth and aids in the fight against the Gogolithic Mass.)

    (Also, FEAR EFFECT, argh, I was trying to remember the name of that game when we were making an impromptu inventory of games with lesbian characters who weren’t intended for male titillation. I felt it deserved special mention for failing to qualify to a particularly spectacular degree)

    • http://twitter.com/Vyolynce Chris Ingersoll

      I want to say that FF4 has some sort of conversation between Rosa and Rydia, but I can’t recall specifics. I do know that the After Years has plenty of conversation between Rydia and grown-up Luca (dwarf princess), as they’re basically the only characters in Rydia’s chapter.

      Pretty sure the Chrono Trigger would pass as well, between it’s three female characters and various NPCs.

    • X_the_Anonymous_Man_or_Woman

       In FF6 Celes and Terra talk about having magic when they’re walking to the Esper in Narshe.

      Part of me wants to toss Relm and Terra in there as well when they’re going around whatever that town Relm lives in is, but I can’t actually think of anything specific.

    • PaganPoet

      I seem to always be trying to plug the Persona games into every conversation here.

      But yeah, they tend to have very realistic relationships portrayed between female characters (we won’t talk about how silly the romances come off). I’m thinking especially of the bully-victim turned genuine friendship between Fuuka and Natsuki in Persona 3. That was a very sweet story, actually.

      • HilariousNPC

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure EVERY Persona game meets these requirements in spades. It seems kind of odd that Steal Princess got highlighted…

        It’s actually tougher for me to think of Atlus-published games that don’t meet this requirement than it is for me to think of ones that don’t.

        • Citric

          Catherine would fail it, but Catherine is basically about men with strange issues with women. Atlus is generally good at creating complete characters, which helps when you’re dealing with a test like this.

        • jmarquiso

          @Citric – Catherine is interesting.  I don’t thinkit would pass a Bechdel test for men :)  

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      You’re definitely remembering wrong.  Maria, Leila, and Hilda all have strategy sessions in II.  Sarisa and Lenna have sisterly conversations in V.  Terra’s an adopted mother in VI.  Sarah, Freija, and Eiko all talk about their lost civilizations in IX, Ashelia and Fran do almost nothing but non-romantic conversations in XII, and so on.

      Role-playing games east and west actually rack up quite a total.  I mean, Tales games, the definition of fun cookie-cutter, nearly all pass without squeaking by.

      • Talkie_Toaster

        FFX passes pretty easily as well.  Yuna and Lulu talk about Yuna’s summoning, and I’m fairly certain that Yuna and Rikku talk about being cousins.   Plus there are a bunch of female NPC summoners.  FFX-2 also passes, but that’s kind of the point of that game.

        Glad that GhaleonQ could remember XII.  I remember liking Ashe and Fran, but I couldn’t ever remember them conversing.

        The Xenosaga series is another good JRPG example.  They’re pretty much all about Shion and KOS-MOS’s interactions.

  • blue vodka lemonade

    While playing Mass Effect I thought a lot about the Bechdel test, specifically because it occurred to me that while it passed with flying colors  for me, it would just scrape by for someone playing ManShep.

    For games I usually alter the test so that it needs one female/female interaction for every couple hours of cinematics/dialogue present. It’s still a little depressing how hard it is to find games that pass.

    • jmarquiso

      There’s a particularly awkward point in which the two female interests ask you to choose between them just when you’re ABOUT TO SAVE THE WORLD.  I believe that’s if you flirt with both.  You can even propose a threesome (my wife made me, really), which of course offends one and not the other.  It was a ridiculous scenario to have them interrupt a board meeting where you are discussing the end of the universe to have the melodrama/soap opera pop up at that time. 

      Dr. Chakwas is a fairly positive female character that passes Bechdel with flying colors, as well as Tali in ME1 – whom my ManShep pined for but couldn’t get close to until ME2.  I replayed as FemShep immediately and didn’t ge tthese issues.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Tali is one of my favourite female characters from any video game, and she has one of the most interesting character arcs. I might feel that way because I played as FemShep, though. If I’d gone with BroShep, things might have played out a bit differently.

        SPOILERS: Plus the fact that she ended up with Garrus was pretty awesome.

        • blue vodka lemonade

           I like to imagine my FemShep and Tali are total BFFLs, and trade engineering secrets and guy advice.

          I did, however, feel an irrational pang of jealousy when I read that Tali/Garrus happens if neither get romanced. That was when I knew I was spending way, way too much time playing ME2.

        • Fluka

          The Mass Effect trilogy are fantastically feminist games…if you play as FemShep.  Mostly because of FemShep, well, because she’s FemShep.  But the other female characters get to have their own arcs, mostly without being potential bang material.  Playing as DudeShep makes the whole thing a little more generic.  The worst offender here is the ME2 Jack romance, where it turns out she’s a Scared Little Girl, and you can solve her problems with your magic penis.  And while Tali is awesome, I never liked the idea Shepard trying to get into her pants (stillsuit, whatever).  It smacks of a professor trying to sleep with his adoring grad student.  Now…FemShep + Garrus?  That’s good stuff.  (Oh god I have no life.)

        • Electric Dragon

           @Fluka:disqus – he had the reach, she had the flexibility.

        • PaganPoet

          I kept my ManShep a virgin until ME3 because he’s gay, damn it!

          Was disappointed he turned out to be the bottom. C’mon, Kaidan is totally the submissive type!

        • Fluka

          @PaganPoet:disqus To blatantly steal from Penny Arcade, maybe sometimes he prefers to give up the captain’s seat…

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @PaganPoet:disqus: ManShep, a virgin? You don’t think he experimented with a couple of his dudebro friends during N7 training?

        • PaganPoet

          @Merve I can only fantasi–err, guess that is the case.

        • PaganPoet

          How come my @Merve doesn’t turn into a convenient little clicky? :(

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @PaganPoet:disqus: Because Disqus is being nuts today, as evidenced by my sextuple post upthread. It’s also popping up “System Error” whenever I try to reply to some posts.

        • jmarquiso

          @Fluka:disqus my ManShep romanced Tali in ME2 because she was an old friend and their romance just worked.  I actually felt Liara felt too much like a virginal young grad student romance than Tali.  Tali had no interest in romancing you in ME1, and in ME2 it only comes up as a possibility because of a longstanding relationship already established.  One that Ash (my ManShep’s Ex) had no interest in continuing.  Dying and working for a shadowy terrorist organization will do that to ya.

      • blue vodka lemonade

         IIRC you can get the same scenario with FemShep if you respond positively to both romantic options. Which, when I try to imagine it, is pretty funny.

    • The Guilty Party

      The elevator conversations count for it too. Or the random chats that your party can have amongst themselves while you walk around in ME2 or ME3. Bring two female teammates along even as ManShep, and they’ll generally talk to each other about things other than men.

      • jmarquiso

        Very good point.  I really liked this as well.  Elevator conversations were undervalued.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/gorfious,4040/ Gorfious

    The word(s) you’re looking for in regards to Bayonetta’s tone is tongue-in-cheek.  It bares some resemblance to satire, but ultimately has different goals.  If you look at it through the lens of satire, you’re just going to be confused, as it will look to be satirical and non-satirical in equal portions. 

    • HobbesMkii

      The usage of tongue-in-cheek you’re citing still implies irony (satire’s crutch), and I think what the objections to Bayonetta (and Lollipop Chainsaw) that John had on the Digest indicated were that there was a breakdown in the presentation that made it hard to tell if there was any irony to it at all.

      • PPPfive

         They are more ‘pastiche’ than ‘parody’.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/gorfious,4040/ Gorfious

        But if he’s questioning whether it’s actually there or not, that still implies that he sees the evidence of the game’s ironic viewpoint.  He just then discounts the evidence because he expects the ironic viewpoint to be used to make a satirical point about the objectification of women, whereas, because it’s tongue-in-cheek, all it does is ask “isn’t this silly?”. 

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           I think the question is less about which label we are applying and more about whether something that is simply “tongue in cheek,” whether or not we judge it as satire, is making a worthwhile comment on the stuff it’s appropriating, or just using seeking absolution through irony so that it can have its torrid cake and eat it too. (Another question might be whether that latter case is objectionable, or if it’s a perfectly valid artistic stance to take.)

          • http://www.avclub.com/users/gorfious,4040/ Gorfious

            I agree completely that those are the correct questions to ask. I just didn’t see those questions being asked with the labels other people were using, so I decided to bring my own in.

  • http://twitter.com/VancianNotions vanciannotions

    If a man is allowed to be present in the scene, I would suggest to you that a much large percentage of games pass this test. Nearly every bioware game, for instance, has the controllable NPCs (IE liara) talk as you wander around; it is rarely about the protag; if they are both female, it seems to pass. They also often have side conversations with non-controllable NPCs.

    This is, in fact, true of a great many voiced games. Even something like Deus Ex (the most recent one) probably has some random women talking about essentially nothing at some point (IE about whatever the last thing that happened in the game was, often – so something done by a man but often they won’t know that. And I’m pretty sure there would be others unrelated to you). It’s probably not a ‘conversation’ but I’m sure they talk.

    Yes, in a lot of these games I, the player, can choose to have them fail the Bechdel test on a given playthrough by not having the right people in my party or similar…but that’s not a fault of the game, or the game writers.

    • Logoboros

      The natural follow-up to your point, then, would be to ask how many games you think you could force to fail a reverse Bechdel test through player choices. That is, you could avoid witnessing any significant interaction between two male characters. I’m going to hazard a guess that that’s going to be a far, far smaller number of games than the ones where you could “choose” to fail the regular Bechdel test. And that kind of asymmetry *does* utlimately come from the decisions of the creators of games.

  • PPPfive

    this comment posted in the wrong place and now i can’t delete it because disqus is so excellent

    • Mike_From_Chicago

      This is not a reply.

      • ToddG

        YES IT IS.

  • underscorex

    The recent indie game Avadon: The Black Fortress does this fairly well.  You can pick two of the game’s four NPCs to accompany you at any given time, and two are females (the PC can also be female).  The NPCs are set up to be different character classes from different areas of the game-world, so they will have conversations with one another about politics, their homelands, or the relative merits of their chosen character class.  It’s very nicely done.

    (also, there was a fair bit of this sort of thing in the Baldur’s Gate series, wasn’t there?  Imoen and Jaheira would just randomly start talking about whatever…)

    • The Guilty Party

      Yeah, BG2 would pass. I remember specifically Jaheria and Aerie talking about Aerie letting herself get too injured in combat or something along those lines.

  • bradwestness

    Does Metroid count? Samus does “have a talk” with Mother Brain, after all.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      If Dr. Seuss’s “The Butter Battle Book” has taught me anything, it’s that exchanging missiles doesn’t quite count as having a conversation.

      • Enkidum

        Well if you’re going to be so fussy about what counts as a conversation, then I guess I’ve never talked to anyone!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Put. The. Missile. Launcher. Down.

  • grizzledyoungman

    Seeing the Bechdel test referred to here surprises and disappoints me.  I think it’s really commendable that Gameological is so dedicated to challenging sexism and sexist writing in video games.  As I grow older, the often skewed and juvenile portrayal of women and gender in video games irritates me more and more, not just because it makes for lame and unoriginal writing but also because it runs contrary to my values.

    To make a long remark short, I think that improving the treatment of women, sex and gender in video games is critical to the continued legitimacy of video games as a medium for artistic expression.  I applaud Gameological for being part of that.

    However, in my opinion, embracing internet pop culture feminism like the Bechdel test is the completely wrong way to pursue such goals.  The Bechdel test does very little to explore legitimate concerns about how well a story treats women, sex and gender.  After all, I’d say it’s natural, inoffensive and realistic to portray men and women as fixated with women and men (or whatever gender, as it relates to romance/sex) since that’s mostly what we spend our lives talking and worrying about.

    Rather, I think the Bechdel test indulges in an immature, rather obnoxious game of girls vs boys, with the assumption being that anything good for girls can’t include too much boys.  It’s trite, shallow pop culture feminism at its worst, mining the anxieties and complaints of women for page views.  And it’s completely below the Gameological Society.

    • Tnesbitt2

      I see your point about the Bechdel test being a pretty blunt tool for analysis, but think there’s more to it than “anything good for girls can’t include too much boys” – viewing things through a Bechdel lens just shows how often women’s identities in pop culture are built around how they’re defined in relation to men, while the reverse isn’t true for male characterizations. 

      • grizzledyoungman

        I respect your opinion, but I disagree about the utility of the Bechdel test.  It’s often said that the Bechdel test somehow helps us recognize the inherent unfairness in modern gender portrayal, but I believe the logic behind that remark is flawed, both in its analysis of male-centric entertainment as well as its strange, rather anti-sexual, understanding of human endeavor.

        To my first point, you’d be hard pressed to find a man movie that doesn’t in some way revolve around a woman.  The Expendables, for example, is a pretty macho movie.  At some point, there is a scene in which a bunch of guys throw knives and give each other tattoos inside a motorcycle garage.  That actually happens.

        And yet, the plot still revolves around saving a woman.  Why?  Not because men are slaves to the womynocracy and have no independent thoughts and feelings, but because men care about women.  A lot.  It’s basically all we think about.  For me and most of the men I’ve known, it’s really all that matters.  (Unless you’re a man who thinks about men, which is cool but still basically the same idea.)  So the idea of taking down a dictator for some nice girl makes sense, deep down.

        Which leads me to my second point.  Suggesting that women would benefit from movies that exclude men as narrative elements is bizarre and counterproductive. A movie that truly focused on women to the point where men are absent from the narrative would be, in most situations, strange and unrealistic.

        Not because women need men, but because women want men.  That’s life.  Women spend most of their time thinking about men, the same way men spend most of their time thinking about women.

        Much as Bechdel and others of her ilk resist the idea, the fact is that women and men give each others’ lives meaning. Personally, I take solace in that.

        • grizzledyoungman

           Also, wow, I gotta cut back on the caffeine.

        • Fluka

          “Women spend most of their time thinking about men, the same way men spend most of their time thinking about women.”

          Eeeeh.  I spend most of my time thinking about why the hell my code is breaking, or the fact that I’m procrastinating too much on websites like these, or what is for lunch.  My husband is similar.  We think about each other, and give each other’s lives meaning, but we have lives and hopes and fears an dreams separate from each other and from love and sex.  My female friends and I gossip about boys or talk about the guys we work with, but we also talk about games, TV, books, the eternal “why the hell is my code breaking,” etc.  This is the point of the Bechdel test as a very simple filter.  Men get to have independent lives like these in most movies.  Even though they may be crazy unrealistic macho men, they still get to talk together about the fact that they are about to blow up a building or jump the upcoming ravine in a fancy bike, etc.  In a very very large number of films, women don’t get that kind of treatment.  This can be because there’s only a single female character, or because they only exist in relationship to a main male character.  But it’s telling that so many films fail to reach these basic criteria of independence.  

        • grizzledyoungman

           @Fluka:disqus There’s a lot of room of nuance in these sorts of discussions, which is my way of saying that we actually agree for the most part.

          I would absolutely agree with you that there are many fewer movies/games which feature a female protagonist with platonic/non-romantic objectives, and that this is a disservice to the audience.  I remember enjoying Temple Grandin enormously, for exactly that reason.  (And, to be honest, I really wanted to bone Claire Danes dressed like a boy, which is maybe a little confusing but whatever.)

          Such stories – about men and women alike – will always be in the minority because people tend to think a lot about sex and romance and whatnot.  Many have argued – and I would agree – that most platonic endeavor ultimately has sexual aims.  Mating and reproduction are pretty central to our being, and the necessity of narrative compression in most entertainment forms means that these things will be front and center.

          Which in turn is the problem with the Bechdel test.  It is a subtle notion: that sex often animates our actions, yet doesn’t have to define us, and that when it does we should not be ashamed of that fact.  I don’t believe that the Bechdel test really serves to make such a fine point.  If anything, it does a real disservice to gender relations by casting such a delicate idea in the broad terms of ‘NOT ENOUGH WOMAN STUFF THEREFORE SEXIST.’

        • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

          I think your Expendables example kind of proves the point. In 53% of movies there is no female equivalent to that scene. It wouldn’t even matter what they were doing. They could be throwing knives, discussing their high powered jobs, talking about babies and laundry or post-it notes – it doesn’t matter because it’s just not there, in over half of movies. Isn’t that crazy?

        • Arthur Chu

          I think if you actually honestly tried to apply both the Bechdel test and the Reverse Bechdel test to movies instead of just making sweeping statements about them you’d come to a different conclusion.

          There’s a big difference between saving a woman being the driving force behind the plot and there being only two male characters who, when they have *any conversations at all*, only specifically talk about the woman in the story.

          If there were an all-female-character action movie — or fantasy journey movie or puzzle-solving mystery movie or whatever kind of movie — where the reason for the plot was saving one of the character’s boyfriends, but most of the movie was actually about the women *doing things* and the “save the boyfriend” thing only popped up as an initial motivation and a final reward at the ending…

          Well, that’d be pretty cool. It’s also something that basically never happens.

          No one is protesting the fact that most people being heterosexual, romantic relationships between men and women drive a lot of plots. What they’re protesting is the fact that in such movies the men are the ones taking the active role going out and actually *doing stuff* and the women exist to motivate the men to do them.

        • Arthur Chu

          Also, I hope you’re exaggerating about the thinking about women all the time.

          I’m a very heterosexual guy, I love women, I love my wife, but I do not spend all my time thinking about women nor is every single think I do motivated by women.

          That would be kind of fucked up. A man like that would never get any good at, say, Tetris (unless he knew an actual chick who was super hot for Tetris), or take time while driving on the highway to appreciate the pretty sunset, or ask for extra pickles on his burger.

          I’ve only known a small handful of guys who think about women all the time for whom women are all that matters and — they’re fucking creeps. Nothing scares women off faster.

        • BigBoote66

          My beef with Bechdel: whether a film passes or fails it says nothing about the quality or, more importantly, even the sexism of it.  Is “The Hunt For Red October” (or many other war films featuring all-male casts) part of the patriarchy trying to silence women’s voices because they fail the test?  I’ve heard Wall-E mentioned as an example of another film that fails – one that, if anything, reveals the failure of the Bechdel test itself.  Replace “woman” with “man” in that test and Wall-E also fails – the only humans who ever talk directly to each other are the two passengers who (presumably) fall in love.

          I think an even better example than the Expendables – Glengarry Glen Ross, the quintessential masculine film (the only woman in the entire thing is a nonspeaking “coat check girl” in the credits).  The dynamics in the film are so completely fraught with how how these guys see themselves as men, it becomes impossible to not see it being centered around women as well.Pryce’s character has an offscreen wife who Pacino mocks as wearing the pants in the family; Lemmon’s character has numerous run-ins with women – the implication being that if he can’t handle even them, he’s not much of a salesmen.And everywhere, the constant drumbeat of how to be a man, you must not be a woman in any way.  These guys don’t define themselves by their accomplishments, but by the fact that they’re not “pussies”.  If you made a mirror-image version of this film, with the appropriate setting, I could see feminists being up in arms about even when men aren’t featured in a film on women, they’re a constant presence.

        • Tynam

          I think you’re missing an important point here.  The problem is not that women are portrayed as wanting men, any more than it’s a problem that men are portrayed as wanting women.

          The problem is that women are portrayed as having *NO OTHER INTERESTS* than wanting men.  Men define their entire universe.

          In movies, men who are motivated by women still always have other skills and interests. The reverse is just not true.

          You bring up Expendables; that’s a perfect case in point.  The plot revolves around saving a woman, sure, but they’re still allowed to throw knives and get tattoos and other stuff that’s NOT about women.  And that’s normal – for *male* characters in movies.  Female characters, on the other hand, far too rarely get to be interested in *anything* else… they literally have no lives except for wanting men.

          THAT’S the inequality the Bechdel test is supposed to expose.

    • stakkalee

      I think you’re getting dangerously close to Essentialist thinking in your post – men and women have many different motivations for their actions, even within a context of sexuality and desire.  To your point below, about male-centric movies revolving around women, to what extent is that focus on the woman as a person/character, and how much focus is on her status as a MacGuffin/plot device?  The Bechdel Test is reductive, and doesn’t have much utility as a fine-grained tool of analysis, but it isn’t saying that these pop-culture diversions, be they movies, or video games, or what-have-you, would be better if you excluded men; instead, the Bechdel Test is asking, “Wouldn’t these things be better if women were included, too?”

      • grizzledyoungman

        I have to say, never once did I understand that the Bechdel test was designed to recommend more inclusions of women in entertainment.  That would certainly be more positive and commendable.  Every time I have seen it described in print, it seems pretty clear that the intention is to prove that there is too much man-juice in the lady-juice.  Which is a negative and petty way of looking at gender equality.

        Your caution about essentialist thinking is well taken.  I should clarify – and tried to make clear – that my intention isn’t to argue that thinking about the opposite (or same, when applicable) sex is essential to human nature, but rather a natural and positive aspect of human nature.  Something we shouldn’t resent.

        To put it another way, I’m suspicious of the fact that the Bechdel test seems to structurally object to the presence of men in women’s entertainment.  Such thinking strikes me as sexist and limited.

        • Mike_From_Chicago

          I agree with you about the limits of the Bechdel test – it’s pithy in the way you’d expect from, you know, a newspaper comic, yet it’s often given the weight of a sociological treatise.  I also tend to agree that I’m in a place in my life that most conversations with my friends circulate around dating and sex, which means that my female friends fail the Bechdel test daily.

          That said, while one goal of entertainment is to reflect reality, that is not the only goal, or even the primary one.  I’ve always assumed that Bechdel’s point was that a woman, for example, is less likely to provide copious exposition to another woman about the plot of an action movie (in contrast to decades of Q-Bond interactions).  It’s not that it never happens, it’s just not the typical situation.  The ways in which women communicate with each other in cinema are often circumscribed in ways that intergender or male-male communication are not.  That puts Bechdel’s point very much in line with Virginia Woolf’s (similarly pith and arch) perspective in “A Room of One’s Own.” 

          Teti’s comment above is well-taken, that part of this article’s point is the limitation of the Bechdel test’s relevance in actually assessing the gender implications of a game.  It certainly doesn’t account for the outrageous boobage on display in the Bechdel-approved interactions betwen Catwoman and Poison Ivy.  But it does draw our attention to the differences in gendered communications in media, which is pretty good for a thirty-seven year old comic strip punchline.

        • Enkidum

          “ I’m suspicious of the fact that the Bechdel test seems to structurally object to the presence of men in women’s entertainment.” 

          Well, there may be some people who use it that way, but I think it can be used a lot more usefully. It’s not that “women’s entertainment” (= “entertainment with female characters”) should be pure of male influence. It’s that female characters should be portrayed as having interests other than men. Because this is unarguably the case for male characters – cf. your example of the Expendables getting tattoos and so forth. Why can’t women talk about, say, whatever puzzle needs to be solved or goal needs to be accomplished? 

          The Bechdel test reveals that, in general, women aren’t talking this way in movies. Thus it’s a pretty good metric for how fucked-up our society is in these regards, I think.

        • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

          As far as I understand it there is room in a Bechel-pass film for anything else, as long as it passes the three criteria, so it’s more about including some female agency which isn’t about men, rather than saying male-female interaction is bad.

        • bradwestness

          @Mike_From_Chicago:disqus Note that even if “most” of your female friends’ conversations revolve around dating and/or sex, as long as even one topic they talk about in a day is not related to men, they pass the test.

          The point of the test is not to say that everything that fails it is worthless or that everything that passes it is great. 

          It’s just a way to illuminate how few female characters there are in popular culture outside of “damsel in distress” figures.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           It’s important that the Bechdel test doesn’t require that EVERY interaction in a film meets the criteria, but that a film (or other story) contains an interaction meeting that criteria. It’s an intentionally low bar, and absolutely has no stipulation that the rest of the movie can’t feature men or revolve largely around them.

          Even if your statement that men mostly think about women and women mostly think about men is true (I would contest that as a generalization, and possibly a projection of your own thought processes on humankind at large), you could have a movie where a woman mostly thinks about a male romantic interest but has a meaningful conversation with her sister about her career at one point, and it would pass the test.

          Movies are more likely to have male protagonists, more likely to round out their male protagonists with interests and vocations beyond sexual companionship, and more likely to show them meaningfully interacting with other men regarding things other than women. Women are not treated as generously in much fiction, as evidenced by the low percentage of films which clear the Bechdel test’s perilously low bar. It’s mainly a call for female characters to be as well written as male characters, and not to simply be window dressing for male-centric stories. It’s not at all about excluding men from stories.

        • Arthur Chu

          There actually aren’t very many “man” movies where the men do absolutely nothing else but obsess over a woman, and every single conversation they have is directly related to a woman.

          A notable example of a “man” movie that *does* fit that description is Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and you’ll note that many critics talked about it at the time as a *role reversal* — that it was very weird seeing this kind of “sensitive romantic comedy” that almost always has a female protagonist (often played by Meg Ryan) suddenly done with the “genders swapped”.

          You’ll also note that part of the point of Forgetting Sarah Marshall is that the male protagonist being so completely wrapped up in the titular ex-girlfriend makes him kind of pathetic and sad as a human being.

          Think about what it says about women and the way media treats women that this point of view is actually “normal” for “chick flicks”.

    • Mooy

      I would respectively disagree with you on that last point. This article, as well as several articles in the past invites you to view video games through a different lens than simply entertainment, and I think that the test is an excellent tool for that in it’s simplicity. Men and Women has never been nor ever will be a zero sum game, and I’ve been reading this site long enough that I can assume the writers would agree. Any test like this can be misused (just look at news articles from various sites about scientific findings), but that shouldn’t close it off from the discussion entirely, especially if it is used in a non-sensationalist manner, like in this article.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      The Bechdel Test is a conversation starter. Where that conversation leads is up to you. You’re right that the test by itself does not do much to explore the legitimate concerns of gender portrayal. But as an observation, it’s one of many ways into a discussion of those concerns.

      The “assumption that anything good for girls can’t include too much boys” is your own assumption, projected onto the test. I’m not going to pretend that the Bechdel Test has no implicit value judgment whatsoever, but the emphasis is more on a phenomenological observation rather than a final judgment. Even Bechdel herself reminds people that it’s a pretty unreliable test for any concept of “goodness,” but it is a thought-provoking test of a phenomenon.

      You say below that “you’d be hard-pressed to find a man movie that doesn’t in some way revolve around a woman.” That is a much higher bar, of course. What if you simply reversed the genders in the test? For a movie to pass the Bizarro Bechdel Test, it must feature at least two men who have a conversation about something other than a woman. The number of movies/games/whatever that would fail that test is awfully small. Do you find that disparity completely unremarkable?

      Your argument appears to be that people are sexual, companionable beings, so of course they talk about the opposite sex. That strikes me as a reasonable and important point. What I find less fair is the notion that observing the imbalance highlighted by the Bechdel Test constitutes a denial that men and women “give each others’ lives meaning.” That just doesn’t follow.

      • grizzledyoungman

         @JohnTeti:disqus I gotta say John, it’s really a pleasure to see how involved you are in the comment sections of this site and the quality of thought you contribute.  I hope that once this whole thing really takes off and the major dough start rolling in, you find a way to stay as involved.  Perhaps while sitting on a throne made out of rare Nintendo games still in their original, unopened packages.

        Now that the nerd hug is out of the way, onto your point.  Yes, the “assumption that anything good for girls can’t include too much boys” is my own assumption, but I think it’s a very natural assumption to make.  The Bechdel test literally consists of counting the instances in which women don’t discuss men.  I’d say that’s about as petty and over-simplistic as gender quality gets.  If Bechdel/Wallace didn’t want people making that assumption, they have created a very poor test.

        I hope my comments have made it clear that I do believe there is major room for improvement in terms of how women are treated and included in entertainment.  So while Bechdel is certainly adjacent to a very valid point, I don’t find the Bechdel test to be a useful tool for exploring these realm of thought.

        Certainly, mentioning the Bechdel test has stimulated a discussion here today.  But I think it’s safe to say that we all agree that improving gender equality is a vital moral achievement for humanity.  The harm of the Bechdel test – and other flavors of pop culture feminism like it – is that it turns off those who are most in need of exposure to these ideas.  That is to say, men and women alike who might be naturally disposed to progressive thought, but find the current bitter, chilly, anti-sexual aesthetics of progressive thought unpalatable.

        Not that discussing this sort of thing with like-minded folks isn’t useful.  Part of the reason why I post comments like this on sites like this is because I’m working through my own arguments and reasoning, and want feedback from people with similar values.

        • stakkalee

          I think everyone else has adequately covered what I’d want to say in my reply, but I’d just like to point something out: The Bechdel Test isn’t technically counting the number of times female characters “don’t discuss men,” it’s counting the number of times women discuss something other than a man.  It’s not highlighting exclusion, it’s highlighting variety.

        • Enkidum

          Doesn’t the fact that you are turned off by the Bechdel Test say more about you than the test? I mean, where is it mis-used, where does it inherently argue that women shouldn’t be talking about men? I honestly can’t think of a single time that I’ve ever seen it discussed where that’s been the subtext. Not saying there aren’t any, but I think they’re in the great minority if they do exist.

          And yes, it involves counting instances when women discuss something other than men. Why is this petty? Isn’t having entertainment where that occurs a valid objective? In which case, why not count this? It’s a good, albeit imperfect, metric for determining one specific thing: whether female characters are portrayed as having any interests independent of men. We know for a fact that male characters are portrayed as having tonnes of interests independent of women (as John notes, most media would pass the reverse Bechdel test). I can’t think of anything other than the Bechdel Test, or something very similar, that would allow us to quantify this. And being able to quantify it is important.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           ”The Bechdel test literally consists of counting the instances in which women don’t discuss men.”

          It literally does not. It literally consists of checking whether such an exchange occurs at least once in a given narrative. It’s a boolean, not an integer.

          Here’s a stupid analogy: For a dish of ice cream to be a banana split, it must contain a banana. This does not imply that a greater number of bananas makes a better banana split, nor that a banana split should be made entirely of bananas.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Enkidum:disqus: Of course that’s not the literal interpretation of the test, nor should it be. But you don’t have to comb the Television Without Pity forums for long to find people who interpret it that way. I mean, TWoP isn’t a bastion of intelligent or progressive thought, but the point is that there are people who misinterpret the test and use it to judge whether individual works are “sexist,” or even worse, whether they’re worthy of critical consideration.

          That being said, I haven’t seen anyone use that misinterpretation with video games yet, so perhaps ‘s fears are premature, but they’re not entirely unwarranted.

          Bottom line: the Bechdel test is a tool, and often a useful one at that. But it’s not a litmus test for sexism, nor is it a substitute for detailed critical analysis.

        • Arthur Chu

          The point of the Bechdel Test is largely drawing attention to its own simplistic-ness as a sign of how bad things are. The original comic made a *joke* out of how shocked one of the characters is that it’s *so hard* to find a popular, well-liked movie that actually passes the test.

          That’s the point — it’s not that it’s some kind of all-encompassing perfect litmus test for sexism, but it’s pretty telling that if it’s really really hard for you to think of *just one* movie that passes this very simple boolean test, that says something really icky about the way women are treated in film. Not that girls like guys, not that girls think about guys, not that girls care about guys — but the statement that *this is all girls do*.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

        You may have called me a miserable, self-important dick, but damn I love you. You almost always say what I want to better than I can (which never stops me, of course, apologies). You’re probably my favorite game journalist right now. Keep up the good work!

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          Well, in fairness to you, it takes one miserable self-important dick to know one.

          I’m glad we could hug it out, and thank you for your sweet comment.

    • Enkidum

      The critical point about trying to use the Bechdel test, though, is that it’s meaningless to apply it to individual cases. All it does is allow you to look at a large number of movies (or games, etc), and come up with one (accurate) way of classifying how women are portrayed in these media. 

      It’s not that any movie that fails the test is bad, or sexist, or whatever. It’s that when the majority of the media we produce fail the test, then this may indicate that we have a real problem. Women care about men, sure, and our pop culture should reflect that. But that’s far from the only thing women care about, and when women are shown solely as the object of male concerns, or concerned solely with men, then their roles are unrealistically limited. And the Bechdel Test does allow us to quantify this limiting. Perhaps the criteria could be tweaked slightly, but who cares? Measurement tools don’t need to be terribly precise if the differences are as large as the differences in media portrayals of the genders.

      Sure, the Expendables may ultimately be about saving the hot chick. But the men are, as you note, explicitly shown having discussions about other things. Where is the female version of that? Why doesn’t it exist?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I think it’s important to keep in mind that the Bechdel test is not a litmus test for quality. (I share some of the same objections to the misapplication/misinterpretation of the test as @grizzledyoungman:disqus.)

        To give a silly example, is a movie where women constantly have conversations about getting boob jobs any better than a movie where women have a short conversation about their complicated relationships with their fathers?

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        AHEM. http://akas.imdb.com/title/tt0105619/

        Edit: I understand of course that this does little to address your overall point, but Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui and Michelle Yeoh teaming up. Bear with me here.

        • Enkidum

          Excuse me, I have to go away for a couple of minutes…

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

        This. Excellently stated.

    • jmarquiso

      I disagree.  The Bechdel test is a useful tool for breaking down a percentage of media rather than a singular medium.  That is, if over 50% of movies don’t pass this test, there’s a general problem with the culture that creates them.  That’s ALL it is saying.  It isn’t saying all movies must adhere to this – there’s a place for it as well.

      Again, this article also points out ironies like Arkham City – which was (I think rightfully) challenged for sexism – as something that passes the Bechdel test.  

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

        I think this is the problem with these sort of tests, or rather, how they’re interpreted.

        Let’s take a common cliche that people have a problem with, Women In Refrigerators (For those not familiar with the term, it refers to a man coming home to find his wife/girlfriend/daughter/other female associate murdered/horribly disfigured/or otherwise brutalized and is typically used as a revenge motivator):

        The fact that the Joker in The Killing Joke [spoilers, by the way] shoots Barbara Gordon in the spine and paralyzes her and she never really recovers makes that story an example of Women in Refrigerators, but it does not mean the story is itself sexist. The fact that this trope seems to happen almost exclusively to women means there’s likely a problem in the culture itself that produces the works.

        So a lot of these tests are pretty useless on the scale of an individual piece of work. We need to look on a larger, cultural scale, which is quite difficult to do.

  • Tnesbitt2

    No Portal?  I feel like Portal’s a textbook definition of passing the Bechdel test if you fudge around the fact that Chelle doesn’t talk.  In their interactions GLaDOS is mostly fixated on how stupid/fat Chelle is, and Chelle is focused on staying alive – no dudes involved.

  • Goon Diapers

    Dragon Warrior 4, Chapter IV. The sisters Mara and Nara.

  • Goon Diapers

    Chrono Trigger?

  • Asinus

    Damn it, Gravity Rush looks great, but I’m not going to get a Vita unless someone gives me one for free. I am really irked by games that are left only on handhelds almost solely to boost sales of the device instead of giving us a portable version of games we like on our consoles. Now, between Gravity Rush and moving Valkyria Chronicles to portables, I’m kind of cheesed off. The PS3 could very likely play Vita and PSP games. Even if they made a USB add-on akin to the GameCube’s GBA adapter, I would buy it.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      It definitely tells you what people think of their audience.  I prefer handhelds on handhelds, but the reason the Super Game Boy and its successors were never included is because of expense to the producer and the idea that consumers wouldn’t settle for BAD GRAFIX/SOUNDZ.  You know, even though handhelds are only 2 generations/10 years behind consoles, so most playing would have distinct memories of that era.

      This generation’s the 1st to be 1 generation behind, which is why they are integrating them with cross-platform saving and the like.

  • PaganPoet

    Mirror’s Edge comes to mind. For all that game’s flaws, it was an incredibly original experience, and the fact that the main character was a realistically portrayed woman (err…personality wise, not that whole super speed, strength, and stamina aspect) made it an even richer experience.

    Plus how many games that feature a female protagonist feature a non-white female protagonist? I hope that game gets a sequel.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      There have been mixed messages from EA regarding a sequel. Last I heard, there was a sequel in development that will run on the Frostbite 2 engine. My guess is that EA is holding back on officially announcing anything about it until the next generation of consoles come out.

      • PaganPoet

        Well, I hope you’re right. Even though I don’t necessarily find that game among the best games for this generation, I definitely find it among the most memorable. With a few tweaks to gameplay, it could evolve into an incredible series.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I’m only a couple of hours in, and while the game certainly has its flaws, it’s one of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I’m playing it on the heels of playing Quantum Conundrum, so it’s nice to play a game that got first-person platforming right.

        • Fixda Fernback

          In the past three or four years, I developed a bit of the old “Hard to finish many of the games you start” problem. Well, I bought Mirror’s Edge in January and have beat it four different times on different settings, doing guns/no guns, attempting a fewest-kills/KO’s run, etc etc. What a fun, awesome game that is simply refreshing in it’s lack of “I’M A WOMAN SO I NEED TO WORRY ABOUT A MAN IN A ROMANTIC WAY!” 

      • Asinus

        So far, the biggest flaw I see (on the PC port, anyway) is that I can’t bind the fucking “,” and “.” keys! Those are my strafing keys and it’s really bugging me! I’m setting it aside until I program my nostromo for it– Once I get used to playing a game with the keyboard, it takes a while to get used to the nostromo (I still haven’t played any FPSes with it. MMOs? Of course. I NEEEEED it for MMOs).

        I’ll never get the WASD thing down. I was conditioned long ago– righthand sits on the keypad (from Wolf3D and DOOM days) and left hand is on space, alt, ctrl, and shift. Even if games don’t use Shift to run, I have to hold down shift.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I guess you could bind movement to the arrow keys or the numpad and then put the mouse to the left of your keyboard, but I don’t know how well that would work.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       It’s a game that gets brought up too much (and a bit of an overrated one, in my opinion), but Jade from Beyond Good and Evil was a well-written, independent female character who wasn’t Caucasian (wasn’t obviously so, at least – I guess she could have been a white girl with dark hair and a tan…).

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Not that it really matters, but doesn’t that game actually fail the Bechdel test? (I wouldn’t know for sure; I’m only halfway through.)

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Probably. The whole thing was so forgettable that there could be something I don’t recall, but if memory serves, Jade was the only significant female character, precluding her from having meaningful interactions with other female characters.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I feel like we feel exactly the same about Beyond Good and Evil @bakana42:disqus . It was very much an alright game, but nothing more than that. I remember being surprised at how short it was and not much else really. It’s way way overrated by people on the internet, if you ask me.

    • AmaltheaElanor

       Yes, this is a great one.  And many of the conversations Faith has are with her sister Kate, or Celeste.

  • Critcho

    To my surprise I think Day Of The Tentacle actually fails this, even though you play a girl for a third of the game. She only speaks to male tentacles.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       But within the subgenre of “video games where girls encounter only male tentacles,” DoTT is almost certainly the most gender-progressive…

  • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

    I like the level of self-awareness in this article.  It would be very easy to take each test-passing moment in these games as evidence that each one has unimpeachable feminist credentials and leave it at that.  But it seems like there aren’t any illusions about what the Bechdel Test actually means.  It addresses only one singular issue in stories; it doesn’t necessarily address what the fundamental purpose of women in the narrative is, or the lens through which their interaction is viewed.  But it gets the conversation going on those things, so I think it’s a very useful test on the whole.

    • EnderTZero

       Well, I think that’s the point of the Bechdel test itself, really. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it discussed without the caveat that media can certainly still be problematic in terms of gender representation even when it passes. It’s more of a starting point for a critical look into a work or genre or medium.

      Of course, gender relations as critical theory is very different than gender relations as social phenomenon. I get so tired of seeing people point out things or trends or industries that are sexist and expect that to suffice for some sort of revelation or journalistic expose; no shit Sherlock, can we talk about how and why it’s sexist, which is an actually useful conversation?

  • http://twitter.com/Tim_Kraemer Tim Kraemer

    I would go with King’s Quest IV over King’s Quest VII: The majority of major dialogue interactions in that game are, I think, between either Rosella and Genesta or Rosella and Lolotte. Plus it’s the better game by far.

  • Graphite

    Gabriel Knight II and III could qualify I think. Granted, a *lot* of the time that Grace converses with women it’s about Gabriel, but she definitely has at least a few non-Gabe conversations as well. The series is written by a woman, also.

  • http://electricsistahood.com KL

    Steal Princess? Hmm, never heard of it. Now I’ve got an itch to scratch.

  • Effigy_Power

    Anyone wondering why my opinionated self hasn’t chimed in about my favorite subject… I drove for 8 hours and I am tired.
    Damn you, GS, for not having more intellectual off-days where you just talk about how many explosions something has.

    • Fixda Fernback

      I was thoroughly surprised when I saw some rogue “likes” from you but nil on the input! 

      • Effigy_Power

        I cover my head in ash, but I was thoroughly too tired to care about anything more pressing than my hair being on fire or something similar. I am sure sufficiently good comments were made without my righteous indignation. ^_^

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

    Excellent article! I think your range highlights an important element of the Bechdel Test, too, that it is not necessarily an indicator of gender equality, just gender representation. Games (and movies/TV shows/books, etc) that pass the Bechdel Test can still be extremely sexist (they could be reinforcing negative stereotypes, like talking about shopping), and movies with very strong gender equality themes can still fail the test. But overall it’s a good indicator of representation.

    I actually find many movies, at least, to fail the test first on parts one or two. So few movies even have two female characters, and if they do they don’t even meet each other. For instance, Star Wars has only two female characters (Aunt Beru and Princess Leia), and while both of them definitely buck the stereotypes of female depictions in media, they never meet or have a conversation. Leia is the only female character at all in Empire Strikes Back. But it’s very intriguing to see how games fail the Bechdel Test in completely different ways.

    Great article!

  • http://blsnelson.wordpress.com/ Good old so-and-so

    Although Mass Effect might pass the test, that Mass Effect clip doesn’t. It’s partially about Saren, and his control over Benezia’s mind.

  • ZiggyVertov

    The iPhone game “Cause of Death” not only passes the Bechdel test repeatedly, it actually does so in a gay bar called Club Bechdel. Does that count for double Bechdel points?

  • balddevil

    “The Spy Who Loved Me” passes. Its two femmes fatales discuss a ship model for about 2 seconds while Bond is off chatting with the bad guy.

  • rdm24

    Of course, games where you pick your gender should almost always get a pass…. So why put Mass Effect on there and not Skyrim?
    I think, of course, you have to restrict the test to videogames based on human (or, at least, anthropomorphic and gendered) characters.

  • rdm24

    So, clearly, what we need is an epic, narrative game from Rockstar or Naughty Dog with more female characters–even (gasp!) a female protagonist!

  • Justin Leeper

    When I was Road to WrestleMania designer and story writer for WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010, I had no idea my work would be (kind of) heralded for its (sort of) nod to feminist independence. Heck, I’m surprised anyone played through the “Diva” storyline to begin with!

  • Kate Reynolds

    I am trying to remember, but I don’t recall that Chell is ever actually named in the Portal games. And Chell of course never speaks. So Portal and Portal 2 would fail the Bechdel test, but they are some of the best games out (scoring 90 and 95 respectively on MetaCritic) female lead or no. 
    Plus Glados is a GREAT female villain.

  • William DuFresne

    No Mirror’s Edge?

  • robthom

    Cool.

    Now I know 15 games to avoid.

    • http://electricsistahood.com KL

      It’s close to 2013, troll. You’ve already avoided at least half of these.

  • ogmaster

    Don’t forget about DOA Beach Volleyball. That also passes the test.