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Young, Female Protagonists are Taking Over Video Games

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Today was a big day in gaming news with the official reveal of Xbox One. Although not many (as in barely a handful) of games were shown at the press conference, one new intellectual property was introduced, Quantum Break. From the extremely limited footage that was shown of the game, we saw a new lead character who is a little girl. For some reason, seeing this trailer gave me an realization about how many recent, major titles have centered around young, female protagonists.

Obviously, there have been children in games for essentially as long as games have been around, but to me, only recently have developers started to make young female characters the focal point of stories. In the Quantum Break trailer, we see a young girl demonstrating her ability to evidently control/manipulate time. This by itself sounds like a intriguing gameplay mechanic that could wield fantastic results, but the fact that Remedy Games chose the little girl as the one who can do this is interesting. It seems that many games have shifted towards a two player mechanic where the player controls a male protagonists and assists/protects a younger, female character who is essential to the story.

This dynamic really stands out to me as emerging within the Bioshock franchise, specifically in regards to the relationship between the Big Daddy and Little Sister. The job of a Big Daddy is to protect their Little Sister at all costs. The underlying foundation of protecting this Little Sister was embedded in both Bioshock and Bioshock 2.

The simple task of having a player to protect is one that’s been used in almost every genre from RPGs to driving games, but there is clearly one game in mind that set the standard for this sort of parental figure, so to speak, and that’s Telltale Game’s The Walking DeadThe Walking Dead introduced everyone to Clementine, a child who the player had to protect throughout the story. Like I said, the idea of protecting someone within a game wasn’t necessarily new when the game released in early 2012, but Telltale presented it differently. We learned to care about Clementine and became invested in her character and one of the main reasons behind that nurturing and protective compulsion came from her being a child. If Clementine had been a middle aged woman, I don’t believe the game would have been as successful on an emotional level. The developers played off the fact that players would instinctively care for children and want to protect them within the game, and that added a new dimension to The Walking Dead which really helped it succeed both critically and commercially.

There are plenty of other recent titles that utilize the dynamic of a male and female protagonist working together. The upcoming title The Last of Us features a fatherly figure, Joel, working with and protecting a young girl, Ellie, through the story. Bioshock Infinite featured Booker DeWitt escorting and protecting (and sometimes being protected by) Elizabeth. These are just two major titles that have utilized this same character layout and have had success with it.

To me, the reason developers add this female protagonists is somewhat obvious: the game is able to appeal to a broader crowd. Although there are games that succeed with a loan, male protagonist taking on enemy forces essentially by himself (Far Cry 3 and basically every Call of Duty and Battlefield game), the addition of a female counterpart adds another dimension to the story. The compassion that can be developed through protecting a female protagonist adds depth to the story and really immerses the player to a whole other degree. The technique has to be executed well though; developers can not just throw a female character in a game and the story is magically better. However, when done correctly, the male and female dynamic adds a whole new dimension to the plot and game experience.

It will be interesting to learn more details surrounding Quantum Break in the coming weeks, especially at E3. Details will hopefully be shed surrounding the dynamic between protagonists within the game, but if it’s anything like the relationships within The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, or Bioshock InfiniteQuantum Break could have huge emotional and commercial appeal.

Lucas has evolved in his video game preferences. With a foundation in predominantly sports game, action adventure games are now his favorite to play. He is a competitive swimmer and likes to play volleyball, basketball, and golf.

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