Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Examination of Female Characters - Part 2 (Halo)

(Crossposted from Halopedia)
This is Dragonclaws, returning with part two in my examination of the female Halo characters (part one can be found here). Because my last series of shorter articles (the Halo Graphic Novel review) worked out well, I’m going to continue this not as one large article to follow a large article, but as a series of shorter parts. As much as we all wish sexism doesn’t exist, a certain kerfuffle in the Halo community makes it clear to me that sexism is still alive and well, making it prudent to examine the fictional depictions of female persons and insist upon proper equality in such. This time, I will cover Halo Wars and Halo 3: ODST, as well as said kerfuffle.
Halo Wars, it must be noted, has a very simplistic storyline. Yes, there’s an artificial planet with a micro Dyson sphere on the inside, but science-fiction constructions aside, the storyline is pretty basic. Although there’s nothing as cheesy as the infamous “To war” line in Halo 3, the characters are all pretty much flat stereotypes. The female characters aren’t too special, but neither are the male characters. Even so, let’s give them an overview.
Among the main UNSC characters, there are three female characters out of seven in total. The Covenant are as oppressively patriarchal as always, and as they are the villains I don’t find discussion of them relevant. The female characters (listed in order of significance in plot) are Ellen Anders, a normal human; Serina, a smart AI; and Alice-130, a Spartan-II.
Professor Ellen Anders is a scientist specializing in the subject of aliens, which makes her perfect for both examining the Covenant and the Forerunner artifacts. She is one of the smartest characters in the game, and is often able to come up with technical solutions. She also plays the part of damsel-in-distress. When the Arbiter tries to abduct her, Forge tries to fight him off, but Anders ends up surrendering to the Sangheili to prevent Forge’s death. Reinforcements arrive a moment later, and we wonder if Anders might never have been taken if she hadn’t succumbed to her emotions. In the multiplayer, she is one of the three UNSC leaders available, the others of which are men. The features gained by selecting Anders as leader are less offensive in nature as the other two, and tend to be more technical and based on the idea that she has a superior intellect.
Serina is a classic sarcastic AI, a staple of science-fiction, similar to Cortana. Unlike Cortana, however, Serina is not a sex symbol. She is of realistic proportions and is seen wearing distinct holographic clothing perfectly reasonable in its design. She is intelligent, often the source of exposition, and has some interesting interactions with the crew. She also has some of the best lines in the game.
"Recalling surface squads so we can all die together. Aye, sir!"
—Serina, as upbeat as always

And then there’s Alice-130. She doesn’t have as big a part as the other female characters, being part of the Spartan team picked up along the way. She gets to help kill Covies during cinematic portions, as well as being a unit actually usable in the game. She is as powerful as any of the Spartans, and as each carries a different weapon, she has the machine gun, to be worked into strategies like any other Spartan. She is the only female character to directly cause damage to the enemy, but is the least developed.
So, to recap: We have a damsel-in-distress, a witty AI, and an underdeveloped female fighter. Anders and Serina, who surely are more prominent characters than Alice-130, have their strength based purely in their intelligence. Anders is taken prisoner because she gives in to her emotions, specifically her love (be it platonic or romantic) for Forge. Serina’s probably the best character in Halo Wars in terms of decent representations of female characters.
"Bam, said the lady!"
Halo 3: ODST is an unusual game with a noir-like theme of mystery. The center of this mystery involves two female characters: Captain Veronica Dare, of the main narrative, and Sadie Endesha, of the secondary storyline Sadie's Story. ODST is difficult for me to examine because it is so different compared to the other Halo games, but I’ll do my best.
Dare is a secretive ONI operative who takes over the ODST group led by her boyfriend, Malcolm Reynolds Edward Buck, to make an illicit drop in New Mombasa. While Buck tries to smooth over the transition, the team doesn’t much like Intelligence stepping in. Romeo, the jerk of the bunch, disrespects her in a sexist manner, but Buck doesn’t like his mouth. As Buck is more of a sympathetic protagonist than Romeo, I don’t see this as contributing to a sexist story.
Dare isn’t a playable character in the campaign, her mission shrouded in mystery. Most of the story consists of Buck trying to find her to help her, but I think it’s made clear that she can take care of herself as much as any other singular ODST character. As a player, you spend the time wondering just what in the world she is up to. Eventually you as the Rookie come to help her after she gets pinned down by Covies, and you learn she is helping to facilitate an alliance between humans and Huragok (among other things). Buck shows up late and you three help escort the rogue Huragok out of the city. Although Dare is closely attached to the Huragok, she is an active fighter for some of the time when appropriate. I personally spend most of the hive level hidden behind her, as I’m not a strong enough player to be in front. She’s a strong fighter both in-game and in the story. Buck comments to the Rookie that every guy should fall for a woman like Dare, who has “balls”. Dare is a frakkin’ enjoyable character, and she’s voiced by Tricia Helfer (aka Number Six from Battlestar Galactica) with her face modeled to match.
Sadie’s Story is a secondary narrative within the game, an audio drama made by the people who did I Love Bees. You may remember me commending ILB for having multiple strong female characters, and Sadie’s Story continues this tradition with the heroine Sadie Endesha. Sadie is notable for being the first depiction of a black female person thus far. I think so, anyway. There could be some in ILB, but I’m terrible at distinguishing race from voices. Let’s say she’s the first female black character to get a visual depiction.
Sadie is a girl on a quest to rescue her scientist father from his lab in New Mombasa – despite the impending Covenant attack on the city. What I like about her is that she’s just an ordinary civilian, not a superhuman Spartan 1.1 like ILB’s Jan James. She doesn’t even have any military training. She just has her wits and a few loyal friends (admittedly one being the AI behind the city) to help her against the craziness unfolding around her. Aliens aren’t the only menace to be faced, as there’s a corrupt chief of police who seems to be on a mission to turn her into his sex slave. He starts out as a typical rapist creep abusing the system to get her into a compromising position, and he turns into this insane villain who hunts her through the city with a Pelican. He meets his end in a fitting way, as the city’s civilians rise up and attack him.
So, that’s two cool female characters in Halo 3: ODST. I wrote this analysis after reading Lesbian Gamers’ negative review of the game, which they assert is sexist. I disagree for the most part, and have written this to partly address some of the concerns brought up in the Lesbian Gamers piece. One thing the piece suggests, which I found I agree with, is that the Rookie should have been made to be gender optional the way Halo 3 multiplayer characters are. Master Chief is a specific character that has to be male because he is John, but the Rookie is a non-character intentionally made to be an empty vessel the player can fill. To make such a blank character absolutely male will understandably alienate the female players.
As a response to the piece in general and in essence to people concerned about gender equality in general, I have to say that the Halo universe is not supposed to be some grand utopia. Just because it’s set in the future doesn’t mean that you’re going to have it be the embodiment of the author’s viewpoints. The Halo world is really not that different from our own as far as the UNSC goes. The UNSC, specifically, is present day America in space with some shiny technology. Though Bungie’s trying to get rid of their ethnocentrism at this point, the UNSC was originally about America, and that is not to be ignored. So, human society in 2552 is still basically the same as in 2010 (or whatever year it is when you read this), which is to say patriarchal, etc. Romeo’s sexist, but that’s Romeo – our token jackass. What matters is how the prejudice is portrayed, and I don’t think we’re supposed to be on Romeo’s side.
What is true, though, is that Halo 3: ODST was made specifically for males. As Lesbian Gamers points out, there are no female characters playable in the campaign, despite being able to play several different characters and the Rookie character being such a blank slate. Technically, you can play as Dare in Firefight, but it’s difficult to do so as you have to specifically unlock her. This is certainly unfriendly to the female gamer crowd.
If you haven’t guessed, it is the Lesbian Gamers article that I refer to with the description of kerfuffle. I actually found out about it on a separate gay gamers site, but I guess it was posted on Bungie.net, whose membership is both large and immature. It got flamed to hell.
Lesbian Gamers wrote the piece from a feminist perspective. The author is familiar with sexism, and has dealt with it on numerous occasions. When she has argued against it in the name of gender equality, like I’m doing here, she probably has been called a feminazi and had guys tell her to get back in the kitchen and make them a sandwich. She understands the sexism of the heavily male-dominated geek culture, and is understandably angry about this. On this lesbian site, where she would have expected no straight guys to come, she is among peers who would easily get it.
And then all these straight guys came from Bungie.net, homophobic and sexist, and what they saw was an outsider group. Everyone knows girls don’t play video games, and that lesbians just need to have a good experience with a potential boyfriend, right? They saw this anger and a very critical review, and they got all defensive. The result was hostility, and instead of simply addressing the points raised, they responded in the form of an attack, ironically in a very sexist manner.
Well, gee, I can’t possibly see why anyone at Lesbian Gamers would be concerned about sexism with this kind of warm presence!
Skimming the comments section on that site, I have seen the most appalling examples of misogyny and homophobia – and that’s just the stuff the mods let through. There is this group mentality of the predominantly male Halo community that becomes so hostile and alienating. Minority members of the Halo community, such as this Lesbian Gamers reviewer who notes she’s a fan of Halo, try to cut through the garbage, and then this happens. The majority gets defensive, lashes out, and ends up affirming the beliefs of the people they’re attacking in the first place.
This is unacceptable. I try to work to make sure this kind of thing never happens on Halopedia. Absolute fail, all.
Anyway, that should conclude this bit. Next time, I’ll probably cover something about the novels. I still haven’t worked out whether to look at each individually, or look over the subject in general.

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