Lara Croft. Samus Aran. Jill Valentine. Chell.
In the realm of video games, it’s not difficult to identify tough-as-nails women who uncover ancient treasures, blast away aliens, battle zombies and outwit malicious robots. However, when it comes to finding fictional females who take down terrorists, call in airstrikes, frag combatants and capture enemy outposts, you’d probably be more likely to walk in on a woman in the men’s room.
While video games aren’t totally devoid of strong female protagonists, the interactive medium has typically only cast ladies in support roles when it comes to such popular military shoot-’em-up franchises as Call of Duty and Battlefield. Yet could the recent announcement that the Pentagon is ending its long-standing ban on women serving in combat roles in real-world battlegrounds extend to virtual ones, too?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers working on these shooters incorporated it as a story point in their games,” said game designer and Sex in Video Games author Brenda Romero. “It could make for an amazing narrative: ‘It’s her first role in combat and she’s determined to make a difference!’ Who wouldn’t want to pursue something like that and have a ... female soldier in a game?”
Romero’s husband, John Romero, who worked on such landmark first-person shooters as Doom and Quake, agrees with his wife. As games have evolved beyond rescuing princesses from gorillas, players have come to expect deeper levels of personalization, evidenced by the popularity of role-playing games as Skyrim, Mass Effect and World of Warcraft.
“I can’t see anything negative about having more choices in a game,” Romero said. “Everyone likes having more choices. There’s never been a backlash when World of Warcraft added a new race, so I can’t imagine there would be one if a shooter added a new gender. Franchises that come out with a new version every year like Call of Duty strive to be topical, so I imagine they would address it.”
Obviously, until now, game makers could always rely on the fact that women weren’t allowed on the front lines in real life, either.
In recent years, though, long-running shooter institutions like Halo and Gears of War have introduced female characters in their single-player campaigns and multiplayer modes, but those are futuristic sci-fi shooters set worlds away from military games that strive for either historic or contemporary authenticity, such as the Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor and SOCOM franchises.
With just a few international exceptions (such as French resistance fighter Manon Batiste in 2000’s Medal of Honor: Underground, Russian soldier Tanya Pavelovna in 2004’s Call of Duty: Finest Hour and South Korean operative Park “Forty-Five” Yoon-Hee in 2011’s SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs), playable female characters are usually absent from military shooters, even with more female gamers playing them.
“Our games strive to reflect real-world events and military conditions,” said Lincoln Hershberger, marketing vice president at Medal of Honor and Battlefield publisher Electronic Arts Inc. “Women in our military games have appeared in a variety of combat and support roles. In 2011, Battlefield 3 included a female fighter pilot, and we expect to see more women appearing in combat roles in the future.”
The previous installment in the successful Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops II, featured a female president, fighter pilot and a playable character named Chloe “Karma” Lynch, who served a brief but pivotal role. It’s unclear if Activision, which declined comment, will take a cue from the Pentagon for the next Call of Duty.
Sande Chen, a game writer and author, said implementing female characters in military shooters could be a complex and expensive proposition for developers.