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Pratchett: Nobody talks about how well Nathan Drake represents men

Pratchett: Nobody talks about how well Nathan Drake represents men

Thu 21 Mar 2013 9:33am GMT / 5:33am EDT / 2:33am PDT
Development

The Tomb Raider writer on diversity and creating a Lara for 2013

Rhianna Pratchett, the writer responsible for the new and improved Lara Croft of the latest Tomb Raider reboot, has spoken out about the representation of gender in video games, and the challenges developers face when creating more diverse characters.

"You've got a situation where female characters do get scrutinized more than male characters do, and in some ways can be seen as holding a banner up for female characters," she told Kill Screen.

"A lot gets heaped on their shoulders. Lara Croft gets a lot more scrutiny than Nathan Drake does, as a female. Nobody talks about how well Nathan Drake is representing men, or male characters in games."

Pratchett also referred to the fear some developers have of more diverse characters, in case those characters were then labelled racist or sexist, and how that has lead to an army of game protagonists in the "Whitey McStubbly" type.

"There's just so much to be explored, if we could just be a little bit braver about our characters"

"That's the familiar ground. But it's not an accurate representation of gamers, it's not even an accurate representation of developers," she added.

"Developers themselves are much more diverse than the characters. Whenever anybody talks about a need for more female protagonists I say: 'There's a need for more female protagonists, but there's a need for characters of different ethnicities, ages, sexual orientation, ability, et cetera.' We are very narrow when it comes to our characters."

In the interview Pratchett also discussed the importance of making Lara more female, not just "a male character with boobs," admitted she would have loved to make Lara a gay character and argued that different representations of gender, sexuality, race and even relationships were an important first step for the industry.

"There's just so much to be explored, if we could just be a little bit braver about our characters. Because gamers can take it, I think."

The Tomb Raider reboot was released on March 5 and is currently top of the UK software charts.

14 Comments

LeWayne Jones freelance journalist

3 3 1.0
This!!
I'm so glad to read such an eye opening statement. I never believed the issue was just gender based, it's an issue of diversity over the entire spectrum. If we're supposed to be playing people that we're supposed to identify with, then why the hell are they just one type of person?

Posted:A year ago

#1

James Prendergast Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
I think that the reason why GOOD female characters are exposed to more scrutiny is not because of their gender but because they are generally (and I can't think of one off the top of my head that doesn't) better written and realised than GOOD male characters, protagonists specifically.

I don't know if there's less or more pressure to deliver a unique, well-realised personality in those instances but compared to male characters they tend to have better characterisation - in contrast, there's nothing or very little to critique or scrutinise in most male protagonists, Nathan Drake included... whose personality isn't even that consistent over the three games.

Okay, yes, we have the forgettable and stereotyped (what I consider to be BAD) female characters like those from FAKK and the game with the two female leads (I fogot the title!) on the PS2 but I never saw any scrutiny on any of those apart from critiquing how badly they were stereotyped or presented with regards to sexuality...

I don't consider these two different types of scrutiny to be equal in merit or purpose: the first is exploring the character and analysing it. The second is pointing out something is wrong.

In my opinion, male protagonists are largely a forgettable bunch with many not even having their own voice actor to call their own (I can only think of one female protagonist who doesn't [Chell]) and most of them have the same or similar personalities whereas I think even a cursory glance at strong female characters proves otherwise.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,182 972 0.8
Quite interesting but is that a symptom of there being so many more male characters in lead roles? Meaning a broader representation of personalities for men. I've heard Drake scrutinised in good ways and bad but yes not to the level of Lara.

For many she is a beacon for the representation of women in games (more so than others like Samus Aran) and unsurprisingly her next move is always watched and the discussions about representation continue.

Drake is a drop in the ocean comparatively, in an industry where we're trying to find out why some publishers are apparently still opposed to female leads.
Whenever anybody talks about a need for more female protagonists I say: 'There's a need for more female protagonists, but there's a need for characters of different ethnicities, ages, sexual orientation, ability, et cetera.' We are very narrow when it comes to our characters."
Also, I agree with this quote and have been thinking a lot about this.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

224 590 2.6
Well, I understand both sides. I agree with Pratchett all the way in what she's saying, although a profit-driven publisher will obviously say otherwise and it's obvious why.

The aspect of sexual orientation is even harder to tackle, since games use a very unique approach to a story - due to it's interactivity, meaning that having "a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward." something that will put publishers with cold feet.
When the main target are teenagers and young male adults it's something that needs to be approached delicately. Having the player witness with his/her character a gay couple kiss or make passes at each other will be 'bearable', but having the player do the same with his own character, that's a different ball game.
I think the only viable industry solution (for now) to slowly approach this topic in games is give choice, it's all about me choosing to be female/male and gay or not, Mass Effect approached it very nicely in my opinion.

All in all, in the end I think it's just miss-placed faith (and funding) from publishers, I mean we've all seen how Tomb Raider is doing, a well written female lead with proper funding both in development & Marketing. It works, players dig it like hot-cakes, so we definitely need more investment on that segment so we can have more characters like Lara Croft, more Sheva Alomar, more Alyx and Eli Vance, Nariko, Trip and of course I must mention Jade, Jill Valentine and Sarah Kerrigan.

Ok ok, and Samus, sorry I forgot!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andreia Quinta on 21st March 2013 12:46pm

Posted:A year ago

#4

Andrea Wństlund Student

7 19 2.7
I don't know if there's less or more pressure to deliver a unique, well-realised personality in those instances but compared to male characters they tend to have better characterisation - in contrast, there's nothing or very little to critique or scrutinise in most male protagonists, Nathan Drake included... whose personality isn't even that consistent over the three games.
I've noticed this too. I believe it's more acceptable for women (both real and fictional) to break stereotypical gender norms than it is for men, which results in much greater possibilities for interesting characterisation.

As evidenced by Lara in particular, a female lead in an action game can easily do traditionally "male" activities like running, jumping, shooting and cracking jokes. But she can also cry, retch, struggle, fall over, show vulnerability, express physical and emotional pain... This doesn't make her less of a hero, it only makes her more human.

On the other hand, male action heroes are rarely allowed any emotional displays beyond punching walls and grunting. Because "boys don't cry", and if they do they should "man up" and "stop being such a girl", etc. These unforgiving macho-man roles don't really allow much room for weakness, emotion or personal struggle and result in bland, uninteresting characters. But how cool wouldn't it be to just disregard that stereotype and let a tough, iconic male hero be reborn in the same way as Lara? In a believable, more vulnerable role and in a much darker game? I'd love to see that. Video games aren't just about power fantasies and I'd personally like to see more characters of all genders/races/sexualities/etc that we can feel for/with.

The original article is really, really good by the way. Choice quote:

Posted:A year ago

#5

David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers

359 78 0.2
I think this is in part an effect of being far fewer female protagonists than male ones. Of course, there is a cultural bias that "masculinity" is normal whereas "femininity" is different; when you look at AAA game stories and characters, this is definitely true.

On the subject of male characters not getting emotional on screen, Dom in Gears of War 2 does get pretty upset over his wife. Of course, after a certain point in the story it's practically ignored, so I'd say that's a symptom of video game writing right there. :)

Posted:A year ago

#6

Kevin Danaher Associate Producer, EA Mobile

45 62 1.4
@David
I was just thinking of that scene in GOW2 myself.
Funnily enough though I played the game through again with a friend and we got to that scene and I went silent and watched it in trepidation of the emotional bombshell I knew was about to get dropped on Dom then... click, gone.
My mate had skipped it. I was like "What the hell?" and he says, "It's boring man" and I'm like "That's the story, that's his wife, it's the whole reason he's out here risking his life."

Perhaps this is just a symptom of a wider problem of male gamers not wanting to see their macho stereotype broken down to show the layers underneath. We have to progressively allow that and show that these characters are human, not just a stereotype. This will only make the characters more relate-able and thus the stories more enriching and involving.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Edward Buffery Pre-production Manager

149 96 0.6
Man, I hate it when my friends skip right through the only parts of a game that actually add emotion and deeper context to the explosions and gunfire.

Posted:A year ago

#8

David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers

359 78 0.2
People skipping the story is a symptom of a larger issue with games. Frankly, I think Gears of War 2 had a disjointed, piecemeal story and the part about Dom's wife felt tacked on, but the game experience was still quite solid. Games can succeed without a great story to a degree that is different than movies, literature or TV.

Also, a female character that hasn't been mentioned is Elena from Uncharted. She's secondary to Nathan Drake, as is everyone in the Uncharted series, but she has a really wonderful chemistry with him. The game is better when she's around and I think Uncharted 2 and 3 improve when she shows up about halfway through. Uncharted 3 also has a wonderfully understated "it's complicated" relationship between Nate and Elena where things are implied but not directly said, detailing the conflict between Nate's love of adventure and his feelings for Elena who, by contrast, doesn't love risking life and limb every day.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Sergio Rosa "Somewhat-Creative Director", Domaginarium

64 37 0.6
"A lot gets heaped on their shoulders. Lara Croft gets a lot more scrutiny than Nathan Drake does, as a female. Nobody talks about how well Nathan Drake is representing men, or male characters in games."

After reading some stuff I have to wonder if such scrutiny comes due to women wanting more meaningful women in games, and I fear developers (or writers) are more focused on please pro-women players (like Anita can't-remember-her-last-name from Feminist Frequency) than the actual characters, thus giving even more power to those who are analyzing those characters, and I believe that would need to stop because they'll just worry about critics, and not the game itself (like for example, why did she want to make Lara gay, but decided not to?)

I'm working on a game titled Enola, and the main character is a girl. She has specific looks, features, sexual orientations and personality traits, and some may argue she "does not represent women well" but I don't see why I should really care, if she's written that way because the story demands it, not because girls like Anita (something) demand it. For example, she's very co-dependent and some may argue "but you're stating that a girl cannot be happy unless she has a man" but her story demands that, so her codependency stays.

For an industry so into the "we make art" idea, we're too focused on what certain groups say about our work. I get the impression characters in other artistic mediums don't go through this.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Paul Jace Merchandiser

939 1,420 1.5
In the interview Pratchett also discussed the importance of making Lara more female, not just "a male character with boobs," admitted she would have loved to make Lara a gay character
I don't see why they didn't do that this time around, althought I'm sure it was out of her hands and up to Eidos or Square Enix. But I think a gay Lara would be just as interesting/compelling as straight Lara. In order to show different representations of sexuality the industry needs to take baby steps and making a major female character gay(or bisexual, they could have made this her experimental phase as far as the storyline goes) would have been a nice step forward in that direction.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Andrew Watson Programmer

99 245 2.5
I wouldn't mind seeing new characters with different sexualities but I think it's wrong to suddenly give a sexuality to a character that never really had one established in the first place. Fans already like to "fill in the blanks" with characters and plonking something big like sexuality in the middle of that just kinda makes the developers come across as trying to force political correctness to please the whining people in minority groups.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,182 972 0.8
I agree with you Andrew. I was almost waiting for someone to say it in the way I feel about it.
I wouldn't mind seeing new characters with different sexualities but I think it's wrong to suddenly give a sexuality to a character that never really had one established in the first place.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

224 590 2.6
The new Lara could be Gay or Bi for all we know, nothing was explicit in the game, and to be honest there was no need in the entire story to fill that gap, I thought Lara kissing Alex godbye was sweet, but we never know her feelings toward him, which is good because it wasn't necessary to the story unless it was shoehorned like Andrew mentions.

Posted:A year ago

#14

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