Through the course of time, certain stereotypes have become a regular staple of female characters in geek media. Some of these may be a residual effect of a formerly male centric interest, while others are the result of women trying too hard to fight back against. While there shouldn’t be a pressure to play or create a character that is completely original, when we don’t go beyond a stereotype we are not stretching our creative muscles as gamers and writers. Archetypes are a good foundation, but they need to be shaped to form something with depth. To craft them into an interesting and balanced character.
While there are numerous stereotypes that exist, I have chosen to address three of the ones I see the most frequently. Let’s examine their pitfalls and how we, as a community, can strive to go beyond the stereotype.
This, more than any of the others on the list, is the stereotype that the majority of women rail against the most. It’s also the one that many starting players create. Why? Because many female gamers come into gaming through their significant others. They are often referred to as a “backpack” among gaming society.
The profile of The Damsel is a character that has little to no physical attributes, is dependent on other characters, and has minimal motivation or goals. They are frequently the love interest for another character and lack a clearly defined background. She appears helpless with no indication of ever trying to get involved or make her own choices.
The problem with this stereotype is that those playing The Damsel will often find that they feel alienated from the game and the other players. The reason for this is usually because of their dependence on others and weak concept design. Motivations, goals and a fully conceptualized background help give a character the fuel they need to be an active participant. Without this drive, other players may become exhausted with trying to constantly work in ways to get you involved or having to rescue you every five minutes.
Those who want to play a more classic heroine role shouldn’t let this deter them though, because there are ways to construct this archetype into a fully fleshed out character. One of the best ways to do this is by giving your character a useful, non-physical based skill set, whether it be diplomacy, martial tactics, economic strategy, first aid, empathy, academics or linguistics. Giving yourself an edge is one way to make your character a part of the team. Not everyone can be the fighter. Sometimes you need someone to be able to talk down the monster or translate ancient documents.
An example of this can be found in fan favorite, Princess Leia. We are presented with a character who needs to be rescued and upon first look seems to be a damsel in distress, but we soon learn that she possesses a strong moral code and sense of self. She conducts herself with confidence and is able to take command of military units. While she might not always jump out directly into the fray, she’s still involved in the action.
The Gun Bunny
Next we come to the ever-popular Gun Bunny. This stereotype is a two-fold construction from guys wanting to salivate over busty girls in tight leather and women wanting to escape the confines of The Damsel stereotype they have been presented with for too long.
Gun Bunnies are usually defined by their martial prowess. They are often have no flaws and no rational excuse for their powers and/or skills. In addition, they can often be found going the lone wolf route in an attempt to display just how cool their character is.
These stereotypes become an issue due to their frequent unwillingness to work with a group and also for their unwillingness to show any faults. While it’s tempting for many girls to play someone “empowered”, I think the idea of inner strength gets blurred with a total focus on physical skills. Gaming is a social pastime and as a result, alienating yourself from the group doesn’t do anyone any favors.
If you want to play a more social based character, it is possible to play this archetype effectively without having to compromise integrity. The goal of creating a character like this should focus on making the character be realistic. Flaws and short comings are universal and your character shouldn’t be exempt. This goes beyond having an eye patch. We’re talking about true flaws and insecurities that can truly affect the character. In addition to this, to make this character endearing, you’ll want to craft a believable backstory and be approachable.
Personally, I find Joss Wheadon to be one of the best writers of believable female characters. One of his characters that I think is a perfect example of the Gun Bunny done right is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Faith. Faith starts out as a very likeable girl. Everyone immediately gets along with her, she doesn’t spend her time skulking in a corner – she’s out there making jokes and having fun with the others. We also get to see some great moments of vulnerability that display a near crippling self- loathing. In this, she transcends from being a run-of-the-mill antagonist and becomes a character you can relate to.
The Crazy Girl
Those who don’t’ want to be a physical powerhouse like The Gun Bunny nor a delicate and demure Damsel, will often turn to a third option – The Crazy Girl. From happy homicidal psychopaths to excessively traumatized teens, the Crazy Girl has become a recent favorite among gamer girls and geek media alike.
The Crazy Girl can often be found laughing manically and rambling incoherently in a corner. Their random actions are focused on silly antics. Their purpose seems to be exclusively to seek attention and offer, often disruptive, humor. They usually have little other defining characteristic aside from their insanity.
The problem is that many players find this stereotype to be annoying. And with good reason. The Crazy Girl has a habit of disrupting otherwise meaningful and emotional charged interactions for a chance to throw in a joke or make a scene. Constantly diverting attention to yourself can ruin a moment and rub other players the wrong way.
If you want to play a Crazy Girl, there are ways to pull it off without becoming disruptive. One of the key things is learning to be subtle. A constant barrage of flamboyant antics doesn’t give you room for displaying levels of clarity and psychosis. Sometimes it’s more unsettling to stare at someone blankly than to pull out a fish from your shirt and whacking someone on the head with it. Another thing you can do to keep everyone on their toes is to have moments of utter normalcy. These moments will make moments of insanity that much more impacting because you display a level of unpredictability without relying on humor.
A good example of this type of character that would fit in well with a game is Luna Lovegood. She is clearly “not all there” but she’s still an active member of the team. Sometimes her dialogue is nonsense, but it is sprinkled with wisdom and she rarely hogs the spotlight. She has subtle quirks and eccentric beliefs that cause her to be unsettling without being over the top.
While those are only three examples, I think we should constantly seek to go beyond all stereotypes we may encounter. We should always strive to delve further into our characters and craft fully realized concepts. Challenging ourselves to push the beyond the limits of popularity and convention is how we will continue to grow and make a solid presence for ourselves in the gaming community.