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What's up with Girl Games?

(plus 11 Heartless Bitches)
by Allen Rausch

When you work in the video game industry as I do, it becomes abundantly clear very quickly what a "Boy's Club" it is. One of my personal crusades has been to champion what are condescendingly called "Girl Games". In fact what's needed are not "girl games" like the loathsome though popular Barbie CD-ROM, but games that are exciting for both boys and girls (and men and women) by not being insulting or exclusionary by nature.

There's a practical reason for all this, of course. Female gamers are a large, badly underaddressed segment of the market with just as much spending power and interest in technology as their boy counterparts. There's an over-riding social need, though, as well. It's a well-known fact that many boys are first introduced to computers and the technology that will make them strong wage earners, by video games. Females, turned off by games that are by turn, stupid and insulting to them, can be at a severe disadvantage later, because they've concluded that there's nothing for them in the world of computers. Many girls reach this conclusion by the time they're 12.

That's what makes groups like the Psycho Men Slayers and Crackwhorez Quake clans so encouraging. Quake is a game that by nature of the skins that can be downloaded and the fact that the main character can be anyone of any gender, equalizes the playing field. On the surface Quake, with it's mind-numbing violence would seem to be a boy's game, but by not being needlessly insulting or stereotypical (Need I mention the patently offensive "blowing away the strippers" level in Duke Nuke'em 3D?) has attracted a coterie of bright, skilled female players every bit as blood thirsty as the guys they take on.

(You might also want to check out www.purple-moon.com, only a few Heartless Bitches in the games, but the women running the company might qualify.)

Anyway - here they are: the 11 Great Heartless Bitches of Videogaming (I tried to make it 10, but you know how some women are...) -

11. Sue - The female ghost from Ms. Pac-man. Badly underappreciated in her time, Sue ran with the boy ghosts, was just as fast, just as vicious, and wanted what she wanted- the overly femmy lusting-after-Pac-man-only-need-a-house-and-a-Pac-Man-jr. Ms. Pac-man's ass on a platter.

10. Minax - the villain from Origin's Ultima II. When her lover Mondain was killed by the hero in Ultima I, she didn't go wimpering off into the woodwork. She zipped over to Earth, took the entire planet hostage, fucked up the gates of time and managed to spread terror and fear across 50,000 years of human history. That's revenge, baby!

9. Sofia - The supporting character from Lucasart's Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. A woman who gives as good as she gets in the snappy one-liner department, she's much, MUCH smarter than Indiana. Without her knowledge of the supposedly "mythical" continent of Atlantis, the lost continent would currently be in the hands of the Nazis.

8. Maureen - From Lucasart's Full Throttle. Bad-ass biker babe from Hell. She's handy with a socket wrench, can fix motorcycles using little more than spit and baling wire, and when kidnapped, doesn't wait for the thick witted hero Ben to come to her rescue, but takes charge of her own destiny. Even better, despite all the stereotypical pressures the marketing folks put on them, Maureen doesn't fall in love with Ben. They're partners of convenience, and they might be friends, but that's as far as it goes.

7. Governor Elaine Marley - From Lucasart's The Secret of Monkey Island. Governor of an island full of the worst cutthroats, scalawags and pirates of the Carribean, Governor Marley takes crap from no -one. She's another Lucasarts woman who, when kidnapped, says screw this - I'm rescuing myself! She does have the bad taste to fall in love with Guybrush Threepwood, the world's lamest pirate, but she also had the good sense to dump him in the sequel - Monkey Island II.

6. Laverne - From Lucasarts Day of the Tentacle - Sure, she looks and sounds like your stereotypical bubble-headed bleached blonde, but consider this - Laverne's a medical student who had the good sense to enter someone else in a beauty contest instead of herself. That someone else was actually a corpse - and it won! What better revenge on those meat-market parades? She also managed to fix a 200 year old time machine with a rubber band and a cryogenically frozen hamster. Bubble headed? I don't think so.

5. Mileena - From William's Mortal Kombat II. What's to say? One of her finishing moves has her sucking up her opponent, chewing them up, and spitting out a pile of bones.

4. Carmen San Diego - From Broderbund's Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? Head of her own criminal empire that in various games has figured out how to steal the Statue of Liberty, the Pyramids of Giza, the Eiffel Tower, and in later games - the moon!

3. Tanya - From Westwood's Command and Conquer - Red Alert. Tanya's an Allied commando during World War II who blows through infantry like paper using just a pair of .45's and her battle cry - "Let's Rock!". In the course of the game she manages to rescue Albert Einstein, a squad of trapped infantry, blow up a supply of lethal nerve gas, and is so handy with explosives that she's often banned from on-line games for being "too powerful". Best scene in the game - The clueless Greek commander sees Tanya enter the briefing room, "Commander? Should this... woman be here? She's a... a... civilian!" Tanya's response, "That's why I'm still alive."

2. Lara Croft - An overbred socialite who finds her true self after her plane crashes in the jungle. True, she's got those drooling guy-friendly pneumatic breasts, but in Eidos's Tomb Raider she faces down archaeological situations that would make Indiana Jones hang up the whip and take up needlepoint. Packing two pistols John Woo style, Lara enters a Himalayan tomb, battles wolves and monsters, and comes home with the treasure, all for the sake of satisfying her own wanderlust and yen for adventure. Interesting, the same qualities that get a man labeled "bold" and "adventurous" got Lara labeled by Congress as "amoral" and "a bad example for young people".

Just one Dishonorable Mention before the winner: Kimberly from Space Ace - Sweetheart, get a clue! The next time you get kidnapped, knee bad-guy Borf in the nuts, tell both Dexter and Space Ace to piss off, climb into the starship and fly into a better friggin' game!

1. Grace Nakimura - She went from being the supporting character in Sierra's Gabriel Knight - Sins of the Fathers (Gabriel - "When are you going out with me?" Grace - "Maybe when I get that lobotomy!") to being the co-star of the sequel - Gabriel Knight - The Beast Within. Grace is everything a heartless bitch should be, smart, in charge of her own destiny, and not needing any man to make her happy.

Why does she work with a preening, self-obsessed, pretty boy like Gabriel Knight then? A couple of reasons, first, she's interested in the occult. She wants to do good in the world and fight evil and knows that without her solid backing, the somewhat thick Gabriel - who's supposed to be a "hero", but is in fact just lucky in his ancestry and was gifted with mystical powers. is going to end up very dead. Second, she likes Gabriel. No, she's not "in love" with him, but she sees his good qualities underneath all the vanity and decides to help him bring them out.

The Beast Within is one of the best games out there in terms of story quality, especially using becoming a werewolf as a symbol for the seductive power of the brutish side of a man's nature. The Hunt Club (an all-male group made entirely of werewolves) in the game that infects Gabriel with lycanthropy in an effort to recuit him, is just a treehouse with a sign saying "no Girls allowed".

Grace's relationship with Gabriel is subtle and nuanced. Her friendship, research skills and brains made the difference between a succesful conclusion to the case and Gabriel spending the rest of his days begging for Snausages. Although Gabriel has become a (somewhat) better person at the end of the game, it doesn't present players with the pat "Grace falls in love" ending you might have expected. The last scene of the game is marvelous, where essentially Grace (gently) tells him what a collossal asshole he's been. The romance is implicit in the scene, but nothing is ever said, and the viewer is left with the impression that if these two ever get together it'll be on her terms - not his.

There you have it - 11 Great Heartless Bitches, smart, capable, and providers of some really great gaming experiences...

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