Bechdel Test for Video Games?

19 Dec

The other day I read an interesting review of the new Tron movie by Ashley F Miller. In her review Ashley mentioned the Bechdel test. What is the Bechdel test you ask? It’s simple:

This got me thinking, what about a Bechdel test for video games? I searched around but couldn’t find anything much besides this blog post by .tiff.

My question is this: how would the Behdel test apply to video games? Would it need to be modified? .tiff points out that one of the biggest ways video games differ from movies is in the player’s control of the character. Whereas in a movie we can only sit and wait for two women to talk to each other about something other than a man, in a video game it’s up to the player to make that interaction happen. This then brings up the issue of whether or not the game developers make it necessary to talk to a named woman about something other than a man in order to advance the story, or not.

Someone in the comments of .tiff’s blog post also brought up the point that many video games don’t have much talking at all, at least not by the main protagonist. How would this affect the Bechdel test when applied to video games?

What about video games that have female main characters? How would this affect the test if you had the ability to choose to play as a female or if you were required to play as a female? RPGs like Oblivion, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age let you choose to play as a woman, whereas other games like Portal, Bayonetta, and Mirror’s Edge require you to play a woman. Should these be counted differently? Should one be weighted more heavily than the other?

I think it’s important to keep in mind that the Bechdel test is only about gauging the involvement of women, not about the portrayal of women. I’m tempted to ask questions about how the video game has women dressed, how their bodies are built (are they normal people or super sexualized?) and whether or not they need rescuing in some capacity. (sidenote, if you play as a female in the Mass Effect series, there are a lot of times you have to rescue the helpless male, which I find extremely refreshing)

I think recent RPGs have really been doing a good job as far as including women goes. Games like the ones I mentioned above have a lot of female characters in them, with a bunch of quest important named females. (Not to mention the fact that you can play as a female, and in the newer RPGs can engage in relations with NPCs without regard to the gender binary) However, this still brings us back to the question of whether or not the bar should be at different levels for different genres of games. RPGs need a good amount of women in them to create a realistic world feel. (Because, surprise, women make up half the population in the real world) Should a game like that really be weighted the same as say an FPS that has a large female presence? Should the game developers of an FPS get more credit for including women in a genre largely devoid of them? (Whereas women are standard in RGPs)

Thoughts?

4 Responses to “Bechdel Test for Video Games?”

  1. ashleyfmiller December 19, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    1. Is there more than one named woman
    2. who are active (ie, you can play as them or they help you fight)
    3. who aren’t nearly nude

    I think those are close equivalencies, in terms of video game language vs film language.

  2. godlesspaladin December 19, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    Hmm, those sound good, but would “nearly nude” include having a Barbie like body (physically impossible) and clothes that are so tight they look painted on?

  3. ashleyfmiller December 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Yes, that would definitely qualify as nearly nude since they’re only wearing body paint.

  4. Vidugavia December 21, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    I think that one of the best things with the Bechdel test is that it isn’t asking questions about womens clothing. Speaking about whether a woman is “nearly nude” or not to often gets a rather unnerving victorian tone.

    The bechdel test asks questions regarding the existence of female characters as genuine individuals with other interests in their lives then their relationship to men.

    I think feminist cultural analysis often puts a unhealthy focus on how depictions of women look and in the process forgets to ponder what said depicted women do.

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