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Uncommon Catalysts: Final Fantasy VI and the Female Protagonist — 2 Comments

  1. An excellent piece on an excellent game.

    An important thing to remember about this game is that it’s one of the few games to ever get female characters “right.” The writers chose not to portray them as simple background love interests, which was fantastic for the time. Neither did they go the opposite route and turn them into unfeeling badasses refusing to stand beholden to any person, which is often the politically correct model for female characters today. As the author noted, the characters are intensely feminine. They are viewed not through their ties to one of the protagonists, but instead by the ways they ardently strive to fulfill the duties inherent in their many deep and trusting relationships. These are two women not defined by their relationships, but choosing to act in love and service to those relationships, and the people reliant upon them. This is not a case of “women being women,” but of people being people.

    Terra discovers her abilities and her responsibilities, strides forward to meet them, and becomes a beacon of hope for others. But she also doubts, struggles, and seeks comfort in others, including her father. Ceres is powerful and confident, but also vulnerable. Too often today, female characters are not allowed to be vulnerable, or are not allowed to feel responsible. Anything short of ice-cold independence is considered passé. Yet Terra and Ceres stand as testament to the fact that there is a balance point between “sobbing mess” and “isolated fortress.” It just takes a skilled storyteller to build real characters of any gender (or in this case, it took a team of storytellers).

    Perhaps, then, we can say that the skill of all writers in all mediums needs to improve so that they are capable of creating fully nuanced people. In a time when the majority of storytellers were men, these writers went beyond writing about character types as they’ve experienced them (in this case women), and instead learned to write about women as they actually are. This is an oversight which authors often do not realize, because their writing makes perfect sense to them. However, it can cause that part of their story to fail to resonate with some of their audience.

    In the case of video games, female characters written by men often fail to resonate with female players, because they are portrayals of women from the external viewing experience of those men. They may have the external trappings and many basic behaviors of women, but none of the internal reasoning, depth, nuance, or feeling of real women, because the writers lacked that perspective, and did not recognize this gap in their storytelling. This game is an excellent and enduring guide to any who seek to learn how to step outside of one’s experience and write about people as they truly are.

    • As someone who’s only ever watched these games being played, it had never occurred to me that the protagonists in these games had backstories, development arcs and often, places in a larger universe of games that had story arcs and development through time – until I started making contact with gamers around the world via Twitter. I get excited to see writers and gamers discussing these issues and to see how storytelling just continues to evolve based on the sophistication of the audience. Gamers seem to be less and less content to “settle” for boring stories and flat-line character development, and to insist instead on living, vibrant four-dimensional characters (with Time being the fourth, in this case).

      Is it a direct consequence of the diversification of the gaming audience/customer base, do you think? I seem to remember reading much commentary on the lack of good/depthful development for protagonists in general (and female protags specifically, of course). I’d be interested to read what folks think about that.

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