For all the recent progress made in the video game industry with the inclusion of strong female protagonists and characters in video games, there have been just as many setbacks. This series is dedicated to elaborating on what went wrong with the various female character depictions and how we can learn from them to achieve representational gender parity in video games.
Chloe Frazer from “Uncharted: Lost Legacy”
Former love interest to “Uncharted” protagonist Nathan Drake, Frazer makes her stand-alone debut in the 2017 series spin-off “Uncharted: Lost Legacy.” She is the main protagonist alongside Nadine Ross, Drake’s former enemy from “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.”
While many fans of the series thought it odd that Naughty Dog would continue the wildly popular franchise without it’s flagship character Nathan Drake, the spin-off/sequel was generally well received, earning an 84% score from Metacritic and an 8.5/10 review from Polygon.
The game is, most likely, the last game to be developed by “Last of Us” studio Naughty Dog, but “Legacy” has set a solid foundation for an “Uncharted” universe without Nathan Drake, should any other studios try to take on this wildly popular video game series.
Gorgeous graphics, unique characterization, and critical approval aside, there were some parts of “Legacy” in which the gender of the game’s protagonists came into stark relief when compared to previous incarnations.
First of all, let me be clear, I’m not trying to say that female video game protagonists should be exactly like their male counterparts. They should be able to do the same stunts as their male counterparts – jumping obscenely long distances, setting off explosions from miles away, bringing down the bad guy in some super heroic fashion, or whatever – but they shouldn’t necessarily be exactly like them.
While you could take just about any male protagonist and read him as a case study in hegemonic masculinity, I think I’ll save that for a later blog and just say that as long as our male heroes are jumping off bridges and shooting up abandoned buildings full of bad guys, our female protagonists should be doing the equivalent, and for the most part they are.
However, in “Legacy” there are a few moments in which the gender of the protagonist becomes the main focus of the story in a way that never would have happened with Nathan Drake as the protagonist. There is one cringe-worthy moment toward the beginning of the game in particular that highlights this distinction and made my blood boil.
At the start of the game, Frazer is trekking through a war zone in India to meet up with Ross. She gets stopped and accosted at one point by a group of male soldiers who take advantage of her perceived weakness to make vaguely sexually threatening remarks, get into her face, and generally toe the line between street harassment and full-blown sexual assault.
Although nothing actually happens and Frazer makes it through the checkpoint without telling the men off or starting a fight she can’t possibly hope to win, this moment still smacks of something approaching sexism. While yes, this is an accurate depiction of how too many women are treated in India and all over the world, and yes, Frazer makes a point afterwards to say how she could have taken those guys down if she had the time, and YES, the men in this situation are depicted as the “bad guys” and their behavior as deplorable, the fact of the matter remains that this never would have happened with Nathan Drake as the protagonist.
Chloe Frazer, canonically, is a woman, and the game designers and writers used her gender very specifically in that moment as a way to heighten the tension and create drama. At that point, her gender was, essentially, a plot device, and one that didn’t do anything other than highlight the fact that she was a woman in a very dangerous situation.
There were other gender-centric moments of the game, but this moment was the most salient for me as it really highlighted the gendered treatment Naughty Dog gave their two “Uncharted” protagonists. Just try and imagine Nathan Drake in a situation like Chloe Frazer was forced into at the game’s start and you’ll see how differently their genders are treated and perceived when they are placed in the same role – snarky, treasure-hunting protagonist.
And if you don’t see any difference in how they were treated, then you need to check yourself, because they undeniably were and that slight difference is characteristic of larger patterns of normalized sexual violence against women in the real world.
Until next time, let the power of Lara Croft be with you.