I try not to play video games. It’s way too easy to sit down at my computer, blink and realize that four hours has gone by. This phenomena has only worsened over time as the gaming industry has improved technology and artistry, and invested more heavily in fully realized story telling. But the video game industry is rapidly becoming a major medium for storytelling, and I ignore it at my peril. Also? AWESOME GAMES.
When I do play games, I try to stick to iPad games, as they tend to be discrete forays that you can complete in 15 minutes or so, then get back to work. My favorite iPad video game, hands down, is Infinity Blade II. If you’re wondering why, then you need to check it out. Also, you may have been living under a rock for the past year.
Anyway, I was playing the game while my 9 year old niece watched the other day, and she noticed that the game could only be played as a male. She wanted to know why you couldn’t play as a female. I told her she might want to write Chair’s CEO with her question, and the email exchange below resulted.
I am so incredibly proud of her, and I provide the exchange unedited for your review.
FROM ME TO CHAIR’S CEO, DONALD MUSTARD:
My niece, now 9, has just started getting into the world of gaming, with her parents allowing her to play Angry Birds and The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth. Video gaming is a big part of the creative bedrock that helped me become a writer, so I’m delighted.
Yesterday, she asked me what my favorite iPad game was, so I sat her down and started running through Infinity Blade II, which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest iPad games to date.
She was, predictably, stunned by the gorgeously rendered sets, the haunting story, drawn quickly into Ausar’s struggle to free mankind from tyrannical grip of the Deathless.
I was wearing my hard won suit of the Vile Armor, and so my niece asked, “You’re a girl, right?”
“No,” I replied, Ausar is a boy. “I know the Vile Armor makes him look a bit like a girl, but he’s not.”
She watched in silence, then, after a while, she asked me to play as Ausar’s female companion, seen at the beginning of the game.
“You can’t,” I said.
“Why not?” She asked.
“Because the game doesn’t allow it. They never programmed it in.”
She was quiet again, and then said, “That’s insulting to women.”
“Well, sweetie,” I answered, “an insult is in the intent. I don’t think the makers of the game intended to insult anyone. I think this is what we call an ‘oversight.'”
It took me a while to explain what an oversight was, and that led to a 15 minute trip down the rabbit hole about intent and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
“Girls can fight as well as boys,” she said. “They let them in the army now.” (She meant, of course, the recent landmark change in military policy that allows women in combat designated roles.)
I was proud of her for noticing the omission, and for being brave and self-aware enough to want something done about it.
But what most concerned me was that she was missing a chance to be truly immersed in the story. The reason fiction enchants and transports us is because we relate so strongly to the characters that we feel, even in a cursory way, that we *are* them. That is the particular appeal of gaming. When I play Infinity Blade II, I am in Ausar’s skin, facing down the Lord of the House of IX in single combat, resplendent in black armor, the Infinity Blade glowing in my hand. I wanted Madeline to have that feeling too, was concerned that she couldn’t. That sense of transportation has been critical to building what I consider the best parts of who I am.
And for the first time, I realized that a lot of that was because I was a male. I took it for granted.
I put the game down. “You know what? I bet if you write Chair a letter, they’ll respond. I bet they’d want to know this.”
At first, she was confused. She didn’t know that was something that she could do, but after a moment, her eyes lit up at the possibility of having a stake in something, at being able to reach out and change the world. It was a glimmer of adulthood, and she jumped on it.
Here’s what she wrote, and I’d be delighted to give her Chair’s response. Your fabulous storytelling has been so important to me, and I want so badly to share that with her.
I would like to see women more often in action games. Many men underestimate what women can do and what is possible for women to do. It would be helpful and supportive if you could create a girl player in a Infinity Blade (*or something like that*).
Thank you for listening,
Thanks in advance for your response, and congratulations on such an enduring and resonant universe. It is truly great work, and has proved to be an unexpected learning moment for one of the dearest people in my life.
CHAIR’S CEO REPLIED AS FOLLOWS:
Hi Madeline (and Myke),
Thank you so much for taking the time to write and tell us your thoughts.
We agree with you – it seems many people underestimate the value of women, which is reflected in how they are often portrayed in entertainment media.
At ChAIR, we care very much about the stories we tell and the games we make and work very hard to make the characters in them believable, aspirational, and fully realized. This is no easy or fast thing, and we’ve learned that to create an enduring gameplay universe rich enough to warrant powerful storytelling and deep gameplay requires careful and deliberate pacing (often spanning years and many products). This is the reason why we have been carefully building the character of Isa in a meaningful way – to show that she is just as important, powerful, and able to shape herself and events as Siris. In many ways much more so. If you’ve had the chance to read Infinity Blade: Awakening I hope you would see that our intent is to show Isa as the driving force and inspiration behind Siris beginning to find redemption – and that there is much more to her story.
I cannot go into more detail at this time as we don’t discuss unannounced projects, but I am confident you will be pleased with some of our plans for future games we wish to make 🙂
I don’t know about the rest of you, but my heart has grown 3 sizes. My niece is learning agency. She is learning to stand up for the things she believes in. She is learning that, when you speak truth, people listen.
She is learning that she can change the world.
I am such a proud uncle.