Does that still sound like nonsense to you? To summarize the original Bechdel test, in order for a movie or other form of media to pass, there needs to be two female characters and they need to have a conversation about something other than men.
That’s the test.
Yeah, I sort of give this test a bit of crap because come on, that’s it? But let’s consider the sobering fact that some things don’t actually pass this abysmal qualifier and that coming up with some sort of “social equity” scorecard is a challenging mess. That being said, let me try it out.
As I caveat with all my pages, this is only a foundation and definitely not the final form of any system. The more games I review and the more feedback I receive, the more I will create an encompassing and refined approach to this. But this chapter specifically will have a different approach than Time Value or Art.
All games I review will start at a baseline score of 62.5.
Yes, I know that sounds wacky. Yes, I realize that’s literally the maximum scores of the other categories divided by 2. But, like most things, it’s hard to create a strong dividing line of what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. What’s audience pandering vs effort? What’s xenophobia vs realism? That’s a hard af call to make as a reviewer of one who’s only had one life experience. And as you read this paragraph, you should also start to notice a few of the key things I will look for that will add/subtract from the base 62.5 and how it’s not just gender equity (though that is a part):
- Gender Representation (Max: 21 points)
- Sexuality Representation (Max: 21 points)
- Racial Representation (Max: 21 points)
This doesn’t add to 125 but decimals are annoying.
Points will be added when I find that a game goes beyond the normal confines of its genre in a positive way. Same for the negative swings. Max points of 63 apply with a total maximum score of 125.5 (that’s right folks; this category is a tinge unbalanced) and a minimum score of 0. Well I guess -0.5, but if a game gets there, it deserves it.
Let me tell you: this has been a ride. I think when I was younger the only female video game icons were Lara Croft and Princess Peach. Oh and my queen Terra Bradford, lest we forget.
But I don’t expect all games to have a female protagonist or female route. These are stories at the end of the day, and the characters need to be appropriate for the plot and the role they play.
What I will award points for is if there is a diversity of genders and if they are done well. So yes, things like Skyrim or Cyperpunk or Baulder’s Gate will get points for giving people the option of gender. They won’t, however, receive as many points if the female route is lacking or if it’s a simple copy/paste of the more common male route. That’s just lazy.
So that covers games with “self-insert” protagonists (at a very, very high-level) but what about other games and other characters? Secondary characters will be evaluated based on common tropes. What do I mean? Take, for example, these two iconic Nintendo princesses:
One will receive no points because she barely appears ever. The other will receive points because they are not a forced archetype. No overall judgement on Peach here. She just does next to nothing in Mario 64. If we were evaluating Mario Tennis on the other hand…
“But Nicole, isn’t “warrior princess” a trope? And doesn’t Peach fulfill the role she was designed for?“
Yes. And that’s why I hesitate to directly outline point ranges and what exactly will be evaluated. It’s too dependent on the game and story. And, obviously, these attributes only really apply to specific games.
Another area to be considered is when games include characters that fall out of the strictly binary designations of male and female. Again: that’s fantastic if done well. But I must say, I can only offer my opinion, and as a cisgendered woman, I hope that others can help form relevant commentary when I’m operating out of my own experience.
TLDR: No ranges. Ranges are hard for this because it’s complicated.
Literally just tempted to copy/paste the TLDR for the next two sections, but let me make some commentary.
Like my approach to gender representation, I do not support sexuality representation just because. I want it to be thoughtful. I want it to be representative of real life. That means that when LGBTQ+ characters are shown, they have to be actual characters.
What do I mean by that? Well, two things:
- Their sexuality is not a defining character trait.
- They do not persist a trope.
This really just boils down to: is the character written well? If they are, then no problem. Positive points abound.
And as mentioned with gender representation, I don’t expect all games to have everything. This is more about bringing to light the games that do and do it well.
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned “self-insert” protagonists yet, but a similar thought process applies. Extra points for being representative, but the routes should be good and equal. Just like the world, am I right?
TLDR: Wait for me to review a game with a social sim and debate me in the comments.
Different name, same game. Representation is good but do it right. Don’t do this:
The above image also brings up another point that I think I should clearly articulate. Funky student is a NPC from Persona 4, which takes place in rural Japan. Do I expect a diversity of races in Japan let alone rural Japan? No, I don’t. A game like that won’t be penalized for having an all Japanese cast because that’s the typical reality. It will, however, be penalized for the above trash. Doesn’t take a riddle master to figure that out.
TLDR: Racist parts of games will get negative points. Positive points for representation. Deal? Deal.
I’ll reiterate that I only know my experience, and I may not catch every positive or negative a game has in regards to all of these factors. Hence the importance of you and your thoughts. I want this blog to be educational and informative for both of us.