For my term paper this semester, I’d like to explore the rhetoric of video game heroines. Women have long gotten the short end of the stick in the video game and comic universe—typically they are overly sexualized with little to no power to speak of, wearing next to nothing while supposedly saving the world…or even worse, while doing nothing at all. Characters like Zelda and Princess Peach are icons, and yet they do nothing but get themselves kidnapped in increasingly ridiculous ways. What does that say about women as a whole?
I would really like to find that out. I want to find out what the dainty females like Zelda and Princess Peach and then what the overly sexualized powerhouses like Lara Croft and Bayonetta mean in our society. Who plays these games? What messages are the developers trying to get across to those players? For example, there was a public outcry with the popular RPG Fable 2 because the more powerful a female character got, the more bulky she became (in other words, she was physically realistic). What does it mean that the public became so upset about this? Do we really expect our heroines to be superheroes who never look bigger than a size 0?
While some of these questions are perhaps just speculation and technically unanswerable, it is not too much to look at the data of gamers and the types of games they’re playing, to see the male to female gamer ratio. Perhaps that ratio is different than what the developers think it is, and in that regard, looking at the projected audience data for a game would be helpful. Finally, by examining the heroines themselves—their physical builds, clothing, game dialogue and powers—one can truly get more of an idea of the rhetorical female the developers are trying to create (for examples I will be studying Zelda and Princess Peach, the helpless end of the spectrum, and then the sexy Lara Croft, Bayonetta, and Lilith from Borderlands. Finally, I’ll examine the relatively accurate RPG possibilities of games like the Fable series).
In this paper, I would simply like to identify the message developers are trying to send about females, the message the gamers are receiving, and whether those messages are the same or extremely different—essentially, I would like to find out in my research whether the rhetorical female in current video games is effective and persuasive rhetoric at its finest. It would be helpful for me to know if my focus needs to be narrowed—do you think I’m aiming too broadly here? I think that the example females I picked show a fairly broad range of the female video game types, so I’m hoping that just studying those few will give me plenty of data. Also, I’m not sure if I’m on the right track with my rhetorical aims—what are your thoughts?