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Monday, August 18, 2014

Opinion: My five favourite female characters of my youth

Opinion by Jedediah H.

I had a pretty good childhood. With parents who nurtured me with all the necessities plus a few luxuries (love, support... and video games, baby!), friends with whom I could share my illogical thoughts and misadventures with, and a body tempered in muscular steel plating that was lightly polished with golden machismo (thanks to my overdeveloped imagination), I was a most fortunate lad. One problem - no, defect - I had: the paralysing inability to talk to girls, specifically those whom I thought were cute.

The cuter the girl, the more difficult it was for me to talk to her. It was as though my meek appearance - head drooped downward like I was conversing with a condemned soul on the edge of the underworld, and palms sweating like I'd manually defused a nuclear warhead set to detonate inside the student counsellor's personal microwave - was a self-fulfilling prophecy for perpetual shyness. It was because of this shyness that I couldn't interact with and get to know particular girls as well as I would've liked to.

So I did what any boy with a body tempered in imaginary muscular steel plating would do: On a muggy afternoon, I summoned all the courage in my slender bones, approached a girl I considered to be the epitome of cuteness, and.. accidentally bashed my hip into the corner of her table, then retreated with a hobble back to my seat, where I forthwith pretended to read. That afternoon, defeated, I shambled home, did my arithmetic, and played my games.

While playing that evening, I was introduced to Rydia, the first female character whom weeks later I felt deserved the title of "amazing." From then on, from boyhood to young adulthood, I continued to discover extraordinary female characters within my interactive narratives. I am, of course, much more confident with myself these days, but nonetheless it was these characters that helped me get through what was at times an awkward childhood.

I was feeling a little nostalgic recently, so here are five female characters, and the nicknames I had for them at the time, who offered me an amazing impression of women (and girls) during my youth.

Rydia of Mist AKA Please. Summon. Faster. (Final Fantasy II/IV)

My introduction to Rydia was pretty much, partly metaphorically speaking, a sword to her mother's throat followed by a flaming fist to her underdeveloped face: While transgressing a cave to deliver a package to the Village of Mist for the King of Baron, my protagonists Cecil and Kain slay a being - a milky Mist Dragon who, curse my helmet, happened to be Rydia's mother - that refused to let them pass.

Adding to that dishonour, once they stepped into the village, the package they'd been transporting burst open, burping a disco of undulating flames upon the entire village. Enraged, but still adorable, over her mother's death, Rydia emitted a green aura and summoned Titan, a being comprised of all the flexed quadriceps that have since lived and perished, who decimated the entire northern coast with a brisk pump of his biceps: the left named "Earth," the right named "Quake." Oh, how the pleasure was all mine.

Those last few sentences alone should justify Rydia's magnificence, but it was her incredible maturity as a seemingly frail little girl that caught my attention. Even though Cecil unintentionally killed her mother, Rydia was capable of forgiveness, a concept I didn't really understand at my young age, for his abominable mistake. She even got over her fear of fire, which Cecil instilled in her by unexpectedly blowing up her village, by casting a fire spell on an ice blockade at the entrance of Mt. Hobs.

Oh, and did I mention that she practically time-lapsed into a young woman with an acquired wisdom that allowed her to place the needs of the many (saving the world) over her own implicit needs (casting the newly learned Mist Dragon summon on Cecil while Kain, bound between Titan's earth-like pectorals, is forced to wait his turn)?

Sniper Wolf AKA Red Dot Kill (Metal Gear Solid)

Like every aspect of Metal Gear Solid during my first play-through, Sniper Wolf sneaked up to me in a cardboard box and took me by pleasant surprise (with a choke-hold I'll forever recognise and welcome). She was a female sniper with a soft hatred for incompetent men; being confident in her own abilities as well as the ability of her unit, FOXHOUND, she considered Snake to be incompetent by default of his opposition.

So she would question his masculinity while touting her feminine superiority, stating that women made better soldiers than men. When she claimed two-thirds of the world's greatest assassins were women, my empty teenage brain thought, "Really?! That's so cool!" I found her hubris refreshingly compelling, because unlike some arrogant men and women, her elegant but cold demeanour, unrivalled sharpshooting skills, and impressive yet tragic back-story actually justified its presence.

And don't get me started about the no-holds-barred snipe-off. That fight had me conflicted. On one hand, I wanted to avenge Meryl for being riddled with rounds from Wolf's PSG1, but on the other, I didn't want to actually kill Sniper Wolf; her loyalty to FOXHOUND was a consequence of her war torn upbringing.

But in the end, I had no choice. I entered the battle but decided I wouldn't allow myself to use the thermal scope, for the sake of fairness and prolonging a fight I didn't want to conclude. I laid prone beside a tree, and scanned the distance for the fog of warm breath escaping her contentious mouth. After a fair exchange of sniper fire, she was defeated, on her back, facing the stars. Before the cut-scene could initiate, I set down the controller and listened intently. I didn't want to miss a single word.

Claire "Scare Bear" Redfield (Resident Evil: Code Veronica)

Some jacketed men and scarfed, high-heeled women may claim that Claire is nothing more than a female doppelgänger of her brother Chris, and to that I say, "My, what a lovely scarf you've donned this evening, miss"; followed by, "how dare you claim such things! She can hear you, you know..." Look, if Claire showed me anything in RE: CV, it's that women are capable of "manning up" and handling the most difficult of viral zombie outbreaks in an effective manner that most men clearly aren't cut out for.

Case in point: Steve "Why am I Alive?" Burnside. Steve could perform some impressive gimmicks, sure, like side-flipping through a window whilst stylishly unloading twin Lugers into a Bandersnatch that's seconds from tentacle-whipping Claire into obedience, but I didn't care. My friend who was taking turns controlling Claire didn't care.

Moments prior to his pretentious but successful rescue (which neither I nor Claire needed), Steve managed to trap himself in a freakin' antique showroom, because he couldn't comprehend that the Lugers he'd just removed from the wall display were responsible for triggering the door to lock and temperature in the room to rise.

All this pretty-boy had to do was place the Lugers back in their slots to deactivate his demise, but you could tell by his pubescent DiCaprio-like smirk, he'd rather sweat and die absolutely clueless than live to be outsmarted by a zombie. Hell, you could observe him, cowering in pain and stupidity, through the monitor as you decided whether or not to have Claire solve the puzzle to save him (of course, you have to). After seeing that, my friend looked at me, laughed for what must have been a solid two minutes, and said, "dude, what an idiot. Steve makes guys out to be total morons. At least Claire is cool." You're darn right.

Sodina Dawnfried AKA Dawn (Thousand Arms)

If you've actually played through the role-playing-dating-sim that is Thousand Arms, we should exchange contact information, grab a few drinks, then celebrate the evening by getting matching ankle tattoos, because we, my friends, are members of an elite club. Whenever I mention this game by name to self-proclaimed fans of JRPGs, they give me a look of confusion and concern, like my pants are hanging to my knees and I'm applying whiskey to my skin to ward off sun spirits.

Thousand Arms sits in a special, lavish chamber of my heart, because it was the first game I had ever been aware of to feature a prominent dating simulation. It was so novel at the time, when I described it to some of my friends, they thought it sounded "odd and borderline creepy." Of course, to me it was everything but.

Playing as the lewdly flirtatious Spirit Blacksmith, Meis Triumph, I had the option of treating the female members of my party to dates in various locations for the purpose of, you know, increasing their Intimacy Levels, which would in turn increase my ability to forge stronger weapons. These dates consisted of choosing between two dialogue options, one of which was generally flattering while the other could be - how do I put this? - sexually immature or grossly cavalier.

Here enters Sodina, my favourite girl on the team. She was cute, brave, and red-headed. But best of all, when I'd experiment with Meis's immature dialogue options, Sodina would either kindly call him out on his impropriety, or flat-out end the date. She didn't put up with his/ my childish antics. And I loved that; during that time, a few female friends of mine were dating some pretty uncouth boys. They would make up excuses for their boyfriends' ungentlemanly behaviour rather than calling them out or breaking off the relationship. Sodina could've taught them a couple of things about self-respect.

The Boss AKA The Originator (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

I was going through a tough time right before this game came out. I had just graduated from high school and was beginning my college studies, which should have been an enthralling period of experimentation and maturation. Instead, due to various observations, I was disillusioned. I had no faith in my country's meritocratic cultural narrative, I had no trust in the media, and I had this suppressive lack of agency, as though certain aspects of my life were under command by shapeless corporate interests. Frankly, progress seemed pointless if it could be stripped from me at any moment.

Breaking me out of my negative trance, during a melancholy study session, my brother strode in and threw a game-shaped package with the Amazon logo on my lap. I ripped it open and there stood my buddy, Snake, winking at me with his good eye from the cover of the case. I fiercely threw aside my books as if they were two volumes of the Necronomicon, carefully inserted the disc into my PS2, and for the next three days neglected my studies, as psychology and anthropology were trivial compared to Snake's one-sided struggle to eliminate The Boss and procure The Philosopher's Legacy. Farewell, melancholia; greetings, remedial insomnia.

To fully comprehend how impressed I was by The Boss as a character, an antagonist, a patriot, and a woman, you must first know of my unrealistically high opinion of Snake. Whether he's Solid Snake, Big Boss, or Geriatric Snake, the dude's my man-crush (I'm still teetering on the fence with Ground Zeroes' Sutherland Snake).

He's the God of Espionage. So for The Boss to be his mentor is a colossal deal. His entire make-up - his skills, ideology, idiosyncrasies, biases, and even appearance (headband) - is a product of the Boss's influence. So for her to be, essentially, the mother of my favourite fictional hero, she is by seniority to Snake my favourite woman in gaming, both as a villain and as a patriot.   

The final stand-off with The Boss went down in the same fashion as the battle with Sniper Wolf: I had a need to prolong the fight and wanted to avoid a lethal conclusion by all means, so I handicapped myself, limiting my repertoire to the tranquillizer gun. As poetic and emotive as that final battle was, especially the moment I was forced to end her life, it was the ending that set my emotions within an open centrifuge.

I learned the truth of The Boss's role in Operation Snake Eater. So as Snake visited her grave, saluted her tombstone, and shed a single tear, I couldn't resist but to empathise and shed a tear of my own. With everything that was going on in my life, my lack of cultural faith and so forth, I was moved by the sacrifice of a single fictional woman. And like her ability to carry a 300 kilogram nuclear warhead with one arm, the experience was absolutely amazing.   

- Jedediah H.
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Opinion: My five favourite female characters of my youth
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