Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Female Archetype

A post over at Brainy Gamer lamenting yet another year of male empowerment fantasies in video games reminded me to finally post this.

Back when I was doing researching for the Jung piece I had originally intended to write about female empowerment archetypes along with male ones. After flipping through several essays and sources, the best book I found was Clarissa Pinkola Estes Women Who Run With the Wolves. Finding a pack to belong to, self-preservation instincts, the body, territory, motherhood, etc. It mixes mythology, religion, and psychology in precisely the same manner that Joseph Campbell and others have used to describe the male psyche. Out of all the stuff I looked through, it seemed like the best bet.

I gave up on writing the essay because, like I said in Part 4, I'm not equipped to really understand much of it. Mary Shelley made a very good point about men in Frankenstein when she explained that childbirth, to a man, seems to mostly involve stitching people's flesh together and then wandering off. In my case, that's pretty accurate. God only knows how I'd connect that to playing a JRPG or Civ 4.

I just wanted anyone to know whose interested that the research and work is there.


Craig said...

You just reminded me of something, too. I had a conversation with a female friend who's also a big gamer. I asked her about the whole idea of a "female protagonist," and she said that, in her experience, girls (i.e., her) are less interested in who they're pretending to be than in who or what they're getting to interact with. She enjoyed plenty of role playing games even though she was forced to play certain male characters because there were often a variety of other chars, male and female, to interact with. Maybe that's just another example of the big "guys solve problems, girls make friends" stereotype, but the games that seem most popular with young girls seem to play that out: Sims, Animal Crossing, MMOs, etc.

Craig (mummifiedstalin)

L.B. Jeffries said...

I'd say the same is certainly true for me and, I like to think, other male gamers. I don't really care what the gender or ethnicity of my character is, the attraction comes from the activities in the game.

I hesitate to say that a particular design archetype is meant for only one gender. Cross-overs and combinations have worked in several games, like the Persona series, where I ended up getting more interested in the social network than I was the masculine Warrior archetypes.

I dunno, I don't have a good history with this topic so I'm not really keen digging myself into a hole over it.

Wordsmythe said...

To a certain extent, just about every player-character has cipher qualities, which can make the character less important individually than as a stand-in for the player's "I." On the other hand, if the preponderance of mandatorily-male protagonists does make some would-be players uncomfortable, then it would follow that players who care less about the protagonist would be more common.

Wordsmythe said...

That is, if the general trends in games bother you, you're probably much less likely to be a "gamer."

L.B. Jeffries said...

Now THAT is interesting. What is the difference between an avatar that induces the First Person and one that induces the Third Person? How does gender, choices in appearance, activity and setting play into that?

Wordsmythe said...

I'm not sure how it all matters (if I knew the "how," Peter Molyneux would be playing -my- games), but I do think it's important to keep in mind that these things probably all *do* matter.

Michael Abbott said...

Hi L.B. Here are a few other books that connect well with Women Who Run With the Wolves. If folks find Estes' book interesting, these would be natural next-reads full of primary source material.

From the beast to the blonde: on fairy tales and their tellers
Warner, Marina, 1946-
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995

Spider Woman's granddaughters: traditional tales and contemporary writing by Native American women
Allen, Paula Gunn.
Beacon Press, 1989

The serpent slayer: and other stories of strong women /
Tchana, Katrin.; Hyman, Trina Schart
Little, Brown and Co., 2000

Through the eye of the deer: an anthology of Native American women writers
Anderson, Carolyn Dunn, Comfort, Carol.
Aunt Lute Books, 1999