Become a Fan

My Other Accounts

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

Blog powered by Typepad

« glitches, new perspectives, and the end of the virtual world | Main | Pixel Art by Christoph Niemann »

May 25, 2010



Beyond Good & Evil ?

Depending on how you play it, Mass Effect (1&2)


I think it would rely on different things depending on the game. For games where you can make your own character, can you make one of any gender, and if you do, does the story still make sense?

Lots of games feature no humans, though. Either by being completely abstracted or by featuring non-human characters. Would this test need to indicate a game is "pro-woman" or simply "not-antagonistic-to-women"?

Let's take Tomb Raider. In the original game, apart from the nonsensical outfit, Lara was an action hero with little character. It was nice to have a female character, but she wasn't much beyond an empty avatar. In the later games she's got more personality, and in Underworld at least, you could choose not to wear quite as ridiculous an outfit, if you felt like it.

Maybe a pithy version of the test would be:

RULE 1: It has to have a character that is female.
RULE 2: That you can play. (Or at least don't have to rescue)
RULE 3: That is not dressed in something that could reasonably be likened to swimwear or lingerie.


It's my understanding that the Bechdel Test is meant to be an absolute minimum bar to pass, and what's striking is that so many movies fail to meet even this incredibly unambitious standard. So sometimes movies pass the test, technically, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're slam-dunk awesome portrayals of women in film. It just means that they met minimum standards.

Perhaps Bayonetta can be viewed in a similar way to these underwhelming-but-still-passing films. It meets the test's minimum requirements but is still less than ideal (to use an understatement) in a wide variety of ways.

Since a film passing the Bechdel Test doesn't automatically mean it's a great portrayal of women, I don't see why a game that passes it (as Bayonetta does) should necessarily be expected to meet a higher standard than the barely-passing film.

So yeah, maybe we do a need a new test... a Bechdel Mk. 2, which challenges media (films, games, etc.) to aim higher than just the bare minimum?

I am not sure if a game-specific test would be warranted or not. Certainly a thought-provoking question, though.


Does Portal actually count? You would have to assume GLaDOS is female, which I guess is okay given her voice, but rule two is only satisfied in one direction. Chell never actually speaks.

Started looking back on my gaming history for others. Maybe Eagle Eye Mystery if you played as the girl. Same with Rebel Assault. Hand of Fate barely passes with a few short conversations with female NPCs. Also I'm pretty sure Laverne in Day of the Tentacle speaks to the whole Edison family, including a female Edison. Also is Freddi Fish a girl?

What it comes down to is that a game has to be eligible for a Bechdel test. There's a ton of games that wouldn't pass a reverse Bechdel test (Two dudes not talking about a women) merely because there is a lack of dialog in those games, something a game is allowed to do but not modern day film. Perhaps that means a game that fails the Bechdel test must first pass the reverse Bechdel test.

I think the real challenge would be to find one that passes NOT on the basis of a conversation with the protagonist, pretty much invalidating the issue of having to choose the female character to pass. However, that makes it even harder to pass a reverse Bechdel since there are even fewer games that contain dialog between two non-protagonists.


@Shamous You're actually right. Portal technically doesn't fulfill the requirements, considering Chell never actually speaks. However, as an alternative to speaking games give you the ability to interact through actions, so perhaps that is something that should be captured by a Bechdel Test for games.

As you point out, some games don't have speaking protagonists (HL2 for example) or speaking at all, and rely entirely on action or visuals to convey the narrative. The idea of the Bechdel test applies best to scenarios with speaking characters, even better to games with a sort of film-like narrative. The idea of a Bechdel test for videogames might have to be more specific about what kind of actions/interactions can take place between characters of different genders and how that in turn effects the "roles" of women characters in the game.

At the end of the day this isn't an all or nothing rule. The Secret of Monkey Island for example features two really strong and independent female characters (Marley and the Sword Master), which is great! But they never talk to each other, so it fails.


I think Portal absolutely does count because there are only two lifeforms in the entire game and both are identifiably female. Despite the main character's cypher-status which renders her mute, she and GLaDOS "converse" as you respond to her commands and eventually rebel.

I do believe the Bechdel Test is valid for games and it's a bit depressing to consider how few games even approach meeting Rule No 1, let alone 2 or 3. I would nominate Eternal Darkness as a contender: there a number of female characters (some playable, some not) and while none of them technically speak to one another, the nature of the game is that Alex is reading their stories in a book. In my mind that's close enough.


@Feticlub Yes, I think Portal would make 'the list', but it still opens up questions about how the Bechdel test of 'talking to each other' resonates with that fact that most characters in games interact and often form relationships via visual narratives as opposed to dialogue. Thus, while the Bechdel Test is a good start, I think it needs to be modified to fit the nature of videogames as a medium.

Also, saw your tweet and I'm looking forward to your post!

Mooch Rex

Great post! It was mentioned above by XAIAX, but I think it’s worth delving deeper. Both recent Tomb Raider games, “Legend” and “Underworld” pass the Bechdel test. “Legend” primarily focused on the relationship between Lara and Amanda and “Underworld” between Lara and Jacqueline Natla. The conversations and interaction were meaty, and had nothing to do with men at all. And unlike Bayonetta, Lara’s never forced to get into suggestive positions to achieve her goals. Sure, she may wear a revealing wetsuit and/or outfit, but it’s nothing compared to Bayonetta’s cheerleader outfit, or her “traditional” Witch outfit (which was just plain ludicrous). Again, as posted above, having the ability to choose Lara’s outfit is a nice touch for those who don’t want such revealing garb. Although does that open up a larger issue? Does having the addition of wearable outfits, especially for a female character, lead to further objectification by male gamers? In essence, having a virtual female that one can control and “dress-up” to visually please the male player?

I have to ask for clarification though. Does Bechdel mean romantic discussion about men? Or ANY discussion involving men? Because logically you could argue that since the artifacts Lara was looking for, King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, in “Legend” and Thor’s Hammer ,Mjolnir, in “Underworld”, were objects wielded by men. It effectively forces the female characters to discuss the male individual who owned each object as a result. It would also render both Tomb Raider games as a fail in regards to the Bechdel test if this were the case.

And to quickly touch upon Bayonetta for a second, I have to admit that I enjoyed the game immensely that went beyond the fact that the developer pushed the character into overtly sexual poses. In all honesty, and I can’t speak for all guy gamers, but I found it to quickly become a turn-off. In my opinion, Bayonetta has more of a Drag Queen sensibility to her than a real ability to titillate the male player. Again, I can only speak for myself here. I fell in love with the game for its sheer insanity and inventiveness. For the blistering action and the character designs. The boss designs were on another level completely. After I beat the game and had access to her extra costumes, I played through again in her original. Anything else seemed to cheapen the character (and one can even find fault with her original design). I originally wrote an article for Write Club praising Bayonetta for female empowerment, but I’m a man. How in the world could I even BEGIN to define or understand that? Having spent time away from the game I have more clarity. Tiff, your Bayonetta article was incredibly insightful and I loved every word. At the end of the day Bayonetta, no matter how fun the game is to play, is a female character designed by a man, and thus falls into ALL of the familiar trappings as a result.


Hey Mooch, thanks for the response!

I've never played any of the tomb raider games, so it's really interesting to hear about the storyline. I think you bring up something really interesting about the goal of 'costuming'. For most games, do costumes function as just a fun dress-up add on that you can play with after you beat a game a first time? Or, in the case of Bayonetta (and Sheeva, from RE5 are costumes a means of further gratifying the male gaze?

As far as I know, when the Bechdel rule of 'talking about something other than a man' is romantically related, but I'm not sure. That's not to say that women characters are prohibited for speaking about men romantically, it just can't be the *only* thing they talk about.

Finally, I'm with you on Bayonetta. Her sexuality is so over the top and flamboyant like Lady Gaga that it's a campy sort of sexy. And despite the hang-ups I have the game was brilliantly executed and a lot of fun. I loved the use of scale and the over-decoration of the characters, scenes, items, etc. Truly an experience unlike any other.


I loved Bayonetta to death, and it may end up being my personal GOTY for 2010, but it has far from anything to do with sexiness. The game's insanity really does go into the realm of the absurd and just pushes any sort of attempts at titillation into the laughing zone.

In fact, out of all the costumes available postgame, the one I found to be my personal favorite is the one in which Bayonetta is the most (almost entirely) covered up - the "Old Costume" with the mask and robes that you see her wearing during flashbacks!

In regards to Tomb Raider fare, I'd argue that the most recent, Underworld, has Lara and Natla talking about a man - Lara's father, and Natla's role in his death. All discussion about Thor's Hammer between them revolves around either that or Lara's lost mother, or both.

Mooch Rex

My pleasure Tiff. Great post, great conversation started as a result.

When you've got a free moment, you should give either or of the recent Tomb Raider's a whirl. I enjoyed "Underworld" quite a bit. It's a shame it didn't sell that well...

And, yeah, that Sheeva costume is re-goddam-diculous. It's a head shaker...

@Giolon: Ah, but it seems it would have to do with a romantic male lead, or at the very least, a living male lead, no? I don't remember every bit of dialogue from "Underworld", but Lara's father has been dead for quite some time. In essence it's very much like referring to King Arthur or Thor. More of a presence than an actuality.

And this just occurred to me. Bayonetta sold like gangbusters, yes? Can you even imagine what Hideki has in store for the sequel?? Whoo-boy.


What???? There's a sequel on the way!? There's MORE where that came from!? Wow.

Mooch Rex

Hmmm. Did some quick digging on this one. Seems a direct sequel might not be what Hideki's focusing on:

In an interview with Game Informer, Platinum Games director Hideki Kamiya explains: "We obviously have love for the work we have created, so I don't see anything wrong with Bayonetta 2. Personally, I'd like to approach the world of Bayonetta from a different angle, in the form of a spin-off."

The obvious choice would be Jeanne, yes? Unless he creates an all new character. It would be sick if you got to play the game from the opposing viewpoint, as one of the forces of Jubileus. It'd be like digital 'shrooms or something...

If it's Luka though, god help us all...

The comments to this entry are closed.