I'm a trope queen. I've got a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of what makes video games, television shows, or movies what they are and what they're made of. Why? Because it's never enough to love a story, I have to know what it is about it that makes it so enjoyable.
Let me put it this way—I recently found out that my favorite genre of film is "time-travel/reincarnation-themed love stories." It took me ten years to figure that out and every step of that journey was a joy for me. So, you've got to believe me when I tell you that there is definitely something special about time-traveling and space manipulating Marys.
Who Runs The World? (Time Traveling) Girls
Most popular media seems hard-pressed for depth when it comes to writing stories about women. #VideoGames are no different and they may actually be a bit worse. Despite there being plenty of evidence that proves the validity of that sad truth, there are also a few gems in the rough—female characters with many dimensions (literally), power and stories worth the adventure. These are the dashing ladies that I want to introduce you to today. So, what are they like?
WARNING: The games I mention have been spoiled by full reveals of their endings... and with love.
With Great Power Comes Great Boyishness!
Taking it a bit further back with Pepper's Adventures In Time, which I love more with each moment I spend thinking about it, we've got this badass little kid named Pepper whose evil uncle (yes, uncle and not mom) tosses her dog into a time machine. She hops right into the machine in hopes of finding her dog and making sure that history happens the way that it's meant to.
But check her out—despite having wild red pigtails, her character is decked out in a weird hat (I think it's Ben Franklin's), pantaloons and a vest. In general situations, she wears jeans and a t-shirt. If you look at the cover of the game, she actually straight up looks like a boy. I'm not really sure why but this game isn't unique—the trend appears to continue.
Meet Max Caulfield from Life Is Strange
Max Caulfield, the protagonist in #LifeIsStrange, carries the torch with this trend. While the angle here is certainly less judgmental, the de-feminizing of her features (even her name) remains apparent. Max appears to be sexually neutral (yay), unmoved by most romantic advances (okay), and generally unmotivated socially (uh). When we meet her, she's actually been completely estranged from her best friend for years.
I can't really tell if this strange character limbo is a good thing or a bad one. Especially considering the fact that an element of conventional character development is still in play. There are more traditionally feminine characters in the game but they are largely portrayed as being less intelligent or less morally sound people than Max. Yikes!
Apparently, there's not a lot of give and take on the gender level when it comes to giving female video game characters the powers they deserve. Overall, I'm thinking that it's the best of the worst—that ambiguity is leaving a lot of room for some incredible gameplay in an area that is dominated by jiggle physics and outfits that appear to have been spat out of a paper shredder. In other words, I'd take this awkward gray area over the alternative any day... over and over again!
Time Loops Let These Ladies Live Forever
The power to bend time and space has the awesome side effect of allowing these women to keep themselves (and sometimes other characters) from both failure and death. Maybe the characters themselves aren't entirely aware of this extraordinary ability but we as the players are able to use this knowledge to keep things moving for them and see the story to the end.
It's really more than being able to hit "continue" after you die—after all, you can do this in most every game. It's about setting off the right chain of action, and having the right conversations to keep what's happened before from happening again. It's the brooding narrative version of walking through a hail of bullets as they bounce off of your skin. It's the "knowledge is power" proverb in action and it's truly exhilarating.
Meet Jodie Holmes from Beyond Two Souls
#BeyondTwoSouls' Jodie (played by Ellen Page) is the embodiment of this awesome perk. Through her connection to her spirit brother, Aiden, Jodie is able to manipulate people, objects and entire events. The effectiveness of her power depends not on Aiden's abilities but on her ability to channel her energy into something productive. His presence in her life also allows her to exist across dimensions—the final portion of the game is literally spent in the world of the dead.
Jodie spends most of her time being chased down by the government so, at first, all of this is just for survival. Eventually, she evolves and saves the lives of countless others. But even after all is said and done, do we really know Jodie? She's so complex! The temporal bonus with this game is that it is meant to be played in a non-linear format which begins to feel a bit like time travel after a while.
Actually, now that you've got me started on stories, that's another thing...
Time-bending Characters Get Stranger (& Better) Stories
You've got to get pretty creative when you're telling a story that involves any kind of cross-dimensional travel—even the worst stories of the bunch tend to be more creative than average. This is great news for the leading ladies of the genre because that usually means that they get super crafty and (mostly) fully-developed stories. Heyo!
Meet Elizabeth Comstock from BioShock Infinite
#BioShock's Elizabeth Comstock is my wild card here, so bear with me. I'm actually not sold on her being a powerful character as is. But what I do believe, is that Elizabeth would essentially be able to replace Booker entirely if she was given a proper weapon. Why? Booker can't do 85% of what he does to defeat the worst of Columbia without her.
Think of it this way: Elizabeth can create tears that allow her to change what needs to be changed and help whoever needs to be helped. She also has a giant, mechanical killer bird that does whatever she wants. What's Booker got? A hook, a gun and an addiction to sky plasmids. That's right, I said it. PLASMIDS. So let's reunite Irrational Games, give Elizabeth a gun, delete Booker and set the record straight. She turns the princess-in-the-tower trope on its head and that is why I love her.
Meet Nilin Cartier-Wells from Remember Me
Since I mentioned Max, I feel like I should mention another one of Dontnod's games that toys with time, #RememberMe. I am admittedly not a fan of this one but it certainly fits. In this cyberpunk adventure, our protagonist Nilin is a Memory Hunter that has the ability to remix the memories of others and change the course of events for the better. The kicker is that, while she can manipulate the memories of others, Nilin can't remember her own past. Figuring out the pasts of others is the key to figuring out her own.
Say what you want about this weird fighting game/adventure game hybrid but the world and the story that surrounds it is quite the (orange-y) spectacle. We need more of these spectacles because they're important. Characters like this tell everyone else a lot about themselves.
They Are Catalysts For Self-Discovery
The concept of female characters being used solely as plot devices isn't new but in this genre, it becomes a completely different animal. Three of the four characters I've mentioned try to keep their powers a secret. Any third-parties that know of or come into contact with the power do so for very special and specific reasons. Why? It's the nature of storytelling but it's also because it seems to be in the nature of the time-bender to inspire personal development in others.
In Beyond Two Souls, Willem Dafoe's Nathan Dawkins exploits Jodie's powers to gain access to the paranormal realm in an attempt to contact his dead family. Dawkins goes from being a small-time paranormal scientist to the head of a division. He eventually dies while trying to finalize that but not before he has a painful heart-to-heart with his darkest demons. Jodie's power both makes and breaks him. Also us... because this whole game is so damn tragic.
Most Importantly, They Ask The Big Questions
Stories about time always get a little existential. When you step back so far that you can see how all of the pieces can and will come together, you can't help but wonder what it all means—if it means anything at all, right? It makes sense then that these are the types of questions that pop up when you play these games. It's what makes our experiences inside of these stories truly unique. We have the opportunity to explore these questions while keeping our distance from some really serious consequences.
Life Is Strange, otherwise known as Glurge Central, is probably the biggest culprit here. Depending on your play style, Max might go through her story leaving a trail of death in her wake unless you say and do the things that could save those lives. The game asks: "How far are you willing to go for the ones you love?" And we answer that question... in between sobs, of course. Hurts so good!
Don't you just want more of it? I know I do. I hope that, one day, these women will be a few small drops in a great big ocean of ridiculous time goddesses that change their world and ours. Clearly, some of the best writing in the video game industry shines through their stories. If this is what it takes to get some multi-dimensional action and proper clothing, I'm all in. Bring on the time loops!
Do any of these magical ladies strike your fancy? Or do you have other wizards of time in mind?