Female Characters in TWD and TWAU [CAUTION:TEXT!]

edited October 2013 in The Wolf Among Us

I recently finished the first episode of The Wolf Among Us. I really enjoyed the game and think that, in many aspects, TTG have improved on their already great Walking Dead series, but after the ending of episode one had some time to sink in, something about the fate of Faith and Snow really bugged me.

You see, not once but twice do we get to know a woman, are made to feel protective of them (I gave all my Videogame Money to a fictional prostitue because I genuinely felt bad for her and I really tried to lift the spirits of a fictional disillusioned civil servant who doubts her ability to do any good with her job), have them express affection for us and then find their decapitated heads close to our doorsteps.

The problem I have with this is that this is so clear-cut an example of women in refrigerators that it could appear in a textbook. It seems clear that these female characters died for the express purpose of making Bigby (and us, presumambly male players) angry and motivate us to solve the mystery of their deaths and avenge our poor sweet lovely ladies.

This certainly is effective, but I think it also devalues Snow and Faith as characters. Using women as narrative objects to tug on the player's heartstrings seems a step backwards from Telltale's previous series.

Just think back to the Walking Dead. If you, like me, thought that a good shot was more important than the ability to reprogram remote controls in a zombie apocalypse, you will have been shocked by Carley's death. On the surface, this sems to be similar to Snow's fate: Male protagonist meets female character, they have adventures together, the beginning of a romance is implied, female characters dies out of nowhere. When you look at it a bit more closely, though, some key differences appear:

  1. Carley is not a passive victim
    She gets shot in the head after verbally provoking a mentally unstable member of the group in a tense situation. While her death is a great shock, it doesn't come across as quite as arbitrary, it has a dramatic meaning in itself, it is a consequence of what Carley chose to do. (That's not to say that Carley deserved to die, mind you.)

  2. Her death is not used to motivate the player in his/her quest
    Within seconds of Carley's death, even without player input, you have her killer at your mercy, a person you've come to understand and respect, if not necessarily to like. This sets up one of Telltale's delightful moments of decision, where you have to weigh your anger and the safety of the group against your sympathy with a deranged and remorseful killer and your aversion to killing someone you've known for a while. If The Walking Dead had operated on TWAU logic, Carley would have been killed by the Stranger or some bandit, prompting Lee to hunt for them.

  3. It doesn't happen twice in the very first episode

  4. It does NOT happen TWICE in the FURST GORD DAMN EPISODE !1

All in all, Snow's death comes across as cheap, while Carley's death made sense (to me, at least).

This thread is primarily intended as feedback to the makers of this game, but I hope that some of you will share your own insights on that topic with me. Sorry for the long OP. I tried to stay away from Feminist Videogame Critique (not in the least because I'm not the right person for that job), but I do feel the need to explicitly point out where I'm coming from with this discussion.

I am a feminist in the sense that I believe that men and women are equal, should be treated equally and that stories, books, movies, comics, operas, video games and other forms of media should try not to overtly portray either gender as weak, passive, stupid, etc. I believe that doing so perpetuates deeply rooted beliefs and stereotypes that harm us as a society.
In my view, putting women into the refrigerator like in TWAU contributes to these sorts of beliefs.

I really enjoyed TWD from this perspective, because it had men and women that were equally interesting, afraid, active, diverse and human. As I said, TWAU also has (in my view) well-written female characters, it is just the way they are disposed of to facilitate the male hero's revenge story that irks me.

I also want to emphasise that I'm not accusing the writers of conscious sexism or misogyny. The trope I'm criticising in this post has been around for a long time and I can certainly understand that people might not immediately grasp its unfortunate implication.

All that said, I look forward to the next episode.

EDIT: As Yoda said: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to overly long forums posts, overly long forums posts lead to unfinished sentences in the middle of a paragraph.

Comments

  • "I tried to stay away from Feminist Videogame Critique"
    Try harder next time cause you still sound like it.

  • I know.
    I am currently sitting in a bunker, wearing a fire-retardant suit and an oxygen mask. My location is known to no-one but my cader of ultrafeminist killer commando lesbian linebackers.

  • I know.
    I am currently sitting in a bunker, wearing a fire-retardant suit and an oxygen mask. My location is known to no-one but my cader of ultrafeminist killer commando lesbian linebackers.

  • its a "murder mystery" so people have to get murdered, i get that what you have described is a common trope, but so many things are, I'm pretty sure the reasons two women have been "murdered" will be explained, it is unfair to use this kind of Feminist Videogame Critique so early in the story, and if you think people should be treated equally why aren't you complaining about the five male characters who can't control their tempers and are violent (woody, grendel, Dee/Dum and Bigby) perpetuating the stereotype that men are weak willed animals that have no control over their base instincts and can only have two emotions 1)angy 2)no emotion

    you can apply this kind of critique to anything and there will always be some kind of problematic trope perpetuating stereotypes, but it really depends on the perspective from which you look at it, you could look at it in a way that faith is going against stereotypes, because in her relationship with lawrence he is the weak one and she is the one who has go out and do the hard dirty jobs to support him, or how she saved bigby from Woody or that she wasn't willing to back down and be passive when confronting Woody to get her hard earned money, or with Crane and Snow, Crane is the Bitchy boss and Snow is the sensible hard working one.

    if roles were reversed in the Faith and Lawrence relationship and Lawrence was out doing the hard work supporting a good for nothing emotional wreck of a girlfriend that would be a typical stereotype, and its the same with Snow and Crane, if Snow was the bitchy boss who does no real work and get a massage at the first sign of stress while Crane was the sensible hard working guy who knows it wasn't worth arguing with the boss because they will just get screamed at that would be a typical trope.

    basically if you try hard enough anything can be a trope or a stereotype if you look at it from a certain perspective

  • I have to admit that, while I'd like to think of myself as a feminist and I'd like to see female characters get better treatment in comic books, I have a real problem with the whole "women in refrigerators" argument. I just see it thrown out way too often as a reactionary accusation any time anything bad at all happens to a female character whether it actually falls into this category or not. To me, it feels like the phrase has more or less lost any meaning it may have once had.

    I realize that it's something that happens. But I think people tend to look at it the wrong way. Consider if you take gender completely out of the equation for a moment. Is it really such a bad thing for a character--any character, male or female--to die just to motivate the protagonist? They're fictional characters. The function they serve in the story is who they are, and in a story with a main protagonist, every character is defined by how they relate to that protagonist.

    My take on the issue is that the problem is not that this happens. The problem is that it happens overwhelmingly to female characters. And why is that? Because protagonists in comic books are overwhelmingly male characters. So if the bad guy wants to strike at their loved ones, they go after the protagonist's female love interest. The solution then is not to stop this from happening in stories with male heroes, but rather to create more interesting female protagonists with boyfriends that the bad guys can target.

    If you think about, the three most famous examples in comics of characters' deaths being used to motivate the hero are Uncle Ben, Bucky, and Jason Todd--all men. And honestly, I don't know if I'd really feel that much better about the game if the severed head we found at the end belonged to Toad. Or Bufkin. Or Colin.

    So is TWAU an example of "women in refrigerators?" I think the answer to that is maybe. I know it certainly seems that way at first glance, but this is only the first episode, and there's still a lot we don't know. The ending certainly makes it apparent to anyone who's read the comics that something is not exactly what seems here. My advice would be to wait to see where the series goes before rushing to any judgment about unconscious misogynistic messages in the game.

    Also, Carley's death wasn't arbitrary? We clearly have very different opinions on the matter then, because I would consider that to be probably the most arbitrary death I've seen in a Telltale game yet. Perhaps the most arbitrary death in any video game, period.

  • Agreed. I'm hoping to see more strong female characters in the next episode.

  • In this case, I think it's more that TWAU is heavily inspired by film noir, and women in refrigerators are a pretty common film noir trope, so it's an example of drawing on material with some problematic elements. (Doubly so, given that fairy and folk tales have plenty of issues of their own.) Not to say that should equal a free pass, but it's enough for me to reserve judgment until I've seen more of the story.

  • I'm slightly put off by the fact that we can count the female characters on one hand, but I suppose the gaming industry will probably always be like that.

    We need at least three hands for the male ones.

  • At first I thought "sexism" but later I knew what was going on, srsly TTG can make others think like that too lol.

  • I understand where you're coming from, but here's the problem I have with the woman in refrigerators argument.

    Note: Spoilers for both TWD and TWAU.

    It doesn't matter how a character liked another character, if they were on good terms, they will be pissed at whoever caused their friends death.

    For an example of this, lets look at Mark in episode 2. We see him onscreen for about an hour and a half. We can tell he's a good guy, and most people were really pissed that he died. Clearly, there was no romantic interest there, but people wanted the st. Johns dead after that. If the St. John's had killed Larry, people would still be pissed at them, but not nearly as much. While most people tried to save Larry, nobody shed any tears over his death.

    It doesn't matter what type of bond two characters have if they get along. When people you care about in any way die, you will feel miserably and probably want to punish whoever was responsible. That's why I don't like the whole "women in refrigerators" argument. Death of someone close to you is one of the most common themes in literature. It doesn't matter how you were close to them (romantic, broth/sister, friend). It happens all the time.

  • In a vaccuum, the gender of the character wouldn't matter. The reason "women in refrigerators" is a problem is that it's something that happens disproportionately to women (it's really just a darker version of the "damsel in distress") and that it's part of a larger trend of treating women as only mattering because of how a man feels about them, rather than being individuals for their own sake -- an attitude which isn't confined only to fiction.

  • I for one simply do not care. It fits the story. It was a cool twist, and I want to solve the mystery. Snow is a strong character which made it all the more interesting to see the writers kill her off in the first episode.

    "Oh but the trope and sexism!" Sure. Sexism is bad. I can agree to that. That is why you should go away and let me find this sexist serial killer that goes around decapitating women.

  • You seem to forget that Snow probably won't stay dead or is not really dead. Seing as this is a prequel to the fables comic and Snow has "died" before.

  • men die far more frequently in all types of media (including comics) than women do, but because it is so common it is no big deal, so really the "women in a refrigerator" trope is about how it's a big deal when women die but no big deal when men die

  • edited December 2013

    Men die more frequently because in many media there are more male characters and they are more important. This is changing somewhat, but still frequently the case; just look at the how much stuff passes the Bechdel test vs. how much passes the reverse Bechdel test. (The second one is much, much higher.) "Women in refrigerators" isn't a blanket term for every time a woman dies. It's when a woman's death isn't about the woman herself, but about the man it affects. There are some examples of the reverse (i.e., Kill Bill) but they're far less common.

    To put it succinctly, when Superman died, the comic wasn't titled "The Death of Lois Lane's Boyfriend!"

  • Thing is, this guy is a serial killer, and serial killers, at least as we've come to understand them, have patterns. Maybe this guy is supposed to have mommy issues or something. Also, TWAU's first episode is like twice as long as TWD's. Another thing, there's going to be a female character that has a purpose other than motivation. Remember Beauty? The title card for the third episode shows her holding a gun and a Fabletown police badge, trailing Bigby. Snow's death made more sense than Faith's, as, so far, every poor person we've met has hate, hate, HATED Snow White. It was only a matter of time. I'm not exactly sure of the refigerator metaphor's purpose, but trust me, there aren't really many characters that just fuel the hero's motivation. If you think about it, that's all Lawrence did. That's all Toad did. They just make you fucking hate Dee and Dum. Faith makes you hate Woody. Snow makes you hate... Someone as of yet, unknown.

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