Faith Connors: Inclusive Character Design

Faith has an athletic body — realistic for a woman who’s profession involves a lot of physically demanding activities, like jumping across rooftops and racing through the city.
Faith is attractive and while she is sexualised, I did not view the marketing as particularly objectifying, nor did I regard her portrayal in Mirror’s Edge as sexualised to a ridiculous degree. Mirror’s Edge was rather refreshing in that the game’s designers didn’t objectify her much at all.
Another noteworthy aspect of Faith is that she is a woman of colour. Not only are positive, non-exotified, non-stereotypical representations of people of colour uncommon in videogames, it is even rarer to find the same in a woman of colour in games at all, much less in the lead role.
As an Asian woman, Faith has meant a lot to me personally. I rarely ever see anyone like myself represented in the media, and when I do, she is typically hyper-sexualised, and hyper-exotified, like Nariko from Heavenly Sword. I didn’t view the marketing or portrayal of Faith, in terms of her race, to be particularly problematic, and I was definitely looking for it. I fully expected the marketing for Mirror’s Edge to be alienating and aggravating to me as an Asian woman, but I was happy to be proved wrong.
Faith from Mirror’s Edge was a conscious decision to deviate from the industry standard — typically white, hyper-sexualised women created with the male gaze in mind and marketed as sex objects.
Much like most videogame characters, Faith herself is not a particularly deep or interesting character, due mostly to the poor writing and contrived plot. However, Faith represents a step forward in overall game character design for the reasons I discussed above.

From the very start, the developers at DICE wanted to do something different when they envisioned Faith Connors, the main character in Mirror’s Edge. Typically, most female videogame protagonists are hyper-sexualised white women created blatantly for the male gaze. Pandering to the male gaze by sexually objectifying characters and marketing campaigns that objectify women makes many female consumers feel excluded and ignored. In contrast, the folks who developed Mirror’s Edge made a conscious decision to deviate from that:

I wanted a strong female character, one that would appeal to women as much as men. A truly human heroine that, although athletic and attractive, was not overly sexualized. Someone who became a hero not because of superpowers or high-tech weapons, but because of how they reacted to the extreme situation they were put in. Someone who looked iconic and aspirational without being unattainable.

– Owen O’Brien, DICE Senior Producer (Mirror’s Edge Studio Series Guide, p. 184)

The bit I bolded above is particularly important. This is what is meant by gender inclusive game design. In other words, the developers at DICE didn’t think of female consumers as an afterthought when they designed Faith. No, from the very beginning, they decided they wanted Faith to appeal to women and men, and this design underpinning is quite clear in everything about Faith: what she wears, her body type, how the marketing materials present her, how the developers talk about her, etc.

This sentiment was echoed by Mirror’s Edge Producer, Tom Farrer:

We really wanted to get away from the typical portrayal of women in games, that they’re all just kind of tits and ass in a steel bikini. We wanted her to look athletic and fit and strong [enough] that she could do the things that she’s doing. We wanted her to be attractive, but we didn’t want her to be a supermodel. We wanted her to be approachable and far more real.

Faith is attractive and while she is sexualised to some degree, she does not pander to the male gaze.

Faith Connors from Mirror's Edge

Faith Connors from Mirror's Edge

Another noteworthy aspect of Faith is that she is a woman of colour. Not only are positive, non-exotified, non-stereotypical representations of people of colour uncommon in videogames, it is even rarer to find the same in a woman of colour in games at all, much less in the lead role.

As an Asian woman, Faith has meant a lot to me personally. I rarely ever see anyone like myself represented in the media, and when I do, she is typically hyper-sexualised, and hyper-exotified (or ‘othered’), like Nariko from Heavenly Sword. I didn’t view the marketing or portrayal of Faith, in terms of her race, to be particularly problematic, and I was definitely looking for it. I fully expected the marketing for Mirror’s Edge to be alienating and aggravating to me as an Asian woman, but I was happy to be proved wrong. That many videogame fans responded to Faith in terms of how they racially exotified her and fetishised her, however, was disturbing and gross.

Much like most videogame characters, Faith herself is not a particularly deep or interesting character, due mostly to the poor writing and contrived plot. However, in my opinion Faith represents a step forward in gender inclusive game character design.

Have you played Mirror’s Edge? What did you think of Faith?

About Brinstar

Brinstar is an Editor (on hiatus) at The Border House blog. She is a cisgender, temporarily able-bodied, Asian, culturally-mixed woman from the United States. She is a longtime gamer and works in the videogame industry as a community manager. You can find her blogging about games at Acid for Blood and on Twitter at @Brinstar.
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18 Responses to Faith Connors: Inclusive Character Design

  1. JenJenRobot says:

    I played Mirror’s Edge a couple of months ago. The plot was as thin as paper and the voice-acting just terrible. The gameplay was great though – there is great satisfaction to be had in maintaining a flow of moves; wallrunning, leaping between huge gaps, grabbing a bar, swinging and then keep on running. Whee!

    I thought one of the nicest things about Faith was that she wasn’t sexualised. It is something to so is pervasive in video games that Faith felt like a breathe of fresh air. She never flirted inappropriately with male npc’s, she was dressed in a practical manner for her job and she was damned good at her job. She reminded me of Chell from Portal. She wasn’t an object of fantasy – she wasn’t there to be desired; instead you desired to be her. I liked that.

  2. DSimon says:

    One thing I find interesting is that Portal, Mirror’s Edge, and Trauma Center : New Blood are the only examples (that I can think of) of mainstream games featuring non-hypersexualized women of color as main characters. Each of these games shares something in common: the characters do not appear on-screen during gameplay. Was this a conscious marketing decision on the part of these developers to avoid turning off the dudebros when showing off their games?

    • Thefremen says:

      I’m thinking it has a lot more to do with avoiding Male Gaze. In any third person game the camera eventually will point towards a character’s butt. Of course in a third person game the camera will also suck which is why it’s not used in mirror’s edge and portal. Trauma Center is like House: The Game if I’ve read correctly, you wouldn’t want a third person camera in that because you need to see the body cavity.

  3. Twyst says:

    A note too, Nariko’s face, voice and movements were done by Anna Torv, the lead from Fringe.

  4. Tateru Nino says:

    I didn’t find anything sexual about Faith at all. To be honest, we hardly ever see her anyway aside from cartoony cutscenes. For the most part, just the occasional body part swinging into our line of sight, or (more commonly) Faith’s shadow on something.

  5. I hesitate to comment anything about Mirror’s Edge story of characterizations, because we get hints of something more that exteranious to the plot and a larger world. But Mirror’s Edge takes its cue from the neo-noir detective fiction of the last 20-30 years so it is wrong to judge it on any other criteria.

    Faith actually reminds me a lot of Kinsey Mallone from the alphabet series, the only comparison that comes to mind. As paper thin as Faith is represented in the game, one gets the feeling there is more. How many video game characters do you see hugging for any reason.

    Slightly off topic: I didn’t think Nariko was that over-sexualized, and not at all if she wore pants. Or is that my view when comparing her to other video game heroines?

    • Alex says:

      RE: Nariko — in a word, yes, lol. You can’t really say “other than her lack of pants she wasn’t oversexualized”. Her lack of pants was kind of the key ingredient there. The impracticality of the outfit in general (she was running around in the SNOW, with NO PANTS) is an issue; the shirt is a tube top with sleeves. And her hair was ridiculous (although personally I loved it, haha). More: http://forums.theirisnetwork.org/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=612

      • Thank you for the link. I’ve been struggling to figure out an angle on that game for months. The forum sparked a few ideas.

        Though during the game you never really notice the clothes or hair cause it is all a blur.

    • Brinstar says:

      I do agree that there are hints of more in the game, particularly in the game world, and later on, in the ending credits. But I think the writing could have delivered that in a less contrived way with the characters. Or maybe minimal is best. Maybe they didn’t necessarily need to hit us over the head with too much dialogue.

  6. Gregory Weir says:

    I liked Faith’s character design, but her arc over the course of the game was frustrating. I played her as near-pacifist for as long as I could before a cutscene decided I had to use a SNIPER RIFLE to shoot up A POLICE CONVOY. At which point I said “screw it,” stopped roleplaying, and started killing cops right and left despite the fact that Faith’s own sister was a cop.

  7. Gygaxis says:

    I really really liked the design for Faith from an artistic standpoint as well as an activist yay inclusive design standpoint. I also dug the hell out of Mirror’s Edge’s art direction as a whole and wish the game play (Stop shooting me, I’m trying to platform!) and writing (no one will know how stupid you are until you open your mouth!) aspects were on par with the good elements of the game. Another thing I really liked was how disappointed DICE spokespeople were about the “redesign” of Faith that was basically giant boobs, prominent nipples, and a face pushed towards generic anime proportions and shapes vs a naturalistic asian facial shape. Especially since the redesign purported to speak for an entire culture of (East vs west, Asian cultures would totally prefer THIS design than what you gave us, when it was clearly a Male Gaze vs Real World gripe.)

  8. Teryaki says:

    To me Faith came off as entirely too flat as a character, her personality seemingly ripped from the one-dimensional revenge-obsessed, already-dead-inside martial arts female character trope. Made it impossible for me to empathize with her. The cutscenes and voice acting really seemed like an afterthought; this was a game about trying out new mechanics. I’d be very disappointed if this is as good as it gets for a non-sexualized, compelling female lead character.

    Actually, I’ve got to put forward my own favorite in that catagory; Jade, from the much-ignored Beyond Good & Evil. Yes, her chest is a bit generous and her lips look like she uses bee venom for a mouthwash, but for a lead character in a third person game, she’s fairly far over on the Real Woman Blow Up Doll continuum.

    Where nearly any game out there will demand the female protagonist fall back on phallic representations to accomplish her goal, Jade relies primarily on a camera to reach her objective, definitely yonic in nature (no giant macro zoom lens in this case). Her personal relationships are protective and nuturing, acting as a de-facto foster mother/big sister to a group of war orphans. And she does not fall into a trap of needed a male counterpart to do any of the heavy lifting. The one character who does fill that role is an addle-brained white night who opens doors for Jade… with his head… and he’s better used as a distraction than anything else.

    • Alex says:

      Jade rules =) I read an article once about how the camera in the game subverts the male gaze and makes Jade the viewer or something… it was a really fascinating feminist analysis of the game and I wish I could find it again!

  9. Alex says:

    I have to say I am a sucker for the whole “rebelling against a controlling, oppressive government” thing. I wonder why!

    As for the violence and the guns… one thing I found interesting was that the developers said their initial idea was to make a game where “it felt good to throw the gun away” instead of use it. But this goes back to every single discussion about choice in games: it’s only meaningful if there are real options. So in order for it to be meaningful to not use the guns, the player would have to have the option to shoot. Their mistake was making it nearly impossible for most players to actually get very far without shooting. The difficulty curve is something I really hope they’re working on.

    Personally I didn’t see Faith as Teryaki did… she didn’t do what she did for revenge; she resisted the government in the first place because she was following in her parents’ footsteps, but the actual plot starts because someone framed her sister for murder, dragging them both into a big conspiracy. Revenge had nothing to do with it. And her only martial art move was disarming people.

    I definitely agree she wasn’t particularly fleshed out, but I don’t think she fits easily into any stereotypes or roles. There is a good base here, and I hope they develop her character more in the sequel.

    • Brinstar says:

      Their mistake was making it nearly impossible for most players to actually get very far without shooting. The difficulty curve is something I really hope they’re working on.

      Agreed. I got through the game without guns, but it was extremely difficult and not always in a good way.

  10. Jason says:

    Yeah, Faith was o.k., but she suffered from Lady Noodle-Arm Syndrome (LNAS). There is no way she could do all those pull-ups, pipe-climbs, and disarms with those limp noodle arms. Celeste may have been a white blond with a fauxhawk, but at least she had some guns.

    http://ps3media.ign.com/ps3/image/article/916/916177/mirrors-edge-20081003022943971.jpg

  11. ExMachina says:

    It’s great to read about how strongly DICE felt about creative decisions regarding Faith’s character design; that high degree of deliberation and purpose definitely shows throughout the gameplay and visual design of Mirror’s Edge, even if the game’s overall execution had serious flaws…

    As an Asian woman, I was thrilled that a major game release starred a main character with whom I could identify.

    As a visual artist, I appreciated that she had a strong, distinct design that meshed with the striking art direction pursued in the environments of the game.

    And as gamer whose main loves of the medium are immersion and skill-based (rather than completion-based) mastery, the gameplay solidified Faith as my favorite new character of this console generation so far.

    While a lot of people found the difficulty of the game off-putting, I was one of those crazy few that ended up enjoying the challenge in the long run. The fact that Faith was the lead of such a hard dexterity-based game increased her appeal to me. Learning to speed through levels or get 3-star paths on the time trials and then striving for those perfect runs involved a lot of trial and error and frustration… But playing the game well, making those series of jumps and maneuvers effortlessly while completely aware of just how hard and dangerous they are (you know that being off by a hair means you lose your momentum or fall to your death), gets you into Faith’s head much better than any of the cutscenes in my opinion.

    I think DICE itself did a fantastic job with developing (from concept to realization, not in the traditional narrative sense) Faith – unfortunately, the script didn’t rise up to match that quality. Plus the high skill barrier kept many from appreciating just how well a sense of character is articulated within the gameplay.

    So there were a number of factors, many of which were direct results of conscious decisions on DICE’s part to buck industry norms, that came together to make Faith such an appealing character to me personally… she’s a thoughtfully designed female PoC in a difficult but deep game that made me thoroughly enjoy experiencing her skill and her environment – enough to ignore the narrative altogether, heh.

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