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.
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?