At PAX East 2012, the only game I played with a female character was Borderlands 2. I did play a couple of games with a first-person POV with no emphasis on gender, but I encountered a serious lack of female characters last year. This year, I found six games with female leads, and three games with the option of playing female characters.
The following is a guest post from Michelle Ealey:
Michelle Ealey is a freelance writer and part-time science teacher. She enjoys science fiction and fantasy books, movies, and television, and she’s been playing all sorts of games since she was a kid. Her work has appeared on various places on the internet, including her own site. You can follow her on Twitter at your own risk.
After my first playthrough of Kairo, I was frustrated. I didn’t get it; I really didn’t know what had happened and why. A few days passed, and I decided to play it again. Kairo, the new game by Richard Perrin, is minimalistic; it is stripped of the decorum most other games have. The game has no voiceover, no enemies, no dialogue, no text to read, and no wise NPC to guide you on your way. The game starts with you on a stone chair, a chair that could also be called a throne. The landscape is a vast expanse of white punctured by gray structures. How you have gotten to this world isn’t clear. You could sit on the throne for hours if you wanted. There is no urgent stimulus or a clear plot point forcing you forward. Eventually you will want to venture forth because you are pulled by the need to know, by the primal urge to understand what is going on.
Even after playing the game twice, I still can’t tell you what the story of Kairo is because I am not sure if my interpretation is “correct.” In the game, all you have is your intellect as you wonder through the environment and solve puzzles in order to unravel the mysteries of the world. The order you visit the rooms, the time you linger in the environment, and how closely you listen to the audio all influence how you construct the story. This openness can lead to multiple interpretations, and I wondered if the ambiguity was intentional. Curious, I contacted Perrin, and we discussed the game via email.
During the initial stages, Kairo had less “sign posting” than the game has now. “You want the environment to give the players enough subtle hints what they should be doing without completely handing it to them,” Perrin said. “In the early days I gave players almost nothing and people just weren’t quite connecting with the world because they didn’t feel like they were accomplishing anything. That’s why when you fix machines now a HUD element appears; it’s just to reinforce a sense of progress.” Perrin also included a hint system, but the hints only help players solve the puzzles, not to understand the story.