Questions surrounding the portrayal of women in games, and the treatment of women in the games industry, have been with us throughout the year. Encouragingly, the resulting discussion, and events like #1reasonwhy, managed to rise above the vomitous whirlpool of anonymous abuse that characterises lowest dregs of internet discourse (which exist far away from here, of course). The issue is here to stay.
With that in mind we decided to take a look back across the year and celebrate the games that have done a good job of intelligently portraying a broad range of characters in terms of gender, race and sexuality. I'm happy to deliver an official PC Gamer fist-bump to Telltale games for their work on The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead derives its dramatic momentum from the frictions that spark among its diverse cast members. It succeeds not because it brings together such an interesting group of human beings, but because it simultaneously elevates them above the race and gender cliches that, under the pens of a less thoughtful writing team, could easily come to define them.
In The Walking Dead we meet men and women, young and old, black and white, cowardly and proud, angry and mistrustful. Every trait is a feature of each character's personality, not a direct symptom of their race, gender education or background. In Lee Everett we have a rare example of an african american main character. He's a professor. He's a killer. Kenny is from the deep south but he's not a hick. Young Clementine is vulnerable, but intelligent and independent. In a medium where lazy characterisation based on race and gender is the norm, The Walking Dead represents a breath of cool air. Every character resists cliche. The result is one of the most engrossing and surprising stories of the year.
Props go out, too, to Mass Effect 3. A close runner up. Bioware have gathered a fine team of interesting and capable women, men, androids and space toads for the glorious finale and for the first time in the series they introduced fully written same-sex relationships. The writers blogged about it too .
"I'm fortunate to have gay and lesbian friends at BioWare who were willing to take a look at Traynor for me and help me edit a few bad lines that played into negative stereotypes. As for the fans, the reaction has been very positive so far – I think the nicest thing I've heard was, “I think I've actually had that conversation in real life," said writer Patrick Weekes.
BONUS AWARD: Most adroit three point turn out of the mindset and values of the 21st century - Hitman Absolution
The fact there have been so many gender-related gaming scandals this year may be a good thing: in previous years these sorts of things have gone largely without comment or complaint. This year's cavalcade of calumny is proof, at least, that there is an increasing will to change things.
Change things like, say, a game trailer in which the male protagonist brutally murders a host of sexy BDSM nuns in graphic slow-motion. Or the atmosphere of an industry in which women are routinely patronised or abused as evidenced by the #1ReasonWhy Twitter movement. Or games in which female characters appear only to be objectified or killed. Take Black Ops 2's cast of speaking roles for women, for instance: one (“probably some whore”) gets burnt alive and then blown up with a grenade. Another gets her throat cut (though, in fairness, this can be avoided through the game's branching paths). The third is a pilot - promising! - although she gets shot out of the sky and our character jumps in and is able to fly the plane with no prior experience.
The longest, loudest facepalm of the year was triggered by the sight of Hitman: Absolution's rubberised nunssassins, and the Facebook campaign that invited friends to order Facebook "hits" on girls for having “awful make-up," "strange odour" and "small tits," and on guys for having a "hairy back," a "big gut" or a "small penis," which at least gave men and women equal opportunites to offend one another. The Facebook campaign was quickly pulled. Hopefully we'll see less of its like next year, and all the years beyond.