inFAMOUSly sexist?: the best and worst depictions of women in the series

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Warning: this article contains spoilers for inFAMOUS, inFAMOUS 2, and inFAMOUS: Second Son.

For a game series built around themes of oppression and othering, inFAMOUS has a checkered history when it comes to its depictions of female characters. With every main series installment to date starring a male protagonist, the featured women first struggled for relevance and must now vie for equal representation.

While the recent release of First Light suggests things may be improving, if we're going off of Sucker Punch’s track record, it’s hard to say if this is the beginning of a new era or just an anomaly on inFAMOUS's radar.

Published May. 29th 2015
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    An interesting article! However, I'm not entirely sure if this is a result of sexism as much as it is the dev team falling upon tropes and archetypes. As I understand it, many of these female characters are fulfilling roles typical of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth. While this is certainly not agreeable by a modern standpoint with the advances in women's rights and equality movements, they are - by all means - true to superhero comic archetypal characters. By all means I would love to see more empowered female characters in superhero or other speculative fiction, but from the male-centric monomythic standpoint I think Sucker Punch hit right on the dot. Maybe in future games where a female is the lead we'll see a change.
  • Jackson Ingram
    Thank you! :) While I definitely see where you're coming from, I would argue that many of the tropes and archetypes used in the typical hero's journey are themselves the products and proponents of sexism. For example, the Betty/Veronica, good/bad girlfriend roles have been standard throughout storytelling history, but this dichotomy was, is, and will continue to be damaging towards female representation. Just because these roles fit the average comic book formula doesn't mean we can excuse their use.

    I think a lot of times tropes and character archetypes get a free pass because they've been so prevalent throughout history, but I'd like for consumers to start taking a harder look at these readymade storytelling "ingredients." Tropes and archetypes aren't entirely avoidable, of course, but sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc. ones definitely should be put behind us.

    Don't get me wrong, I love the inFAMOUS series, but I wish they had found a way to embody the hero's journey without doing so at the expense of their female characters. If and when inFAMOUS comes out with another game, I'd love to see the monomythic formula through the perspective of a female protagonist.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    Oh, I definitely agree that it doesn't excuse it. Just looking at it from a genre perspective is all. It does make me wonder how writers will face this challenge. Archetypes, I believe, exist because they embody a hyperbolic representation of people you find in everyday life. I pose this question to you: how would you remedy this case? As a fiction writer myself, I sometimes wonder how I can balance political mindedness with characters that are based off of experiences.
  • Jackson Ingram
    I feel like the thing with archetypes is that they're meant to be the foundation, not the whole building. The balance between political mindedness and basis on experiences is found by giving female characters the same consideration and nuance male characters are regularly given. They shouldn't be jammed into limiting roles that turn them into plot devices.

    Here's how I would fix the series:

    inFAMOUS: Trish would be featured just as prominently as Zeke, and she'd be contrasted against him instead of Sasha. Near the beginning of the game as it is, Trish is already shoe-horned into her role as the judge, the pure voice of righteousness. Part of the problem is the black-and-white morality of the Karma system. Everything is so obviously good or so obviously evil. The lines shouldn't have been so distinct. Just as Zeke faces ethical dilemmas alongside Cole, Trish's own moral code should be questioned. She could still represent the "Good" path, but the decisions would be harder and she'd have to doubt herself alongside Cole. Zeke, on the other hand, would propose solutions in a moral gray area, representing the "Neutral Karma" featured in early trailers. Working with Trish and Zeke still sets Cole up as the hero of Empire City, just with different means leading to similar ends. Should Cole choose the evil route, he'd end up working with Sasha (who would NOT be described as a "honey pot"). I'm not sure if there's a way to fix the whole "demonizing women's sexuality" thing with Sasha without changing her character, but we could certainly avoid damselizing and the fridging Trish. I still have trouble accepting Kessler's sudden decision to kill Trish for the good of humanity when I consider how Trish was the reason he went back in time in the first place.

    inFAMOUS 2: Fix the racism and I'll be more or less content. Though I also wouldn't have so much of a problem with pitting Nix and Kuo against one another if they hadn't been the ONLY NOTABLE FEMALE CHARACTERS IN THE GAME. Women can't be friends with one another in inFAMOUS. Ever. In fact, they barely interact. The first game didn't even pass the Bechdel test (which sets the bar hilariously low) and this one just barely skates by, though all of Nix and Kuo's conversations are facilitated by Cole.

    inFAMOUS Second Son: 1) Fix how Delsin meets Fetch. That whole sequence is rife with predatory undertones. 2) Augustine is a great villain, but, if I'm not mistaken, she's also only the third woman in the series put in a position of authority (Moya and Sasha were the first two; I don't count Kuo since she is never really the oen pulling the strings), and all three are antagonists. Like, I get that the series almost always puts the protagonist at odds with authority, but I dunno, maybe there could have been a female chief of police to give Cole side missions on the good track. Or Moya could have lived past the comics and redeemed herself. Heck, Laroche from inFAMOUS 2 should have been a woman. Keep the flirting with Kuo and Nix and they could've thrown in a little queer representation while they were at it.

    So what I'm saying is that we can have better female representation without compromising the story's integrity.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    I 100% agree with the Kessler killing Trish point you made. It was perhaps the biggest plot hole (or in the very least 'erk' moment) I personally saw with the story. The way I saw it, Kessler went back in time (at least in part) to prevent Cole from losing Trish, but then killing Trish (supposedly) allows Cole to become better than Kessler because she dies earlier in his life...? It doesn't seem like something that would suddenly make Cole the 100% more hero (or villain) that the world needs. I mean... I think more than anything it would have crippled his character worse than it did Kessler in his own timeline. Then again, superheroes.

    I can't really say much for the rest of the series as I never got the chance to play them (nor will I likely get to since I can't afford inFamous 2, or a PS4 by extension). It certainly has been an interesting discussion! Cheers!
  • Jackson Ingram
    Yeah, it definitely felt like the writers were just trying to raise the stakes with Trish's death. Completely pointless.

    But same to you! And don't worry. You're not missing much with the rest of the series, haha.

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