I'm Sorry, Ms. Raymond, But I Don't Want to Play as An "Old Lady"

I'm all for protagonist diversity, but there is a limit.

I'm going to be candid. ...as GameSkinny readers know, I'm never anything but. ;)

Let's begin with the necessary disclaimer:

Jade Raymond is a credit to the video game industry and she knows what she's talking about. She's smart, knowledgeable and experienced. I like listening to and reading her interviews because she often has a great deal of insightful - and often very accurate - comments.

That all being said, I have to take issue with one of her most recent statements, uttered during a recent interview with The Grid. She starts out by pointing to the strides we've taken in the world of gaming narratives, which is important. Too many people dismiss these strides or flat-out pretend they haven't happened.

Then she says this:

"There still isn't a game where you get to play an old lady. That's my dream."

Perhaps she was exaggerating, or maybe it's just a joke. Regardless, it does beg the question: Who the hell wants to play as an old lady?

We need to accept that gaming is best suited for certain things

I loved Heavy Rain. I really enjoyed the character of Madison because she was strong, not overly sexed, and interesting. I will always encourage developers to take risks and try new things in the world of interactive entertainment, which will undoubtedly result in plenty of freshness. At the same time, we're just going to have to accept that gaming is action-oriented.

I don't mean "action" in the genre sense; I mean that because it's interactive, you have to be doing something. Furthermore, most of us want to "do" things in games that we can't do in real life. I mean, who wants to play a game that involves gardening or building a ship in a bottle? I won't cast aspersions on such hobbies (I've always wanted to try the latter, for instance) but in the realm of interactive entertainment, we want at least some form of action, even if it's merely choosing dialogue response.

I'm all for cut-scenes, too; always have been. I have no problem sitting still for a few minutes to watch a well-done cut-scene. This isn't about any impatience on my part, nor my desire to see tons of action. I want less action in many instances, because I think gaming has become too frantic and frenetic.

Doesn't change the fact that I really don't want to play as old lady.

Yes, gaming is a fantasy

That's what it is. It's a rising form of entertainment with a long way to go. There are so many bridges we have yet to cross, and I'm interested in seeing when and how we cross them. But playing as old lady doesn't appeal to me, and I'm guessing - if others are being honest - it doesn't appeal to many gamers out there. It's not because we have something against female senior citizens. It isn't because we can't sit still and we need some hulking, musclebound, lantern-jawed, Type-A hero.

It's because it just sounds boring.

Sure, you can make her a sorceress or something. But she had better be endowed with otherworldly abilities that don't make her move like an old lady. Shuffling across the living room floor to get a pen for the crossword puzzle really can't be in a video game. We want to escape; we want to have fun. I am aware that developers would see the old lady protagonist as a challenge, in that they'd need to find a way to make it interesting for the majority of the gaming public.

But that's precisely my point: It would be a challenge because it doesn't fit. An old lady as the protagonist of a novel? Fine. In a TV show? Absolutely, that can work. In a form of entertainment where we control that individual...? Come on, let's be honest with ourselves a minute.

I think Raymond just said that because she likes a good challenge, and she'd love to try and make such a game appealing. She's great at what she does, so maybe she could do it. At the same time, we have to admit that while we all play video games for different reasons, there are some things that work, and some thing that just don't.

For the record, I don't want to play as a 52-year-old, balding dude with a beer gut, either. I'm sorry if I don't but I don't think I should have to apologize for that.

Featured Columnist

A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Apr. 14th 2014
  • TechmarineChris
    You make some pretty narrow-minded assumptions about what old ladies do. You're just applying a stereotype and not thinking out of the box. Here's some interesting ideas for game starring old ladies I came up with just now:

    How about playing as an old witch running a potion shop? Think something along the lines of Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. That would be interesting, right?

    Or how about an old adventurer who was rotting away in a prison for decades? The game begins with her breaking out of prison and she journeys across the land to find a way to regain her youth and ability, becoming fitter and more capable as an adventurer over time, until she eventually reaches her destination and realizes that she's already got all the strength she needs to vanquish the evil lord/wizard/whatever that put her in jail in the first place. Don't you think that's a game worth playing? (Actually, the adventurer doesn't have to be female in this.)

    And if you're thinking of a licensed property, a point-and-click adventure game starring Agatha Christie's Miss Marple would be amazing. If you're not familiar with her, here's a link to the Wikipedia page about her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Marple
    She's a prime example of how an old lady can be an awesome character, and her investigative methods would make for really interesting mechanics in an adventure game.
  • RM_8651
    My first and favourite character in Skyrim was an old woman. Granted, she did a bit more running about and getting shot and stabbed than your average senior citizen, but I thought it seemed perfectly reasonable that an old wood elf witch might want to come to being a legendary hero late in life
  • C_7636
    If you can use your brain it won't be hard to accept a game with an old lady protagonist.. Miyazaki did it in one of his movies for about 90% of Howl's Moving Castle.

    If gaming is a fantasy, anything is possible, it doesn't have to cater to the lowest common denominator. Nothing says stale and lacks an original voice like playing a macho, oversexed, roided protagonist.
  • Copper_2142
    Looking beyond the surface of her statement...I believe what she's saying (and even if this isn't what she's saying, this is what I personally believe) is that gaming has yet to cross certain thresholds. For one, the stigma still exists that gaming is for basement-bound scrubs between the ages of 18 and 28. Two, it's still seen (keep in mind these points describe the layman non-gamer) as a waste of time. Three, it's still seen as hyper-masculine in its content at one end of the spectrum and laid-back/quirky at the other.

    To put this into better perspective, think about the animation industry for a moment. It wasn't long ago that animated films and shows were confined to the 'Saturday morning' variety most adults (again, the layman) dismissed as kids' stuff. Cartoons. If you were watching the most adult-oriented animated film, and your parents walked in and decided to pick on you: "Hey, still watchin' cartoons?" This doesn't happen anymore. Why? A number of reasons, not the least of which is widespread appeal through the work and accomplishments of studios like PIXAR and LAIKA. Animated films and shows were elevated to another social level. Gaming has yet to do this. It's still niche.

    When the film UP was released, were you not surprised to be so engaged in the story of an animated old man?

    Jade is ambitious. She loves gaming in a way you won't often see. It's people like her who will take gaming to the level of respect animation achieved in the past decade.

    Good op-ed. I hadn't known of this site before, but I'm bookmarking it now. Good stuff here.
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    Contributor
    No argument that it's hard to imagine traditional action games that would feature an elderly female. We might need Jade to define what she sees as an 'old lady'. I mean Jade is 38, so likely she means 65+.

    The typical video game heroine is under 30, taller than average, physically adept as an Olympic gymnast, has weapon specialist training on par with the British S.A.S., and the body of an underfed yet surgically enhanced super model. But, we've seen this stereotype as often as we see the frail helpless girlfriend or family member in need of rescuing.

    A more mature female character might be welcome. We have had plenty of the 'one last job' stories featuring older hard-boiled guys going back into action for a final mission etc. Or the older burn out guy.

    And beyond shoot-em ups and beat-em ups, other genres might lend themselves to an older female protagonist. Murder She Wrote, the Videogame? May sound like a joke, but mysteries and horror games would be a good place for a smart, but more physically challenged character. Then, there is a whole realm of ironic comedy for senior citizens as ass-kicking video game heroes to consider.
  • Michael Hartman
    > "I mean, who wants to play a game that involves gardening"

    Have you ever heard of a game called Farmville?

    I think you are brushing off of a lot of very successful genres of video games that make enormous amounts of money and entertain millions of people.
  • [[Deleted]]
    Contributor
    Not to mention theirs a whole Slew of MMO's that have gardening in them. Not crafting, Gardening, or at the very least it falls into the gathering category .

    Look at FFX|V one of the jobs is Botany, where you .. yes go around gathering Plants and wood to either craft your self using crafting jobs or sell for a profit on the AH, and theirs a gardening system being implemented, if it hasn't already into the free company housing.

    As for playing as an old lady, I'm sure if I looked through the mealstrom of games theirs at least one where one of the main characters is an old lady, maybe not a typical barely see over the dash of the car while driving 20k/hr in a 80k/hr zone but an old lady none-the less.

    Theirs lots of ways to work an older lady into a game, you could do a tactic/strategy game like Final Fantasy Tactics, or even Valkyria Chronicles. She could or could not take part in combat and still be the main character. she would be leading her group to victory using her experience and wisdom to command her troops.

    I thought of that in about 15 seconds... so I'm sure theirs a way to have a great old lady main character that would be plausible, acceptable to everyone, including fathoms and turn out to be a really great game.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    I can't help but feel you're taking the quote a bit out of context:

    "It’s got to change, right? Look at movies. I really love traditional action movies—I almost don’t care how bad it is if there are big things exploding—but even those films have become more interesting in terms of complex leads. Look at Iron Man. The videogame world is improving, too: We’re seeing some variety. Grand Theft Auto has been doing a good job picking interesting main characters in recent years—like the new-immigrant underdog. There still isn’t a game where you get to play an old lady. That’s my dream." -- Her words

    She's talking about diversity in protagonists while they still pertain to certain gameplay archetypes. She uses GTA 4 as an example. At what point does GTA 4 stop being a GTA game due to having a protagonist from Eastern Europe? In fact, the only things that really changed the series as a whole had not nearly as much to do with Niko as did the focus on grittier setting and tone favored over the stylized entries only recently emulated in GTA: China Town Wars.

    There's nothing to say you couldn't have a game starring an old woman. Helen Mirren wielded SMGs better than Master Chief in the movie RED. If I had a choice between her character and Bruce Willis' character, I would pick her without a doubt in my mind as she's one of the far more interesting characters. I'd just as well play a post-40 year old No One Lives Forever 3 storyline akin to Skyfall.

    Who the character is by age and/or gender is as small or large in their definition as is their race and species. These are video games for goodness sake, you don't -need- to be a living entity, Thomas Was Alone starred blocks. Not all games with an older person need to be set in a "The Graveyard" setting. She only says she dreams to make a game with an old woman as a protagonist.

    This woman she imagines could be a shaman in a puzzle centric cleansing game somewhere between Sony's Sorcery and Myst. She could be one of the female assassin mentors shown in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I know you said below you consider Ezio still in his prime in Revelations but let's be realistic here. He's graying, that's a sign of age in most people's eyes. The era he lives in has an average death set far younger than his final age. The only piece of fiction based on him after the game is him as an even older, full gray-haired man, and even then he still has some skills to speak of, so I don't think his skills are a good measure for age.

    All she means is she wants to see a game some day that's entertaining and well designed that stars an old woman. I'm betting there already are at least six indie games that have done that. I mean, come on, Cartlife has you playing a single mother dealing with custody battles and managing a small business and it's been better critical received than the last Arkham game. If you don't want to play it, fine, but you come across more annoyed at the mere suggestion from what I'm reading.

    "But that's precisely my point: It would be a challenge because it doesn't fit. An old lady as the protagonist of a novel? Fine. In a TV show? Absolutely, that can work. In a form of entertainment where we control that individual...? Come on, let's be honest with ourselves a minute." -- Your words

    It doesn't have to be a challenge to create a compelling idea for an older protagonist. You're using reasoning the same way publishers insist we can't have anything other than straight white men with grizzle beards. I gave two examples right up there that would be easy. I can think of more if you need them.

    "Sure, you can make her a sorceress or something. But she had better be endowed with otherworldly abilities that don't make her move like an old lady. Shuffling across the living room floor to get a pen for the crossword puzzle really can't be in a video game. We want to escape; we want to have fun. I am aware that developers would see the old lady protagonist as a challenge, in that they'd need to find a way to make it interesting for the majority of the gaming public." -- Your words

    That's like saying you couldn't have a child in a compelling game as the playable protagonist because they would be too weak and unable to do anything. Ellie from TLOU (a game you've cited several times in the past) and Clementine from The Walking Dead Season 2 say "Hi!" All it would mean is whether or not the developers decide to address the age in the character's behavior and abilities, within the frame of both the fiction (remember that most Jedi in Star Wars can go over 100 years in age and still only look fifty while pulling off feats twenty year-olds would balk at). I repeat the Helen Mirren example -- she pulls off insane shots just like Max Payne and even takes a bullet like a champ. You can also do that in a game.

    In fact, Max Payne 3 is a great example of the developer choosing to have the impact of his age be shown in Max Payne 3. You see him crash over things awkwardly and sometimes fight to get up, but he keeps on aiming and his reflexes continue to win the day. He's like John McClane, he doesn't just give up, so why would a woman be any different in the same position?

    You seem to be expecting that this will be a frail old woman who can't do anything. I've known people way farther over the hill with grand children in better shape than people half their age. Just because some games have stereotyped older people does not mean every game will and I certainly doubt this woman's game would.

    One last example: General Kota in the Force Unleashed was an old man, I don't see how that stopped him from standing toe to toe with series protagonist Starkiller, let alone stop him from being powerful enough in the Force to bring down an entire massive section of a space station just by his will. Even after he's blinded, he defeats more bounty hunters in the sequel off-screen than Boba Fett has across most fiction based on him.

    Far more than anything else, your argument pretty much seems to be "I can't imagine it working, therefore it really shouldn't". Well, people didn't imagine a lot of things that came into existence. It's the people that do imagine them that end up making them.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Missed the point entirely. In fiction, anybody can be anything. A 500-year-old frog who drives race cars and summons mythical creatures? Sure, what the hell?

    In the world of games that are supposed to be believable, your restrictions begin to mirror reality. Just let me know when the mainstream gamers out there would be willing to play the next GTA or Call of Duty as an old lady. And those who have even the slightest bit of self-confidence will admit that either sort of game with such a protagonist simply isn't quite as appealing.

    And no, that has nothing to do with imagination or diversity. It has everything to do with reality, and what are normally the restrictions facing an aging individual.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    This is so awesome. :)

    It's remarkably easy to get gamers talking about something, especially when you know the majority will only read the headline and head off on a rant. Sooooo much fun. ;)
  • Farhati
    woow! Another guy who thinks high of gamers , we need more of those!!
  • coolVFX
    Ironically, most likely one day you will be a balding 52 year old with a beer gut.

    Funny how life works like that…..
  • Greg_2803
    I can tell you I would not have thought playing the role of a teenage girl in a post apocalyptic 3rd person shooter would be engaging but TLOU sure proved it could be.

    This author just paints himself as someone a bit too close minded for my likes. Thankfully he is not the one making/planning video games these days.

    He also said he didn't want to play as a 52yr old man balding with a gut. Pretty sure 2 out of the 3 main characters from GTA 5 fit that criteria..and they were fantastic to play as. In fact the young Franklin was the least interesting and most boring stereo typical character of the group.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Trevor would be the closest and he was hardly incapacitated. He didn't move like a 52-year-old out-of-shape man; if he did, you - and everyone else - would've found playing as him completely ridiculous.

    That's the point I'm trying to make. This isn't about close-minded; it's about what works better than other things. Playing as old lady in a video game doesn't work that well due to the nature of the entertainment medium...any particular reason we can't accept that?
  • Farhati
    I have two words for you, "papers please"
    That is an award winning game that could easily passed off as boring in which it's lead could easily be old lady/man siting on desk stamping papers the whole game! ( that was probably more than 2 words, sorry :) )
  • Joseph Rowe
    Featured Columnist
    Never meant to make your daughter cry. I apologized a trillion times. I'm sorry, Ms. Raymon - I am for real.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    You...made her daughter cry?
  • Hobo With A Keyboard
    Featured Contributor
    I think it's the sentiment of the statement isn't it? It's somewhat equivocal but I think we get the gist of what she means. I'd even argue it's a relatively facetious comment. Although it could be literal!?

    I don't think it matters though. Put into perspective I agree with you. But if a dev came up with a plot that just so happened to necessitate being an old woman, then great. If I hear good things I'm going to play it.
  • Greg Carrobis
    Isn't Assassin's Creed Revelations a game about playing as an old man?
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    No, you play as a highly capable assassin who's quite a ways away from being an old man.
  • Brian S
    Featured Correspondent
    Do I stop and think "I want to play as an old lady?" No? But I don't care that somebody else wants to. Would you want to play as a toddler? I don't know, but that's exactly what players will do in Among the Sleep. Or how about a goat or octopus? You get the idea.

    I think what this post, and several of your other posts miss, is that you are not every gamer and other people are going to have different tastes from you. An old lady is pretty low on my list of possible protagonists for a game like Call of Duty, or Assassin's Creed, or Forza (unless she's a really good driver I guess?), but this kind of thinking seems very much rooted in "/I/ don't want it, so why would anybody else want it?" state of mind. I can't stand puzzle games and JRPGs. I don't find them fun and find them boring, but whatever. Other people like them. Who cares?

    My main argument is "why not?" Who cares? Honestly, I am asking, why would anybody care if somebody wants a little indie game starring an old lady (like The Graveyard, for example)? If they somebody likes it, great. Does its existence take away from Assassin's Creed or the Witcher or ANY other game? It's like how Super Meat Boy wasn't made for you or me necessarily, it was for Edmund and Tommy--they made the game they wanted to make, and other people happened to really like it (for the record, I don't like it because I'm awful at it, but I see the appeal). If somebody wants to make a game about old ladies or whatever and only a few people play it, whatever. Who cares. I wouldn't seek it out unless it got insanely good reviews, but why bother fighting it?

    And this isn't any attempt to call it sexism, but Max Payne in MP3 is a 50+ year old dude with a beer gut (though his baldness was intentional, not natural), so hey, there are options for people who are middle-aged to old, I guess.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I have a feeling your motto for life is "why not?" as opposed to "why?"

    Anyway, I'm well aware that my tastes aren't everyone else's. I think my point was that the majority of gamers don't have much interest in playing as an old lady (and no, I don't need a study to prove that), and that certain characters and motifs make more sense in certain forms of entertainment mediums.

    I believe that's reality. I also never said nobody should ever make such a game; I never even implied it. Have you noticed how often you infuse what you want to see in things you read...? You don't write editorials based on what other people think; you write them based on what you think. That's what op-eds are.

    I'd recommend trying to write something from your point-of-view - and only your POV - as opposed to what you think other people think you should write. :)

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