Friday, October 31, 2014

Tropes VS Hellenica

In the past couple of months, I've been repeatedly frustrated by the implications that gaming isn't ready for a mature conversation about sexism.

That’s not true in my circle of gaming friends, it wasn't true for Volition, and it's not true for Dragonloft. To demonstrate this, we thought it would be a good idea to do a post about all the thought our team is putting into how we portray females in Hellenica.

Let's get to the first issue we face—finding female characters for the game. At this point I'm half-expecting cries of "PC police" or "social justice warrior", but it's nothing so grandiose. Rather, girls have always been there in our personal adventures, whether it was solving intractable problems at math camp, developing video games, or downing a raid boss in the Secret World. To not have any females of note in a setting just rings false to us, and we don't think we're the only ones.

This quickly came into conflict with our desire to found the game solidly in the milieu of ancient Greece. Even after all my research, I can only name two historical Greek women who were famous for something other than being a wife/mistress to a man. The naval commander Artemisia (who I'm told is featured in the latest 300 movie) and the poet Sappho. Tragically, neither of these characters worked for us. The battle for which Artemisia is famous happened a generation before our game takes place and is a building block for Greek/Persian relations in our setting, so any appearance by her would be jarringly anachronistic. As for Sappho, there may be a genius out there that can work a lesbian love poet into a JRPG narrative, but it wasn't something we wanted to try to tackle in our first game.

Moving on to mythical Greek characters, there’s a much wider set to choose from. Even discounting the gods, there’s Circe, Atalanta, Pandora, Medea, Electra, Ariadne, Helen, Arachne, etc. However, a lot of these characters have troubling sexist undertones. Atalanta’s footrace in particular is basically about a guy distracting a warrior woman with shinies to trick her into marrying him.

Of the above, Circe was the one that best fit our setting—a powerful enchantress with her own agenda that can alternatively serve as an obstacle or guide. And yes, we’re aware that in the Odyssey she functions as a sort of sexist “temptress” trope. And though there are elements of that characterization in our story, her arc is greatly expanded in Hellenica, including an act 3 confrontation where she --[REDACTED]--.

After all this, we’re still only at one(!) female character. So we needed to do more. Next post, I’ll talk about how we went about creating new female characters and making them consistent with the male-dominated world of ancient Greece.


  1. I can see your problem, it is tricky. What about:
    Cassandra - can predict the future but no one ever believes her
    Antigone - prepared to defy a king for the sake of tradition
    Hippolyte, antipope and orithiya - kick ass amazonians

    1. Amazonians are mentioned a few times, but no one's actually seen an Amazon. Only stories. So they're sort of a myth within a mythical world.

      As for Antigone and Cassandra (and this is just my speculation), both good characters but fall victim to the fates.

    2. Addendum on Amazons. We didn't feel they completely worked in the historical sort of setting we were building, partially because creating a mythical city-state would mess with the geopolitical power structure and it would be harder to use history as a story bible.

      I will say, though, we missed out on Cassandra, that's a fascinating character that has a lot of RPG potential. I either missed her in my research or didn't put two and two together. It's too late to work her into the main narrative, but she might show up as a supporting character somewhere.