The Gaming Bechdel Test

beyond-good-and-evil-hd-6

So, I made news on the internet again by Tweeting my casual thoughts about gaming feminism. Wooo, Got to love when this happens.

This morning I tweeted asking something that has been discussed by other people at various points on Twitter. What would need to be tweaked or included to create a Bechdel Test equivalent for Video Games. I’ll preface this by describing a little of how I view the Bechdel Test as working for films. The purpose of the Bechdel Test is not to ascertain any level of quality of female representation films, it is purely a frequency test. You set a deliberately low barrier, something that the majority of films should be able to easily hit, and then get people to see how hilariously few games hit that barrier to entry. It’s not a checklist of the things we want to aim for, it’s a minimum entry point, something we shouldn’t accept people failing to hit.

So, a Bechdel Test for Video Games. When I asked about this on Twitter I got lots of examples of things women wanted to see in female characters in games. I got recommendations like “outfits should look like the character dressed themselves” and “There should be at least one playable female playable character”. I love those as ideas. I Want to see them in Video games. I don’t think these suggestions have a place in Gaming’s Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Tests simplicity lies in that it’s both objective and purely about amount of Representation. You can’t argue if something passes or not, it either definitively passes or does not. It’s a test of basic existance, something we can use to highlight how games fail to even get the basics right, let alone the big picture.

While discussing this today I saw a great example of a Bechdel Test adaptation pop up from BechdelGamer.Wordpress.com. It goes like this:

In a game containing a recognizable narrative:

1)     There are at least two female coded characters…

(a)   Of which both are either playable or a significant NPC (non-playable character)

2)     …who have at least one instances of sustained commutation (a conversation) with each other,

3)     About something other than a male coded character or characters.

The example given on the website then goes further by grading these representations. It ranks them by how likely the player is to actually experience these particular interactions:

The Four Bechdel Subtypes for games.

Type 1: A scene meeting these criteria is a unavoidable part of the game. It is impossible to beat the game without having a scene the passes the test, regardless of any choice you make as a gamer.

Type 2: A scene meting the above criteria is an unavoidable part of the game if you play as a female character in a game where you can select your characters gender.

Type 3: A scene meeting these is an optional part of the game regardless of your characters gender; this includes side quests, optional scenes and dialogue, DLCs etc. (Games with fixed characters with optional scenes meeting the test would fall here)

Type 4: A scene meeting these is an optional part of the game if your character is female in a game where you can select your characters gender; this includes side quest, optional scenes, dialogue, DLCs etc.

What I do really like about this idea of graded representation bands is that it does take into account the multiple choice nature of video games as a medium. What I dislike it that it complicates the test. The beauty of the BT is that it’s simple and a pass or fail, not a graded pass or fail. I’d argue that Type 1 should be rolled in as a base requirement to pass a Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test for films assumes that for the film to pass it must pass for all players. To take the element of argument out of if a game does or does not pass, we would have to require it to occur for all players.

Jumping back a bit to the initial suggestion , we start the above Bechdel Test with the line “In a game containing a recognizable narrative:” . I think it’s important to highlight specifically that this is a Gaming NARRATIVE Bechdel Test. If a game doesn’t feature any narrative OR any characters then it doesn’t fail this Bechdel Test, this test just doesn’t apply to that game. It’s a test of dissernable intent to portray narrative and frequency or representation within that.

Right, to go back and edit that base Bechdel Test I’d suggest this as gaming’s baseline:

In a game containing a recognizable narrative OR CHARACTERS:

1)     There are at least two female coded characters…

(a)   Of which both are either playable or a PLOT significant NPC (non-playable character)

2)     …who have at least one instances of sustained commutation (a conversation) with each other,

3)     About something other than a male coded character or characters.

4 )      A scene meeting these criteria is a unavoidable part of the game. It is impossible to beat the game without having a scene the passes the test, regardless of any choice you make as a gamer.

It’s not perfect, but I think it’s the closest I can get and one that I think is achievable even without a female protagonist. Take Beyond: Good and Evil for example. Even ignoring the existence of the female protagonist Jade that game would still pass the Bechdel Test. The Governor of Hillys and Mei (A Feline Humanoid spy for Iris) have an extended conversation about the mission at hand and government coverup plots that is an integral and unavoidable part of the plot. This game also has one of my favourite ever female protagonists, but even if this game had been made with a male lead it would still have passed this Gaming Bechdel Test. It’s entierly possible to pass, but hilariously few games do.

I don’t profess for this to be a definitive list and I fully expect it to have flaws. It’s built onto a foundation of someone elses work and doesn’t guarantee if representation in these games will be any good. Still, from now on all games I play will be subject in my mind to this. Let’s find out how many games will pass compared to if we reversed this test.