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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Justine, or Sometimes I'm A Woman.

     I'm sure you've all heard the theories and dismissals:   

  • They're probably all a bunch of pervs, pretending to be girls online.
  • Well, who wants to stare at a dude's ass for hours on end?
  • They just want to play dress-up with skimpy armor!    
     I'm one of those weirdo guys that plays as female characters. Why? Can't be the first one. I never claim to anyone in multiplayer that I'm female. I'm willing to use my microphone, and have a distinctively male voice. As for the second, I'll play female even in first-person, where there's no arse to stare at. As for the last, I dress conservatively enough most of the the time (that ark hunter outfit below made me a little uneasy, but it just looks *so* badass) that I get hit on because other players think I'm really female because I'm not showing skin.

     Of all the games I play, the ones that hold a special place in my heart are the ones where you can create your own characters. I'll concede the point that there are a glut of 20-to-30-something, short-brown-haired white dudes as protagonists in video games, as there are in many forms of media, so my interest is always peaked at seeing a good, strong female lead. Give me a Faith Connors, a Jill Valentine, the new Lara Croft any day for a dash of variety in storytelling. If there's an option of male or female character, I'll actually feel more comfortable playing as the female character. There's a good reason for that, too.

Ark Hunter Justine
Commander Justine Shepard
     Which brings us to Justine. Justine is a topic I'm not always comfortable talking about, as there's a whole population boom of folk claiming head-mates and what-not (I swear I don't have a Tumblr account), but I was recently told it might make for good discussion. Justine was a loose set of viewpoints that floated through my head in my early days of writing, as I tried to inform a believable female voice to characters that I would write. I've always felt I had a gift for seeing the world from other viewpoints, and I felt that perhaps if I pushed that gift a little further, I could speak with a voice unlike my own. So a loose set of ideas and viewpoints remained in my head until such time that gaming started moving in a direction that allowed for deeper character customization.

     I think Commander Justine Shepard, Biotic Vanguard and XO of the Alliance frigate Normandy SR1 was the first time the name appeared. And appeared is probably the most apt term. I've never known a Justine in real life, and I can only think of a handful of pop culture folk that have the name, none of which had a particularly heavy influence on me. But Justine Shepard formed a more solid image in my head, with the first few defining traits. Red hair. Hard features, pale blue eyes, and a shotgun. Justine, from Vault 101, was the next time she appeared, and gained a touch more solidity. She'd be willing to help those who approached her, slow to anger, and a bit of a loner. Justine the Courier for the Mojave Express would try the diplomatic approach, but the moment you drew on her, she'd put you down. When she went back into space on the Normandy SR2, she fell in love with an old friend; he had reach, she had flexibility.

    Due to differences in game engine and artistic style, her looks do vary a little, but there are some things that never change. Red hair, blue eyes, almost always human (thanks, Kingdoms of Amalur, made me play a freakin' elf). Some way of getting right up in the enemy's faces, be that a cloaking device, biotic charge, or shotgun loadout. Sensible armor and/or clothing.  She'll negotiate, but she won't back down. She's fiercely loyal to her crew (except dumb muscle-heads that defy orders and wreck her shuttle), but wary of strangers.

Courier Justine, probably the most developed image of them all.
Justine, Dragonborn
Justine of the 3rd St Saints
      She's since been a celebrity gang leader, an Ark hunter, and someone who speaks with the voice of a dragon, but she's been the same person each time. She makes the same decisions that feel natural for her to make, picks the gear that would make sense for her to pick. It's almost like I'm not playing alone when I'm playing a game as Justine.

     Now, for those of you worried, I fully acknowledge that she's not a real person. She's merely a viewpoint in my mind that gets a lot of exercise. She has, however, grown past simply being a literary tool or a way to see through the eyes of another person. Either way, I take some comfort in the fact that I'm not picking my protagonists just to see some tail waggling in my face for hours on end.   

(In case you're interested, the games referenced here include the Mass Effect series, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, Saints Row The Third, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Defiance)

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