Corey and Lori's Quest Log


Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Women of Glory

The Roles of Women in the Quest for Glory Game Series

Part 1: The Women of Quest for Glory 1

Uppity GamersI grew up just as Woman’s Lib hit its stride. At that time, Women were all expected to grow up to be Suzy Homemaker – marry, have children, and be a good cook and housekeeper for our family. Those of us who didn’t fit the mold rebelled against the chains of expectations and conformity. We spoke out against the inequality of pay scales for women, the lack of women in lawmaking, and the lack of good female role-models in life, movies, and books. My favorite button was “Uppity Women Unite.”

(Besides, I am a lousy housekeeper. Suzy Homemaker and Martha Stewart would not approve of my house or me.)

Years passed… I became a school teacher. I married, had a child, cooked, and was still a lousy housekeeper. But other than that last part, I fell into traditional roles for women. I was clearly not a women’s libber.

Gamer Girls

Then came the day when I was hired by Sierra On-Line to be a Computer Game Designer. Now there was an unconventional career for a woman. ‘Everyone’ knew that only guys made and played games. But I followed the trail blazed by Roberta Williams, the woman who helped invent the computer graphic adventure game. Sierra On-Line had no issue with hiring a woman to design games. After all, Roberta was the undisputed Queen of the genre.
I designed the Quest for Glory series to be the kind of games I would enjoy playing. My proposed design allowed the player to choose the species and gender of the main character. However, the limitations of computers in that day and age and the nature of adventure games made having multiple main characters unfeasible. Too much animation and too little computer memory to handle it.

Hero Quest HeroSo it came down to telling one character’s story – the hero’s.

Did I forsake my position on the role of women in society and in games when I designed a game with a male rather than a female protagonist? Should I be stripped of my “Uppity Woman” status because I conformed to traditional game tropes and perpetuated stereotypes?

It’s time to take a look at the Quest for Glory series so that I can answer those questions to you and to myself. I’ll start with the first game, Quest for Glory 1: So You Want To Be A Hero.

So You Want to be a Heroine

The first game was designed to start out like a typical medieval fantasy game – noob hero, European setting, some nods to folktales with Kobolds and Baba Yaga, and lots of fighting and derring-do. It was designed to ease the typical Adventure Gamer into role-playing. It wasn’t intended to be a feminist manifesto of gaming.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly how the game turned out – It was a typical middle-European, male-centric fantasy game.

Hilde PThere were more than thirty characters in the game. Of those characters, eight were female. Of those eight, one didn’t have any real lines, one didn’t have any lines to speak of – The little old lady mostly slept through her part of the story. One of those female characters was a quiet housekeeper and cook, Shima. The Centaur fruit seller, Hilde, was a flirt and had little to do with the main plot. The Healer needed help (like, who didn’t?). The Brigand Leader, Elsa von Spielburg, needed rescuing. And the main villain of the story was a wicked Ogress.

QG1 does not rate highly on the “Good role-models for Girls” list. Only Zara was a strong female character – and you only encountered her when you played the Magic-User.

Sex and the Single Game

Elsa von SpielburgThe game is not particularly sexist. True, the Brigand Leader needed rescuing, but at least Elsa was a strong woman who kept the brigands in line. While Elsa’s enchantment was the direct result of a curse upon her father, it was actually a positive experience for Elsa. She learned how to swordfight, lead men, and terrorize an entire valley. Were it not for the curse, she would have been married off to some nearby nobleman for political reasons. Instead, she learned valuable skills for her future. And the hero didn’t so much rescue her, as remind her that she had better things to do than destroying her father’s barony.

Baba YagaWhile Baba Yaga was the villainess, she wasn’t just some stereotypical wicked witch. No – Baba Yaga was an archetypical wicked witch! (er.. Ogress. She was a “hag”, not a “witch”, in the old Slavic tales. We didn’t want to offend our Wiccan friends by perpetuating the wicked witch image, so we decided she was an Ogress rather than a witch.) So what if Baba Yaga cursed the Baron and his son – the Baron tried to drive her out of the valley. So what if the hero almost became a hero sandwich? He got better.

Baba Yaga acted in this game in her traditional role in the old folk tales – she gave the hero the motive and the means to become a hero. So as long as you didn’t piss her off toad-ally, you could escape her pad without croaking.

Then there was the eighth female character in the game – Erana. You don’t meet Erana in the game, but you learn a lot about her. She protected the town from danger. She made a sanctuary for wanderers in the valley. She made a tree with magical fruit. She made music to meditate by… She was a loving presence in a troubled land.

She still didn’t get any lines in the game.

No Glory for Girls

I’m very proud of Quest for Glory 1. It has a few very strong female characters that proved that not all girls in computer games are there to be saved or to titillate. On the other hand, the first computer game I made doesn’t exactly stand as a stunning feminine tour-de-force. Compared to QG1, ‘King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella’ is “The Feminine Mystique” of gaming.

Maybe I got better as the series goes on… We’ll see in my upcoming articles.

I couldn’t get much worse.

I hope.

Similar Posts:

Tags: , , , ,

Tweet Me!Share on Twitter

Comments

  1. Elven Says:

    I’m not really very particular about having strong female characters in games , books , movies etc , girl though I am . I even prefer male heroes in games (But I loved Rosella !). A male hero can get into all sorts of embarrassing situations , get ridiculed by others , end up doing really hard physical jobs , and it all comes across as humorous while if it’s a lady , I’d feel sorry and indignated for her(the harem scene in QFG2 for eg)

    So I’m fine with average female characters as long as they aren’t all whiny cry-babies . But the main reason I don’t like the idea of ‘strong-females’ is that I don’t agree with the genereal idea of them . People scoff at and call weak , the women who believe in forgiveness and sacrifice , not realising it is way harder than just running around in lingerie and ‘kicking-ass’ . So I really like the women in QFG – they are powerful and they can fight , but they can be good , kind , selfless people too . Well I like them all except perhaps Nawar . She’s rather vain and self-centered , especially when compared with the other ‘brides’ . Felt sorry that the thief was paired with her . I’d have preferred Zayishah instead . She displayed some good sneaking skill by getting out of the castle and the city from under Ad Avis’ and Khaveen’s combined noses :D

    Bringing up children is a glorious job I think – to make them good ppl of worth to the society . But a woman can achieve much in her fluffy cothes . Perhaps more than men . Her strength is in her wit , intellect , wisdom , will-power , and personality . Of course , guys have it all too but She can face problems in ways wise and subtle . Women aren’t equal to men . They’re more than that . They are different with their own styles , strengths and weaknesses , as do men .

    Oops I got carried away by my views on feminism . To conclude , women like Erana , Katrina and Elsa and many more were very inspiring . Like Shema . She did what she liked and went on the journey with Shameen to find a hero . She didn’t stay behind thinking of the arduous time ahead . Both Shema and Shameen are inspiring for their loyalty and love to each other and for others . They were willing to suffer for their friends .

    Oh and I think you’re a good role-model yourself Lori :)

  2. Jason Mical Says:

    Hi Lori, I actually had a follow-up question that might make good fodder for an upcoming post. One of the things that always bothered me in Quest for Glory 5 was that you only had a limited number of options for the partners your character could end up with, based on class. My first run through the games was with a Paladin and Katrina’s story always resonated with me more than Erana’s – in part because of Katrina’s complexity but also because I always thought it would be more interesting for the Paladin to fall for the more complex person – and the one who, at one point, wanted to destroy him. Katrina’s character underwent some of the best development of the series and I wanted to at least have the option to marry her.

    Was it more a question of logistics when it came to Quest for Glory 5 that characters would only be able to select a partner based on class? Or was there a deeper, more story-related reason? I’m just curious – it’s one of those things I always wondered about, only because of the way I played the Paladin or at least the kind of hero I imagined him to be.

  3. Lori Says:

    It’s an object lesson for everyone – love is not a game :-)

  4. James StarRunner Says:

    And such a tease that was! I was going, “Finally! The innkeeper was a tease before I found out she was married. Now I finally have someone to love m… Wait, Johari, what are you doing? Noooooo!” :P

    Then since I played the Paladin, I had not only Erana and Katrina falling in love with me, but helped the rusulka too. And all of them died (again!) Love was certainly hard for this hero!

  5. Lori Says:

    It’s nice to know that QfG games feel gender neutral. On the other hand, I knew from the start that I wanted romance in the game. Wages of War was a tease – Johari really was attracted to Yesufu from the start (opposites attract :-) ) Erana’s story needed closure and the Paladin was the right person to return the love that Erana needed.

    Most of all, Shadows of Darkness would have been a very different game if the Hero had been a Heroine. We might have had the first lesbian relationship in a computer game. I assure you, Ad Avis would never fall in love with anyone other than himself.

  6. Ben Says:

    I think any argument made in regards to sexism in story telling (or game design) is circumstantial since story telling requires communicating stereotypes in order to effectively transfer meaning. That stated, I think that Quest for Glory tells the story of a hero and not a male or female and the fact that the story fails to use any gender unique qualities further adds to the androgynous nature of the character.
    For whatever it’s worth, I think the same story could be told if the character graphics and gender was originally designed to be female (except maybe plot elements in QFG3 Lepordwoman and QFG4 Erana).

  7. Lori Says:

    Hi, James… Weird, the gravatar is working for some people and not for others here. I don’t see anything that would cause the difference, either. Oh, well. No clue.

  8. James StarRunner Says:

    Harriet Potter… *Shudder* That reminds me of way too many aweful fanfiction characters I’ve seen. There’s got to be tens of thousands of Harry Potter and Voldemort children by now.

    On an unrelated topic… I notice my gravatar works on the forum but not in the blogs. Am I missing something?

  9. Lori Says:

    Shema may be shy and seem like the perfect Suzy Homemaker if you ignore the occasional cat hairs she gets on your clothes and in the food. However, there wouldn’t be a Hero’s Tale or Katta’s Tail inn if it wasn’t for her. Shameen is a nice, friendly guy who makes sure people are welcome and have a good time in their inn, but Shema does all the work. She does what she loves – to cook, to keep a neat house, and to dance for the people she cares about.

    Not everyone in a game has to be angst-ridden with hidden secrets… but those are the ones that make better stories to tell.

    Our hero for QfG was a ‘blank slate.’ We let the player imbue the Hero with personality. In the School for Heroes Games, the hero will be a complex character. Part of the game will be uncovering the character’s back story and understanding why the character does things. It’s more of the true meaning of Role-playing. And we will have female protagonists. The only reason we don’t start out with the female Wizard character at Hero-U is that we didn’t want people to think we were making Harriet Potter at Hogwarts for Heroes.

  10. Lori Says:

    When I started designing these games, I just wanted the games to be fun. I certainly didn’t have a personal agenda to bring a feminist voice to a male-dominated industry.

    I wanted to play with the expectations of the player and stereotypes. Yes, it seems like the player has to rescue the Baron’s daughter. The world needed the player to rescue the Baron’s Daughter. After all, if Elsa had stayed with the brigands, she probably would have conquered half of Kriegsland.

    Even cursed, Elsa never lost her fundamental humanity. she tried to make sure that the brigands did not prey upon the innocent like Henry Horsefeathers (Heinrich Pferdefedern) the Centaur.

    Baba Yaga didn’t come to Spielburg to curse it. She came because it was sunnier and more cheerful than Mordavia. She would have been perfectly happy to play Mages’ Maze with Erasmus and Fenrus until she got bored and moved on. When the Baron tried to drive her away, she didn’t just get mad, she got revenge. If the Baron had ever tried to personally apologize for sending his guards to drive her out of Spielburg, the whole matter might have been averted. Then again, Baba Yaga might have had Baron of Beef for dinner.

  11. Alistair (Spikey) Says:

    See QFG3-4, those are incredibly feminist, in a positive way. ‘Nuff said.

    Plus, QFG1 mainly has women in positive roles, Elsa is not a helpless maiden, the Centaur is fairly strong, Erana’s influence is felt in a strong and positive way, Zara is a bit haughty but self-sufficient, and even the little Old lady can be a force to be reckoned with if you’re a Thief..

  12. Richard Baxter Says:

    I would make the opposite conclusion on QFG1.

    The finale of the game is Elsa; you try to fight her and you die.

    There is no glorification of femininity/masculinity: all that does is highlight weakness and the need to resort to manipulation. The HQ1 screenshot is not representative of the game (I have always thought it was a bit over the top): the box art is however (http://www.theschoolforheroes.com/questlog/1383/talking-the-talk).

    Freedom is in the mind; recognising what one is capable of. The alternative is force. But this path will never lead to respect, at best it will compartmentalise.

    The original role model problem was a justified attempt to end prostitution through education. There is now a new question with respect to role, but has less technological relevance to the game (pending commentary on Uhura, Katrina…)

    QFG stayed realistic – not reactive to some off world evil. KQ4 is a good example of this also.

  13. James StarRunner Says:

    I know I’m glad my wife doesn’t ‘fit the mold’. I never have to watch a sappy chick-flick and I have someone to play games with! :)

    Sure Elsa had to be rescued, but so did her brother, Bernard. I think that fact plagued him and he doesn’t want to admit it. Other than having to be ‘rescued’, Elsa broke the mold.

    I think some of the other woman broke the mold too. Despite helping the healer, she helped others so much more and ran a successful businesses. Zara could make a guy piddle their pants if she wanted to. Even the old woman though with no lines owns a cat that can gut you clean in four seconds flat.

    Even though Shema didn’t really break the mold that we could see, she could make many hearts race when she danced (though the dance wasn’t till the next game). I don’t get the feeling that she feels forced into her role either. Shameen clearly loves her and I’m sure if Shema had other ambitions, he would let her. You don’t have to have every woman break the mold. Not all women want to charge in with a battle axe.

    It would have been great if you had the means to choose the hero’s gender, but as you said, disk space was a HUGE issue! It would have been great to play as a half fae, gnome, or katta either; but that’s not the topic at hand.

    No, there weren’t many women in QFG that were armed to the teeth (Elsa being the main exception), but the women there were respected. I think you may be a little hard on yourself Lori. You still made a great product that didn’t look down on women. :)

  14. Joseph Austin Says:

    “As long as you didn’t piss her off toad-ally, you could escape her pad without croaking.” Oh how I missed those puns.

    If I can be honest, I think you’re being too hard on yourself. The circumstances of your female characters didn’t make them ‘tropes’ in my opinion. Strong people need rescuing sometimes, and as you pointed out, Elsa is more ‘reminded’ than rescued. And a female villain like Baba Yaga isn’t anti-woman any more than Ad Avis is anti-male.

    I think sometimes we can become so focused on the representation of a class of people that we risk our characterizations. I have a character that I would like to use in a story or game design, who happens to be a lesbian. Some friends that I pitched the story to have criticized me for giving her a few psychological issues. But that’s just how she is as a person, and it’s important for her story. A realistic character is alive and imperfect, but not without merit. Besides, she evolves significantly as any good hero should. :)

Leave a Reply

Follow these comments with the RSS 2.0 feed.