The Roles of Women in the Quest for Glory Game Series
Part 1: The Women of Quest for Glory 1
I 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.
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.
So 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.
There 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
The 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.
While 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.
- The Fiery Females of Quest for Glory 2
- Shady Ladies of Shadows of Darkness
- The Reverse Interview – Computer Gaming in the Ukraine