With Quest for Glory’s Trial by Fire, we wanted to take the player where he had never been before – Right in the heart of an Arabian Nights tale. The original stories of “A Thousand Nights and a Night” are a series of interlocking tales told by Scheherazade on her wedding night so that her husband wouldn’t kill her.
That probably is not the sort of story premise that promises a gender positive image system.
Of course, we set out to break expectations and overturn stereotypes right from the start. We knew that the City of Raseir was not going to be on anyone’s vacation list. Although the women in Raseir are forced to wear veils and stay in harems, we wanted the player to feel righteous indignation that any culture would treat women that way.
Then again, there were many other things wrong with Raseir. It was Shapeir’s Evil Twin. It was Animal Farm and ‘Brave New World.’ It was like working at Sierra at that time. “Raseir” is an anagram of “Sierra” for a reason.
The Feminine Wiles
In Trial By Fire, nine male characters make major impacts upon the story in a positive way. Four other male characters go out of their way to give you trouble. Six female characters help you with the story and there are no villainesses in the game. If you do the math, clearly the women are on the whole more helpful than the men.
Dinarzad, the Money Changer, is one of the first women you meet in the game. She is happy to flirt with the player, but the only thing she actually exchanges with you is money.
Dinarzad presents a very different side to Thieves who make the Thief Sign to her. Once you demonstrate that you are “one of the brethren,” she will assign you a few nighttime excursions to obtain items of value.
In fact, Dinarzad is the Chief Thief of Shapeir. In her, “women’s liberation” meets “liberation of valuable possessions.” She is a strong – although not necessarily entirely positive – female role model.
The Adventurer’s Guild master, Uhura, represents another break with traditional roles. Uhura had been a Simbani Warrior. Unfortunately, she was also a woman, and her society wanted her to choose between being a wife or a warrior.
Uhura did not want a husband; she wanted a baby. So she left her home among the Simbani and came to Shapeir to find a boyfriend to sire her child.
Uhura is a powerful fighter who helps the Hero improve his fighting skills without having to risk his life and limb. She is a woman, a mother, and a warrior at the same time.
As the game comes to a close, Uhura decides to return to her homeland with her baby to reclaim her rank as a Warrior. She refuses to allow the traditions of her society to prevent her from being the person she wants to be.
Uhura is a fine role-model for both women and men. She teaches that you should not let the dictates of society prevent you from achieving your dreams.
(Unless of course, your dream is one of world domination. Ad Avis is your role-model for that sort of goal. His fate is to die and then face his worst nightmare. So let that be a lesson for all you would-be Evil Overlords.)
Aziza is a wise and powerful Wizard; she is the Seer of Shapeir. She helps you learn a variety of information and, if you are a Magic-User, a magical spell. She also teaches you some manners. It pays to be polite to people who are helping you. The fact that she can electrocute you with the snap of her fingers might also a good reason to be polite to her.
She stands not so much as a role-model as an object lesson. Courtesy is a virtue and virtue is its own reward.
Damsels in Distress
The one female who really needs your help in the game doesn’t realize she needs it. She has forgotten the nightmares of her past and the fact that she was even human once. She was a rape victim who was turned into a tree because she could not deal any more with the terror of being a victim.
Julanar was a good person to whom bad things happened. Not even a hero can just kiss her and make it all better when her wounds are that deep. It takes more than a magical spell to heal such damage. That’s why Julanar is still a tree at the end of Trial by Fire. It takes a lot of love and understanding to heal such wounds.
When you get to the city of Raseir, Zayishah does ask for the hero’s help to get out of the totalitarian nightmare. On the other hand, since she is has already escaped the harem, planned her escape, and knows how to get away, she is doing a pretty good job with or without your help.
Zayishah is the only one in Raseir who refuses to give in to Ad Avis’s misogynistic orders. Of course, those orders include marrying Khaveen, and that is probably a fate worse than death. No wonder she is desperate to escape the city and her fate.
Trial on Trial
QfG2 does have a scene of gratuitous sexual exploitation – The Thief’s visit to the harem. The harem is filled with sexy, sultry women dressed in diaphanous silks that reveal as much as they conceal. The bevy of beauties in the room make salacious sexual innuendo that borders on harassment. In this case, the sexual harassment is all directed at our very male hero. Mind you, he’s too much a hero to take offense. He’s also in too much of a hurry to take advantage of the situation. World to save, you know. Pity.
There’s also an Easter Egg with the x-ray glasses and the veil. Should you be caught doing this despicable act, I will disavow any knowledge of your actions.
Other than these minor infractions of the feminine manifesto, QfG2 is really very female friendly. It plays against the common tropes of women’s roles in games. There are very few victims or princesses to rescue here.
They are all too busy rescuing themselves.