I’ve been watching Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Gaming series and love what it’s doing. For the most part it’s a fair, measured, and essential criticism of the state of gaming. The only thing missing, I feel, is that it doesn’t often popularize video games that do in fact have positive representations of women. I can hardly blame Sarkeesian for this or even dignify this absence as criticism, since the series is more concerned with the “Don’t”s of gaming rather than the “Do”s. (Although this concept for an action-adventure damsel-not-in-distress game is absolutely a “Do.”) Still, I thought it would be worthwhile to fill in that gap. For the sake of future analysis and in order to reign in some positivity, I’d like to start a series overviewing some of who I think are the most interesting women in video games.
- Name: Kate Walker
- Game(s): Syberia, Syberia 2
- Creator: Benoit Sokal (Microids)
Kate Walker is a New York City lawyer appointed by her firm to the task of finalizing a toy factory takeover in a small French village called Valadilène after the death of the owner, Anna Voralberg. Soon she learns that the owner’s brother Hans is still alive and, in order to proceed with the takeover, she has to track him down. This search unexpectedly has her traveling across central and eastern Europe into strange and bizarre territories including an abandoned Soviet mining complex, a remote Russian monastery, a village of ice, a failing university with an overgrown botanical garden, and an idyllic spa located near a dried-up lake.
Along the way Kate learns of a mysterious land in Russia known as Syberia (no, not Siberia, just roll with it), where it is rumored that mammoths are still alive and roam. What’s more, she learns that Hans Voralberg is searching for this mythical place. By the end of Syberia Kate has learned so much about Hans’s life that she feels deeply touched by his story, and decides to set aside her past life and help Hans find Syberia.
On her adventures (which really go beyond her law school training, but let’s just leave that to suspension of disbelief) Kate manages, among other things, to convince an aging opera star that she can still sing, rescue said opera star from a raving lunatic, help send a man into outer space, use a coffin as a toboggan to escape a remote mountain monastery, and of course help unite an old man with the creatures of his dreams. Kate sacrifices her career and her relationship in order to carry out this adventure. This character arc shows Kate as someone who is both altruistic and brashly capable of making her own life decisions. It demonstrates her physical endurance, her ingenuity, and her emotional sensitivity.
Now Benoit Sokal is more concerned with engaging aesthetics and puzzles than multi-faceted characters, so Kate isn’t terribly deep or consistent. She’s made to advance the story and for the player to have someone to root for. We know little about her past and her story is defined by face-value conflicts and solutions rather than character development. Often it is the story progression defining Kate rather than the other way around. This is actually a common trait in adventure games, for instance Gus McPherson from Post Mortem and Madeline from Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy. I figure that in developing out of the tradition of games like Myst or B. Sokal’s own Amerzone, in which we play as a personality-less, genderless, and even mostly bodiless protagonists, any sort of positive representation is a step in the right direction, regardless of how paperthin their characterization might be.
I think Kate Walker shows a lot of positive qualities despite her lack of sophisticated characterization, and for that she deserves a mention.