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Ripley – Feminism in gaming

Something has taken up all my time recently. I lose a week and realise I haven’t written a word. I have this internal struggle, I want to write, I have so much to write about, but this thing, it just consumes me. And then it occurred to me, what’s distracting me is derived from one of the most powerful female figures in pop culture history, a woman making enormous waves many years later. So why aren’t I writing about it? Well, now I am.

So what have I spent the last few weeks doing, you know, other than working? Well as I’ve written about before, I’m very much into gaming and one I’d been waiting for, nearly my entire gaming life, came out at the start of October. This was Alien: Isolation, survival horror game set between the first and second film. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), as she searches for answers on her missing mother 15 years later. I won’t give you a review, other than tell you it’s a brilliant game, what I want to talk about is the legacy of Sigourney Weaver and Ellen Ripley from film over to game. Weaver has portrayed one of the most influential female figures in popular culture in a franchise that really created the staple for the female action hero in cinema, and now this influence is crossing over to gaming. I’ve done some browsing on Weaver, what she thinks of Alien, Ripley and the new game, and it makes for an interesting read. Along with this I want to demonstrate to you the importance of finally having such a strong female figure in gaming.

Originally, back in 1979, the entire Alien cast was written as generic male roles, so why did the main character, the star of the film, become a woman? Well, that’s where Sigourney Weaver comes in. Producers and writers were so impressed with her her lack of experience on screen and being the youngest actor out of the seven human cast members (the Alien makes eight) was forgotten. She originally auditioned for the wimpy character of Lambert, and Veronica Cartwright who landed this role, with her background in horror film acting, auditioned for Ripley. Yet there was something strong and personable about Weaver. Since this first film, Weaver has become the thread that holds the Alien franchise together, embodying a female action hero yet to be rivalled. When asked about the new Alien game Weaver comments on the excellent attention to detail, how visceral the world is, how substantial the characters and story are, and how games, becoming more and more like film, are for everyone, not just men and children.  She mentions how the medium of game is a new way to explore a story you already know and love. She is especially enthusiastic when discussing women in the male dominated world of gaming. She argues gaming needs a wider spectrum of female characters and female influence, something that is definitely evident within the new Alien game and continues to be in the future of gaming.

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Amanda Ripley on the left, Ellen on the right.

Photo Credit themarysue.com

The main character Amanda, just like her mother, is the perfect female protagonist. She’s smart but not perfect, resourceful but makes mistakes but most of all, she’s a survivor. There’s no love stories, no man to rescue her, she simply has to persevere and save herself, along with others, where possible. Something Weaver admires about both Ripley women. It’s a step in the perfect direction, if you ask me, where I think games should be going, as do many other women, but a risky one for the developers to take. They’ve discussed openly the decision to make the main character a woman, something they thought no one would be expecting, but something that feels content to the films. It’s risky because it, in some way, can emasculate the male gamer. Especially when compared to the extremely masculine characters of games released simultaneously. Shadow of Mordor for example, in which the male character slaughters thousands of orcs with giant swords is definitely more manly. Would the idea of playing as a woman, when they can play as a manly man, put male players off Alien: Isolation? Maybe. Another thing worth mentioning is the complete lack of firepower Amanda uses. Surviving is mostly reliant on Amanda’s ability to outsmart the Alien, to engineer resolves for difficult situations and the ability to think smart and quick under immense pressure. Along with all this brains she isn’t bad looking, but unlike her female gaming predecessors, namely Lara Croft, she isn’t, in any way, sexualized. It’s all first person, so you don’t see the scantily clad body of a twenty something virile young woman frolicking in front of you. The only time you do see her is in cut scenes or promotional pictures and even then she’s either dressed in a huge space suit or an all in one, grey/green coloured jumpsuit. She’s all business this one.

Sigourney Weaver declared that throughout the four films her confidence in Ripley has grown, and her recent declaration of admiration for Amanda Ripley and the Alien: Isolation game is like a stamp of approval. And just like the character of Ellen has evolved and become a staple for the female action hero, Amanda Ripley could become that for the serious female action hero in games. Gaming has had such a bad rap for the poor portrayals of women but I’m thinking Amanda Ripley might be the start of something new.

So there we have it, 35 years later Sigourney Weaver and Ellen Ripley are still making waves, not just in cinema but in a whole new medium. I hope to see Amanda Ripley being spoken about in the gaming world 35 years down the line for being just as influential. Now, where’s that PS4 controller, I got some Alien ass to kick.

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Photo Credit skidrowgames.net

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