Why don't female protagonists often get to date?


Little by little we're seeing more believable women characters in some of our video games, but what about their romantic options?

Over at Paste, critic Maddy Myers wonders why she hasn't gotten to play many characters who are tough and plausible, but also in love:

Even though our male heroes seem to be able to date whoever they want, our heroines don't appear to deserve the same happiness, no matter their sexuality. It's not that these women are written as canonically asexual or aromantic, either—instead, they are presented as characters who would date if it were possible for them, but choose not to because a relationship would somehow demean them, or cannot date because of external forces… I think the bigger problem is that we just don't have an example of a heroine in a relationship that's actually healthy, period.

I'd guess lots of game developers are trying to explore women characters who are heroes in their own right, without being modified or defined by how a man does or doesn't feel about them. I often enjoy storylines where some kind of heroism or subtle self-actualization happens, especially to a woman, without romance being the necessary catalyst. Restraint in romantic areas also lets creators write characters whose sexuality isn't necessarily overt or defined, and therefore aim to be relatable to more people.

But an abundance of "is she gay or not" characters can come across as a weak effort to placate players who want more queer representation, without risking alienating the 'straight base' by showing definitive gay stuff. As Myers writes about the teen girl time-rewind game Life is Strange:

Are the two teenage girls who star in Life Is Strange falling in love? Or are they just two teens sharing a chaste flirtation that will never go anywhere? There have only been three episodes of this game so far, and although I've been rooting for these two, I can't tell yet whether their relationship will ever go beyond queer-baiting.

Queer-baiting refers to how mainstream media creators might include a homosocial relationship that never goes beyond flirtation and heavy implication. This is an attempt to impress progressive audiences without alienating homophobic people. Playing it safe in this fashion doesn't really work, though, because it frustrates the heck out of people who crave true representation and are expected to settle for subtext.

The piece explores some interesting examples. What are some that you can think of?