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Men aren't cannon-fodder: the addition of low-level female enemies in video games is one of the best patterns in gaming

You’re making your way through the gaming world of your choice, and suddenly hear an overenthusiastic war cry. Turning around, there’s a handful of those generic enemies sprinting towards you with some obviously lethal intentions: they could be bandits, soldiers, roving post-apocalyptic fiends, or just some hostile bipedal humanoids – but chances are that no matter the game, they’re a mixture of both men and women. It wasn’t so long ago that these generic, nameless baddies were simply men, yet this switch to include women among their ranks is one of the most important patterns in gaming. Because – in a revelation that won’t shock any of you, I’m sure – some girls can be evil too. 

However perverted this might sound, being able to fight off bloodthirsty women as well as men makes me so god damn happy. Whether these nameless, cookie-cutter foes are being used as meatbag distractions during a boss fight or are the kind that roam across an open world and are all too happy to open fire on you, having a mixture of men and women in their ranks is one step closer to equality between the sexes in video games, and helps to get rid of the damaging notion that women aren’t aggressors. Let me explain why. 

Mixed-sex cannon-fodder

It might just sound like an aesthetic choice, a small tweak that you don’t really notice when you’re gaming. But having both men and women attack you slowly but surely erodes the idea that men are the default setting for generic enemies: that they’re nameless cannon fodder, disposable and meant to be killed without a second thought. However, great as it is to have major female NPCs, treating men and women the same when it comes to the lowest level of nameless-NPCs is just as important. This is far from a new trend, though: Skyrim has mixed-sex guards and bandits, Far Cry 5 has cultists and Highwaymen of both genders, the soldiers patrolling Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s forts and cities are both male and female, and other games like Dishonored 2, all the Bioshock games, and Left 4 Dead have the same gender balance. Most recently Borderlands 3 joined the party by giving us female psychos (at last). 

Bioshock's Baby Jane Splicer

Bioshock's Baby Jane Splicer

Whichever way you look at it, it’s good to prove that like men, women can be dicks and join causes that belong to the baddies, as well as leading those hordes of evil ne’er-do-wells. Pretending otherwise is just putting women on a pedestal, implying that we’re without fault and couldn’t possibly contemplate hurting another living being. But even though most games already include lethal ladies, part of what is holding some titles back (and could have occurred to you too) might be that faint and outdated idea that you shouldn’t hit a girl, no matter what. And you shouldn’t, as a rule, but – and I hope this is so obvious that I don’t have to point it out – nor should you hit boys. But there is one big exception: if they seem thirsty for your blood, gender doesn’t really matter when it comes down to making sure your vital organs actually stay inside your body. It’s like that scene in 22 Jump Street, where Schmidt doesn’t want to hit Mercedes, or Colossus’ initial reluctance to fight Angel Dust in Deadpool

One of God of War's Valkyries

Time to point out the obvious: if some girl is trying to whack your head in with a baseball bat, it’s alright to fight back. For whatever reason, for some fighting women who are pretty ok with fighting you seems to be one of those old weird chivalry rules that hasn’t quite gone away yet. I sincerely hope that if any of us were faced with Mickey and Lou from Far Cry New Dawn, Doom’s Olivia Pierce, Irene Engel from Wolfenstein 2, God of War’s Valkyries, or Lady Butterfly from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, we’d be ok with shedding some blood in the name of survival. 

Monstrous mobs

This goes far beyond just low-level female and male mobs though, and into the depiction of monsters and the monstrous in video games. Although with some creatures it’s almost impossible to tell their gender due to their androgynous appearance – like Devil May Cry 5’s Hell Atenora or Metro Exodus’ humanimals – other games seem to incline more towards having a majority of monsters with masculine physical qualities. Take Outlast and Outlast 2, for example. Even though the second game had horrific female enemies like Val and Marta, the Heretics that you fought near the end of the game are all men, as evidenced by their almost-naked bodies and, ahem, genitalia. Then Outlast only had male enemies, despite there being a female ward at Mount Massive Asylum. 

One of Outlast's Variants

One of Outlast's Variants

Helwalkers, Trolls, and Draugr in God of War all have male physical characteristics too (broad shoulders, slim hips), plus in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Lynels, as just one example, are all evidently buff lion centaur dudes. Depicting most monsters as having typically male qualities is limiting to say the least. Although they look cool as heck in a kind of horrifying way, monsters can and should have female characteristics too, like God of War’s Revenants or Left 4 Dead 2’s Spitter and Witch special infected. By the way, those two examples also prove that women can be monstrous without using their gender as the reason for their monstrosity, which is unfortunately the category that enemies like Marguerite Baker from Resident Evil 7 fall into, with her twisted form seemingly relying on a twisted mockery of pregnancy to disgust us. 

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And yeah, I know my entire argument can be simplified into 'let me kill more women in video games, dammit', but I’m ok with that. You want to support a tyrant? A cult leader? You can, no matter what’s between your legs! Including women among those low-level mobs undermines the idea that women can’t be aggressors, and helps to combat the sexist idea that women can’t be violent. A notion like that harms both genders, and who knows, this could just be a small step towards men being treated as women’s equals in other bits of real life too. Since we’ve started to talk more about equality between the sexes it’s no coincidence that current trends indicate men are feeling more able to open up about being the victims of violence: reports of sexual offences against men having tripled in the last 10 years, and reports of men being domestically abused have risen also. Having a balanced depiction of generic, evil men and women in video games might seem like a trivial point, but it’s small things like this that end up making it easier for all of us to be treated equally. 

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