Our media landscape is obsessed with youth. Coming from someone who's yet to see the other side of 30 maybe that’s a bit rich, but ageing is not only natural, it's inevitable, and the absence of older female leads is only becoming more difficult to ignore. Games offer little reprieve as I dive into another adventure surrounded by teenagers or look to the industry itself and see less than a handful of mentor figures.
Snake has reckoned with his own mortality and legacy, Kratos has become the Dad Of War, and even Nathan Drake has settled down. As the audience and developers themselves age, it makes sense that game narratives skew towards reflecting these later-life experiences, informing a trend of typical action heroes becoming grizzled silver foxes and taking on the mightiest boss of all: fatherhood. However, as I'm sure you're aware, the audience and teams behind games extends far beyond middle-aged white guys and, even though it takes a village, we rarely see older female characters doing the same narrative heavy lifting.
Hostess with the mostest
Speaking of villages, Lady Alcina Dimitrescu caused quite a stir with her towering presence, laughter lines, and three bloody lovely daughters in Resident Evil Village. Tellingly horror is one of few genres to play host to older women pursuing their own goals or even looking their age.
From Resi's Marguerite Baker to Bloodborne's distinctly maternal anxieties to the Alien Queen herself, it's where motherhood becomes monstrous. As the clamour for the aforementioned yummy mummy demonstrates, there is an appetite for an older woman to take the lead… if you'll excuse the double entendre. But wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to rely on horror to subvert our expectations? Why does pursuit of her own agenda so often put an older woman in the role of a villain?
Aside from some cracking horror baddies, video game mums are too often secondary characters frozen in time by death or magic. Frankly, the dead mum trope works against endearing me to a title. Smoke And Sacrifice has been my lockdown saviour in part because of how it refreshingly reframes both aspects. As mum Sachi, you must survive long enough to rescue your son Lio from a strange underground realm – talk about a compelling hook! After spending many hours elbow-deep in monster parts and the questionable foodstuff 'Hogcheese,' it’s baffling that so few games explore motherhood as a driving narrative force.
On the other hand, to repeatedly see storytellers fail to conjure futures for older female characters outside of marriage and children is wearying to someone who wants none of that for herself in real life. With or without children, women don't blip out of existence after a certain age. It's high time game narratives reflected this. Obviously, the intersection of ageism and sexism is not unique to games but our stories are as good a place as any to start addressing it. The first step forward is to create an environment that isn't inhospitable to older women's very existence – on and off the screen.
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