The Growth of Female Sci-Fi Characters, as Seen in Broken Age

In, “No Business in Space? The Female Presence in Series Science Fiction for Children,” Karen Sands details the history of female characters in the science fiction genre from the 1940s to the mid-1990s. Though a bit dated now, the article … Continue reading

In, “No Business in Space? The Female Presence in Series Science Fiction for Children,” Karen Sands details the history of female characters in the science fiction genre from the 1940s to the mid-1990s. Though a bit dated now, the article serves as a great comparison for how far female characters have come in children’s science fiction stories in recent years. While the article focuses on literary female characters in the science fiction, I chose to use the article for insight on the female protagonist in the videogame Broken Age, which was released in 2014.

At its heart, Broken Age is a science fiction game. Broken Age tells the story of two teenage protagonists, a male named Shay and a female named Vella. While Vella’s narrative begins in a traditional fantasy world, Shay’s narrative is firmly rooted in science fiction, taking place in a spaceship as Shay is on a mission to help his home planet of Loruna. The two narratives seem to have no relation, as the player progresses through the game, Vella and Shay’s paths cross and Vella take up residence in the science fiction world. As such, Vella can be used to illustrate how improved the female character is in the science fiction genre.

Vella, seen here, is the female protagonist of Broken Age

Though Sanders mentions that females were beginning to receive better roles at the time of her publication (1997), she outlines two major problems associated with female science fiction characters. First, female characters in science fiction stories are always characterized by their communication skills (Sanders 22). Regardless of their intellect (as female super geniuses and ordinary girls were common tropes at this time), female characters were always highlighted for their ability to communicate than their male counterparts who had more central roles and solved problems with their intellect, ingenuity, or physical skills (Sanders 17). Sanders explains this trope by saying that females, “solve mysteries (without using scientific knowledge),” by helping “to bring people together through their power to communicate” (19). Secondly, Sanders discusses the problem of female character rarely having, “the opportunity to work alone to show off their capabilities; girls and women are still under the direction of men and boys” (22).

Fortunately for Broken Age, Vella’s storyline actively works against these tropes. Vella’s communication skills are not highlighted as her strongest asset. In fact, Vella is a poor communicator, as seen by the way Vella is unable to effectively convince anyone of the problems with the Maiden’s Feasts and the mogs. Vella never solves a problem through communication; Vella actively chooses which object in the environment and in her ability to solve any predicament she is faced with. Similarly, Vella always solves problems on her own. There is no male character to claim Vella’s success, or to give her orders. Thus, Vella does have the opportunity to work alone and proves the worth of female characters, even in a science fiction setting. A stark contrast to the characterizations Sands describes, Broken Age shows just how far female science fiction characters have come.

Even when she enters an unusual science fiction world, Vella is the one who solves her own problems

Works Cited

Sands, Karen. “No Business in Space? the Female Presence in Series Science Fiction for Children.” Foundation 0 (1997): 15-24. ProQuest. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.

Image Sources

  1. https://www.cosplay-it.com/en/cosplay/10332/vella-broken-age
  2. http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/iPad/Broken+Age/feature.asp?c=65109

Game Log #4 (Bioshock): Cultural and Scientific Significance

While researching literature that has discussed Bioshock, I came across an interesting piece by Adam Briggle and Meera Lee Sethi that discusses the relationship between narratives and scientific understanding. Briggle and Sethi illustrate that stories can frame complex ideas in ways that make them fathomable to a wide audience, making them an essential educational tool. Illustrating this point, the article looks to … Continue reading Game Log #4 (Bioshock): Cultural and Scientific Significance

While researching literature that has discussed Bioshock, I came across an interesting piece by Adam Briggle and Meera Lee Sethi that discusses the relationship between narratives and scientific understanding. Briggle and Sethi illustrate that stories can frame complex ideas in ways that make them fathomable to a wide audience, making them an essential educational tool. Illustrating this point, the article looks to a quote from author David Foster Wallace: “Human beings are narrative animals. That is how we understand science” (35).

Briggle and Sethi focus particularly on a presentation given by David Rejeski, in which he made this point by looking to several particularly influential narratives that contain scientific concepts. One of the main examples given by Rejeski was Bioshock, along with Spiderman and Captain Marvel comics and Michael Crichton novels. Rejeski refers to these works as “deep, deep narratives” that served as the primary source of scientific understanding for many people: “the thing that scientists have to understand is that people will fall back on these narratives long before they will ever pick up a biology book” (37). While the dark themes of science fiction narratives like Bioshock and Jurassic Park have the potential to create a sense of scientific risk and unease, they also tend to instill readers with a sense of scientific fascination.

My initial reaction to Rejeski’s claims was directed towards the lack of actual science involved in Bioshock’s narrative. Many Michael Crichton novels, while fantasized in certain degrees, at least make attempts to ground themselves in the scientific world. Bioshock, on the other hand, takes place in a world of pseudo-science, where fantasy and magic has sprung out of “scientific” discovery. The scientific basis behind Eve and Adam is never actually explained, and is instead passed off as the result of the unfettered scientific progress allowed in Rapture. Similar claims can be made about the comic book examples that Rejeski refers to. However, Spiderman and Bioshock both fuel the human fascination with scientific possibility whether or not they are grounded in reality, and according to Rejeski this is makes them incredibly culturally significant regardless of the actual facts behind their subject matter. Ultimately, I have to agree with Rejeski’s assessment on this level. Wether the science behind Star Trek’s warp drive, Bioshock’s plasmids or Westworld’s hosts is ever truly explained is not actually that relevant. Instead, they instill an audience with a sense of scientific possibility that has the power to inspire.

All of this leads me to a final consideration: Bioshock’s inclusion in Rejeski’s list of culturally significant narratives. Bioshock has been significant to me for years, but does it occupy the same space in the public consciousness as Jurassic Park or Spiderman? My initial assumption would be that it does not. I doubt that many of my friends who do not play video games (which is most of them) have ever heard of Bioshock, while nearly everyone I have met has come across Jurassic Park at some point in their lives. However, some considerations still lead me to believe that Bioshock holds an important place in the public consciousness. For example, in previous posts I have mentioned the extensive internet communities that have sprung up around the game, and the well-recognized phrase “would you kindly.” Bioshock is also often referred to as a blockbuster in the gaming world, with 4 million copies sold across various platforms by 2010. While it may not hold a place in everyone’s minds, Bioshock has still managed to reach a broad range of consumers, enough to have scholars like Rejeski, Briggle and Sethi discuss it. In the end, the points rasied by the article point to the significance behind our class, as scholars can consider as games culturally important art forms that can affect societal change.

 

Source:

Sethi, Meera Lee and Adam Briggle. “Making Stories Visible: The Task for Bioethics Commissions.” Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2011, pp. 29-44.