In the past when I heard feminism, I used to think about the stereotypical bra-burning, man-hating crazy lady I’m sure a lot of other people think about. It’s only been in the past couple of weeks that that view has changed. Feminism is about equality among genders as well as what makes people ‘feminine’. Some theory states that gender is performed; instead of what we’re born with, it’s what we do and wear that dictates our gender. Am I a feminist? I’m still thinking no, I know we’re not completely equal but I don’t know enough about it to really get behind it yet. However, studying feminism has changed how I look at my favourite things, particularly movies and video games. So naturally, I was balls deep in analysis when I discovered The Wolf Among Us.
For the uninitiated, The Wolf Among Us is a Telltale Games series set in Fabletown, a section of New York populated by Fables – fairy tale characters that have escaped their war-torn Homeland and settled in the real world. I won’t spoil the story for you here, but I’ll warn you now that here be spoilers for the first two chapters. If you’ve not played it, at least check it out on youtube before you read this, it’s an awesome game.
It’s a murder-mystery/noir-style adventure title, so it makes sense that certain genders play certain roles. I’ll show and analyse both, starting with the female characters, of which there are only seven – only six are analysed as the last one only opens a door and I don’t even know her name.
Here is one of the characters that ticks me off the most; I don’t know what Snows role actually is. It’s never blatantly mentioned, I think you see her name tag at her desk once, but it’s vague at best. She works with the player character Sheriff Bigby Wolf (See what they did there?) and seems to be in charge of their apartment building – Which I think is also where they work, it’s not entirely clear to me. She also deals with other Fables problems such as missing people or damage to property, but nobody’s happy and she seems to be doing a pretty crappy job. This is partially Deputy Mayor Crane’s fault (More on him later) because he tells her to turn people away, but fuck sake I have no idea what she’s actually meant to DO! She spends her time in the game complaining about Crane, chastising Bigby for doing his job, wanting to come with him on an investigation, not saying anything, then conveniently leaving before a fight-scene. She gets frustrated with others in the game when they’re just looking out for her; in Episode 2 she’s presumed dead. When it turns out to be a mistake Crane and Bigby can suggest that she lay low for a while. She gets offended and starts arguing. This seems out of hand to me; I understand she doesn’t want to sit in an office all day when she can try and help, but she almost died. Someone was killed that looked exactly like her. Surely you’d stay indoors for a while so the murderer doesn’t come after you?
She does do some good in Episode 2 when we find out why she was missing – Mr Toad’s son, TJ, found a body while he went for a swim, and she had him brought in for an interview. This is important to the game, and wouldn’t have happened if Snow had been with Bigby. Despite my grievances, I don’t actively hate Snow; I’m more confused about her purpose. She’s a main character, especially in episode 2, but for the most part she’s more of a witness to the events or a love-interest than a fully-formed character.
When Faith was introduced in Episode 1, she was a really promising character. She’s a prostitute from the Pudding and Pie Club, and we first meet her after a fight with the Woodsman. She’s snarky even when she’s literally backed into a corner and isn’t easily intimidated. I genuinely think she might’ve come out alright even if Bigby hadn’t gotten involved. He does, though, and she’s thankful. She won’t give him the whole story as to what happened but she’s the first character that doesn’t seem to hold a grudge against Bigby. In the few minutes that we know her, she proves to be charming, smart and good in a fight, saving Bigby from the Woodsman with an axe to the head. Then she gets her head cut off.
It’s a kind of shame that she’s just a plot point. Yeah, she’s throughout the entire game, but only as an idea. We don’t learn her name until half way through the first chapter even though she’s one of the most interesting female characters… and she gets wiped out in the first ten minutes. Not cool.
Beauty and The Beast
(I know I said I was doing female first, but these two go hand in hand and I don’t have much to say)
Okay, never mind my beef with Snow, Beauty just full-on pisses me off. She does nothing – and I mean NOTHING. She’s a secretive person, constantly asking Bigby not to say where he saw her and what she was doing. She works the desk in a seedy hotel behind her husband’s back to pay rent and loans she didn’t tell him about. She doesn’t know much about anything she’s seen and nothing she says is of circumstance or even interesting – a lot of her dialogue narrows down to ‘I don’t know, I didn’t see’ or ‘don’t tell Beast you saw me’. The one incident where she is useful she just unlocks doors and complains about it. She could very easily be replaced and it wouldn’t affect the story at all. She is by far my least favourite character. At least Snow could be useful and doesn’t grate on me.
Beast turns up once in each chapter for less than five minutes. The first time he’s looking for Beauty. The second time he finds Beauty and Bigby in front of a hotel room, gets the wrong idea, gets angry and starts a fight. What does this accomplish? A fight scene and a door opening. That’s all. After that he’s sent into the hall to keep people away. He’s shown to be very kind and protective of Beauty, but with a short temper and immense strength when angered. This couple is purely for padding; they fill a space in Chapter 2 where there hasn’t been a fight scene for a while. Maybe they’ll be more significant in later chapters, but right now they’re pretty pointless.
My favourite female character, if not my overall favourite. Holly runs the Trip Trap bar. This is the only place we see her but while she’s there, she shown to be tough, witty and unafraid to speak her mind. She is also a troll, so she isn’t afraid of physical confrontation, more than I can say for other characters. She has a great balance of brains and brawn and she’s pretty badass, but there’s another, more vulnerable side to her. When she learns about her sister’s death, she sits on her own, contemplating and not making a scene. She is understandably dejected and there’s a visible change in her. Her voice is calmer and quieter, she doesn’t make eye contact as easily and will not argue with Bigby. It’s because of this scene I would argue that Holly is actually the most rounded female character; we get to see her at her strongest and her weakest, which I cannot say for the others. She has sides to her personality and we learn far more about her personally than we do with the likes of Faith and Snow – we learn a fair bit about Beauty’s backstory, but it’s more financial than personal. We see her physical and emotional strength, which is probably why I think she’s so awesome.
Holly’s sister. We never see her alive in the game, and when we first see her she’s been ‘glamoured’ to look like Snow White. Like Faith, she’s a prostitute, and she was also on drugs. This is basically all we find out about her. I’m going to use this space to discuss the appearance of the women in the game. None of them are unattractive. They are all very traditionally pretty; thin, high cheeckbones, big eyes, nice hair. The only time we see a particularly ugly person is when Holly and Lily are out of glamour, i.e in troll form. Surely if you were a glamoured troll you would have a similar body shape to your usual form? It seems a weird design choice to make a troll thin and attractive in human form. I personally would have at least given them some more curves – you don’t need to be thin to be attractive! I’ll continue this debate if we ever see Toad in his glamour; he’s short and stocky in toad form, and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with him.
The Little Mermaid, another prostitute. She has real legs, and they ‘cost [her] a lot’, but that’s all we know about her personally. We meet her at the Pudding and Pie in Episode 2; she’s topless and dancing on a pole. We don’t see her often unless the player chooses not to move toward Georgie (The owner) and start his cutscene. She is later seen in her dressing room where she refuses – or more likely can’t – talk about work or Lily. She then sets up an ‘appointment’ with Bigby so she can give him the key to Lily’s hotel room. This is her main purpose in the game and so far we haven’t seen her since. Will she return? Who knows?
So there you have it. The weird thing is the characters that come from a shadier part of town are more interesting than those living in the Woodland Luxury Apartments (Snow and Beauty) – though this might just be my preference for tough, witty characters. The characters I’ve shown here are all intelligent but only one is physically strong. All have varying degrees of charisma but the more charismatic characters are given less time. All of the women are traditionally attractive – or changed to be so – and most of them are prostitutes or involved in some shifty activity.
Does this make the game sexist? Does it mean I don’t like it? No and hell no. I should clarify, I love this game; otherwise I wouldn’t take the time to think about each character. To be honest, the fact that there are many prostitutes makes sense; the game is a murder-mystery set in the shady parts of a city. Also, prostitution isn’t glamourised at all in the game, in fact it’s shown as quite the opposite, but I will clarify that none of the prostitutes are shown in any vulnerable positions (With the exception of Nerissa, but nothing explicit is shown). The locations for the girls are run-down or tacky, often with tears in the wallpaper or cracks in the mirrors, and none of the women enjoy it. They’re trapped, but they’re crafty enough to make the situation just about bearable, often going behind their employers backs or coercing clients to give them enough money – or just to take it when they can. These women are not portrayed as particularly physically strong, but they are not helpless and can take care of themselves.
I’ll continue this with the male characters and compare the results soon. Catch you later!