Cortana, Chloe, and Changing Trends

Cortana has always been my favorite character from the Halo games (after whom comes Buck [‘cuz he’s Nathan Filion] and Noble Six [‘cuz he’s me]). Ever since she told Guilty Spark to sod off in the original game, I’ve been sold on that blueish AI.

Oh yeah, shoulda mentioned that. Despite Cortana being depicted as a nakedish blue young woman, it was her character that won me over. She’s a sarcastic, forthright AI determined to help Master Chief achieve his goals (even if that means calling him out). She’s a fleshed out character in a first-person-shooter: and she’s a she!

Now, Halo 4 delves into Cortana and Chief’s relationship and the effects of her impending rampancy (that is, where AI’s accumulate so much data that they think themselves into inefficiency). This is heavy stuff; it’s emotional. Of course, heavy emotional scenes get lost on a lot of people when they’re delivered by a nakedish blue young woman.

Well, no.

For the most emotional scenes, 343 Industries employs careful framing. The scenes where Cortana gives her soliloquies are shot so we mostly see her from shoulders’ up. Sorry kid, no eye candy right now: this is drama. In a game whose fanbase is made up of teenage boys, Halo 4 is saying “look at her face, listen to her voice: this is important!” Cortana’s even been remodeled to look more womanly and less like a pinup in her fourth game. She’s no less attractive than in her previous incarnations, but she’s not being sexualized. And 343 isn’t going to give you the chance.

If anything, Cortana is made to appear vulnerable. Where Chief is a supersoldier in a suit of armor replete with guns and shields, Cortana is an AI construct whose avatar is just as bare as she is. Halo 4 uses Cortana’s sexuality to make her vulnerable, to make the player strive to protect her. So there’s no slow pans over her any more than there are over Chief. Again: she’s not being sexualized.

Sometimes it seems that any woman who shows up in a piece of visual media targeted at men must be sexy. Mass Effect goes a long way towards giving us developed characters, though for some reason almost every vaguely-human female character you encounter is uniformly busty (though most men you encounter are rather built, so Bioware’s fair, I suppose). Except Jack (who’s less busty), but then, she’s a bald, tattooed superpowered psychopath who’s not really meant to come off as sexy (which brings up a whole host of issues).

Female superheroes’ costumes tend to consist of a few convenient strips of fabric. For fantasy characters, armor is either nonexistant or astoundingly well fitted. Interestingly enough, one of the few things Snow White and the Huntsman (a film arguably targeted towards women) did right was giving the heroine a normal breastplate rather than the more typical boobplate. Compare to some of the entries in the Final Fantasy games where, well, that armor doesn’t do much in the protection department. Fanservice has its place, but after a while it gets stupid.

But for every Soul Caliber or Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball a game like Uncharted or Halo 4 comes along where women are more than eye candy. Are Chloe and Elena still attractive? Yep; but that’s not the point.

Maybe people get sexualization confused with sexuality. Chloe from Uncharted 2 is certainly a character who knows she’s sexy (as is evidenced from her second scene up to her goodbye [“But admit it; you’re gonna miss this ass”]). But Naughty Dog doesn’t make it her sole characteristic. She’s got her own agenda, she’s constantly looking for a simple solution, and — get this — she wears normal clothes. Sure, Chloe’s an attractive character, but at no point is she objectified by it. She’s got a sexuality to her, but she’s not sexualized.

Let’s be frank here though; sex sells. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball probably gets a lot more revenue than other volleyball video games due to it featuring scantily clad women. But every so often something’ll come along that takes the high road. And it’s becoming more often due to the expanding appeal of genre films and video games to women. Sif in Thor notibly doesn’t have a boobplate as part of her armor, Captain Veronica Dare in Halo 3: ODST has a virtually indistinguishable armor from the guys’. Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider is noticeably more, well, normal than her previous iterations.

We’re getting there. The trend’s changing. Slowly. But it is.

And Cortana will always be my favorite Halo character.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Cortana, Chloe, and Changing Trends

  1. I think one of the best ways to combat the oversexualization of women in various media is to get more women involved as creators. Guys actually do like well-written, non-sexualized female characters. Look at the huge success of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic for proof of that. We want women who are strong, independent, and attractive without being sexualized. Almost as much as women want that, guys want it. And female creators deliver that. In comic books, Gail Simone, Marjorie Liu and Kelly Sue DeConnick are all popular writers, with very dedicated fanbases. And it’s based on the fact that they write female characters that seem like actual people, with fully developed personalities beyond crushing on boys.

    I have to wonder if 343 might have a woman or two on their staff, involved in the writing process.

    • A cursory check reveals that the producer for Halo 4 was a woman, though how much influence she had is up in the air.

      But the writer (and creative director) of the Uncharted games was Amy Hennig, so there’s that.

      But men can also write great women (Joss Whedon is the easy example), the industry/culture as a whole just needs to step up and do it already.

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