Star Wars: Amy Hennig and Feminism in Gaming

Uncharted writer Amy Hennig is working on Visceral's Star Wars game. She joins many other exemplary women in the Star Wars gaming industry.

On April 4, Visceral Games announced that Uncharted writer Amy Hennig signed on as writer and creative director for an as-yet-unnamed Star Wars video game.

A veteran of Jak and Daxter and creative director for the Uncharted franchise, Hennig joins many powerful women in the Star Wars and gaming industries.

She stands as the gaming pillar opposite Kathleen Kennedy, the film producer who was named president of Lucasfilm in October of 2012. Kennedy was promoted from co-chair to president when the company was sold to Disney.

One of the other best-known women in gaming is Kiki Wolfkill, executive producer of the Halo franchise. And the producer for The Force Unleashed was a woman named Isa Anne Stamos.

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However, it’s not uncommon to find a Star Wars game in which the producer, director, lead writer, lead artist, and composer are all male, a dramatic mark of homogeny on the development end while, according to a 2013 report from the Entertainment Software Association, women make up 45% of the game playing population. 

In an article from the LA Times written in 2010, Hennig talked about never having encountered any sexism in the work force, but sometimes having to tell modelers to dial back the breast size on female characters.

She told the LA Times that she found gaming to be “a young enough and progressive enough industry that there just isn’t any (sexism.)”

The treatment of fictional females is important to consider, too. While The Clone Wars games carry over the show’s relatively large cast of female characters, Star Wars games with original stories are a bit less balanced.  One of the most well-known Star Wars game characters, Darth Revan, was canonically declared to be male in Knights of the Old Republic, while the canonically female Jedi Exile from KOTOR 2 was killed in a novel. In The Old Republic and other games fans can create their own player characters in whichever gender they like, and the 2006 game Lethal Alliance had an unequivocally female main character – one of very few playable ladies.

Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel gave fans some of the strongest and most varied female characters in Star Wars games. They vary in age, from streetwise Mission Vao to conniving Darth Traya, one of the deepest villains in the Star Wars saga. They vary in motive, from the bitter, monkish Atris to mercenary Mira, solemn Sith Visas or controlling Jedi Bastila. The climax of Knights of the Old Republic 2 pits the Exile against Traya, and the back-and-forth pull of the two characters’ Force bond made for a dramatic climax. The Exile also instructed her crew to destroy the planet Malachor V, forever changing the Star Wars universe. Players could immerse themselves in the Exile’s story, choosing the actions they desired but also being inexorably carried along by the game’s intriguing – if slightly unfinished –  story. 

If players choose to act as a female Darth Revan in the original Knights of the Old Republic she becomes one of the most powerful Force users in history, turning the tide of the galaxy while deciding which friends to teach, which to leave behind, and which to love.

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As Yoda said, the future is difficult to see. Hennig’s presence is not a guarantee of a main female character in the next Star Wars video game. Uncharted is an adventure game starring witty scoundrel Nathan Drake as its protagonist. Deuteragonist Elena Fisher was described by IGN as a “prime example” of “a solid, fleshed-out character” who never becomes “a piece of eye candy to constantly be his damsel in distress,” but she does fall into the traditional role of assistant and eventual love interest. A female serving as a “counterpart” to a main hero isn’t revolutionary – Fisher plays a more lasting Marion Ravenwood to Drake’s Indiana Jones.

What goes around comes around: Hennig based Drake in part on Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones. Might we see more scoundrels, male or female, in Hennig’s Star Wars story?

Heddig addressed writing characters and gender in an interview with Game Informer in 2010, in which she said “it’s not any different” to write female or male characters. 

“I think that if you’re over-focused on the gender, you’re probably writing a pretty one-dimensional character,” Hennig said. “Gender’s not that huge of a component of personality, I don’t think. At the end of the day, I think our humanity is the bigger component. I try to just write everybody like…genderless in some ways. Which I think is what makes them interesting.”

Ideally, that means that there is a 50-50 chance for a female protagonist in an original Star Wars story that Hennnig might tell – if her game is an original story, and not a tie-in game based on the film, in which case J. J. Abrams controls the choice of main character. Abrams has written strong female characters before on Lost and Alias, although his Star Trek films, especially Into Darkness stay thoroughly within the white male template, and his choice of gender in the Star Wars cast is a story for another day.

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The new Star Wars game could add more varied female characters to the existing roster. Hennig comes to the playing field without negativity, but with, one can hope, an eye for the particular experiences, both problems and positives, that women can face in the gaming world.

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