We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!
For the second of three The Characters That Define Us pieces featuring strong female protagonists, we’re joined by Amanda May from Mystic Nerd! You may remember her from her old publication, Imaginating Life. Well, she’s moved and is better than ever at her new place, so be sure to check it out.
Let us begin!
Women in games are often misrepresented. Either they are sexualized, or are cast as the weak damsel in distress. If they are warrior class characters, or otherwise “strong” types, they often are hard-edge and cut-throat (yet scantily-clad — because of course they are) with no warmth. That’s not to say that some of those female characters aren’t amazing. There are such characters! Who can forget such badass female leads as Lara Croft or Chun Li, among others of their ilk.
However, few female game characters have ever been created, to my limited gaming knowledge, who were more than strong fighting machines with a fine set of *ahem* assets. One female character that comes to mind is none other than Tifa Lockhart from the Final Fantasy series. Oh yeah, she’s definitely a pure badass with some of the strongest attacks and power-ups in the game. But unlike other female fighters in games, she has a beautiful heart.
It’s this very same beautiful heart that changed how I viewed women in gaming, and gaming in general. It’s also the same character that helped define my own strength and heart. Let me take you back to the beginning…
When I first encountered Final Fantasy VII, watching my cousin play the game on his prized Playstation he had brought to our grandmother’s house one summer, I was completely in awe. The graphics of course were rich and beautiful – for the time – and the music was enchanting. Coming from a musical family, I recognized the very important role music has in not just gaming, but literally every piece of media. And certainly the legendary Nobuo Uematsu was, and still is a master at the art of compelling emotional responses.
But amid the intricate battles and engaging cutscenes, and indeed enhanced by the music itself, I took notice of one character in particular: Tifa Lockhart.
Convinced my cousin only liked her because of her huge …uh, “talents”… I smirked through all the “cool combos” talk. But still, I was secretly impressed to see that the game developers had created a strong, independent female character that was also badass in battle! In the back of my mind her character gave me a feeling that I too could be badass. I too could be that strong, independent, don’t-take-no-hits lead character in my own life. However, at this point I had still only thought of Tifa as a really well-crafted playable side character with a fully developed backstory I couldn’t help but empathize with. And while I did have that initial connection to her, I had yet to see the rest of her personally…
In 2008 I finally got the chance to watch the much hyped Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children for the first time. (I know, I know, it came out in 2005. I’m late to everything. *sigh*) Again, I was blown away by the graphics, the cinematography, and of course, the beautifully orchestrated music. I felt like I was finally getting to know these beloved characters like all my peers had back when the games were first released. Except this time I got to see what felt like a more behind-the-scenes look at those characters, and of course, one in particular. There was Tifa, in all her gloriously rendered, high-quality CGI presence, showing me another side of herself.
Love. Kindness. Family. An unshakable will.
Up until this point all I had ever seen of female lead characters in games and movies alike had been either weak damsels that needed saving, or heartless and cold women who, though tough, had zero compassion. I just never could connect with them. I had always felt like I had to be strong and stand up for myself due to the hardships I faced growing up, and into my adult years up until then, but I was never the type to be cold-hearted in order to do so. That just wasn’t me.
But Tifa was different. Here was a woman who did her best to take care of her friends and protect them as if they were her own family, and kept her team in good spirits. But she was also a woman who could kick ass should they be threatened! Her primary motive for fighting wasn’t to win or save the planet. It wasn’t for the honor of her nation. It was to protect those she loved and cared for. I too had always been the type to look after my friends and family, and to make people feel better when they were feeling down. I would be more than willing to go to bat for them, and I have. Finally, a female gaming character who I actually resonated with! Someone to look up to in the gaming world.
“Words aren’t the only way to tell someone how you feel.” This quote is really telling of her nature.
Tifa cared deeply for her friends and was a loyal teammate, though she kept her own feelings hidden except for when it truly mattered – also like myself. A fine example of this takes place in Advent Children, where Tifa tries to help Cloud out of his own mental torment and remember his purpose. In this scene she tells Cloud what’s really on her mind, but still expresses her desire to protect out of love. Even though she is basically scolding him, she does so in a caring way that lets him know she’s still on his side.
Another example can be found during the battle with the Bahamut SIN, as she is seen protecting Denzel from the beasts. Here again she is proving she cares genuinely for his safety and well being. And when all her old AVALANCHE teammates show up to help in battle you can see her face soften and glow with pride as she introduces them to Denzel, showing just how much they all meat to her. Her family.
That softer side of her is what, for me, sets her apart from virtually every other female fighter character I have encountered. Even through her hardships and emotional burdens, she still manages to be the kind and encouraging protector of her group, while displaying her masterful fighting prowess. Dynamite!
Tifa Lockhart showed me that a woman in today’s world can in fact be both the kind nurturer AND the brave and fearless soul who stands up for herself and her loved ones. That it’s okay to be softhearted and empathetic, AND be the strong, independent woman who doesn’t back down. She also showed me that no matter how tough your circumstances, no matter how much your heart has been hurt, there’s always a reason to keep going and smile.
As she says to Cloud in that epic battle scene in Advent Children, as she’s giving him that last boost he needs to finally beat the beast: “no giving up!”
Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*