‘Backwards’ and why games need more bad middle-aged women

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I bought Return, a video game developed by Housemarque without you knowing anything about it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew from trailer that it has something to do with avoiding the time loop and that there is some technology of futuristic looks and monsters or something. None of that mattered, because I didn’t buy it to play, but because of the main character Selena. Selene is in most respects a fairly ordinary character in video games: agile, capable, smart, turned a seemingly insurmountable challenge. It’s weird that a character that can be played can be a woman, but that’s not what makes Selene special. That is that he is middle-aged. I finally see myself in a video game.

I’m turning 50 this year and it’s not at all what I expected. I know I’m not young anymore, but I certainly don’t feel old. It turns out that middle life feels just the way it is – that time of life when you’re smarter than you were, and more importantly, smart enough to know you don’t know everything. I can’t move as fast as I could in college and I have facial features, but overall I am doing well physically. If I can be so brave, I think this is the best version of me that has existed so far. Too bad no one seems to notice.

People generally don’t pay much attention to me because I miss one thing that would make me relevant: kids. Whether they mean it or not, as soon as someone finds out I don’t have kids, they back off a bit. Not out of disgust, but out of confusion. What is being talked about with the 50-year-old, if not with her children? What do women of that age do …

It is an attitude that is reflected in the characters in video games. Women in games are usually either young and sexy or old and wise – unless they are negative, of course, in which case they are sexy and evil. They’re companions or party members or they just aren’t there at all, but they’re not that many stars. Not as bad as it used to be; the video industry has come a long way since the great discovery Metroid was that pant, the hero was a woman all the time! Yes, we love Samus now, but never forget, it was supposed to be a big turnaround in you playing as a female. There are far more opportunities to play as a woman than there used to be, especially when you participate in games where you can create your own character, but they are almost always young.

Which, let’s be honest, makes some sense. A young body is usually more capable than an older one, and if you run the game with a lot of physical activity, the logical choice is to lean towards someone in their twenties or thirties. I have nothing against younger characters. In fact, I think 2013 was relaunched Tomb raider is great in part because Lara Croft is so young. She is still in college and has not yet had to face real challenges, so when she is a shipwrecked, injured herself, she has to dig up emotional resources she had no idea she had. It is a truly powerful experience and we experience it almost all of us in our lives.

Imagine then what Lara would be like as a person 30 years after that first adventure. What would decades of adventure teach her? What kind of friends did she make – and what enemies? How many times has she cheated death and how has that affected the way she approaches danger? Well, we’ll probably never find out, because game publishers seem to believe that Lara is only interesting when she can make Forbes‘list of 30 under 30 years.

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