Friday, September 10, 2010

The Bechdel Test

In my last post, I received comments challenging me to quit bitching and actually do something to improve games' shortcomings. While I believe strengthening the craft of games journalism is one of the best (and obviously my preferred) method, I shall have to expound on that topic in the future. For now, consider this blog a note to the game designers of the world, big and small: More of your games need to pass The Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel's comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.

Like the quote mentioned in my previous post, the Bechdel test was originally constructed as a critique of films, but I think narrative-driven videogames would also benefit from it. Also note that passing the Bechdel test does not make a film good, nor does failing the test make a film bad. 12 Angry Men fails all three criteria and is an all-time classic; on the other hand, The Women passes the test easily and received a paltry 13% on the TomatoMeter.

So why does the Bechdel test matter? Because I think it's important to remember that, as statistics so often remind us, a significant portion of videogame players are women, and they don't like having their intelligence insulted any more than men. Because for every female videogame character who looks like this:

...there are dozens more who look like this:

Videogames, at least most of the big-budget mainstream ones, tend toward what TV Tropes identifies as the Smurfette Principle, i.e. largely male-dominated casts with one woman thrown in for sex appeal or comic relief or to be the "token female." Gears of War and Halo, for example, the two biggest-selling franchises on the Xbox 360, both have a main female character who is mostly just a voice on the radio feeding useful information to the main character. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, one of the biggest games of all time, has exactly zero female characters.

Surely this is an imbalance that can be rectified. I'm not saying every game must pass the Bechdel test, or even should. But seriously, don't you think we'd start seeing better, more intelligent games if more game designers at least acknowledged its existence?


  1. women talk about things besides men?

  2. I think "The Women" is a bad example, because most of the conversation does, in fact, revolve around men. That being said, I'm sure there are other terrible films that pass the test.

    That being said, I concur...