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How the Developer of GTA May Have Been the Biggest Champion of Women in 2018

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Red Dead Redemption 2 women - International Women's Day

Of the 118 games shown at E3 last year, only nine featured a female protagonist. Of the eight games nominated for OnlySP’s Best Game of 2018, three feature a female in the leading role—only one of which as a sole protagonist. The remaining titles, however, do not revert to the damsel-in-distress or oversexualised tropes of old; instead, they feature powerful women who guide—and often save—the main protagonist in multiple instances. Marvel’s Spider-Man’s Mary Jane Watson proves that super powers do not make a superhero. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom’s Aranella gives Evan the guidance to become a great king, and Tani leads an army to help this dream become a reality. However, one of 2018’s greatest champions for women in video games was Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption 2 — a surprising feat, considering the developer’s history.

Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar’s flagship franchise, is a game series synonymous with violence. Despite specific criticism of violence against women, the games allow violence against all individuals regardless of gender, leading players to only deal with temporary consequences—that is, after being caught by police, to respawn at a police station with the opportunity to repeat the offenses again. The games have also received understandable criticism for their depiction of women—and not necessarily because they are scantily clad, but because the games have so few women and they are all scantily clad. With the possible exception of Grand Theft Auto III’s Catalina and IV’s Michelle/Karen, every woman in the series is either overly sexualised or a damsel-in-distress. How, then, was Red Dead Redemption 2 one of the best representations of female characters in 2018?

In celebration of International Women’s Day, OnlySP is taking a look at some of the strongest female characters of Red Dead Redemption 2. Beware of spoilers within.

Red Dead Redemption 2 IWD - Sadie Adler

Sadie Adler

The character development of Sadie Adler, brought to life by the incredible Alex McKenna, might be the strongest of the entire game. Still grieving after the loss of her husband, house, and former life, Sadie joins the Van der Linde gang and follows them as they run from the Pinkertons. Initially assigned to help the men to prepare food, Sadie becomes bored around the camp and demands to help run some errands. She quickly proves herself useful with a gun as she helps Arthur to fight local enemy gang members, but she truly demonstrates her leadership during the game’s fifth chapter—after the disappearance of the gang’s strongest men, Sadie steps up to help move the remaining members to safety in an abandoned town, gathering supplies to ensure their ongoing survival.

After the gang reunites, Sadie helps Arthur to rescue John from prison, fight against Pinkertons and enemy gangs, and ultimately gets her revenge against the O’Driscolls for the death of her husband. Never one to truly settle down after Jake’s death, Sadie finds solace in travelling and bounty hunting, demonstrating that she is not one to cross, but is very loyal to the people she loves.

Red Dead Redemption 2 IWD - Susan Grimshaw

Susan Grimshaw

The arbiter of the Van der Linde gang, Susan Grimshaw (portrayed by the memorable Kaili Vernoff) was one of original members alongside Dutch, Hosea, and Arthur. Indefatigable and headstrong, Grimshaw is responsible for assembling the camp upon each move to a new location. She assuredly confirms her role as the gang’s caretaker in the game’s fourth chapter when, upon Tilly’s disappearance from the group, she immediately asks Arthur for help, killing one of the men who kidnapped her. Despite showing it in unconventional ways, Grimshaw has deep love for every member of the gang and will go to great lengths to protect them. Undoubtedly the voice of reason in the group, the Van der Linde gang may have fallen apart long before the events of the game if not for her strong-willed guidance.

Red Dead Redemption 2 IWD - Tilly and Mary-Beth

Mary-Beth Gaskill and Tilly Jackson

Both kind and charming women, Mary-Beth Gaskill and Tilly Jackson (played by the talented Samantha Strelitz and Meeya Davis, respectively) entered the life of crime at a young age—Mary-Beth as a successful pickpocket, and Tilly as part of the Foreman Brothers gang—before being found and brought up by Dutch. While the two women both boast unassuming exteriors, they are conniving at heart and demonstrate their usefulness and strength within the Van der Linde gang. Mary-Beth proves her skill as a thief, both by discovering leads to a train robbery and by helping to rob a stagecoach, while Tilly, honest and outspoken, guides Arthur throughout his journey during the quieter moments at camp. Without their help both in and outside of the camp, the gang would not remain as strong for long.

Red Dead Redemption 2 IWD - Karen Jones

Karen Jones

Addicted to the outlaw lifestyle, Karen Jones (brought to life by the phenomenal Jo Armeniox) is talented and strong-willed yet heavily flawed—and, thus, very human. A talented gunwoman, and skilled at scamming any unassertive victim who crosses her path, when Karen returns to camp, she fails to keep away from the alcohol. Seen drunk most of the time around the camp, Karen most strongly represents an important factor of humans that game developers often forget: people are not perfect. Despite her debauchery and alcoholism, Karen proves herself a worthy criminal, without whom the Valentine bank likely would have remained un-robbed and the gang even poorer.

Red Dead Redemption 2 IWD - Abigail Roberts

Abigail Roberts

The original Red Dead Redemption, set twelve years prior to the events of Red Dead Redemption 2, perpetuated the damsel-in-distress trope within Abigail Marston: she remained imprisoned while her husband John fought to rescue her; and after she returned home, John spent his time hunting and farming while Abigail remained indoors. Even the early missions of the second game continue this stereotype, as Abigail begs Arthur to rescue John while she is forced to stay at camp and look after her son at all times.

The final mission of the sixth chapter begins with a familiar premise: Abigail has been kidnapped, and Arthur and Sadie must save her. In the process, Sadie is also captured, and Arthur—the big, strong man—must swoop in and save the women. But this does not happen. Instead, Abigail saves Arthur and Sadie by shooting their opponent in the head. Despite her poor upbringing and motherly appearance, Abigail is a strong, honest woman who knows how to survive, and Red Dead Redemption 2 proves this in a powerful epilogue to the series. Cali Elizabeth Moore’s performance as Abigail is outstanding, and the character would not be as memorable without her.


The game features countless other powerful women in its narrative, including Molly O’Shea (portrayed by the excellent Penny O’Brien), Catherine Braithwaite (Ellen Harvey), and Lillian Powell (Bridget Ann White). Despite its reputation for poor representation of women, Rockstar Games crafted an incredible narrative with Red Dead Redemption 2, and in doing so created one of the greatest representations of women in gaming of yesteryear. As writer and vice president Dan Houser stated in an interview with Vulture, 1899 “was a time when women were beginning to question [their roles], and the Wild West was an area where people could invent themselves for the first time; many of the people who were inventing themselves were women.”

And Red Dead Redemption 2 proves just that.

Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over six years with no means of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption (and its sequel), Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.

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Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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