comScore
  1. Mediaite
  2. Gossip Cop
  3. Geekosystem
  4. Styleite
  5. SportsGrid
  6. The Mary Sue
  7. The Maude
  8. The Braiser

What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Essay

Wreck-It Ralph: How Video Games Should Be?


In 108 minutes, Wreck-It Ralph accomplishes something the entire video game industry has failed to achieve for more than 30 years: Wreck-It Ralph contains more positive and nuanced female characters than the entire current video game landscape. Three major consoles. Hundreds of major and indie developers. Mobile and handheld gaming. Thousands of writers, programmers and artists. Millions, maybe even billions, in marketing dollars. All schooled by one movie.

I applaud the filmmakers, but I’m utterly baffled, because they made it look easy. And for so long, we have been told it’s “hard” to sell games with female characters we can look up to, care for and relate to. I think $49.1 million at the box office, which is Disney Animation’s highest opening weekend in history, tells a very different story. Listen up gamers, it’s time for a revolution.

Let’s start with Vanellope Von Schweetz and her home game, Sugar Rush.

Editor’s Note: The rest of this post contains SPOILERS. Read at your own risk!

Vanellope is funny. She’s smart. And she has confidence, despite her condition, pixlexia. She is driven and willing to fight for her rightful place in Sugar Rush, which is largely made up of racing girls – not boys. The aesthetics are a marvel: the racers’ outfits and vehicles may be sugary, but they aren’t princess-y and they aren’t racing on some simplistic puff course either. These girls know how to compete and they talk trash. They want to win – and they aren’t cheering on the sidelines for their man.

It honestly made me tear up when Vanellope was transformed into a princess after winning her race, but opted to abolish her dolled up status and instead be President of Sugar Rush. Do you understand the sub-text here? Are you listening, America? Women, girls, OUR GIRLS, they don’t want to be princesses – they want to be president.

And then there’s Calhoun. An argument has been made online and elsewhere that she’s modeled after Samus Aran of Metroid. That could be true, but here’s a key difference: she’s not in hiding. You know she’s a woman. You know she’s in charge. It isn’t some big shocker at the end of the movie that Hero’s Duty has always been led by a strong, tough woman.

And it was her husband who got shot, because she failed to take care of him. She put her gun away and he needed rescuing. Not the other way around.

The primary male characters, Ralph and Felix, love these women for these very reasons. They admire them, respect them and even fall for them – because they are a true representation of our modern social relationships. It’s OK for men to be sensitive. It’s OK for them to wreck things and then feel badly about it later. It’s OK for a short dude to fall in love with a taller woman. And most of all: it’s OK for men to ask women for help.

After seeing this movie, I want to play these games. And you know what? So does my boyfriend. And my brother. And my dude friends. Sugar Rush looks like a riot. Hero’s Duty may just be the very FIRST first-person shooter I have ever been interested in. And yes, I want to find an arcade right now and hand over my quarters for Ralph and Felix.

I know many haters will say, well, Ralph is the main character – and therefore sold the movie. Yeah, I agree and you’re right. But this is why the lesson here is so critically important. The gaming industry can continue to sell their games with strong men on the covers, posters and in commercials. When you play, the men can continue to be the primary characters – but I promise you – your game will be better AND more likable if you surround your male characters with women that matter.

Last, but certainly not least, I need to give the filmmakers props for the fact that girls were playing games in the Litwak arcade in equal number to boys. And EVERY kind of game. Not just the “soft” games or the games marketed to them. (Hey Nintendo, we are gamers too.)

Wreck-It Ralph was a joy to watch, but also a major wake up call for me. If we are ever going to see a video game industry with likable and respectable female archetypes, we may just need to bring in some new voices. I think Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack MacBryer, John C. Reilly, Director Rich Moore, screenwriters Phil Johnston and Jessica Lee might just be a great start.

This post originally appeared on Being Geek Chic. Elizabeth Giorgi is a writer and filmmaker from Minneapolis. She blogs about mixing life as a nerd with her career at beinggeekchic.com. In 2010, she was nominated for a Webby and won an Emmy for Science of Watchmen. Follow her on Twitter: @lizgiorgi

TAGS: | | |


  • http://tophatsasquatch.com/ Tommy Day

    Great article, I hadn’t even realized that this was one of the big reasons I loved this movie.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    I didn’t read the article all the way through because I’m wary of spoilers, but:

    ” Wreck-It Ralph contains more positive and nuanced female characters than the entire current video game landscape. ”

    Seriously? Two positive female characters in a kid’s movie trumps… every woman in a video game ever? Did Tolstoy write them? How could they be that much better than Aveline de Grandpre, Veronica Santangelo, Brigid Tenenbaum, Tali, Jade, Yukari, Morrigan, Faith, Alyx, Lucca, Aeris, Page, Kreia, Gwendolyn and countless others female characters?

    I’m sick of the overwhelming willingness to throw away all of these good-but-imperfect characters in the midst of our demands for better. It’s just another double-standard when you get right down to it. There’s been scores of women in video games who have had depth, agency, humour and heart. Just because we want more of them, in better clothes, telling their own stories, doesn’t mean that we have to forget that they exist.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    You really threw Morrigan in there? And Aeris(th)? No, ma’am.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    “It’s OK for them to wreck things and then feel badly about it later…” SAID CHRIS BROWN. I’m just kidding. Seriously. Agreeing completely with everything you’ve said. The women definitely took center stage in this movie and were NOT on pedestals because of their looks or grace for once, but because they were fully formed human beings with histories and PLANS, whereas Ralph and Felix were just reacting most of the time. I suppose Ralph had a plan, that he came up with in a rage, and then continued after spending time in a bar (good thinking!), but after realizing he had blundered, it was mostly just flight and panic for him. This is how it should always be done…not that women should always be in charge (not ALWAYS) or take center stage,, but that they should be given as much consideration as any other character…

    Although, this being a Disney movie, spot-the-bad-guy was an easy game to play and it took all of ten minutes to figure out what was what in the world of Sugar Rush.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    DA:O Morrigan, not succubus morrigan, with whom I am unfamiliar.

    I stand by Aeris completely, as long as we aren’t talking about the compilation. She was driven, clever, compassionate, brave, determined, and facing her own struggle for identity that eventually led her to figure out what was going on and how to fix it before pretty much the entire cast. Just because they wrapped all of that into a flirty white mage in a pink dress doesn’t mean she wasn’t a good character for her context.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    I didn’t know there was any other Morrigan, my bad. As for Aeris…argh, I guess it depends how you see the entire cast of that game. While I agree with the accolades it gets for design and structure, I’ve always thought the ensemble were poorly written.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    Well, if you think the cast is entirely bad then that’s alright and there’s not much I can do about it.

    Out of curiousity, are you an FFVI guy instead?

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    No! Unfortunately, I was one of those sad little kids that wanted a Sega Genesis when I didn’t know I should want a Super Nintendo. By the time I was actually able to play FFVII, everyone had moved on to FVIII, so I never really had the cheerleading crowd of like-minded friends giving me hints or exclaiming what they had discovered and where. I’ve heard good things about six, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t appreciate it like I should, so…someday!

    I suppose, if anything, I’m a Tactics guy. Those games were freaking fun and there were no Mr. T impersonators.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    I was just asking because people who don’t like VII’s ensemble tend to really like VI’s. I personally didn’t play VII until I think X had already come out. I was a little too young for it in ’97.

    Tactics – and the Ivalice games in general – are some of my favourites! I should have thrown Ashe into my list, at the very least, though I sure do wish Agrias and Ovelia had more development and screen-time.

  • http://twitter.com/Oni_Queen Joyce

    “I didn’t read the article all the way through”

    Yeah I’m really going to take your opinion on it seriously then.

  • Anonymous

    Great article I loved this movie and I would love to play Sugar Rush!
    I just want to make one nitpick though in your article you wrote “They admire them, respect them and even fall for them”. It is just a nitpick because it kinda comes out wrong in the context of Ralph and Vanellope. That was more a father daughter love (or however you want to put it) then something romantic.

  • http://twitter.com/smoonie Sylvia Moon

    I thought Calhoun was modelled after ME’s Female Shepard.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Agreed. :)

  • http://twitter.com/Oni_Queen Joyce

    Great article, I really hope that the Male gaming community does see this movie and maybe learns something from it about writing women. But I am worried about the marketing for this movie. There are very few Sgt. Calhoun/Hero’s Duty toys available for the boys, and a shit ton of Sugar Rush toys for girls. Its almost as if they are afraid of marketing a toy that a female character uses to a male audience.

  • Anonymous

    I want to play Sugar Rush so bad!

  • Anonymous

    You’re right, we shouldn’t forget the memorable female characters. We should absolutely recognize good work that’s been done.

    However, do you know how many times I’ve been told that there is no problem with women’s representations because ONE good female character happens to exist? That Tetris exists, so it’s our faults for not playing the right games if we have a problem? Stopping this conversation to list off all the wonderful female characters in a discussion about getting better representation is something a troll/really ignorant person would do. Those people want to tell us that we’re wrong about there being a problem and to shut up. I’ve seen you around enough to know you’re not trolling, though. The quoted statement is exaggerated, yes, but that’s what writers do to make an impact. I’m sorry that it came at the expense of established characters, but why do we have to stop this important discussion because a few (and yes, everyone you listed is only “a few”) good examples exist? Anyway, I’m sure you’re just ranting, but I had something to get off my chest, too.

  • http://twitter.com/TheWhaler Meg

    I took my 3 year old niece who is totally a princess girl and she loved it. I wasn’t expecting such great female characters, but I was just so happy they were there. (should have known with sarah silverman and jane lynch!) Between this and taking her to brave the movies for girls are SO much better than they were when I was a kid. I had tears in my eyes in that final scene too.

    Calhoun was definitely like shepard, especially the line “she was programed with the most depressing backstory” kind of how you start out in ME. Love that she was badass AND beautiful.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    You’ve probably been told that about the same number of times I’ve been told that female characters are universally worthless.

    It also isn’t a troll response to object to this article’s assertion that female characters in games have sucked forever and always. The quoted statement certainly doesn’t come off as hyperbole for the sake of impact and in either case contributes to the general perception that female characters are or ought to be beneath our notice.

    This isn’t a contest. We can acknowledge that a problem exists AND that
    achievements have been made. To do anything else is disingenuous
    anyway. If you think that pausing to acknowledge the other side of it means stopping or derailing the conversation, you’re not having a very honest conversation.

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    You’ll notice I was objecting to the part I did read.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, you’re the one who said she didn’t read through the whole article.

  • Anonymous

    You forget that the featured players in the movie are also female.

  • http://twitter.com/Super_Widget Joanna

    So super sad it’s not gonna hit our cinemas till February =(

  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    Yes. Because of spoilers. Not in attempt to shut down discussion. Was “lol I was just joking about the intro, I take it back” buried in the middle somewhere?

  • http://twitter.com/princessology Chaka ♥

    I mean, I thought it was pretty clear that she was referring to Felix and Calhoun – but I can see where someone might be confused if they haven’t seen the movie.

  • http://twitter.com/princessology Chaka ♥

    Can I ask why you clicked on an article containing spoilers when that was clearly explained before the jump?

  • Anonymous

    “An argument has been made online and elsewhere that she’s modeled after
    Samus Aran of Metroid. That could be true, but here’s a key difference:
    she’s not in hiding. You know she’s a woman. You know she’s in charge.
    It isn’t some big shocker at the end of the movie that Hero’s Duty has
    always been led by a strong, tough woman.”

    Of course, that only affects the very first Metroid game: there have been eleven games since then where Samus’ gender has been acknowledged from the start.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.truxillo Laura Truxillo

    I still love that the first player we see for Heroes Duty is a girl. And that she’s the player we stick with when we go back out to the “real world.”

  • http://twitter.com/trivianinja Ian Fay

    According to IMDB, her character was originally supposed to be male. Not sure what to make of that, but I love it.

    I think the only way she could have been more awesome if they’d have actually had Jennifer Hale voice her as Femshep.

  • Canisa

    “The gaming industry can continue to sell their games with strong men on the covers, posters and in commercials. When you play, the men can continue to be the primary characters.”

    Nah. I don’t agree with that at all. The representation has to be absolutely and completely equal. I for one will not settle for anything less.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

    To this, I’ll add:

    Jennifer Mui from Mercenaries: Playground Of Destruction-Defines what a female bad-ass is for me in video gaming; an almost 00-agent and SAS who quit to become a merc, and is great at that.

    Both female characters (Lt. Nagi and the lady commanding officer whose name escapes me for the moment) in Warship Gunner II-both were strong, competent ladies at what they did (Nagi was somewhat like Uhura and Dualla) yet both did not sacrifice their femininity (I loved the way the lady commanding officer confessed that she was scared of the destructive potential of the super-weapons in the game in a touching moment with the main character who’s the captain of the ships you command in the game, while I loved the way that Nagi cried at the end when the battle to retake her homeland) just to be like Calhoun, although I loved her a lot. Of course, there are a lot more female character like Calhoun in video games that people should be looking at and playing as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

    I agree, although I don’t agree with the article’s saying that there was nobody like Calhoun before Calhoun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leah.grover Leah Davydov

    I watched the movie with high expectations after browsing this article and was severly let down by the hyperbole (and yes… I reread it in full after watching). Calhoun was in many ways a walking caricature of “strong female video game characters” – complete with a tragic romance to explain her badassery and an inexplicable need to fall madly in love with the first generic male protagonist who showed her affection (I honestly got the impression she was meant to be satirical). Vanellope was -in fact- just as cute, smart and funny as she has been billed, but seemed completely typical of video game heroines that appear in hyper-cute games targeting younger female audiences. They were both great characters, but to claim them as “something the entire video game industry has failed to achieve for more than 30 years” is downright insulting to the women who make or consume video games and who know how many diverse and inspiring leading ladies have been featured in the medium.

  • http://twitter.com/ausj3w3l Eri

    If your after a game with a plethora of nuanced female characters then you might try Secret World. The best collection of strong powerful women from nuanced backgrounds as well as others that display the tropes of societies and the various other darker elements. I have never been as impressed as i was with TSW in terms of character diversity

  • http://twitter.com/clockworkfaerie Avalon

    I feel like this post is kind of obnoxious.

    “Are you listening, America? Women, girls, OUR GIRLS, they don’t want to be princesses – they want to be president.”

    Really? Because I know tons of little girls that want to have the pretty princess ideal (Hell, I did myself when I was little). But sorry kids, femininity is bad!

    And Samus is not fucking HIDING, she’s in POWER ARMOR. You know, to protect her from all the crazy crap she deals with? Or would you prefer it’s molded to her every curve to make it more obvious?

    I swear, nit pick much?

  • http://twitter.com/IcelandicHossi Hossi Blumengaarten

    the person that wrote this, are you insane>?