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Her Console: FPS and the Female Power Fantasy

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty non-violent. I’m the kind of person who will accidentally bump into you and then feel bad about it for days. However, when it comes to video games, shooting down enemies is probably my favourite thing to do. At first, it doesn’t entirely make sense for a person dedicated to helping people to enjoy guns and violence in a video game, but when you look beyond the surface and consider the powerful symbolism involved, it’s not quite so nonsensical. 

Consider the role given to the player of a first person shooter (FPS). As the protagonist, you are given a gun or many guns, and you have ultimate destructive power. Typically, your character is among the best at what they do (which is usually kicking ass and destroying anything that gets in their way). You have a heroic goal, and there is nothing that can stop someone as skilled you from achieving it. The side characters worship you, and your enemies fear you. It’s the ultimate power fantasy. 

Playing as a woman, particularly when you get to play as a female character, this power fantasy can have a particularly potent meaning. First and foremost, you’re defying gendered expectations. Despite the progress women have made in society, women are still presumed to be naturally less aggressive, naturally more submissive, and less suited to powerful leadership roles. The fact that in FPS you’re more powerful than your male enemies and that you’re taking on the dominant role makes a pretty big statement in the face of fictional tropes and real world stereotypes. 

In addition to the blatant rejection of stereotypes, it feels pretty damn good to enact a power fantasy compared to a world where you feel so powerless. The real world is full of everyday sexism, which can be frustrating beyond belief and can make you feel like trying to fight it is futile. FPS can be an escape from that world. In FPS, the attention and encouragement that you receive is based on your skill and your accomplishments rather than your appearance or sexuality. You earn respect from your fictional colleagues of all genders, and your gender doesn’t matter. There’s no concern about you being ‘unladylike’ and no extra scrutiny for your aggression simply because you’re a woman. You just get to be a really powerful hero. 

I believe that FPS games can act as a tool for female empowerment. To understand why it can be so appealing, it is necessary to look beyond the violence on the surface and to see the symbolic meaning of the narrative. By giving women a chance to experience that power fantasy, it can give us a sense of self-worth and inspire us to strive for higher ambitions. 

Adrienne is a law student at the University of Alberta. She was born in Vancouver but Edmonton is where she was raised and is where she calls home. When she's not buried in casebooks, she enjoys video games, dungeons and dragons, makeup/fashion, and creative writing.
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