I’ve been playing some of the games from the 2009 IF Comp. These are text-adventure games, arty to various degrees, meant to be be judged in under two hours of play. The games can be found here. My reviews will be categorized under “IFComp.”
But this isn’t a review. Here I’m reflecting on the games I’ve played, or started (I haven’t played them all, and I won’t), by a simple measure: The Bechdel Test. The test, found here and discussed here (and other places), goes like this:
Does the work
(1) have two female characters
(2) who talk to each other
(3) about something besides a man?
It’s not always an entirely fair test for IF, for two reasons. One is that any work with a viewpoint character is going to have trouble if that character is male. (Though the character can observe a conversation between two women.) IF almost always has a viewpoint character, the PC, and if the PC is male then the game is usually hosed. Though there still could be conversations in cut scenes, or overheard conversations.
A second issue with the test is that conversations are hard to program, and many games don’t have much in the way of conversation. If the PC is the only character, the game will flunk on step (1).
A third issue is that the PC is often genderless, or whatever the player is. This really gets its own category — games that pass the test if the PC is a woman.
Fair to the medium or not, the disturbing thing about the test is how few works pass it, and by how narrow margins. It’s one thing for an individual work to have no conversations between female characters; it’s another thing when almost nothing does. Read this to see how pernicious that can be in Hollywood. Anyway, it’s interesting to see what passes and what doesn’t. There may be mild spoilers for the IFComp games after the break (there’s also a discussion of some of Emily Short’s games, though I don’t think it’s spoilery).
[UPDATE: Maybe I should say this more clearly: If your game doesn’t pass the test, that’s not a slam on your game. I realize that talk of “passing” and “flunking” makes it sound like flunking is a horrible thing, but lots of individual games have perfectly good reasons for not including conversations between two women. (Things are much different for movies and TV shows, which are third-person and generally have lots more conversations and characters.) I’m using the test to think about how gendered IF is as a whole, and maybe to start a conversation.]
Also, it should really be the Bechdel-Wallace Test, since apparently Alison Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace came up with it first.