WHAT IS THE BECHDEL TEST?
The Bechdel Test is an incisive tool used to gauge how prominently female characters and female relationships are in popular culture. Most often used in movies, you might be surprised how many of your favourite films fail this test. In a nutshell:
The Bechdel Test asks… In any scene, do two named women speak to each other about something other than a man?
Your first instinct is probably to shout, ‘Of course! Of course they do!’ Well hang onto your hats, because it might be time to have a rewind through some of your favourite movies.
Let’s take one of the biggest motion pictures of all time, Star Wars. A three-hander starring a farm boy, a pirate, and a princess. Princess Leia to be exact, the headstrong feminist icon of a generation. But does she ever speak to another woman onscreen? Um, nope. Leia will talk to male bad guys, male good guys, male love interests, and males who are secret siblings. And then the males all talk amongst each other for the rest of the movie. The Bechdel Test has shone a light on a huge part of Leia’s missing representation in a galaxy far, far away.
IS GIRL-TALK THAT IMPORTANT?
Well, yes. What with 51% of the Earth’s population being female, we think there is a solid chance that at some point, two or more women got together in a room and talked about something. And that’s a core part of the female experience which is failing to be represented in popular culture again and again.
The problem extends to countless unexpected and influential movies. Finding Nemo: Dory may be the second lead, but she never speaks to another female. Run Lola Run: Often cited as a feminist triumph. Despite following a woman through every scene in the movie, she will never speak to another female. The Avengers: One woman on the team, no other women to talk to. You’ll find superhero movies routinely fail the Bechdel Test.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
Put simply, the majority of pop culture, movies and gaming, are made by men for men. It is understandable that the old adage, ‘write what you know’ will eventually skew the sample of diversity. The Bechdel Test is so clever, because it cuts through many studio and developer’s best intentions –to make a female the lead character, or prominent in the story- and reveals their shortcomings in properly representing them.
DO WE USE THE BECHDEL TEST IN GAMING?
We are starting to! The gaming industry has often been criticised for its less-than-progressive approach to female characters. The demographic problem that compromises movies is compounded ten-fold in games. Often made by men, mostly for boys.
Now we’re starting to see a groundswell of support for implementing the test in games. Blogs are increasingly calling out poor representation of women and celebrating complex portrayals.
We’ve established there is more to representing the female experience than portraying strength and prominence. Are women talking to each other in games?
A NEW BECHDEL TEST FOR A NEW MEDIUM
There have been previous attempts to define the parameters of the Bechdel Test in the rather tricksy gaming format where the emphasis is on experience, not story, and choice, rather than scenes.
Games editor Laura Kate Dale added an extra element to The Bechdale Test in 2014.
‘A scene meeting the criteria of The Bechdel Test must be an unavoidable part of the game. It is impossible to beat the game without having a scene that passes the test, regardless of any choice you make as a gamer.’
UX designer Elsa Bartley got to the heart of the issue in gaming concisely in 2011.
‘There must be a female character with whom you can interact, who doesn’t need rescuing, and who isn’t a prostitute.’
Tim Mulkerin for MIC evolved the concept again in 2017, with a question of positioning and agency.
‘If the female characters in a game weren’t there, what impact would that have on the overall narrative? Would it have any measurable impact at all? If it does have an impact, is it only that it would deprive a male protagonist of someone to save?’
WHAT IS WIBBU DOING TO HELP?
Even though the creator of The Bechdel Test has since revealed it to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek exercise in social skewering, we at Wibbu take it incredibly seriously. And we take it into account when we’re creating characters and building scenarios.
It wouldn’t be enough for us to just make our educational games with a female lead, Ruby Rei. We wanted to properly represent Ruby’s internal experiences. Her wants, her insecurities, and her sense of camaraderie with other females. Ruby’s best friend is Moli 3, and their personal journeys are intertwined throughout the game. They laugh together, mourn together, and seek each other out when they are separated. The drive of Ruby’s narrative is to get back to Moli. They stay in constant communication and discuss a wide range of topics, just like any other girls!
RUBY REI: OUR CONTRIBUTION
We were careful to pepper Ruby’s journey with other Bechdel wins. Ruby meets a young boy in a market who is pining for the affections of a nearby market girl. Ruby offers her encouragement, and it seems like the thrust of a romantic plot is set in motion. But when Ruby meets the girl, Meebee, the romance never comes up in conversation. Meebee is entirely oblivious to the boy’s affections, and instead is totally wrapped up in her own mission to build a spaceship and go on adventures. So we’ve achieved a reversal where the male character is completely defined in position to a female, and the female has complete agency, and is able to hold, not just a conversation, but an entire story line on her own.
How is Wibbu doing with female representation? We’d love for you play our free Ruby Rei teaser and let us know. Download here. Contact us here. We’re excited to be a part of this conversation and we want to hear your voice too!
Truan Flynn, Game Writer