Feminist Frequency – The Scythian – Positive Female Characters In Video Games


Feminist Frequency – The Scythian – Positive Female Characters In Video Games

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[Feminist Frequency – The Scythian – Positive Female Characters In Video Games]

[Anita Sarkeesian (born 1983):] Source: LYBIO.net
The hero of the 2011 pixelated adventure game ‘Sword & Sworcery’ is a brave adventurer known only as ‘the Scythian’, and the game tells the story of her quest to collect the three pieces of the golden trigon.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (2011)

Now, if a quest to collect pieces of a magical triangular artifact sounds familiar, that’s no accident. Sword & Sworcery’s trigon is a clear reference to the Triforce of the Legend of Zelda games, and Link’s recurring quest to collect pieces of the triforce is perhaps the most famous heroic quest in the history of fantasy adventure games. [FIGHT?] By drawing on familiar gaming icons and conventions that many of us already associate with legendary quests and timeless adventures, ‘Sword & Sworcery’ quietly asserts that women can fill the role of the mythic hero as effectively as men can.

With the aid of a gorgeous and mesmerizing soundtrack, ‘Sword & Sworcery’s’ retro-inspired visuals paint a pleasantly abstract landscape players can navigate through the simple act of tapping or clicking. And the game tells a traditional yet emotionally resonant story, proving that you don’t need technically impressive graphics to create a world worth exploring and a tale worth telling.

In fact, the level of detail is so low on our pixelated protagonist, and our tendency to assume that heroes are male by default is so widely reinforced, that some players have made the mistake of assuming the Scythian is male, at least initially.


Thankfully, the game doesn’t resort to clear gendered signifiers like a pink outfit or a pretty bow in her hair, nor does it present her gender as some kind of surprise twist like we see in the original Metroid.


In both visual design and writing, Sword & Sworcery is subtle about asserting the Scythian’s gender, though once you acquire the Megatome at the end of the game’s first episode, you’re presented with the thoughts of other characters, who refer to the Scythian using female pronouns.

Everything has been totally mental ever since The Scythian showed up as many moons ago.

The Scythian keeps talking about her woeful errand to open a gateway to the infinite on the summit of Mingi Taw.

It’s not just in the visual sense that the Scythian lacks clear definition. We know very little about her history, and nothing about why she has undertaken the quest to defeat an ancient evil.

While games often give us images of heroes who are fated to defeat evil forces, it’s rare for these heroes of myth to be women.

[Anita Sarkeesian:] Source: LYBIO.net
Like many video game heroes, the Scythian is essentially a silent protagonist, a figure defined primarily by her actions, which makes her a blank slate for all players to project themselves onto. But while we don’t actually hear her speak to other characters, a bit of the Scythian’s personality does come through as her thoughts serve as a kind of narration for the story.


Her quest is referred to as a “woeful errand” from very early on, an important bit of foreshadowing that communicates that her task is not a happy one, but the grim nature of her errand doesn’t overshadow the Scythian’s spirit or the tone of the game itself. The character’s quirky, often humorous thoughts, along with the sense of wonder in the world, make this journey magical, delightful and melancholy all at once.


‘Sword & Sworcery’ is broken up into a series of short sessions, most of which focus on the Scythian acquiring pieces of the Trigon.

[Game Clip (Scythian Strikes):]

There are some simple timing-based combat encounters, but the majority of time is spent exploring the world and solving simple puzzles that require players to pay attention to environmental details like trees, birds, and reflections in the surface of a pond. The game is primarily concerned not with combat and killing but with the natural beauty of the world the Scythian is trying to protect. Using the mysterious power of the Song of Sworcery, players sometimes manipulate the environment in some really surprising ways, creating the feeling that this is a magical world where just about anything can happen.

Ok, at this point, if you haven’t finished the game yet, you should go do that right now… even if getting to the end involves a whole real-time moon cycle mechanic that might take you a couple of months to complete… unless of course you reset the clock on your gaming device… or if you are able to find the special moon grotto location – spoiler alert – we’re about to talk about how the story ends. So, you’ve been warned.

Most video game heroes become more powerful as their quest progresses. This is one way in which Sword & Sworcery subverts expected gaming tropes. There’s nothing in it for the Scythian. She doesn’t gain more health or better gear over the course of the game. In fact, the quest takes a toll on her; she starts the game with five units of health but loses one each time she wins a boss fight, decreasing her overall maximum health as her adventure progresses. This game is not about ‘leveling up’ or ‘becoming more powerful’. And Sword & Sworcery ends with the Scythian doing something Link never has. To rid the world of an ancient evil, the brave hero sacrifices herself.


[Anita Sarkeesian:] Source: L Y B I O . N E T
Unlike the ‘deaths’ of so many female characters in games which serve the purpose of fueling the development of male characters, ‘the Scythian’s death’ is tragic because her life had intrinsic value. We projected ourselves onto her and experienced the world through her. In the game’s final moments, we see the people of the region pay their respects to the Scythian, and we mourn her death along with them. She didn’t just exist in relation to another character—she wasn’t just somebody’s wife or sister or daughter–but rather, she existed as an individual, and as a hero. The game’s ending suggests that the Scythian will not be forgotten by the other characters, and the visuals and music work together to elicit a complex assortment of emotions, a sense of celebration of the Scythian’s courage, and a sense of grief at her death.

While the necessity of the Scythian’s sacrifice is worked into Sword & Sworcery’s story from the beginning and lends this particular game an emotional weight its quest might otherwise lack, we certainly don’t want all female heroes to be tragic ones. But we do need more women-centric stories of all kinds. When archetypal fantasy heroes in games are overwhelmingly portrayed as men, it reinforces the idea that men’s experiences are universal and that women’s experiences are gendered, that women should be able to empathize with male characters but that men needn’t be able to identify with women’s stories. Sword & Sworcery gives us a female protagonist and encourages us to see her as a hero first and foremost, one who also just happens to be a woman.

Feminist Frequency - The Scythian - Positive Female Characters In Video Games

Feminist Frequency – The Scythian – Positive Female Characters In Video Games

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