It’s time to address the squid in the room: Nintendo’s new IP features a female lead. She’s a total badass too. Seriously, why is nobody talking about this?
Splatoon launched in North America last Friday and the reviews have been nothing short of favorable. In this game, you play as a squid/human hybrid equipped with paint-based weapons and are tasked with painting the town while vanquishing all who oppose you. With yesterday’s launch of the first batch of free DLC and ranked battles now unlocked, maybe it is a good time to transition from drooling over how fun the game is and talk about Splatoon’s most understated achievement.
For the past year, gamers have been pushing for greater character diversity in games. A lot of men are growing bored with the male power fantasy and women want to see themselves represented more. Is that too much to ask for? Apparently not. By making a female character the face of Nintendo’s newest franchise, they inadvertently made the biggest feminist move the game industry has seen in years. Ironically, the effectiveness of this lies in the fact that nobody seems to realize how big of a deal this is. Nintendo isn’t even talking about it and that’s important because it is indicative of a future where female leads are the norm.
While it is true that the game allows you to choose the gender of your avatar, the girl Inkling, I’ll call her Inka, is arguably the true star of Splatoon. If you do a quick internet search of Splatoon, you’ll find that most of the results feature the girl version of the humanoid character. In the initial launch trailer for the game at last year’s E3, Inka gets almost a full ten seconds of screen time before gameplay is shown. The Japanese commercial, Splatoon Amiibo bundle and the official box art feature my main girl Inka more prominently than her manbunned counterpart. If Inkling became a new character in Smash Bros, the female version would undoubtedly be the default selection even if the male is also playable.
I love this. I have a ten year-old sister. Like Inka she’s spunky, athletic, and well, a girl. It warms my little sappy heart to know that my sister can play a video game where the main character looks like her. And the thing is that this game is not marketed toward girls specifically. In fact, Nintendo somehow managed to make an online multiplayer shooter, a genre that is typically catered toward teenage males, accessible and appealing to almost everybody. But that’s a different story.
Major developers and publishers don’t usually take a lot of risks. There are literally millions of dollars at stake with every game release and they don’t want their game and reputation to flop. For this reason, they tend to stick to what they know will sell. So it is significant when a major company like Nintendo takes a (not-so) bold step like this and it pays off very well for them. Hopefully, other major companies will see their success and begin to follow suit.
Once again, the true victory comes from the fact that Nintendo isn’t parading about showing off how progressive they are with their new female mascot. They were just trying to make a cool shooter and the main character just happened to be a girl. So while everyone continues to praise the game for reinvigorating the shooter genre, I’ll also celebrate their newest heroine. Because this is a win for female gamers, which is a win for all gamers, which is a win for the whole world.