“Don’t shoot anything pink” PLEASE NOTE: This article will contain information relating to the story within Halo: ODST. Whilst every care has been made to try and leave out as much of the story as is possible, it will at times cover in-game events involving various character interactions.
Long a fan of the Halo franchise and Bungie, it pains me to put these words together. Having just finished the main campaign in the new Halo: ODST one thing was clear – from beginning to end of the game – the people behind this seemingly had no consideration or care that the title carried a chauvinistic message. The game reads like an example of text and subtext feminists would loathe, with a condescending story and female characterization that does nothing but push forth antiquated views on what it means to be ‘female’.
Our female ‘hero’ Dare is the centerpiece for everything that is wrong with female characterization in video games that have been developed by men. Rather than harp on at how truly awful this is and how it never should have happened, we intend to examine just what is wrong with the character of Veronica Dare in Halo: ODST, why it is wrong and how this travesty could so easily have been avoided.
As with previous Halo titles the playable lead is male. This was understandable within the context of the original Halo games, as the stories involved the character of Master Chief, notably male (despite a few gamers fantasies to the contrary). Halo: ODST falls at the first hurdle with regards to what is fair by making ALL playable characters on all levels male. Given these characters are numerous, one would have assumed that equipped with the knowledge that women do enjoy Halo, the developers would have thrown in the token playable female. Whilst this still isn’t great, it would have at least – to some extent – sated that need of a playable female lead within the Halo universe. Instead of doing this however, Bungie rather opted for the all male military force, with – as far as we heard – one female soldier in the NPC’s ground forces and of course Dare (played by Tricia Helfer).
… but I am a Commander… truly I am. Why won’t you believe me? Is it because I never stand up for myself or my rank? *sigh*
Dare to change
Halo: ODST is – like the other Halo titles – set in the future, 2552 to be exact. In 2552 though we have not moved on in a social context, for the Halo universe, like other futuristic gaming worlds (as we’ve covered at Lesbian Gamers before) is set in the here and now on a cultural level.
Captain Veronica Dare is a Captain in the UNSC Navy, as well as an officer for Naval Intelligence. She is actually the commanding officer in charge of the Shock Troop detail, but you wouldn’t know it. From her entrance into the game she is not treated as the Commanding Officer, she is instead immediately denoted as the ‘hot chick’, by her subordinates who show no respect for her leadership role. The first words by her subordinates is “hello beautiful” despite the fact she’s in full combat armor, which one would assume carries with it the correct officer markings. It is down to another subordinate – Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck – to tell the men to show a little respect. He’s a man, so they will listen to him after all, and it’s got around by suggesting they trust him due to prior engagements. Well trust is good, but so is respect. There is the following conversation, for those of us that might still be confused:
Buck: “This many years into the war, who isn’t?”
Dare: “At least they listen.”
Buck: “.. to me. And they’re not gonna like what they hear.”
Dare: “Orders are orders.”
Buck: “Come on Veronica, what could be more important than that carrier?”
Dare: “My orders. And Buck, call me Captain.”
Meanwhile the other troops chat about the newcomer:
Mickey: “What the hell kinda armor was she wearin?”
Romeo: “Dunno Mickey, I wasn’t lookin at her gear.”
Try as you might to reiterate your role as leader, it’s already undone. And, in case we missed that, this is pushed forward in the first level of the game when we hear the conversation about Buck and Dare’s prior relationship and he then tells her to “stay put, I’m on my way”. At this point Dare responds by telling Buck to be careful because “it won’t be much of a rescue if you’re dead”, just in case we didn’t realize this was definitely a rescue mission to save our damsel in distress. Yes, the same damsel in distress who we’re meant to believe is the Officer’s Candidate School graduate, Commanding Officer and Naval Intelligence Officer in charge of this entire mission… the woman who seemingly can’t even take care of herself. Silly girl.
Oh Buck me sergeant
As well as falling into the role of disenfranchised leader (and ‘hot chick), Dare also falls into the tired category of romantic interest. She and Buck were once together, so he of course must protect her, fair damsel in distress that she is.
Near the end of the game we are treated with yet further lack of respect for her role, as one soldier states to Buck “We went through hell for that?” Pointing at Dare and an alien. Buck replies “It’s important, it knows things” referring to the alien, to which the soldier responds “I wasn’t talking about the alien”.
The epilogue of the game once more pushes forth the idea that despite the operation being Dare’s, she is a nobody, not to be taken seriously. Dare speaks to enlisted Sergeant Major Avery Johnson prior to entering the interrogation area.
Dare: “it was my op and it’s my interrogation. We only captured one, its very delicate.”
Avery Johnson: “Don’t worry, I know what the aliens like”
They head into the interrogation area and he takes over immediately and does whatever the hell he likes, thus dismissing all she said about it being her op. She stands idly by and of course, it all goes well, because let’s face it, she should just speak when spoken to and the only guy under her should be whoever she’s frakking.
It should be noted that Avery Johnson is an enlisted Sergeant Major in the UNSC marines. Dare is Navy and holds the rank of commissioned officer Captain. Given an officer outranks an enlisted, he once more should have followed her orders. They are also holding the alien in the ONI Orbital Facility and Dare is an Intelligence Officer for Section One ONI – (Office Naval Intelligence). This too makes little difference in the respect stakes.
Problems and how they could have been solved
It is pretty obvious what the problems in Halo: ODST are, but we’ll blurt them out anyway. The first is that Bungie could have easily made the Rookie character male or female. A quick choice before starting the game “Male / Female” and bam, we’re away. The Rookie does not speak, so there can be no lame excuses regarding having to double up on the voice acting and thus pushing up costs. Hands are seen when reloading weapons etc, just hands, so how hard would it have been to have one male set and one female set? Interacting character voice work could have played the non gender specific game we queers sometimes have to play dependent on social circumstance and whether we’re in or out.
The second problem is of course the fact the female officer – Veronica Dare – is painted as a dumbass sex object with no power. The guys at Bungie must think they’ve done such a wonderful thing by having the character in charge of the entire mission be female, but they bungled it and dropped the plasma grenade. There is no point in half assing something and having it backfire in this manner. Having a female commander who cannot command anyone is pointless, it negates the power that character is stated to have, so why even bother.
When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what will I be? Will I be commanding, Will I be tough.. here’s what she said to me.. Que sera sera, What’s now will be will be, the future’s the same you see, que sera sera.
Commander Dare might as well be Doris Day from pretty much any Doris Day movie. Slap Helfer in a gingham apron, lipstick and have her waiting on her man Buck with dinner and a smile at 6pm. That’s about all the power Dare has in game, so why dress her up in armor and pretend this is anything other than what it is, a ploy and a bad one at that. Buck describes her as having balls at one point, well Buck, where were they, because my tiny neutered dogs are huge by comparison. Dare is weak, she doesn’t stand up for herself as an officer or a woman. And for any feminists reading this, yes isn’t it funny how to be good at what you do or take risks means “you have balls”, where does that discourse leave women in general, I know you thought it, but we’re a gaming site and we don’t have the space here to discuss all that entails.
We’d like to finish on an order Dare gives the rookie in game. She states unequivocally “Do not shoot anything pink”. Yes well it appears to be yet another order given by Dare that no one listens to, given they might as well have painted her that color and shot her through the forehead in the first 2 seconds of screen time. We’re pretty sure had Bungie taken the subtext in game to the actual drawing board, Tricia Helfer’s Dare character would have been clad in pink lingerie with the ONI logo on it with “I’m a dumb blonde peripheral female game character” capped off with “please ignore everything I say, I’m just here to be ogled” tattooed on her cleavage.
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Fanboys/girls – If you don’t understand the concept discussed, save us all some time and don’t bother commenting. “ZOMG Halo Rocks you feminazi bitch!” and derivatives of do not really constitute good commentary, nor do they show much sign of intelligent discourse. Let’s also consider that the writer in this case is a HUGE Halo fan who had high hopes for ODST and was stunningly disappointed with the end result.