The portrayal of strong female characters in the entertainment industry has been a battle fought for the past two centuries. The fight has spanned a variety of media; from classic written word mediums to more contemporary digitally drawn ones. Whether it’s film, literature or video gaming, female characters are currently a dominant focus of the media and consumers, especially when women are a rapidly increasing market for the industry.
People have become obsessed with the role of women in entertainment media. Evolving from the underdeveloped superficial likes of Princess Peach, TellTale’s Clementine – from their interactive decision-based gaming franchise ‘The Walking Dead’ – may be the symbol people have been searching for.
Clementine may be a young girl (aged 8-13), but she is rife with depth and realism. A relatable character that many fans have grown protective over (if Season 3 ‘New Frontier”s decision data is anything to go by). Spanning three games, fans have witnessed Clementine grow physically and emotionally throughout a zombie apocalypse full of death, choice and consequence. She is not only a feminist symbol, but also a fan-favourite. Her success mainly due to the effort invested into the character’s emotional development by her creator Sean Vanaman.
Clementine may owe her origins to predecessors from the dystopian and action heroines – Katniss Everdeen and Lara Croft to name a few – but her creation and growth within her own post-apocalyptic universe have struck a new phase in the feminist fight. A well-developed, well-liked female character, that isn’t technically a fully grown woman yet.
Throughout Clementine’s screen time from her walkie-talkie treehouse opener with Lee in Series 1 to her holding stranger’s at gunpoint in Season 3, Clementine has been thrust into various situations. In each situation, Clementine grows before our eyes. Players are introduced to the character as an intelligent and innocent girl. She is quiet and points out the flaws of character decisions (including those made by players). Evoking parental instincts in players as Lee, we eventually get to see their own choices reflected in the maternal development in Clementine as she cares for her ‘goofball’ AJ. The combination of Clementine’s growth, her interactions with others in intense situations, and overall portrayal in the narrative and design make her a female character to make her gender proud.
Foremostly, Clementine serves as the main protagonist in Season 2 of The Walking Dead video game and as a deuteragonist in Seasons 1 and 3. Until recent decades there were few representative female protagonists of video games. Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft set the bar high for video game heroines, and caused an earthquake for the movement. Strong, intelligent women could be at the forefront of a good video game without at least 50% of their skin on show and forced into a romantic narrative with a good looking male protagonist to aid them. If we think of Clem as Croft’s video game granddaughter, the two would make quite the pair.
Aside from the obvious, even the subtle idea of having a young girl be your protagonist in a decision-based narrative is against the stereotype. Yes, women can be decisive. To the point of having an entire game be a reaction to a female’s decisiveness. Whilst nowadays that’s just common sense, it’s a definite evolution from the floundering damsel in distress epitomised in characters such as Princess Peach or the scantily-clad soft porn ‘warriors’ like SNK’s Mai (not sure her outfit provides much protection for her fights). Clem is a protagonist we can relate to and be proud of. She is like us: realistic, reliable and wears a pair of jeans and a hoodie.
It may seem cliche to discuss emotion in regards to gender, but it is Clem’s displayed emotional range which makes her a powerhouse role model. As stated above not only does she demonstrate a growth in personal emotion, from innocence and naivety in Season One to her distrust of others and maternal instincts in Season 3, Clem portrays a range of emotions. Real emotions and reactions to complicated situations.
Our Clem is not a one-blanket character. She is not permanently oblivious like one may say of TellTale’s other child TWD character, Duck. She is not there to provide the occasional light-hearted line in a dark universe. No. Clem demonstrates her childlike silliness one moment and her heartbreaking rage the next. From her reactions to being coated in zombie guts to when the last person closest to her is torn from her arms and she is thrust into exile, Clem is full of emotional complexity. Unluckily left with the babysitter when the zombie apocalypse hits the world, 8 year-old Clem is not only forced to grow up in a broken world with strangers, kidnapped and witness to numerous cases of violence and death but spends the entirety of Season 1 searching for her parents, only to discover their deaths and immediately afterwards witness the slow painful demise of her new parental figure. That does things to an 8 year-old.
A traumatic childhood and the ability to show sympathy, frustration, love, disgust and light-heartedness throughout TWD game franchise, shows Clem’s complexity. She is not limited to a binary emotional range like entertainment characters her age before her.
Appearance and Design
As explained above, Clem dresses like a normal girl from the 21st century. Or as normal as you can dress in the zombie apocalypse. She dresses for her situation. She is covered well by her clothes; layered-up and no skin exposed. Which is sensible because you don’t want to accidentally get a walker bite on your wrist or die of hypothermia trying to show some cleavage during your pubescent phase.
Whilst many female characters derive from days of where video games were considered soft porn, Clem is not dressed for sex. Yes, I hear your cries of ‘but she’s just a kid, she shouldn’t be sexualised’; but here are a few examples of finalised and published female character designs of teenage women:
Clem may be young and may not be the first female character to refrain from being sexualised, but she serves as a statement. A statement that women protagonists can be complex, strong and independent without being sexualised. Debuting at age 8 and maturing into such a meaningful character by only age 13/14, Clem is a role model for women everywhere. Shame her 18-rated content means younger audiences are separated from her.
If you liked this insight into women characters in the gaming industry, I wrote an article about women players when I wrote for Her Campus Nottingham at University. Give it a read: ‘Gamer Girls’ : More Than a Derogatory Label.