Over a year ago, I finally finished Risen and started writing this blog post. Soooo much has happened since then, and I’ve neglected this blog. But hey, I’m back. 🙂
While the game has a lot of rare strong suits, like the continuous, interactive world with beautiful day & night cycles and some clever level design choices, it also has a few annoying aspects. I won’t go into details about most of them; let me just say that the quest log was particularly frustrating because I picked up the game again after several months and the log didn’t help at all. But overall, I liked the game a lot. Risen stands in the tradition of the German cult RPG series Gothic and was developed by the same studio, Piranha Bytes, after the rights to the series were temporarily unavailable due to legal problems with the publisher JoWood. It is very similar to the Gothic games, but not frustrating as hell. 😉
The people on the island of Faranga have daily routines and roam their camps and go to the tavern, go to sleep and back to their workplaces in the morning. That part was quite well done – but, it was also very revealing of the society depicted in the game. I am often confronted with the argument of “historical realism” when discussing gender issues in games but I won’t accept that for a fantasy setting. If you make up undead creatures, magic spells and whatnot, there is no claiming realism to justify why women aren’t treated or represented equally in a game. ( The “representation” vs. “treatment” is an important point, because I wouldn’t mind if the treatment of women in the game served the plot and could be protested against or changed, but it usually can’t be.) There are lots of unnamed NPCs in Risen, bearing markers like “Townswoman” or “Farmer”, etc. There seem to be roughly equal numbers of men and women, but none of the women work in the fields, smithies or in any other craft. Neither are there female guards, warriors, mages or bandits. The women also never go to the tavern. Ever. C’mon!?
Of course, there’s a brothel in the island’s only town. (My fingers are itching to write a whole post about courtesans/prostitutes in games.) The brothel is the only place outside their house in which women actually do work; and I really dislike the message that sends. The more important NPCs, like merchants and quest givers, all have names. That’s why it sticks out that there are very few female ones, and their portrayals are rife with clichés. A few examples:
Rachel – the wife of the bandits’ leader, Don Esteban. You will mostly see her work in her fancy open-air kitchen in the bandit camp. She does play a role in your getting to speak to the Don, but overall, she’s the camp’s cook, and that’s that.
Kayleigh – a rather annoying woman who wants a pearl necklace in exchange for a stolen ring that you need to bring back to his owner.
Sonya, Olga, Lilly, Gwen, Anika – prostitutes, some of which you can actually have sex with. You can save Gwen from physical abuse by a guy called Erikson. You can distract a guard called Marek by paying for Anika’s services.
Jasmin – a hunter and merchant, lives in a remote cottage, protected by a tame wolf and her partner Hendrik
Tilda – a mother of three sons who is worried about them and sends you on a quest to see if they are okay
Patty – the only female skill trainer in the entire game. Guess for what skills? Acrobatics, a largely useless skill that you can also get temporarily by wearing a ring. And lockpicking, okay, that’s useful. 😉
But there’s more to Patty. She is the only woman in the entire game that has more than a negligible role. Patty is the daughter of a famous pirate, and owns the tavern in Harbor City. You will be sent on a quest to retrieve some documents for her then enable her to leave the town through the secret tunnel. In a later chapter you will help her find her father’s treasure and spring her from the cell where the infamous Pirate Romanov locks her up. Here’s what she looks like – yes, it’s your typical cropped, cleavage-exposing nothing with hot pants and overknees. SIgh.
For the longest time, the quests involving her didn’t portray her as a woman who could hold her own in a fight, but at least she had a background and some really good lines. Here’s a short video captured from the later part of the game, where you rescue her and she then helps you, until after the final bossfight.
Patty is an interesting character because for quite some time, I had no idea that she would turn out to be a companion rather than eye candy; and strong woman who was cheeky and flirtatious without appearing easy or needy of the hero.
Since I started writing this post, Risen 2 was published, but I haven’t yet played it. So I might soon continue telling Patty’s story from my feminist gamer’s perspective. As of now, I am quite hopeful – but it wouldn’t be the first time that a strong female character was twisted into a mere shadow of her former self in a sequel. Yes, I’m looking at you Isabela.