The ‘New Woman’ and ‘Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’
By Rubina Thapa
Society has changed. Some changes are big, like America legalizing gay marriage, while some are slow and steady, like women being acknowledged in the gaming world. ‘Twitch’, a subsidiary of ‘Amazon’, is an online platform introduced in 2011 where thousands of people stream themselves playing different games. Statistics show that thirty five percent are women streamers. Although the gaming world is still dominated by men, the field has been open to women players than it was during the time of Mario saving Princess Peach or Popeye saving Olive Oyl from Bluto. The idea of ‘damsel in distress’ and the brave hero destined to save them is a stereotype that no longer pleases gamers. One of the games that has reached wide popularity today is ‘Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’. It is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, played on mobile phones. It has been almost a year since I have been playing this game, making me a participant observer of Mobile Legends. I remember the time when I used to play ‘Super Mario’, ‘Duck Hunt’ and ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, ‘Roadrash’, ‘Snow bros’. They were strictly targeted towards male gamers. The gaming world, therefore, neglected the female population. Today, a change has occurred because “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang” is gender neutral. ‘Statista’, a site that tally statistics, shows that there are more female gamers playing Mobile Legend than male gamers. This article will speak of the female characters in ‘Mobile Legends’ and how they help to re-define ‘new-women’ today.
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang
This game is developed by Moonton and was initially released on July 11, 2016 in China, Indonesia and Malaysia. It is an online interactive game. The game requires players to make a team of five, select heroes and heroines of their choice; it comprises of three lanes, the upper, mid and low lanes, and the teams have to defend their own ‘base’ against the enemies’ base. There are three turrets in each lane that are required to be destroyed/protected. Other than the heroes who are manually controlled, there are small troops that act independently who help in the destruction/defense. Each hero and heroine have their designated roles. Players have to strategize their moves in order to defend their turrets. The gamers are also given ranks in the ‘rank’ mode. The players begin from the ‘Warrior’ rank rising up to ‘Elite’, then ‘Master’, ‘Grandmaster’, ‘Epic’, ‘Legend’ and finally ‘Mythic’. To reach the ‘Mythic’ rank, all the gamers have to undergo different levels and with the increase in their stars, the difficulty increases too.
From a total of sixty-three heroes and heroines, twenty-seven are heroines and thirty-six heroes. Each are divided into ‘mage’, ‘fighter’, ‘assassin’, ‘tank’, ‘support’ and ‘marksman’ categories. Eleven of the heroines belong to the ‘mage’ category from the total of twenty mages. Currently, there are twelve marksmen from which five are female. There are eighteen ‘fighters’, three are female and from thirteen ‘assassins’, five are female. There are fourteen ‘tanks’ and only two are female tanks. There are eight ‘supports’, three are heroines.
Female characters defining ‘new woman’
Tokenism is “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce” (Wikipedia), something the game practices invariably.
Regardless, these characters represent the ‘new-woman’ that we encounter today in our society. They maybe virtual but their existence encourages the acceptance of females in games and their strength replicates the characteristics of women today. Here are a list of few female characters that I think should be acknowledged in redefining women.
The character Hilda is of a masculine built and attacks with her traditional tall axe and has an armor of animal skin and bones. Due the shortage of resources in the Megalith barren land, the clan was required to be expert in hunting. Since Hilda was able to bring in abundant resources every year, she was entrusted with the responsibility of her clan’s survival. Lolita is another ‘tank’ who uses a giant mechanical hammer for attacks. Although her physique is opposite to Hilda, she still is a remarkable tanker who serves her people as a member of the City Guard. While Hilda is a classic example of a strong tribal woman who leads the clan, Lolita is an example of a woman in the force who defends the city. Hilda may have masculine features, but this does not make it a compulsory attribute to be strong since it is immediately contradicted by Lolita’s lean features. Strength is, therefore, not defined by masculinity or femininity, it is simply the capability of an individual. ‘New-women’ thus eliminate body shaming.
Layla is a gunner who, like Hilda and Lolita, uses heavy weapon. She uses a big malefic gun. Her feminine features do not become a hindrance in her use of weapons. She also apprehends the social expectation of ‘women should be good’ because she uses a malefic gun that is boosted by evil powers. She is the new-women today who survive in the harsh reality engulfed with the atrocities by men and utilizes this evil for the good and to defend herself. Kagura is a mage who uses an umbrella powered by hundreds of spirits. She has mastered the control of the yin and yang and like Layla uses the power of the good and the bad to her advantage. Layla is also the first heroine that we are introduced to in the beginning of the game and she directs us how to play, making her the person in charge of training the new comers. She is taking the position of a commander. Thus in the gaming world the rise of women in positions of power seems to be reflective of the growing importance and prowess of women in lived realities.
Miya belongs to the ‘marksman’ category and she has chosen bow and arrow as her weapon which causes high damage once her character is fully built. She was born in the Temple of the Moon and once she gained knowledge, she was chosen as a sacred sacrifice. She however, became powerful to protect her community, managed to terminate a rooting problem that could have been sever in the future. She is also a defender like Hilda who protects her people. Her weapon possesses magical powers which was bestowed to her as a blessing. Her character encourages the society to have faith in women and not to see them as sacrificial objects. Miya is a definition of a ‘new-woman’ because her possession of her knowledge was the cause of her sacrifice but also the survival of the elves. Female infanticide still exists in our society but taking Miya as a woman fighter, she serves a purpose of empowering women and encouraging the people to have faith in women.
Lesley is also a marksman/assassin who uses a black sniper to attack. She is a woman of discipline who possesses invisibility which gives her an advantage to strike when her opponent least expects. She had been living under a patriarchic rule of her father but unlike her brother, who was entrusted as an heir, she is the one to avenge her father’s death. Despite suffering the ills of patriarchy she emerges as the one who takes the responsibility of the household from the front.
The characteristic of a woman being a care giver, a protector and a supporter is established in few of the heroines of Mobile Legends. Women today have been known to handle both their professional and their family lives well. Karina is a mage/assassin who defends her sister, Alice (also a heroine in the game) from being sacrificed. Although she fails to defend her sister from the clutches of the enemy, she is bestowed with the power of the blue magic to make her powerful enough to attack her enemy. This game, therefore, shows the bonds between the heroine and her siblings. This is also shown in Lesley who decides to protect her brother, Harley (a mage hero in the game) without his knowledge. This bond increases the damage of the opponents when the characters are playing together. These characteristics are signs that strengthen the bond among families and is possible only through the strong drive of women to perform well both professionally and in their personal settings.
Extending this argument, the heroes and heroines in the ‘support’ category are known to regenerate health and tanking some damage. They are also required to sacrifice their lives in order to keep others alive. It is interesting how two of the ‘support’ heroines are young girls. Miya is known to have trained a young ‘support’ named Nana who had trouble controlling her powers making some characters her mentors. Our society has seen successful female doctors who have excelled in their fields and Rafaela is one character who represents these women. She is known to possess healing powers and can defeat her opponents easily too. One form of ecofeminism emphasizes on the natural feminine instinct towards nature, not because they are female, but because both share a common oppressor-man. There are heroines who use natural elements as their weapon of attack. Eudora uses lightening and Aurora uses ice. They have the ability to immobilize their enemies, which serves as an opportunity for their teammate to attack and defeat their enemy. Making them the kind of ‘new-women’ who have found ways of using their nurturing abilities to use it as defense when needed, protecting those who need protection.
Jawhead is a fighter. Although this robot is considered to be male, the human child that controls the robot is female. She is surviving alone after losing her parents to the wild. Although the friendly robot is there to protect her, this character is a symbol for female children in technology. Telling them not be afraid of trying new things that are known to be dominated by men.
These characters do not radiate any sign of weakness in the battle-field irrespective of how they look or dress. This made me understand that the game has established an argument that the way women were viewed and were expected to be before, has changed. It has challenged the prejudices and opened a path to rediscovering women in their new forms. These women take challenges, breaks boundaries, norms and stereotypes and are strong who have found ways of blooming under a hostile environment. Therefore, these women cannot be judged by their physical appearance. I have observed that my fellow male gamers use heroines for critical matches despite the game having more heroes than heroines. The game developers have found a way of empowering the female characters, programming them to cause maximum damage when their abilities are fully built.
These heroines of ‘Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’ are no longer the ones to be saved but the ones to save. Most of these characters handle war machinery; they not only fight among men but annihilate them. This is why the game attracts female gamers and inspire them to combat difficult situations with ease. They are fictional but their characters have significantly deconstructed the idea of how a woman should be. Referring to their background stories, most heroines have proven to be great leaders and provide protection over their respected community. Although these are just tales, we cannot ignore the fact that only through struggles and experience does one become strong and are able to face what reality throws at you. After ages of living in a male dominated society, where oppression of women still exists, women have moved from the marginalized to the center and these characters are strong representation of women today. Characters like ‘Karrie’ who belongs to a race born with deformed feet is an empowering woman because she has found a way of mechanizing herself towards an agile body fit for battles. She is not new to technological advances. Her character is also a way of empowering women who have lesser capabilities towards self-dependence to survive in this world. One thing this game has taught me is that no matter what shape or size I am born with, recreating oneself into a ‘new-woman’ is in my hands.
According to my fellow female gamers, this game has empowered them and they are appreciated in the gaming world because a lot of women have been patronized for not being a ‘real’ gamer. Being active in the gaming world and holding one’s position is also a feature of the ‘new-woman’. They are acknowledged and respected and are given the opportunity to prove themselves without having to defend themselves when it comes to their sex. There are many female gamers who have reached the ‘Mythic’ stage in ‘Mobile Legends’. They have thousands of followers who watch them live, to learn. While most women are withdrawn from battlefields, these women have found their rightful position to fight alongside men. For me, they are the ‘new-women’.
Game developers today are attracting female and male gamers by merging the game characters with relatable circumstances. One of the impressive things is that one of the fighters, ‘Lancelot’, can be seen as a gender non-conforming person. It could be my subjective view that although he is married to one of the other powerful characters ‘Odette’, he does share some feminine characters breaking the norm of witnessing only strong muscular heroes in old fashioned games. The game not only reconstructs the characters of woman and adapts them to the on-going reality, they are also moulding possible genders that we see in our society and re-framing the definition of a ‘hero’ or ‘heroine’.
Mobile Legends is a shift from old games featuring only dominant male characters making it gender neutral game. If analyzed critically, faults can be extracted, but it is truly a form of ‘new-game’ representing ‘new-women’. What is new must not be withheld and must be shared.
Photo: Saatchi Art
An alumnus of Loreto Convent, Darjeeling and St. Joseph’s College, Darjeeling, Rubina Thapa majored in Sociology from Mumbai University from where she also completed her MPhil.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.