I’d like to pull back the curtain a bit on one of the more secretive aspects of development. When I am feeling pompous, I call it “Narrative Engineering”; most people just call it “storytelling.”
Back in Defiance, we had a tough-talking badass by the name of Rosa. Rosa Rodriguez was her full name, and she was originally modeled after Rosie the Riveter. She had a tragic history. She was raised during our pre-apocalyptic conflict, The Pale Wars, but she and her father, Amelio, had survived that conflict and the Arkfall to become members of The Defiant Few: the toughest champions of inter-species unity ever to grace Earth.
Life after Arkfall wasn’t just joy in the land of milk and honey. Rosa fell in with a bad bunch. She made friends with a up-and-coming gangster by the name of “Jackleg” Joe Teach. Despite being scolded by her father, Rosa maintained the relationship.
One day, Amelio discovered Rosa socializing with Joe Teach and decided to put an end to it. In the altercation that followed, Joe Teach murdered Amelio. This crime resulted in Joe’s apprehension by Jon Cooper and subsequent incarceration in Vegas Prison. That was many years prior to the events of the game – when Rosa was a teenager – and Jackleg Joe’s return to Paradise Territory eventually drives Rosa into a revenge-fueled conflict with Joe himself.
While working on the final scene for “A Bullet for a Badman”, something strange happened. One of the developers really wanted Rosa to kick Jackleg savagely. They wanted her to get really angry. We reasoned that she’d had time to come to terms with her father’s death, that she’d played out this murder fantasy enough times in her own head that it only carried disappointment to actually execute on it. Pulling the Ark-Cell out of Jackleg Joe was the final act in the discovery that fantasy does not always match reality.
Then the developer exclaimed: “This is the guy who raped her!”
I stood, mouth agape, as I tried to figure out what had brought this man to believe that. Then I saw people around the room nodding in agreement.
Something needed to be done.
The Rape Threat
We’d purposefully avoided even implying Rosa had been raped by Jackleg Joe. Any suggestion of it was expressly expunged from the game. Jackleg, who we specifically say was Rosa’s friend, murdered Amelio Rodriguez, Rosa’s father, and that was enough revenge motivation for the action of the game. However, the impression remained. Many of our own developers believed she’d been raped, when we asked why, they all answered the same thing: she’d been alone with Jackleg Joe when Amelio arrived on the day of his murder. “Alone” was the key word, and being alone with a man was enough to create the presumption of rape.
So, much to my chagrin, we had to add the following line to the data recorder “Case # 44WKE – Teach, Joseph“:
“It was a sight. Wish I had a chance to drive something else into his lovely daughter.”
Defiance had fallen back on one of the most prevalent tropes in Western culture, and we did it in order to confirm that Rosa had not been raped. Without that line, we would have had no way to disprove what would have been a common assumption. As that scene progresses, Cooper decides to beat up Jackleg in response to the rape comment. This is the closest we ever come to “damseling” Rosa; this is the only time that a man is called on to fight on Rosa’s behalf. I would prefer that never happened.
The sad fact was that many of the men and even some of the women on the development team assumed that a lone woman in the company of a villain could expect to be raped. The San Diego office was not populated by rape-obsessed lunatics. Even with the contents of “Case # 44WKE – Teach, Joseph“, many of our players still assumed that Rosa had been violated. We even had to explicitly clarify this with our partners at NBC.
Defiance is a world of fiction. While we can only do a very little to make our world a better place, we can make our worlds of fiction healthier one bad assumption at a time. If we are very lucky, those bad assumptions – those of malice and of weakness – will wither away in the light of the fictions we create.
The Women of Paradise
We had only a relatively small number of “cinematic characters” in Defiance. These were the men and women that could be featured in cutscenes and have animated faces. When we decided on who these characters would be, we did actively spread them as evenly as we could among the different races and sexes available. They still lean a little male, but I’m proud of the women we chose to represent the New Frontier.
We’ve jeopardized Cass a few times, but she holds her own against the worst the frontier has to offer. The same can be said of Rosa. Defiance continued to find new ways to put Eren in jeopardy without making her helpless; it’s essentially a running gag that she manages to save herself. Rynn neither needs nor wants your help. Irisa, despite a whole line of missions dedicated to locating her, is much closer to an antagonist than anything else. EGO applies bizarre exuberance to her callouts in comments. Even Ara Shondu, our only female non-combatant, is a woman leading a people through the most dangerous time in Human or Votan history.
In the New Frontier, only the strong survive. This wisdom applies as much to women as it does to the men.