In 108 minutes, Wreck-It Ralph accomplishes something the entire video game industry has failed to achieve for more than 30 years:
Three major consoles. Hundreds of major and indie developers. Mobile and handheld gaming. Thousands of writers, programmers and artists. Millions, maybe even billions, in marketing dollars. All schooled by one movie.
I applaud the filmmakers, but I’m utterly baffled, because they made it look easy. And for so long, we have been told it’s “hard” to sell games with female characters we can look up to, care for and relate to. I think $49.1 million at the box office, which is Disney Animation’s highest opening weekend in history, tells a very different story. Listen up gamers, it’s time for a revolution.
Let’s start with Vanellope Von Schweetz and her home game, Sugar Rush.
Vanellope is funny. She’s smart. And she has confidence, despite her condition, pixlexia. She is driven and willing to fight for her rightful place in Sugar Rush, which is largely made up of racing girls - not boys. The aesthetics are a marvel: the racers’ outfits and vehicles may be sugary, but they aren’t princess-y and they aren’t racing on some simplistic puff course either. These girls know how to compete and they talk trash. They want to win - and they aren’t cheering on the sidelines for their man.
It honestly made me tear up - SPOILER ALERT - when Vanellope was transformed into a princess after winning her race, but opted to abolish her dolled up status and instead be President of Sugar Rush. Do you understand the sub-text here? Are you listening, America? Women, girls, OUR GIRLS, they don’t want to be princesses - they want to be president.
And then there’s Calhoun. An argument has been made online and elsewhere that she’s modeled after Samus Aran of Metroid. That could be true, but here’s a key difference: she’s not in hiding. You know she’s a woman. You know she’s in charge. It isn’t some big shocker at the end of the movie that Hero’s Duty has always been led by a strong, tough woman.
And - SPOILER ALERT - it was her husband who got shot, because she failed to take care of him. She put her gun away and he needed rescuing. Not the other way around.
The primary male characters, Ralph and Felix, love these women for these very reasons. They admire them, respect them and even fall for them - because they are a true representation of our modern social relationships. It’s OK for men to be sensitive. It’s OK for them to wreck things and then feel badly about it later. It’s OK for a short dude to fall in love with a taller woman. And most of all: it’s OK for men to ask women for help.
After seeing this movie, I want to play these games. And you know what? So does my boyfriend. And my brother. And my dude friends. Sugar Rush looks like a riot. Hero’s Duty may just be the very FIRST first-person shooter I have ever been interested in. And yes, I want to find an arcade right now and hand over my quarters for Ralph and Felix.
I know many haters will say, well, Ralph is the main character - and therefore sold the movie. Yeah, I agree and you’re right. But this is why the lesson here is so critically important. The gaming industry can continue to sell their games with strong men on the covers, posters and in commercials. When you play, the men can continue to be the primary characters - but I promise you - your game will be better AND more likable if you surround your male characters with women that matter.
Last, but certainly not least, I need to give the filmmakers props for the fact that girls were playing games in the Litwak arcade in equal number to boys. And EVERY kind of game. Not just the “soft” games or the games marketed to them. (Hey Nintendo, we are gamers too.)
Wreck-It Ralph was a joy to watch, but also a major wake up call for me. If we are ever going to see a video game industry with likable and respectable female archetypes, we may just need to bring in some new voices. I think Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack MacBryer, John C. Reilly, Director Rich Moore, screenwriters Phil Johnston and Jessica Lee might just be a great start.