This week, we're celebrating the female characters that supported and/or challenged Adam Jensen throughout his quest in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The representation of women in video games is a topic of much discussion in the gaming circles. As the industry matures and grows beyond the traditional gamer demographics to become more inclusive, it's worth considering how different groups of people are represented in the games we design and play.
The women of DXHR are not just pretty bunches of pixels. They have complex back stories that shape both their visual appearance and their role in Adam's life. They play into traditional archetypes - the Damsel in Distress, the Buddy, the Trickster, the Cold-Blooded Killer and the Dragon Lady - but they also subvert our expectations of what a female character should be.
Today, I delve deeper into the biography of our five leading ladies to give you a glimpse of their personality and their life before the events of the game. I've also asked Art Director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête to explain how the narrative background of each character translated into distinct visual designs, using concept art by Jim Murray and Brian Dugan to show the evolution of the artistic process.
WARNING: Some mild spoilers ahead. If you haven't played the game yet, what are you waiting for?
Dr. Megan Reed is a scientific genius, a leader in the field of human enhancement technologies, and the most prominent neuroscientist working for Sarif Industries. She is in her early thirties; Caucasian; attractive in a simplistic, unadorned manner, and completely unaware of how good-looking she is.
Reed and Jensen had a very intense 4-year relationship that both believed would end in marriage. She was leading an important research project at the time and, in a moment of desperation, used Jensen's genetic material without his knowledge to complete it. In the process she discovered that Jensen was a genetic anomaly, and became so focused on studying his genes that ultimately, she lost sight of their relationship. The couple grew distant; eventually Jensen ended the relationship.
Her personality was shaped by her upbringing. Her parents were also doctors, who decided early on that nothing would interfere with their work. Often left on her own, Megan took refuge in her intelligent imagination, developing a rich inner life at the expense of interpersonal socialization. She is therefore turned inwards, intelligent and single-minded, but also somewhat selfish, naive and lonely.
While she's camped into the role of love interest and is the driving force of Adam's quest in the game, from her point of view, her feeling for her ex-lover are layered and complex and do not override her own career goals. She has always wanted to work for Hugh Darrow, whose work impressed her early in her studies. Her entire life has been dedicated to that objective, her focus so intense that she lost some perspective on other aspects of her life... like Adam.
A petite woman in her late-20s with Arabic features, Faridah Malik is the chief helicopter pilot for Sarif Industries. She is a third-generation American born in Dearborn, Michigan. Faridah likes a bit of danger, a touch of risk. When she was young, she was a cowgirl and later a jockey. Her friends took her skydiving for her eighteenth birthday, and after that, horses just weren't exciting enough. She decided she wanted to be a commercial pilot, and since planes were too cumbersome, she chose helicopters. She generally pilots her chopper faster and closer to the ground than necessary. When confronted on this, she will at first ignore the criticism, and when that no longer works, will feign innocence as a way of pushing social boundaries.
Although she's usually easy-going, it doesn't take much to get Faridah's back up. If she thinks she's been insulted, she'll cuss you out fit to turn a sailor's ears red. If she thinks you're being stupid, she won't hesitate to tell you so, possibly even striking you if she thinks you deserve it. She'll often regret it afterward, though, and she doesn't hold a grudge.
Adventurous, spiritual and short-tempered, Faridah is a faithful practicing Muslim. She truly believes that every day on this Earth is a gift from Allah, and counts herself blessed that He has chosen to make her a talented pilot. She respects the faiths of others, and neither advertises nor proselytizes, expecting the same respect in return
As far as the world is concerned, Eliza Cassan is a beautiful newscaster, somewhere between her mid-20s and 30s, a trusted 'friend' who is intelligent and sexy, eccentric and engaging all at once. Of course, we find out during the course of the game that she is not entirely what she seems. Eliza is a construct, a sentient AI initially designed as a simple data-mining tool to help researchers at Picus Communications sift and parse the endless tide of information being generated on the Internet. Her ability to see the spread of data as a whole eventually caused her to exceed her original programming; soon Eliza was not just gathering data for her masters, she was also somehow altering it to enhance the emotional content. Picus' news ratings skyrocketed, so Eliza was encouraged to keep going.
Eliza views her work at Picus as a kind of performance art. She's had no moral compass written into her, so while she understands on an intellectual level that what she's doing might be wrong, she isn't terribly concerned. In many ways, Eliza is just naïve and lacking in emotional maturity. The need to gather information colors everything she does, so in any situation, from commonplace to life-threatening, she will be looking to understand, to seek out new knowledge and hoard it. In the end, given her questing curiosity and sense of wonder about the world, Eliza comes across as trusting and rather childlike. Without a true character of her own, Eliza tends to revert to a 'shadow' aspect of those she is speaking to; that is, she mimics the personality of others around her, sometimes even down to the patterns of speech. The stronger the persona, the more likely she is to emulate it.
With an athletic build and statuesque, augmented height of 6'7", 26 year-old Yelena Fedorova is a trained assassin, part of the elite team of mercenaries working for Belltower. A black woman with a cut of shoulder-length, spiky black hair, she's rarely seen out of her combat gear. Her only affectation is a silver cross on a chain around her neck, a family heirloom of great personal value. Interestingly, Fedorova's biography evolved back and forth between the narrative and art teams: that silver cross first appeared on a piece of concept art, which inspired James Swallows to weave it into the story.
Born in the former Russian state of Georgia in 2001, Yelena grew up as a rebellious child among a community of Ethnic Russians who opposed Georgia's independence. While she was still a teenager, a series of violent clashes forced Yelena and her family to seek refuge in the hills. Unfortunately, in one terrible night, Yelena saw all of her loved ones ruthlessly attacked and killed. Something inside her snapped. Working under the cover of night, she laid a trap for the soldiers responsible and massacred every last one of them. She was rescued in the morning by Belltower operatives and since that day has not uttered a word.
Deep down inside, Yelena hides a murderous, directionless anger stemming from that terrible night. She also feels hollow and sees Belltower as a replacement for her family. Well aware of being one of few women in a man's world, Yelena has become adept at vigilance and is cautious of everything around her; she's not easy to sneak up on, and usually has a plan for every eventuality. When she moves, she does so with unexpected agility, speed, and grace - a sleepy-eyed cobra uncoiling rapidly as it strikes. Because of her past, she is especially careful about avoiding civilian casualties.
A petite and elegant Chinese woman in her early 40s, Zhao Yun Ru is the president of Tai Yong Medical. She moves with a careful, fluid grace that's almost cat-like and is comfortable in both corporate power-dress and traditional Chinese garb. It's only her eyes, cold and hard, that betray her true character. Yun Ru is arrogant, manipulative, driven, and uninhibited, but she's a paper tiger. She believes she is fearless, but the real truth is that she has never truly faced something dangerous.
Yun Ru was raised in an environment of wealth and privilege. As she reached her 20th birthday, she had won several medals and been accepted into China's Olympic gymnastics team for 2008, but her dream crumbled into dust when she was hit by a car a few months before the Games. While in hospital, Yun Ru encountered other victims of injuries far worse than her own and realized that medical technology would be a growth area in China in the coming years. Despite her mother's concerns, Yun Ru asked to be given Tai Yong Medical, a somewhat plodding company based in Shanghai that specialized in human interface technologies and the still-new science of mechanical augmentation.
To the surprise of her family, Yun Ru not only took on control of Tai Yong with gusto, but she doubled its profits in months. With the same single-minded, mercenary attitude she had shown as an athlete, she channeled her bitterness and anger into her new career, with little regard for niceties or legalities.
On some level, Yun Ru still thinks of herself as the pretty little gymnast girl she was in her teens, and subconsciously strives to recapture what was the golden moment of her life. As such, she spends huge amounts of money on an expensive beauty regimen and dislikes discussing the concept of age or the passage of time.