When ladies talk to ladies about ladies n’ stuff: The Bechdel Test in videogames

Alison Bechdel, author of the classic, queer comic Dykes to Watch Out For, is distinguished not only for her comic contributions, but for popularizing “The Bechdel Test,” a test for movies that has three requirements:

One, it has to have at least two women in it, who
Two, talk to each other about
Three, something other than a man.

Simple enough, right? Except it’s harder than one might think to find moves that follow these rules. The Bechdel Test effectively lays bare an inadequacy in the breadth of cinematic diversity, as well as the hierarchical gender-relations therein. Pitting movies against The Bechdel Test is a fun game to play with friends, as well as a tool for more serious cultural investigation. Sometimes it even yeilds exciting and unexpected passes or fails.

One of the great things about the Bechdel Test is that it is applicable to almost any creative medium. The folks over at The Gameological Society have compiled a list of 15 games that pass The Bechdel Test (with the alteration that rule number two be changed from “talk to each other” to “have a meaningful, distinct interaction with each other”). The most unexpected and awkward passing game of the bunch: WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2010. Wow.

While the Bechdel Test is an interesting lens for pop culture, it’s important to note that it’s not a “feminism test” or a test of progressive-gender-politics “goodness.” On occasion, though, it can highlight bits of female empowerment in unexpected places. Wrestling is hardly a great bastion of feminism—we’re talking about a pretend sport where tall drinks of testosterone and protein power are pressed into humanoid shape and sent to do battle. And yet, nestled deep in the heart of WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2010, we find the tiny exception that proves the rule. Here, the talented female wrestler Mickie James tells her suitor of the moment, Brian Kendrick, to take a hike so she can discuss a Women’s Championship opportunity with talented female wrestler Natalya Neidhart. The Women’s Championship is all very cordial (by pro wrestling’s standards), and there’s hardly any sexy posing. Since the game’s release, though, WWE has retired the venerable, decades-old Women’s Championship belt in favor of the new Divas Championship belt, which is shaped like a butterfly. And female wrestler storylines are nonexistent in WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2011, so this moment in the Bechdel Test sun was a brief one for the franchise.