Ashley Graham, Leon’s ally in resident Evil 4is one of the most unbearable and problematic characters in the games. Reduced to the role of the helpless maiden, the girl has become infamous in the community, with players going so far as to let her be captured or killed on purpose. The problem with Ashley goes beyond being unbearable and hopefully the character will be reworked for the Resident Evil 4 remake.
At some point in development, it appears that Ashley was intended to be Leon’s sidekick — the helper who helps the protagonist on his journey. We meet her at the church at the beginning of the game, and from then on, she spends almost the entire journey by our side. However, the girl practically does not collaborate with the player in the adventure. She is, unfortunately, more of a burden than anything else.
Understandably, the 20-year-old daughter of the President of the United States has no tactical knowledge. Having grown up in what was most likely a reality of privileges and perks, it’s totally natural not to know how to use weapons to defend yourself and find yourself swept up in a situation where a shadowy organization wants to capture you at all costs.
The point is that Ashley does not evolve during the narrative, limited to, in any and all situations, being totally helpless and in a state of despair. Talking always between sobs and crying voice, the girl constantly calls for the player’s help, with her shrill “Leon, help me!”.
And here’s the problem: I, as a player, spent the entire game wanting to tell her to shut up. And I hated seeing myself in this place.
Even the way Ashley was programmed seems to irritate her. With disoriented movements, the ally constantly enters in front of the player, hindering movement and putting itself in dangerous situations. Faced with this, I created the habit of asking her to stay still at the beginning of the room until I eliminated the enemies in the area and it was safe to proceed.
More than the first encounter with the tenebrous Regenerator, the most uncomfortable situation for me in Resident Evil 4 happened in the sequence where you have to defend a house from a zombie horde. Upon meeting Ashley, the first thing Luis Sera says is, “I see the president has equipped his daughter with a lot of ballistics” — and at that moment, the camera pans down to focus on the girl’s breasts. It was then that I realized that, well, not only half the cast (and monsters) want to capture Ashley as someone who has the opportunity to sexualize her.
The defenseless maiden archetype is one of the most recurrent in games. By putting them in situations where they need to be rescued, this type of representation disempowers female characters, restricting them from power to be heroines.
In her article “Gendered Media: The Influence of Media on Views of Gender”, Julia T. Wood analyzes the underrepresentation of women in the media, a primary way in which reality is distorted. The author argues that “the constant distortion leads us to believe that there really are more men than women and, furthermore, that men are the cultural norm.”
“Typically, men are portrayed as active, adventurous, powerful, sexually aggressive and largely uninvolved in human relationships,” the author points out. “Equally consistent with cultural views of gender are depictions of women as sex objects, who are often young, thin, beautiful, passive, dependent, and often incompetent and dumb” — and the fact that this description fits Ashley perfectly doesn’t make me wrong. surprise.
Sarah Projansky highlights in her book “Spetacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture” how central media representation is in society, being able to transform girls and women into “fabulous and scandalous visual objects on display”. The impact of female representation like the one present in Resident Evil 4 has the same effect and, therefore, must be problematized.
Projansky also warns that an unrepresentative media representation “serves as a warning to all women that failure is a constant possibility, something that must be avoided through continuous dedication”. In other words, distorted female representations reiterate that it is necessary to respond to social expectations about women’s bodies and behavior.
The impact and importance of representation in games and in any other form of media is undeniable. Therefore, seeing hypersexualized characters, assistants, escorts, non-actors and submissives, like Ashley, should become a thing of the past.