Seawolf Slug: The Bechdel Test, and why you humans should take note A&E seawolf slug Full view

Seawolf Slug: The Bechdel Test, and why you humans should take note

Graphic by Roz Kirkelie
Graphic by Roz Kirkelie
Before I begin this article, I should point out one thing: We slugs are mono-gender and asexual. There’s no boy, girl, man or woman. There is only slug.

That fact makes this kind of topic very difficult to discuss as a slug, because all I know about feminism comes from George’s head, and truth be told, he doesn’t think too much about it. I think it’s a bit disturbing that there’s a sector of the human population being mistreated, abused and discriminated against, and while George acknowledges this, it doesn’t cross his mind very often.

That is, it didn’t cross his mind until we watched a TED Talk video he had discovered (a highly recommended watch, view it here: regarding a little thing called the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test was formulated by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” The test applies to entertainment, be it films, or games, or novels, or anything like that. In order to pass this test, a work must…

A) Feature two named, female characters,

B) who talk to each other at some point in the work,

and C) about something other than a man.

Seems pretty simple. Two women who just talk about stuff. It obviously happens. But you’d be surprised at the sheer amount of works that miserably fail the test. “Argo,” last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture? Fails the Bechdel Test. “The Avengers,” a classic, textbook example of summer blockbuster entertainment? That fails it too. Even a modern masterpiece with a great, strong female protagonist, “Gravity,” fails the test.

But George, being the massive nerd he is, wanted to take it a step further and see if the test applied at all to the world of video gaming, and the results are pretty bleak. In our studies, we could count the number of games that passed on George’s own two hands. And out of all of them, there’s only one outstanding example in the triple-A gaming industry: the “Mass Effect” series.

The games center around Commander Shepard, who can be either male or female depending on the player, as he/she tries to end century-long conflicts and unite the galaxy to fight the Reapers, sentient machines bent on cleansing the galaxy of intelligent life.

Shepard is a bit of a dubious example; as we said before, the character can be either male or female, with the choice of gender only coming into play when optional romantic quests start. But in a way, that’s kind of inspiring; regardless of gender, Shepard ends up fighting to bring peace to the galaxy, and regardless of how sympathetic or cold the player’s choices are, he/she always does the right thing.

But the games don’t stop there. The many female characters in Shepard’s crew, both alien and human, play off of each other and have chemistry, discussing histories, strategies and other personal things that don’t necessarily have to do with men.

It’s a bit shameful that I have to praise someone just for creating female characters like this, but our hats are off to you, BioWare. If only other artists — in any medium, games or otherwise — would follow in your footsteps.

But off the topic of “Mass Effect” again, the man in the TED video brought up a very important statistic: One out of five women in America claim to have been sexually assaulted in their lives.

The speaker brought up an important question that relates to that statistic: Who are these sexual assailants? What are they learning, and where are they learning it?

He mentioned the Netflix Queue as being a powerful tool in showing movies to children, with parents being able to filter out kids’ films that pass the Bechdel Test. Films where instead of a man going out, beating the bad guy and rescuing the girl, it’s a woman (or a man) who raises a team of both men and women to make the world a better place. And there are kids’ films like that.

But as a kid, George grew up with games. They were one of the primary centers of his childhood. And as George thinks about games that he would want his children to play, there’s none there that pass the test (“Mass Effect” is far from child-friendly).

So both he and I think that we need family-friendly games like that. For his kids, he wants less “Call of Duty” or “Devil May Cry” and more something that’s nicer. Maybe not entirely non-violent, but still not as gung-ho or manly. Because any story where the human race unites and makes the world a better place is good for us.

And if we slugs have to assimilate you all to unite everything, we may as well.


Written by George Hyde

Gaming fanatic, brain-slug enthusiast, and collegiate reporter. Man, that's a mouthful.


  • I agree with what you say, and I think it’s really interesting to apply it to video games. I just want to point out, that sometimes a movie that is feminist friendly may not pass the blechdel test, and vice versa. Don Jon, for example, is has a good message but still fails. Machete kills passes the bechdel, and that is a violent shoot ’em up film. (Haven’t seen it so I can’t say one way or the other on the message it may have)

    There’s a new test that some people have been discussing, called the Mako Mori test. It is supposed to be for women of color in the cinema.

    “The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.”

    Gravity does pass this test!

    There’s a lot of tools used to critque media, and I think you’re discussion of bechdel was really thought out.


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