My video game Friday posts have gotten off to a nice start. My mixed feelings about The Dig didn’t preclude me enjoying the game, thankfully. I’m navigating through King’s Quest I now and it’s… weird. More of that anon, as they say. They like to say “anon” a lot.
I wanted to sit down now though and write a quick post about one of the characters in The Dig. The lady character, specifically. I thought about talking about Maggie in the post itself but it was already getting quite long and I’m not sure that any kind of serious attempt to discuss the game’s portrayal of a central female character was going to fit in with the “I liked it but I didn’t like it but ultimately I liked it” vibe that post ended up giving out.
One of the reasons The Dig worked for me is because I knew very little about it. Early in the game, it appeared to be a video game adaptation of Armageddon, one of the worst films ever made, or possibly Deep Impact, a terrible film that still wasn’t as bad as Armageddon. I had no idea it was going to end up being a surprisingly limited adventure on a weird alien planet with a fantastic ending that referred to alternate dimensions and talked about travelling between Spacetime Four and Spacetime Six without irony. I also had no idea what was going to happen with the characters and so assumed that all five would be important for the entirety of the game. Not so. The mechanic guy and the senator that had a slightly troubling relationship with the mission’s flying supply closet both disappear from the narrative early on, leaving us with three characters: Grey tips with an extra dollop of leadership, Boston Low; stereotypically clinical German, Brink; intrepid journalist with a range of research skills one would not expect from a member of the Fourth Estate, Maggie.
There are a lot of things about Maggie that are… that are just so nineties. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I love the nineties. It does date her, though. She’s a journalist, she’s sharp, she’s witty and she won’t take sass from the men. However, to the writers’ credit, she isn’t simply a female character with a one-note recurring statement of independence. Most of her interactions with the other characters rest on a believable conviction borne of her own independence that is, for the most part, gender independent.
For example, Maggie bails on Low shortly after they land on the alien planet, magically travelling to some other area before Low has solved the puzzles to get there himself (don’t think about it too hard), stating that she doesn’t see any point in sticking together. What’s nice about this is that it sends Low into a minor panic. As the team member with the military background, he’s unsure how to handle civilians that decide to bugger off and ignore him. Maggie’s decision to strike out on her own is also a problem for his masculine sense of chivalry. Who will protect her? Maggie isn’t bothered by notions of Low’s supposed ability to protect either of them, and takes off. Her decision has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman. Low’s reaction has everything to do with the fact that he’s a man, and a military man in particular.
Maggie certainly has her moments when the gender issue lands on the nose a little too squarely, when she openly challenges Low’s concern for her as being determined by the fact that he sees her as a member of the weaker sex in need of protection. For the most part she ignores it, spending the game learning a complex alien language in a matter of hours. This doesn’t make sense, but neither does the fact that the team sent to save the planet from an incoming meteor brought an embedded journalist (another trope that feels very, very nineties).
Towards the end of the game, Maggie starts to make interesting decisions that make Low seem boring in comparison, to the point that I am increasingly coming around to the idea that this was intentional on the part of the writers. Seeing Brink’s descent into horrific addiction, or possibly even his resurrection as something inhuman, she informs Low that she doesn’t want to be resurrected no matter what. Of the three characters she has shown the most agency. Brink’s overtly masculine desire to displace Low as leader of the group led him to falling into trouble in the first place. Low’s agency is extremely limited. He wants to get home and considers that the next step of his mission; choice isn’t an issue for Low. Maggie, however, actively chooses to accept death over the newly discovered alternative provided by the “life crystals.”
This becomes particularly interesting with the game’s ending, with Maggie’s decision to sacrifice herself for Low intentionally telegraphed ahead of time to the player. Low has spent the game agonizing over how to take care of Maggie, but ultimately it is Maggie that saves him. Let’s play a little game here and switch some characters around. If Low or even Brink sacrificed themselves for Maggie to go on alone, it would present a completely different message. Low, by dying, finally saves the woman in his last manly act. Maggie, who has rejected such a worldview for herself and criticized it in Low, sacrifices herself not as some kind of emulation of Low’s supposed chivalry but as a genuine act of sacrifice for a fellow human being. Truth be told, we hit the bumpers here a little. What is Maggie’s motivation for taking the shot ahead of Low? I suppose it’s that she’s a good person? Fair enough, but it seems that the writers pulled a bit of a fast one on us here. Still, I can’t complain too much. I think the end result worked well.
The Dig is a game that seeks to do some interesting things, and though I remain convinced of its many flaws the game has been growing on me since I completed it. Maggie’s character is genuinely interesting, and though based on a slightly cringeworthy archetype of the spunky female journalist emerges as by far the most interesting and most genuinely independent character in the game. In that sense, she’s a triumph.