Feminism: The Elusive Female Figure In Firewatch

Firewatch is a digital version of the adventure-game genre. The game has many tropes and elements that are similar to the storyline. Henry, the protagonist, is a forrester who takes up a summer job in order to escape his own personal struggles. The game moves from the idealized heteronormative life to the tragic reality that Julia is already ill. Alzheimer’s Disease and Henry DUI conviction. Henry is removed from the society when he arrives in the forest. He is then confined to a watchtower. Delilah – Henry’s elusive but only companion – is never seen onscreen, although she delegate Henry’s tasks. Henry’s fondness for frontier life does not matter as the simulation is set up to mimic a walk. The simulation structure is made more dangerous by the first breakage of a window. (Campo Santo). Throughout the rest of game, you will alternate between genres. The game uses horror themes to offset its tranquil setting. Firewatch concludes with the destruction and reemergence of Henry, Delilah and society.

Firewatch is a game that uses the feminist lens as a narrative to help determine its theme. Campo Santo was trying to show the male maturation process through incendiary environments. Henry must flee the environment after the trials. Evan Watts is a Gender Studies scholar. According to him, Digital Games with male protagonists domineering in anti-utopian society subset masculine tropes such as Protectionism and control allocation to aid in engendering female autonomy. Campo Santo might appear to be a supporter of the masculine tropes Watts identified as masculine idealism, but feminism’s perspective on empowerment subverts those initial images. Firewatch’s dialogue options reflect a play between masculine themes and disillusionment from masculine themes to create a feminist criticism on emancipation. Evan Watts’s article, “Ruin, Gender and Digital Games”, aims to subvert the democracy of conventional digital game society to expose its misogynistic regulation. Watts uses 3 paradigms as a means to illustrate the fallacy Patriarchy in describing women. These paradigms generate two important concepts that characterize masculine idealism: Protectionism (or the notion of a male figure protecting a female from the corruption of society) and control. The idea of protecting a female is the male’s duty to keep her innocent from being corrupted by society. The control is a masculine response to the suppression of feminine desires by men in order to maintain dominance over women. Firewatch’s feminist perspective reflects the dichotomous concept.

In Firewatch’s preamble dialogue options are given that define Henry and his personality. This will help the player make systematic decisions for the rest of Firewatch. The linear narrative is framed with anticipation up until Julia’s condition accelerates. Henry is presented with two options to handle Julia’s severe illness. “You can either decide to put her in a full-time care facility, or you are prepared to care for her on your own” (Campo Santo). These options represent the masculine protectionist philosophy that men use to suppress women’s independence. Henry’s actions immortalize Julia’s victimization. Julia’s admission to a retirement home brings out Watts’s feminine associations. Watts says that marginalizing women forces them to assume roles of domesticity. Campo Santo turns Julia into a kismet terminally ill victim to show how women are defrauded by denying their voices. Henry is playing the role of a male protector in this case, and Julia is being oppressed. The patriarchal model of the protector gives men the traits of infallibility, strength and persistence. This is what makes them the guardians over women. Campo Santo defines Julia as Henry perceives her by refusing to reveal Julia’s infirmity. Julia’s openness is part of a society which values masculine intelligence and undermines women’s intelligence. The Patriarchy is based on the subordination trope in Firewatch. This evolves when Julia obeys Henry. Watts examines BioShock, a digital game that Watts believes is a metaphor for the male-dominated oversight. The female characters of Bioshock are presented as “Little Sisters” or children.

The Little Sisters are a perfect example of the victimization trope, with their disfigurement that is purposefully created and their need for parental guidance as children (Watts 253-255). The Little Sisters’ apparent return to infantile stages is a parody on Julia. The metaphor of a female child is sufficient to convey the inferiority of women. Firewatch successfully subverts masculine conservatism by making Julia Henry’s burden. Henry’s neglect in providing Julia with care is the result of each scenario. Henry’s laziness in Julia’s rehabilitation reflects the failure of patriarchal paternalism. Campo Santo outlines options for Julia to be rescued from a male supervisor that traps her into a condition of incompetence. “You can either put a chair next to the door of the room or trust her to sleep soundly” (Campo Santo). Henry’s paternalistic power is reduced by the first choice. Instead of frequently watching Julia or preventing her from leaving, Henry allows Julia to arbitrarily seal the bedroom. “You put the chair infront of the door to your bedroom” (Campo Santo). Julia’s metaphorical infancy is a little bit ripped away by the fact that she can escape from the room. Julia’s leaving the room has a positive effect on women, as the patriarchy is regressing in the way it restricts them. The chair serves as a symbol for female empowerment despite patriarchal obstacles. The chair is therefore a metaphor for definite or indefinite barriers to the hypothetical possibility of containing or unobscuring Julia.

Watt’s analogy for deconstruction. Watt 250): “The destruction of a building like this signifies freedom from an oppressive cultural system.” Henry’s weakening of the door marks the beginning of the destabilization patriarchal rules that force women to become family devotees. Campo Santo’s destabilizing of the second paradigm orchestrates Julia’s total liberation from paternalism. The room is a symbol for this. You believe she will sleep like a log (Campo Santo). Henry’s failure to understand the importance of locking the door undermines its security.

Watts claims that the absence of existing architectural borders is a sign that women are not being suppressed from a toxic society (Watts 251). Henry reinstates Julia’s confidence, believing she can exist independently of an engineered symbiotic relationship. The return of women’s confidence implies that men are less likely to be able to fulfill the protective role. The women are treated as individuals, and no longer as the children they were portrayed to be. The story progresses at the same time as the game diminishes the masculine protectionist theme. Firewatch shows similarities to BioShock when it comes to subverting misogynistic protectionism with the advancement of narrative. Watts says that the game reverts to the feminine power dominance in society, which has been a source of confusion. The Big Daddies being subordinated to Little Sisters upsets the patriarchal stereotype of a female who needs protection from men (Watts, 255). The game mechanic transcends the fetishization that women are helpless children and makes them the evaluators of men. Firewatch uses a metaphor in order to give women control over men. In Day one, Firewatch offers a variety of dialogue options explaining Delilah’s appearance. “You’ve murdered three husbands. You’re a black widow. You’re only out here to kill until the heat goes down. Henry seems to be aligned with a patriarchal agenda when he compares Delilah to an asexual spider.

Delilah’s feminine image is transformed into a repulsive, imagined image by the comparison with a spider. Delilah usurps Henry’s control and suspends his demeaning illustration by making him follow her orders. Campo Santo elevates Henry’s role to that of a token inferiority, demonstrating the ascendance of women. Watts uses Silent Hill: Shattered Memories as a way to extrapolate the masculine inferiority. The game’s mechanics are manipulated by a woman to paralyze the player, who then becomes the male character. “It’s a technique that puts players in the position of victims, instead of being dominant, and demands their acknowledgement” (Watt 256). Silent Hill defies convention by assigning authority to a woman who is not present and taking away the ability of a male protagonist to mount any counterattack. The game forces the men to play predetermined servant roles that were previously associated with women. Silent Hill has a lot in common with Firewatch because the survival of a male protagonist relies on the character’s omnipotence. Firewatch subverts masculine obsession with control by limiting the power partition to women. Firewatch uses a close-reading of the metaphor in order to set a precedent that validates women’s sexual desires. Delilah is compared to a black-headed widow, which engages Delilah’s predatory instincts. “You’ve murdered three husbands” Women’s predatory tendencies show a newfound autonomy in their desire to be promiscuous, and they are a direct challenge to male desires. This dialogue option is an early stage of flirtation. It implies Henry’s romantic illusions of Delilah. Delilah takes control over the intimacy they have and interrupts the tradition of male sexualized reverie. The black-widow analogy reduces the male to a mere pawn, in favor of the female and their domestic vision. The fantasies of males are to blame for the flirtatious advances made by women in Silent Hill. “For example if you spend a lot time looking at sexual images and answer therapy questions so that they indicate a lustful persona, then the monsters begin to assume female forms”(Watts 260).

The representation of women in a malignant manner is a form of revenge against their abject and sexist evaluation. Silent Hill offers women a chance to escape their sexual shame and to intimate males with an ironic portrayal. Silent Hill’s and Firewatch’s main focus is to subvert the trope that women are attracted by attractive females in order for them to abuse their dominance over males. Delilah serves as Julia’s foil in that she doesn’t need the approval of men to dictate her relationship aspirations. Julia’s character is the vehicle through which a narrative is guided. Julia is an entity that represents the domestic expectations American women have in a relationship. “So, how do you feel about children?” Julia’s father is giving her permission to become a more relevant authority in the game. Campo Santo assures Henry that Julia will be his first romantic interest to exploit patriarchal perceptions of American families. Delilah challenges the patriarchal application in a way that forces Henry to ask for permission before embarking on any quest. “Your job is to do whatever I tell you” (Campo Sante). Campo Santo presents Delilah’s flirtatious behavior without expecting Delilah to become attached to men. Delilah is released from the relationship obligation by fleeing the forest before Henry. “I couldn’t bear to stay there another minute”

The feminism movement has made it normal for women to have an attraction towards men without having to worry about the consequences of marriage. The evolution of feminist movements is reflected in the direct contrasts between both female characters. Firewatch has been classified as a game that is progressive. Firewatch’s overtly masculine imagery is deceptive to its audience. Masculinity becomes subset when obtuse feminism is projected by female characters. Watts subordinates, protectionism and allocates control tropes to express masculinity fatigue in American culture. Watts, Campo Santo and others have observed the subversions of patriarchal tropes in order to strengthen female empowerment. The fire represents the forced removal of man from the masculine exhibitions on the open frontiers in society.


  • adamlewis

    Adam Lewis is a 34-year-old school teacher and blogger who focuses on education. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida. Lewis has been teaching since 2004 and has taught in both public and private schools. He is currently a teacher at a private Christian school in Florida.