Max Boucherat on having girl gamers in The Last Life of Lori Mills

"My characters are girls because girls play games!!"


While girls do play games, video games are still often associated with boys. So when Max Boucherat wrote a middle-grade novel that showcases their love of gaming, we have to ask why they chose to have female main characters. The Last Life of Lori Mills is a wonderful adventure filled with heartwarming and funny scenes, and it’s definitely Max’s love letter to gaming.

This guest post is written by Max Boucherat. 

My characters are girls because girls play games!!

And, honestly, I’d like to finish right there and waste the rest of the day watching Minecraft Let’s Plays on YouTube.

. . . Except that’s when I think about the non-stop harassment so many female gamers are forced to endure. I think about when the Mario film came out, and the collective freak-out from grown men on the internet unable to handle Princess Peach in trousers instead of a dress. I think about how female videogame characters are rarely allowed to simply exist, but have to be attractive as well, regardless of context.

More than that, but, recently, I’ve been playing through old games from my childhood – some of the greatest ever made! Yet it’s been startling realising how low-key hostile so many of them are to girl gamers. How they cater so heavily to men and boys.

I think of Candy Kong in her swimsuit, blowing little hearts across the screen in Donkey Kong Country.

I think of Tetra in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, when, having thoroughly proved herself as a badass pirate, she learns her true identity as a princess, whereupon she’s immediately told to sit out the entire second half of the game because “it is far too dangerous” for her. Only to get captured anyway and imprisoned in a tower awaiting rescue.

I remember, as well, the UK advert for the original Halo, proudly boasting of all of its 10/10 scores, and also a 0/10 from Michelle-from-Bolton (quote: “I had a boyfriend until Halo came out”). I remember The Cheatmistress, the scantily clad uzi wielding CGI lady who advertised cheat codes at the back of the Nintendo magazine I used to buy. And, speaking of NGC Magazine, I remember how their mascot, Enjiki, was an anime lady in a skintight jumpsuit (“She’ll be enticing you into various sections of the magazine.”).


All of this said, this is far too big a topic to cover in a short essay: attractive characters aren’t inherently bad, and some of the examples I listed are perhaps more nuanced than I let on. NGC was a great magazine! Donkey Kong Country rocks, and Tetra is one of my favourite videogame characters!

HOWEVER. Though individually they might be fairly innocuous, a million small not-a-big-deal examples can add up, swiftly, to something extremely unpleasant and unwelcoming. And so, though I want to believe that listing stuff from 20+ years ago doesn’t necessarily say anything about now, it makes me wonder how today’s children will reflect back on gaming culture in 2024 once they reach their twenties and thirties.

I want to believe things have gotten better. I also want to believe I simply hallucinated a bunch of YouTubers whining about how Princess Peach showing even the slightest hint of agency fatally undermines Mario’s masculinity or whatever the heck. It’s unsettling, in a similar way that all the stuff I listed above unsettles me.

And so my characters are girls who just happen to enjoy videogames, with no expectations placed on them about how they should act or look or feel as a consequence of that. And though I know it’s not much – it is, after all, just one book – I hope, for the children who read it, that it at least counts for something.

The Last Life of Lori Mills by Max Boucherat is out July 4, 2024. (Harper Collins Children’s Books).


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