Jade – Beyond Good & Evil

This episode of our series on Positive Female Characters focuses on Jade, the protagonist of Ubisoft’s 2003 action-adventure game Beyond Good & Evil. We examine how plot elements, gameplay mechanics and smart dialogue work together to make Jade a relatable protagonist who is defined by her professional talents, her altruistic convictions, and her bonds with friends.

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This episode of our series on Positive Female Characters focuses on Jade, the protagonist of Ubisoft’s 2003 action-adventure game Beyond Good & Evil. We examine how plot elements, gameplay mechanics and smart dialogue work together to make Jade a relatable protagonist who is defined by her professional talents, her altruistic convictions, and her bonds with friends.


Jade: My name is Jade. And I haven’t the foggiest how we’re gonna get out of here.

Jade is the protagonist of the 2003 third-person action adventure game Beyond Good & Evil. She’s a brave photojournalist who sets out to uncover a conspiracy between alien invaders and her own corrupt government.

Jade: They’re coming! Quick, Venn, jump up!

We start getting a sense of who Jade is from the moment we see her, and refreshingly…

Jade: Go tell Pey’j! I’ll take care of the shield.

…she actually looks the part of the active, practical young woman of color who has a job to do.

Computer 1: Shield activated.

We learn about who characters are not just from the things they say and do, but also from how they look: visual design is an important way for game designers to communicate information at a glance about a character’s experience and personality traits. Sadly, women in games are often depicted in wildly impractical, sexualized clothing designed to make them appealing to straight male players. But Jade isn’t designed to fulfill someone else’s fantasy. The midriff top is a little silly, but for the most part, she looks like someone who is dressed to accommodate her own needs. I mean, you don’t get much more practical than cargo pants.

Games often give us heroes who are either fantastically wealthy, like the Bruce Waynes and Lara Crofts of the world, or who at least don’t have practical, everyday concerns about money. But money is not just an abstract concept for Jade. She’s a working class character with real financial struggles. This is established at the very beginning of the game, when we learn that the orphanage’s electricity has been shut off, and Uncle Pey’j’s hovercraft is in dire need of repair.

Computer 1: Shield disabled.
Computer 2: Your Optima account is…

Computer 1: 350

Computer 2: …units short. Your electrical supply has just been blocked.

Jade: You’ve got to be joking!

These are characters who struggle just to make ends meet, and for them, concerns about their economic situation have real implications for their ability to provide for themselves and their adopted family.

Jade: We’re stuck here. No hovercraft, no shield. Optima has cut off the power, the account is empty.

In order to pay the bills, we’re introduced to a mechanic that establishes one of Jade’s creative talents: photography. Throughout the game, she is paid to document and catalogue the diverse animal life on the planet with her camera.

Science Center Director: Hi Jade. I see Secundo already talked to you about the job. The war is taking its toll. We need a complete inventory of all species living on the planet.

Instead of just showing or offhandedly telling us about her skills in cutscenes, the designers have built character development right into the gameplay, giving players a pleasant, nonviolent way of interacting with and appreciating the beauty of the game’s world while simultaneously reinforcing that Jade is a woman of many talents. Edge Magazine insightfully observed that part of what makes Jade so memorable is “the fact that she views this strange world and all of its careworn inhabitants through the lens of a camera, rather than the scope of an assault rifle.”

Pey’j: Hey, Jade! A school of blue scorpion fish!

This not only gives Jade more depth, but also encourages the player to view the lifeforms of Hillys with some measure of respect, rather than seeing them solely as enemies to be destroyed.

Science Center Director: From the same family as the scorpion fish. Very difficult to photograph.

While many games center on so-called “heroes” who are out for personal glory or revenge, Beyond Good & Evil’s narrative establishes Jade’s altruistic desire to achieve social justice. It’s worth noting that Jade avoids falling into the tired cliché of the tough as nails, solve-all-problems-with-violence “strong female character” archetype. Her quest is not about her pain, nor is it about taking satisfaction in exacting violent retribution.

Jade: If there’s a way to stop this war, we can’t let it pass us by.

It’s about protecting her world and the people she cares about, and unlike so many one-dimensional brooding heroes who are characterized by their own suffering, Jade does not wear the mantle of hero like a heavy burden; instead she retains her warmth and humanity over the course of her quest.

Pey’j: Ha ha ha! Not bad for a little girl and an old ham!

Jade: We did it Pey’j! Heh. Not bad for an old fart.

Together with Uncle Pey’j, a mechanically savvy anthropomorphized boar, Jade looks after a group of war-orphaned children, sheltering them in a lighthouse on the mining planet of Hillys.Though Hillys is, on the surface, a colorful and inviting place, not all is well in this world. We learn early on that an alien race has been attacking and abducting residents.

Reporter: Here on Hillys, war has once again reared its ugly head, striking the civilian population. Luckily our elite forces have once again arrived in the nick of time. I’m coming to you live from the southern lighthouse shelter. Here is where some of the children whose parents have been captured by the Dons have been taken in by two devoted and courageous Hillyans. Miss, a word for our listeners…

Jade: Uhh…

Pey’j: Yeah, yeah. Well you guys are not what I call as fast as a speeding bullet. Keep doing nuthin’ and next time, thery’ll be nuthin’ left here to see!

Reporter: Cut!

Recruited by a resistance organization called the IRIS network, Jade uncovers a vast conspiracy between the invading aliens and the government, with the corporate news media complicit in covering up the truth.

Mino: Here’s what we know. The victims are kidnapped by Alpha Section agents. They are then taken to the Nutripills factory. Shuttles are then used to take them to the old slaughterhouses. And from there, they are loaded into military cruisers headed for the moon.

There’s a subtle but subversive political dimension to Beyond Good & Evil’s narrative which highlights the importance of questioning mass media messages and challenging institutions of power that perpetuate injustice.

As a member of a resistance group, Jade uses her talents as a photographer to collect evidence documenting the conspiracy,

Science Center Director: Upper floor? Ok, I see where you’re at. We’ll start the deciphering program.

and her combat skills to help rescue kidnapped members of the IRIS Network. But she rarely goes it alone. Jade starts out the game with Uncle Pey’j by her side, and the way the characters interact makes Pey’j feel more like a partner than a mere sidekick.

In this early scene, Jade is trapped until Pey’j appears, throwing her a staff she uses to free herself and overcome the destructive alien force.

Pey’j: Hang on Jade! I’m coming! Free yourself, Jade. I’ll create a diversion.

It may seem like a minor detail, but the fact that Pey’j tells Jade to free herself, instead of doing it for her, is incredibly important. He assists her but doesn’t rescue her. He knows that even in this situation, she’s far from helpless, and the fact that Pey’j treats her as a capable partner encourages us to see her that way, too.

This moment also evokes a sense of mutual respect and partnership between these two characters, in a way that is all too rare for female characters in gaming.

Eventually, Uncle Pey’j is kidnapped, and Jade is determined to rescue him.

As a quick side note, It’s important to point out that a kidnapped male character saved by a woman and a kidnapped female character saved by a man are not equivalent, because while a damsel in distress reinforces longstanding regressive myths about women as a group being weak or helpless specifically because of their gender, a dude in distress does not reinforce any such ideas about men. For more on the relatively rare dude in distress inversion, see part 3 of my videos on the damsel trope.

Many games present an image of bravery and courage that suggests heroes are fiercely independent, rugged individualists. In those games in which heroes do have sidekicks, those sidekicks often serve as cheerleaders and ego boosters for the player, complimenting them on their skill and accomplishments, or as impediments, preventing them from progressing to a new section until they’ve completed some task. In Beyond Good & Evil, Jade’s sidekicks, Pey’j and later Double H, feel not like cheerleaders or roadblocks but like active companions who want to use their unique skills to assist Jade when they accompany her on a mission.

Pey’j: Ha ha! Say when, Jade! Jet boots attack!

There’s a sense of both good-natured humor and respect written into the banter between Jade and her sidekicks: she’s warm but also assertive, and the tone of their interactions makes it clear that they aren’t designed just to make her or the player feel better.

Pey’j: Ok. We’re going to have to keep on our toes now, Jade.

Jade: Don’t worry, uncle Pey’j. We’ll just take some pictures and get home.

The mechanics aren’t significantly different from those associated with sidekicks in many other games: these characters fight enemies and are attacked by enemies; and often their special abilities, Pey’j’s jet boots and Double H’s bull rush, must be used to advance. But because the writing so effectively creates a sense of respect and camaraderie between Jade and her companions, these relationships become much more than simple gameplay interactions.

Pey’j: Thanks, Jade. I’d’ve ended up on a silver platter with an apple in my mouth if it wasn’t for you.

Jade: Mmmm. Shut up. You’re making me hungry. I’m gonna regret saving you.

They become a vital and memorable part of the experience of playing Beyond Good & Evil, and work to emphasize the game’s themes of friendship and cooperation.

For years there have been rumours and even a teaser trailer about a Beyond Good and Evil 2. I hope this actually happens but whether or not that sequel ever gets made, we definitely need more games with warm, compassionate, multitalented characters who have realistic and relatable concerns, and more narratives in which taking a stand against corrupt systems of power is more important than personal gain or revenge.