My Appearance could eat your Constitution for Breakfast – Some thoughts on Gaming and Gender

I’ve been reading a lot this evening.  A lot of stuff about pop culture, gaming and stereotyping, little bits on political correctness and all that jazz.

It’s been interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out what I wanted to talk about. I’ve got a lot of ideas at the moment, but I need one of them to form fully. I’ve settled on something quite broad. So this may be quite rambolic (I love portmanteau words).

So we all know I’m a gamer, and I’m interested in gender. I’ve talked about them in conjunction at least once before.

Anyway, I was apondering as I was reading, this very interesting article about gender inclusion in gaming.

Now it always winds me up when you can’t play female characters in games. It just makes more sense to be able to have anyone who might want to play be able to represent themselves, or whoever they choose to represent themselves. This is particularly relevant to online games, where your avatar becomes…well…your avatar (not a guy in tin armour with a red tabard and an ankh symbol mind…necessarily).

Anyway, I almost always play female characters. It just seems more interesting and more narratively pleasing. Plus I always hope that there’ll be some kind of interesting variation in the narrative or gameplay that the typical player might not get to see.

This rarely ever happens. Okay, so once I kind of got to have lesbian sex in Fallout 2, but only because I misinterpreted the term bath house, but that’s not exactly what I was after…honest.

Most games take the perspective of equality between male and female…so the one you choose is simply skin deep. Others, including Oblivion and Arcanum, change stats for male and female characters. Some controversy comes here. Oblivion is talked about here with stats viewable here.

The problem comes down to stereotyping. In Arcanum, it’s basically accepted that the female form of any race is less strong and more attractive. Now…more attractive is arguable…but really just plain silly. I mean…surely women are only more attractive to men, and vice versa (assuming heterosexuality…which most people do…again making assumptions). Now I guess the idea is that attractiveness weighs in more for women in a patriarchal society…like the one portrayed in both of these gaming worlds.

Hey….wait a second…why are all fantasy realms patriarchal…that’s lame too.


Obviously I’m not happy about this….I think it is solved by games that give you more control over the stats and appearance of your characters. That way you can make a beefcake ultra violent lady or a dainty young lad who likes sewing and washing up (or whatever stereotype you feel like debunking/reinforcing in a round about way today).

Now Oblivion pretty much had this…apart from the rather intriguing stats differences…you could make your character look just so. It’s great fun toying with that appearance generator…I almost found it more fun that some aspects of the game.

Then you enter the game and all character interactions and situations are the same.

All of them, (that I found).

I think that games, by being engineered for the tastes of an assumed male audience, lose so much depth. Female characters are almost always railroaded into the same chain of events and assumptions as men. It’s the old thing, that always bothers me, about female characters being empowered because they get to act like men. Rather than assuming equality and difference as being acceptable…it says ‘don’t worry ladies…you can be just like men in these worlds…you can’t complain about being unequal…for you are now as good as men….doesn’t that feel nice?’

It always pisses me off.

Gah….I think I’m not saying what I want to say….and I’m probably raising ire by not thinking this through.

Sorry, but I must continue to quest onwards and upwards.

Now…I just think there’s room for freedom and exploration of ideas in games. I think that femininity should be a part of games..but not a stereotyped aspect that dictates modes of playing.

There should be an ability to play as anyone you want to be and take routes that are different and interesting.

And when to we get to see some transgender characters? Or gay characters? Why isn’t there more options to play as anyone under the sun without having to fit into a set of narrowly defined parameters.

I know….I know…it’s all about markets and production times and the like….and also it would be difficult to create these things in an appropriate way. It’s quite a creative challenge to open up that many options and make them interesting and exploratory and fun and help people learn about difference and equality and the spectrum of human behaviour.

It’d be difficult, but it’d be worth it.

And it’d be better than just bashing the same route through the same games again and again

Balls….this has been a rubbish post and I think I’ve actually been arguing in detriment to my original point.

Go back to that link about…ok…it’s here again.  Now that’s how you write about this stuff.

About Alabaster Crippens

Learner. Guesser. Thinker and Stinker.
This entry was posted in Equality, Gaming, Geekery, gender, Gender Identity, Gender in Video Games, Gender Roles, Identity, Mild Mania, Misogyny, Nonsense, PC Games, PCRPG, Ramble, RPG, Stereotypes. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to My Appearance could eat your Constitution for Breakfast – Some thoughts on Gaming and Gender

  1. Null says:

    Not a bad post at all. It would be nice for some more blockbuster games to really think about a decent main character instead of just cheating and making them mute, unidentifiable, or removing any real personal interaction from the game.
    In fact last month’s Edge had a feature to this effect, give it a read; it’s pretty good.

  2. Ayaan says:

    Now…more attractive is arguable…but really just plain silly. I mean…surely women are only more attractive to men, and vice versa (assuming heterosexuality…which most people do…again making assumptions).

    That’s what we call heteronormativity in the social sciences.

    As for attractiveness, I think you’ll find that even most women will say that women are more attractive than men in general.

    Part of that is that women can say they think other women are attractive without it being a threat to their heterosexuality, and part of that is how society represents beauty and what is beautiful – the male gaze that feminists are always talking about is prevalent here.

    So. Not attractive in the sense that they are attracted to other women, but they accept the idea of attractiveness that they are presented. This does bring up questions of how much of what we find attractive is personal preference, and how much is cultural.

  3. Like I say…I failed to explore every avenue I wanted to in the main article.
    It is true that in my experience most women feel more comfortable talking about female attractiveness than men do talking about male attractiveness. Presumably a combination of homophobia and just plain macho attitude (would admitting another guy is attractive not simply be admitting defeat after all).
    In games I always find it strange. Attractiveness often comes into in as a statistic. I prefer D&D rules with charisma, because that makes sense…charm can work on just about anyone. But yeah…there’s a presupposition that attractiveness must be culturally determined in order for a person to have a statistical rating (still talking about gaming here). In principle it is a matter of opinion. I know that my views often veer away from the cultural norm. Partly because I find most people attractive.
    Either I’ve got low standards or I’m a very nice person.

    I always make a point of commenting when I think men are attractive, even though I am rarely attracted to them. Still…it risks being that thing (which I tried to talk about) of creating equality by demeaning both genders equally.

    Which is silly.

    Stats for attractiveness are silly, it simply can’t be an arbitrary intrinsic quality. I think I talked about this before when talking about photogenic people.

    I’m spending too long thinking about this one maybe.

    Quelle surprise.

  4. Ayaan says:

    I’m spending too long thinking about this one maybe.

    No such thing.

    And the fact that women are often minorities in fiction (literature and audio-visual media) really gets on my nerves. 51% of the population gets maybe 33% representation, how does this make sense? Women are not a minority group.

    Look at any major TV show for example. There will be one or two women in the main cast, even fewer female side-characters. And anything which has even approaching realistic proprtions of women will be seen as too female-orientated.

    I might post about this, but I just made a post about Princess Tutu (get an lj account, all the best stuff is f-locked (by ‘best stuff’ I mean anime I obtain illegally and personal things (gratuitous parentheses within parentheses within parentheses))) and I don’t want to spam.

  5. Kaliopæ says:

    Hey. Long time no speak.
    Now, I know we usually politely disagree on gender issues but you’ve (possibly inadvertently) higlighted one of my major miffs about people.

    “It’s the old thing, that always bothers me, about female characters being empowered because they get to act like men. Rather than assuming equality and difference as being acceptable…it says ‘don’t worry ladies…you can be just like men in these worlds…you can’t complain about being unequal…for you are now as good as men….doesn’t that feel nice?’

    It always pisses me off.”

    It pisses me off as well. Not only does it still assume that men are better, but it means that some people (women and men) can be damn near forced away from what they want to do because it’s considered ‘feminine’ and therefore ‘beneath them’. I actually did an essay on it, although it wasn’t very good.

    I also see your point about different stats. I like the idea of different stats by gender – there’s actually more than an aesthetic motivation behind the choice. I personally think that, in general, women are more attractive, but having an attractiveness stat seems weird. Everyone has different tastes.

    Incidently, my b/f is capable of pointing out when other men are attractive.

  6. It’s not that hard to point out when other men are attractive…I imagine most guys do it to some extent anyway…then act to counter that if they don’t feel comfortable.

    I think there should be more routes through games. Some games go on about there being loads of routes to completion but they almost always involve dominating and destroying your foe at all costs.

    SUre you may do a bit of sneaking first, or maybe you’ll charm some enemies so they fight your other enemies…but there’s a lack of real variety.

    More newness and strangeness please.

  7. squidvoltaire says:

    Hey, sorry to show up late to the party (by about two and a half years!) but wordpress suggested I read this post after I published a ‘blog entry about Saint’s Row 2. The thing that I love about Saint’s Row (and if you want to read my in depth entry, it’s here) is slightly parallel (or perhaps completely counter to) what you’re discussing in Oblivion. Saint’s Row is almost completely gender agnostic–you can make a character male, or female, or born-male-but-transitioning-to-female, or born-female-but-presents-as-male, or whatever, and the game does not care. Personally, I love that.

    However, you’re other point is quite well taken–no matter what your character looks like, they will still be a mass-murdering sociopath with a gun. I do wish that there were multiple ways to play the game, or even multiple games. Nevertheless, I think it’s incredibly important that female characters not be necessarily shunted into a different path: “Oh, you’re playing as a woman? Well, women are more gentle than men and wouldn’t want to shoot the bad guys, so you’ll do all stealth missions.” Blech!

    • Hiya, I’m repaying your late arrival to the discussion by replying incredibly late. Sorry about that.

      I have to say I assumed Saints Row wouldn’t have anything particularly positive about it, particularly in the gender front (considering the way it was advertised especially), so I think your point (I did read your piece, it was interesting) about the fact that the freedom being produced by programming laziness may be the case. Which mostly makes it fascinating to note that normally people go to such extra lengths to enforce the gender binary, which is unfortunately no surprise.

      I guess the other point that comes from the Saints Row thing, is that it reveals how much of the role playing in role playing games is generated by the person playing. Now that’s an incredibly obvious statement if we’re talking Pen and Paper, where the system is unlikely to limit you so much (most rulesets are designed to encourage experimentation to some extent). When you’re talking about games however its weird. You are limited in your choices and your actions, but the whole point of the game is also that you are exploring. Yes, dialogue means you have to step into someone elses words, which almost always jars (at that point I step into game mode, and am just playing for the right things…it’s rare that I take my role playing on board).

      What this means (if I’m not jumping ahead) is that my role play is almost more prominent in non-roleplaying games. My constant dialogue with the gameworld itself is obvious in Shoot-em ups for example, where I do tend to talk to the screen a lot. Particularly where you are the silent hero (Half Life and System Shock, being the two best examples I can think of). I guess it’s just a version of beavis and butthead style mockery of whatever you’re watching, but it helps me engage in it so much more. The anger I felt at the end of System Shock 2 when the protagonist spoke in the final cutscene (and what a rubbish line) is an example of this I’ve mentioned before. RPG games aren’t suited to the RP part, to some extent, because it’s virtually impossible to get that engaged with the character, because the character is funnelled.

      To some extent this is the price you pay to get a decent narrative experience. The narrative element, inherently allows room for the programmers prejudices to be shown again, and we end up with more patriarchal heteronormative boringness. Once developers develop the nerve (and maturity?) to start challenging this properly then we’re going to start getting some really interesting stories, but we will still probably have the same problems engaging with them.

      I’ve just thought about how long this reply is, and how rambling, so I’m gonna apologies and shut up now.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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