I have been a boy. I have been a man. I have been a voluptuous vixen with pistols poised on either swaying hip. I have been a zombie, a pokemon, a pants-less ninja. I have been a plump, pink, vacuum-mouthed ball.
But I have never been a little girl.
I was 10 years old when a game first swallowed me whole; still a real-life child, of sorts. On the screen of that megalithic Mac, the pixels huge as candy dots, I was an underground explorer, an Indiana Jones - my body a jumble of square, stumpy parts that together made something like a man.
Soon enough, I was a plumber, then the backside of a beauty on a bumping bike. The list, over time, went on. Still, it took years to realize I had never been me. And of course, by that time, me was someone different entirely: a little girl in sensibilities and candy preferences alone.
Now, all grown up, I can see eye-level with the quandaries of a grownup world - adult questions without adult answers.
Beauty, Puppet, Monster
How do you depict women in videogames? How do you do it fairly?
Let's consider the prototypes. The smiling skin-flaunter? She's the tool of "the man." Sure, she can search and destroy. But for her popularity, look to her generous curves and her "realistic physics" - without which she could never have worked her way into so many hearts, and so many wandering minds.
The subtly sexy female heroine? She walks the precarious line between radical role-model and mere predictable puppet. Be her, or simply watch her tempting tail wiggle under trip wires: For better or worse, the two are a package deal.
How about the female monster who sidesteps social expectations and harnesses her sexual powers to inspire fear in the unsuspecting heart? Unfortunately, the idea of a monster who's scary because she shatters gender preconceptions may be too controversial for many developers to successfully work into their game design. And besides, her potency is still dependent on the perceptions of a boys' club society. If she wasn't "othered," she'd just be a chick with fangs.
Short of neutering our game characters and embarking into some gender-ambiguous brave new world (which might look surprisingly like an old "Pat" sketch) we seem to have exhausted our choices. If we let our characters stay gendered, will they always cause trouble? Is there a way to remove sex from gender?
The Peripheries of Gender
We seem to forget, sometimes, that women exist before and after their sexual potency.
Old women have always been forced out to the fringes of society. When they no longer became socially useful, we used to get rid of them by calling them witches and burning them at the stake. Today, we come to a strikingly similar end by marking them as comic, disgusting and essentially non-human - the octogenarian bundled up in her armchair in Florida, gumming at a bowl of pudding.
Old men, on the other hand, are allowed to retain their dignity (and, perhaps not so coincidentally, their sexual potency) well into their later years. Still, there's no female equivalent of a "silver fox." The only elderly woman I've ever played in a videogame is the Granny bomb from Worms, who waddles along on a walker, signaling imminent death to my unlucky adversaries.