Beauvoir writes that often, the only solution apparent to the Other is to emulate the One, in a sort of if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em approach. To find acceptance and success, women, as the supposed deviation from the norm, assume they should strive to be more like men. I speak from five years' experience in the sciences and 10 years as a gamer when I say that yes, this is a very tempting thought. I've often imagined that all my social and professional problems would vanish if only I were more like a man - or, at the very best, a neutral target, with all trace of femininity suppressed.

Beauvoir, of course, would have none of that. She explains that the solution isn't for women to become men, since that acquiescence affirms the artificial One vs. the Other nonsense in the first place. Instead, we should shrug off notions of hierarchy altogether. "People have tirelessly sought to prove that woman is superior, inferior or equal to man," Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex. "If we are to gain understanding, we must get out of these ruts; we must discard the vague notions of superiority, inferiority, equality which have hitherto corrupted every discussion of the subject and start afresh." Women, she concludes, are just as capable of choice and freedom as men are, so they should choose to elevate themselves, taking responsibility for their own persons and for the world.

Which brings me back to Resident Evil. I'm certainly not about to claim the games are modern-day sequels to The Second Sex, or that the series' developers clearly had Beauvoir's notions of One vs. the Other in mind when they created the Umbrella Corporation. But as a consequence of certain creative decisions, Resident Evil does look somewhat Beauvoirian in the zombie-consecrated moonlight.

That impression comes from more than just the conspicuous lack of glass ceilings in Raccoon City, although that, in itself, is worthy of note. The Resident Evil universe supports a relatively even mix of male and female characters. Players can choose from male and female protagonists (Jill and Chris in the original Resident Evil; Leon and Claire in RE2); do battle with his and her mad scientists (particularly the Drs. Birkin); and consort with guy and gal spies, like Luis and Ada. Even the enemies split down gender lines: The peasant housewives in RE4, for example, are just as nasty and ravenous as their Ganado husbands (not to mention the chainsaw-wielding Bella Sisters). It's a pleasant change of pace from many other videogames that rely on machismo and adrenaline to create a tense, suspenseful atmosphere.

The series takes a progressive approach toward the actual character and personality of its women, too. Simply put, the Resident Evil girls don't suck. For example, take Jill Valentine. Within the Resident Evil universe, she's invaluable to her Alpha Team; competent, clever and professional, she's the resident bomb expert and, of course, the master of unlocking. But she also offers certain advantages to the player. While she can't take as much damage as Chris can, she does have those two extra inventory slots, which, when you've discovered a cache of shotgun shells, can make all the difference. Jill is an asset, both inside the story and out; she's not "good, for a woman" but simply "good." And while Rebecca, Claire and Ada each have their individual strengths and weaknesses, like Jill they are all powerful and competent human beings.

That's the key point: The Resident Evil women are judged on their worth as human beings, and not just as women. Ultimately, there is no One or Other status in Raccoon City; or, if there is, it's between human and zombie, not man and woman. The characters forever race against infection, time or death and in the process must cast away everything that's not absolutely essential to their own survival, including philosophical distinctions between the sexes. After all, it's hard to find time to subjugate and oppress an entire gender when you're both running from a guy with a flaming axe. Zombies are equal opportunity killers, and they're not about to refrain from sucking on your skull-goo just because you've been designated "the weaker sex."

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