Should Every Game Allow You to Choose Your Gender?

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Should Every Game Allow You to Choose Your Gender?

While playing Lichdom: Battlemage, Yahtzee decides to tackle to topic of gender diversity in choosing the character you want to play.

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Haunting Ground had a female protagonist for story reasons, but I'm not sure where "3/4 of the people after her are (apparently) rapists" (the one that isn't is arguably even worse) puts it in the scheme of things. I wonder how Bayonetta would have been received if you could have been a man wearing a hair (and beard!) suit that falls off for the more powerful attacks.

Hmm, a reasonably worded piece putting forward a point of view without attacking the people who disagree. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT HUH AMIRITE?

I've set the timer to see how long this spirals into a shitflinging match.

Perfectly written. I think people sometimes want diversity regardless of if it actually fits the plot, and simply adding a switch that goes PENIS/VAGINA does not really add much to a game unless the character themselves is different outside of a skin change. Now, I want to see you and Sterling have a Brit off with Gabe dressed as a card girl for the match.

LaughingAtlas:
Haunting Ground had a female protagonist for story reasons, but I'm not sure where "3/4 of the people after her are (apparently) rapists" (the one that isn't is arguably even worse) puts it in the scheme of things. I wonder how Bayonetta would have been received if you could have been a man wearing a hair (and beard!) suit that falls off for the more powerful attacks.

I would love to have played a Bayonetto where a guy's clothing is actually his beard, and he becomes more and more nude the more he ramps up the damage.

Wasnt there an article recently, quoting a game developer that believed it is impossible to not sexualise female characters in video games? Beyond good and evil is a perfect example to slap him round the bonce with!

A large part of what made Portal work is that both characters were women. Portal 2's fat jokes wouldn't have carried nearly the same weight[1] if Chell had been a dude, because guys are generally seen as not being as insecure about that sort of thing, regardless of the societal reasons for that. In The Walking Dead, Lee and Clementine both need their genders, because a father-daughter relationship is very different from any other parent-child gender combination.

Are there cases where the character's gender is unimportant enough that it's reasonable to let the player choose? Sure. And almost every time, the game's story and character development is worse for it.

P.S. Thanks

[1] Ba-dum tish

Xsjadoblayde:
Wasnt there an article recently, quoting a game developer that believed it is impossible to not sexualise female characters in video games? Beyond good and evil is a perfect example to slap him round the bonce with!

Alot of people say alot of stupid things... and that doesnt go for the games industry only. Try to watch a hollywood block buster movie without somehow sexualiszed female characters... good luck finding them.

This piece was actually written very moderate and very diplomatic...

To bad that yathzees arguments have in the past also been decryed as mysoginistic propaganda.

At best this article will be ignored by the believers of the patriarchy and at worst they will try to scream him down just like they do with everyone else who doesnt share their view that there is a patriarchiumati at work in the games industry whose goal is to bring back the 1920s

If your protagonist is generic cipher blank-slate FPS/RPG protagonist #378, then the purpose of the character is for the player to self-identify with them, or live out a vicarious power-fantasy through them. In these cases, the devs should really think about giving players diverse avatar options.

If the game is a story about a specific character, then it should be about that specific character, but then you have to make them a character, not a generic blank-slate cipher who happens to have a defined name and face.

My problems with the damsel-rescue plot are the same as my problems with the vengeance plot: between the two of them, they probably represent 90%+ of the motivations given to video game protagonists. I'm tired of it in other media as well, because it's lazy writing. Why is it so hard to come up with any other reason to motivate a protagonist? No one can fight evil and save the world just because it's the right thing to do anymore, they have to have a personal stake in things? I'm not a big fan of military shooters, but at least they sometimes have other motivations for their characters: duty, patriotism, professionalism, a paycheque, etc. What ever happened to characters who were just people caught up in things much bigger than they were? It worked for Hitchcock, and that guy was called the master of suspense.

RPGs, pretty much a given that you should.

As for other games, I think it comes down to the amount of scripting. If you're game doesn't have a ton in the way of story, then chances are you can do a gender swap and it won't upset the apple cart. If there's no depth to the character, then what's one more superficial element added to the mix. This is, of course, heavily reliant on the resources available. Time and expense is a factor in development and sometimes you have to accept this as a valid excuse.

But the more scripting, the more the lead character is an important cog in the grand machine, then no. Even if the character is by some chance completely gender neutral, at some points it's just much effort for something that superficial.

Even Anita Sarkeesian thinks this is true.

https://twitter.com/femfreq/statuses/500785983663529985

Simply swapping a woman into the shell of what is ostensibly another violent sexist dude character, does not a good representation make.

I'm wonder what a good middle ground for female representation is.

Karadalis:

To bad that yathzees arguments have in the past also been decryed as mysoginistic propaganda.

That's funny, because in some circles he's been called Es-Jay-Dubya for always going on about the "white guy killing Mexicans/Puerto Ricans/South Americans" thing in Uncharted and such reviews.

It's quite a turning point here for the whole game journalist and consumer sphere to look at what is said and done, and examine why. Applies to plots and development of games as well.

Is it important to have a female protagonist to choose from in Assasin's Creed? I can't say. I mostly play games because they're fun and interesting, I don't necessarily need a self-insert, I want to have gameplay that's fun and enjoyable. When I play Risk of Rain, I don't look at the pixels of the Engineer and think if it's a man or a woman. If you do, you have some looking in the mirror to do and ask yourself - why?

Covarr:
A large part of what made Portal work is that both characters were women. Portal 2's fat jokes wouldn't have carried nearly the same weight if Chell had been a dude, because guys are generally seen as not being as insecure about that sort of thing, regardless of the societal reasons for that.

That's actually a really good point, and I'm surprised it didn't occur to me while reading the article. Portal wouldn't have been nearly as fun without GLaDOS' misunderstanding of everything that's human - from the juvenile fat jokes to the fallacy of assuming people could grow attached to anything given she provides the narrative.

Holy shit! Yahtzee just wrote an entire article on what I've been saying ever since this shitstorm was concieved? I'm flattered.

Seriously, what's the point of bringing out the issue of gender if it isn't even an issue in the game? I frankly don't see the practical difference between, say, a male, female or trans boss in Saints Row (the characters don't even notice if you change sex in the middle of the game). Like Covarr says, gender can improve a game and bring out interesting dynamics, but putting it in the spotlight is not necessary (in-game or otherwise).

Covarr:
A large part of what made Portal work is that both characters were women. Portal 2's fat jokes wouldn't have carried nearly the same weight if Chell had been a dude

I don't know. I found the fat jokes to be funny because it was GLaDOS trying to insult me[1] in whatever form she could, kinda like the orphan jokes.

[1] I projected myself quite easely into Chell, since she's a mute protagonist.

I always find it important to point out the fact that society is technically an impermanent construct, and that context within a moment is just as important as what's occurring in the actual moment.

So in the cases where a protagonist is there as a vessel for the action rather than a character, as with most games where you can choose gender, this option allows for the vessel to fit the player, and thus is important from the perspective that focuses on the player (yes, by this logic, Aiden from Watch Dogs could probably have been a woman as well considering the writing of that game).

Funnily enough, this doesn't mean "I want to play as someone who looks like me" but rather actually creates a nice idea that choosing gender impacts your experience no matter the choice. For example, I've been picking female a lot recently simply because I want the disconnect that comes with that so I can consider my avatar a separate character rather than a vessel. I choose to have the vessel not fit me so I can sit back and go "Now, I know what I want to say here, but what would my Warden do here?" or "I wouldn't have put that gun down in the cutscene, but clearly this person isn't me"

I'll also agree that the gender roles being played out aren't inherently pro or against any gender but rather repetition of tropes that take on meaning through our interpretations, but remaining on subject I'd say that this choice is something that is important less for "adding diversity" but more for impacting player character interpretation, which often isn't thought about due to the fact that they are largely associated as just being an avatar or a static character.

If you are going to offer gender choice, it should be made with the understanding that this choice affects the type of immersion a player feels, and that it is a tool that should fit your game, and this means a bit more than just role-playing.

This is a complex subject that actually brings up a lot of good points about immersion and the interaction between gameplay and narrative that I wish I had a lot longer to hammer out. However, it's a good starting point for a discussion provided we go beyond just looking at it as a measure of equality.

Karadalis:
[quote="Xsjadoblayde" post="6.860732.21400580"]
At best this article will be ignored by the believers of the patriarchy and at worst they will try to scream him down just like they do with everyone else who doesnt share their view that there is a patriarchiumati at work in the games industry whose goal is to bring back the 1920s

Want me to prove you wrong?

This article's a good sign, because it's not falling behind a standard--something easy to do when you're in the majority. It's putting forth clear arguments that a rational person would have. I know this, because these are arguments I myself put forth five or six years ago.

In the interim, what I've learned about context, patterns, and the perspective of people unlike me have lead me to conclude these arguments are misguided. I'd be happy to discuss that with him, but he (pretty wisely) doesn't make a habit of discussing things with internet strangers.

I'm seeing some real strawman representations of feminists in gaming lately. Sometimes I think it's easier for people to make parody copies of buzzwords they don't understand and have never tried to than it is to actually listen.

Rutskarn:

I'm seeing some real strawman representations of feminists in gaming lately. Sometimes I think it's easier for people to make parody copies of buzzwords they don't understand and have never tried to than it is to actually listen.

What is a strawman representation of women?

BloodWriter:

Rutskarn:

I'm seeing some real strawman representations of feminists in gaming lately. Sometimes I think it's easier for people to make parody copies of buzzwords they don't understand and have never tried to than it is to actually listen.

What is a strawman representation of women?

"Feminists in gaming." Not "women." I never said "women." I'm a feminist in gaming, and I'm not a woman.

"Maybe the game developer just wants a character to be a generic cipher, so they make them a white male, because that's what they themselves are, and it's what generic means to them. To demand diversity for characters that are essentially blank placeholders is to put way more thought into it than the creator did."

Probably, but it's still BORING. So BORING. I can't even tell most game protagonists apart anymore. Where are our Marios and Sonics and I don't know. Now there is Watch Dogs "iconic cap". YAWN.

Rutskarn:

"Feminists in gaming." Not "women." I never said "women." I'm a feminist in gaming, and I'm not a woman.

I misread that. I'm for equality as a man, not feminism. Don't understand why any man would further feminism, be a feminist or want any of it to have anything to do with games and gaming.

Ed. What is the strawman representation of feminists?

I think the modern decoupling of sex and gender as separate things provides an opportunity to implement gender options in the laziest way possible. If you are a developer, just add a "male/female" selection option when the game starts, and then don't bother changing anything about the character design or game mechanics other than swapping the pronouns in any dialogue that comes up. Anyone who criticizes this is just a gender-essentializing misogynist who wants to enforce the "Ms. Male Character Trope".

Half the characters in games are goofy abstract cartoon characters or people fully encased in elaborate armor, so in most cases it's not like you can tell their gender by looking at them anyway. This works especially well for older games - you don't even have to put a bow on PacMan to make her into Ms. PacMan.

Narrative-driven, cutscene-heavy games are exempt from this, of course, because these games are actually movies.

My favorite game that lets you choose the gender of your character is Oblivion. because the males and female characters had different starting stats.

They took that out in Skyrim.
I mean that seems like a no-brainer doesn't it?
But NOOOOOO the way to "properly" acknowledge the gender divide is to make men and women completely identical and interchangeable.

Well put. I think there are some games that absolutely reinforce misogynistic societal tendencies (see: GTA using hookers to get your life back, then killing them and stealing your money. That's a bit over the top), but at the same time, sometimes you have to show nasty, negative, things to get your point across. I remember either Anita Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn bitching about the strip club level in Hitman: Absolution when its entire content painted the strippers as unfortunate, sympathetic, characters, and your target as a sleazy scumbag you should have no problem killing by the time you get to him. Sure it was nasty, but strip clubs are nasty things, and it's one of the quickest ways to establish what they wanted to establish. Even the male audience members watching the show have the group AI of a bunch of pigs.

BloodWriter:

Rutskarn:

"Feminists in gaming." Not "women." I never said "women." I'm a feminist in gaming, and I'm not a woman.

I misread that. I'm for equality as a man, not feminism. Don't understand why any man would further feminism, be a feminist or want any of it to have anything to do with games and gaming.

Ed. What is the strawman representation of feminists?

Feminists want equality too. You see a lot of people misrepresent feminism as some kind of hideous, anti-men, extremist, position and use that representation to automatically dismiss any woman who describes herself as a feminist pointing that maybe women shouldn't be making 3/4 or what men make for the same work. Instead of actually addressing feminism or a feminist's point, they come up with an easily attackable stereotype to beat up instead (as in, you go and fight the straw man instead of the actual man). Basically, what feminism is and what misogynists/MRA's tell you feminism is are vastly different things.

Well written, well thought out, balanced, and not the least bit snarky. Too bad not all of the games media could be like this. /snark

Sometimes I think the cry for more diversity by simply switching genders isn't just about what's between a character's legs, but more about what that would imply about the story. Take the outrage over the next Assassin's Creed (please, because I'm sick of it), I think there's an underlying desire to see more about the role women played in the french revolution and that desire would be easily met and any doubts reassured simply by including more female options (even in multiplayer as it would show the devs are thinking about it). I do agree that there's more to it than simply switching out the character skins, though. I typically play as female characters simply because I play games more as an escapist fantasy than a self-representative one, and I like the idea of gaining a different perspective.

I once asked in the forums about what would constitute a female power fantasy as I have never seen one that was made by women. The responses I got were largely "I don't know" from women and "it'd be just like a male power fantasy" from men. I would honestly like to see one.

I've been reading quite a bit on this subject lately, and I'm glad Yahtzee's decided to weigh in on it. He always brings an utterly unique perspective, and as he says here greater diversity of perspective is almost inherently noble. While I don't completely agree (my views tend a little more toward the "affirmative action" side when it comes to addressing this issue), I certainly appreciate his arguments and believe he brings up a good point: creativity and verve is something the industry desperately needs. While it's there, especially in the indie game scene, it needs more of a push in other arenas, particularly AAA development. That said, I doubt that's likely to happen, as "risk" is a four-letter word for big corporations.

For fuck sake, thanks for the article. Those are my though exactly on this whole matter, if anything I'm a bit less engaged in it.

BloodWriter:

Rutskarn:

"Feminists in gaming." Not "women." I never said "women." I'm a feminist in gaming, and I'm not a woman.

I misread that. I'm for equality as a man, not feminism. Don't understand why any man would further feminism, be a feminist or want any of it to have anything to do with games and gaming.

Maybe it would help if you knew what feminism was?

Just typing the word "feminism" into google gives us this definition: "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men."

You said yourself you're for equality. Looks like you were a feminist and didn't even know it!

image

EDIT: Good article Yahtzee, though I disagree. If only more people on that side of the issue could speak as calmly and intelligently as you did.

Telltales the Walking Dead series.

Also: "Elite Force even named both characters Alex just so they wouldn't have to do two versions of all the NPCs' lines."
Oh yeah, I laughed at how cheap that was, then ignored it to revel at the actual voices of most of the actors (Yes, Captain! Blow everything with a pulse of some kind to mulch!".

BloodWriter:

Rutskarn:

"Feminists in gaming." Not "women." I never said "women." I'm a feminist in gaming, and I'm not a woman.

I misread that. I'm for equality as a man, not feminism. Don't understand why any man would further feminism, be a feminist or want any of it to have anything to do with games and gaming.

Ed. What is the strawman representation of feminists?

Let's start with "the patriarchy," which does not mean what a lot of people assume it does. It's a complex topic, and from a historical and anthropological perspective, its existence isn't really up for debate. It's a means of structuring society propagated by prehistorical tribal conflicts that persists through socialization.

It's not a conspiracy. Nobody besides crazy conspiracy theorists think it's a conspiracy. It *does* lead to unconscious collusion between men against women, which honestly isn't hard to spot when you're looking for it, and it leads to unconscious collusion of women against men. It creates a system of sexual antagonism that hurts men and women both.

Unfortunately--and I refuse to ignore this part--the system as it is constructed hurts women a fuck of a lot more than it hurts men.

I don't identify as "egalitarian" because that term is disingenuous in a way that really feels like I'm trying to cover my own asshole. A informed reflection on the history of the movement that isn't content to stop at the scum of lunatics on tumblr proves that feminism *is* egalitarianism. You can't look at a handful of self-identifying bad eggs pushing for supremacy in the face of a system where the other side already has supremacy and decide feminism is all a supremacist movement.

As far as "mind the company you keep," I find that self-identified "egalitarians" don't often know as much about the issues. The label is taken as a knee-jerk response to a perceived threat, not education on social inequalities. "What, I'm being sexist? No, I'm for equality! Look!" Of course that person's for equality. They just don't know where it doesn't exist, and they don't want to confront that issue because they take it as a personal assault.

You want to know why a man would be feminist? Besides basic empathy and desire for a stable and equal system, here's twenty-three good things feminism has done for men.

flying_whimsy:
I once asked in the forums about what would constitute a female power fantasy as I have never seen one that was made by women. The responses I got were largely "I don't know" from women and "it'd be just like a male power fantasy" from men. I would honestly like to see one.

I once saw an argument about that maybe magical girls can be seen as a type of female power fantasy.
It was actually a feminist blog and I actually kind of agree. At least they don't get typically male traits to kick ass. They are not afraid of the feminine. They come in different tastes (e.g. Sailor Moon: The clumsy one, the beautiful one, the smart one, the tomboyish one, the motherly one, and so on) of "feminine" traits.
But yeah, the super hero and magical girls are actually extremes on a kind of spectrum. I think most power fantasies probably are more realistic if they were more neutral (as in having both female and male traits instead of having no traits).

Like... let's look at Peetah from Hunger Games. He is very strong (mostly associated with masculinity) and also very artsy and caring (mostly associated with feminity). He can have both and be strong because of that. I'd like to see that more. People just being people!

Edit: for perspective, I'm a woman

Covarr:
A large part of what made Portal work is that both characters were women. Portal 2's fat jokes wouldn't have carried nearly the same weight if Chell had been a dude, because guys are generally seen as not being as insecure about that sort of thing, regardless of the societal reasons for that. In The Walking Dead, Lee and Clementine both need their genders, because a father-daughter relationship is very different from any other parent-child gender combination.

Really?! Because to me the fact that Chell was a woman added nothing at all. Not that it should have, but it always kind of puzzles me when people bring her up in these kinds of discussions since you wouldn't even have known her gender if you didn't catch glimpses of her through the portals. She doesn't get adressed as a woman in any way in the first game, and as for the fat jokes in Portal 2, that's just GlaDOS using generic insults which she thinks will hurt because she doesn't understand emotions. Though Portal 2 got a bit too cute with itself anyway.

If you want your main character to be bland, have little personality, and sabotage the narrative of your game - by all means let the player choose the gender.

Only Mass Effect has been able to have a strong customizable character, and that's due to both good writing and excellent voice acting. No other game comes close.

If it's a game that's more about the content than the story like Skyrim then a blank customizable character is fine. But if you want your game to be narrative driven, a customizable character sabotages this goal.

Better to have a game like The Witcher where your character is already a character and then they let you choose stuff than a game where the main character is so characterless that even their gender can be switched without any impact to the story.

Also Yahztee, you got DANGEROUSLY close to addressing Gamergate!

This reminded me of his previous article about hating companies for the right reasons http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/columns/extra-punctuation/11859-If-You-Are-Going-to-Hate-on-a-Game-Company-Do-It-For-the-Right-R

I love these little bubbles of sanity!

Thanatos2k:
If you want your main character to be bland, have little personality, and sabotage the narrative of your game - by all means let the player choose the gender.

Only Mass Effect has been able to have a strong customizable character, and that's due to both good writing and excellent voice acting. No other game comes close.

If it's a game that's more about the content than the story like Skyrim then a blank customizable character is fine. But if you want your game to be narrative driven, a customizable character sabotages this goal.

Better to have a game like The Witcher where your character is already a character and then they let you choose stuff than a game where the main character is so characterless that even their gender can be switched without any impact to the story.

Also Yahztee, you got DANGEROUSLY close to addressing Gamergate!

Clearly someone's never played Saints Row...

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