• 54 results
  • 1
  • 2
#1 Edited by project343 (2838 posts) -

*Edit: I feel like I need to make this point before the criticisms go out of hand. I do not want all games to make gender relevant. I'm talking about this from a theoretical standpoint as if I wanted to pursue a development opportunity to create a gameplay experience that made gender relevant.

As the title asks, I am wondering if there is a way to make gender more relevant to the gameplay experience. (TL;DR below)

I'm sort of taking a postfeminist perspective on things here, so I figure the most important point is to separate 'gender' and 'sex'--sex being the biological junk between your legs, and gender being the social enactment or performance of man and woman. You can think of gender as a constant performance wherein every action we make represents, configures, and reconfigures our gender. Many have made the point that gender is an integral aspect of our lives, even in the virtual world, where we embody different characters, engage in role-play with others in online environments, and constantly act with (or without) identity in mind.

I think it is important to transcend linear narrative as the primary delivery mechanism here. We do not interact with linear narrative and there can be a fairly severe disconnect between character agency and player agency. What makes this medium special is the interaction, and what is integral to gender is it's performance. Saying 'derp, more stories about people with nonstandard representations of gender' really doesn't do much if these dialogues are spoke at players and cannot be explored through the play experience by the players.

The problem with most games is that they have very limited interaction with the world itself: typically you're looking at the world with a gun pointed at everything and your only options are moving and shooting. While movement around a space can certainly be enacting gender, choosing to shoot and not shoot is certainly limited. The game I keep coming back to is Fallout 3 as a pretty solid example of a game that remedies this. Not only does it allow you to construct a visual identity, but it allows you to construct a personality and skillset identity (mostly through the SPECIAL system). It forces you to construct an identity then act upon it in a world that rewards various approaches: you can use intellect, charm, or any other manner of things to defuse certain situations. Combat is not your only engagement with the world.

More than that, I think making the physical nature of sex as a relevant gameplay experience can, in turn, enable the exploration of gender for players. The most immediate examples coming to mind are dys4ia's exploration of hormone therapy, Heavy Rain placing emphasis on the female body typically being smaller/weaker than male alternative, and Tomb Raider's male NPC attempting to rape player from female perspective. Granted, player interaction in all three of these situations is kept to a minimum, but they are examples of allowing a player to explore physical identities (in a meaningful way) that are perhaps incongruent with their own. *Edit: I think this point is a bit more controversial and messy than I intended. I think having players experience a foreign bodily and social experience that they may not be accustomed to may help them reflect on the socialized minutia of their everyday actions that they take for granted. I included Octodad and Minotaur China Shop in some replies, and will throw them up here as examples: they are both bodily/social experiences that are incredibly foreign that can be enlightening to the bodily experience.

Then, obviously, there is a significant potential to explore gender identity in the context of online play (especially when laser dot sights are less relevant). Online RPGs like World of Warcraft are a perfect avenue to build up an identity within a particular community and truly explore meaningful action and reaction with their various emotes, noncombat abilities/skills, social elements, and role-playing potential. The power of a performance is obviously most relevant within a social/group setting and this approach remedies solo gender exploration.

--

TL;DR:

How do you make gender relevant as a performance and negotiation?

I've thought of three approaches:

  1. More variety to the interaction with the world (i.e. noncombat alternatives)
  2. Make physical nature of sex more relevant to players so they can explore radically different bodies and have it be meaningful
  3. Incorporate social elements/online play

Can you think of anything else? Thoughts/criticisms?

--

Background:

I've always enjoyed exploring the topic of gender, and I've always enjoyed exploring it's relevance within the realm of video games: my biggest hobby. More often than not, the intersection of the two tends to shallowly address gender representation/oversexualization of both male and female characters, female gamers being scrutinized by men online, or the severe lack of female game developers in the industry. I wanted to explore this topic as a potential alternative discussion.

#2 Posted by EXTomar (4943 posts) -

I have held for awhile the best way to approach this is like how writers handle it: Embrace it but not draw attention to it. It is fine to have a female character that as a little girl lost her mom and spent a lot of time learning from grandmother instead that saves the world. Such a character wouldn't do it using nonsense idea where trying to rescue the world by being Rambo-ette makes as much sense as baking cookies. The Heroine does what they have to do with the tools given to them where game designers shouldn't give them an apron or giant gun and tight fitting armor. I look at the "Persona 4 fanservice" thread and shake my head. On the other hand seeing The Longest Journey get some attention again and seeing some interesting ideas play out in The Last Of Us I still hold out hope.

Side topic: Mentioning WoW is an interesting thing to note. It has earned a lot of derision for being the MMO-est MMO in story and design but in Mists they are doing some fantastic things with characters of all races (big R and little r) and all genders in the game, accessible to all players, instead of off in some book. There is building up some great father-son running through the story. People have complained how passive Night Elves and Blood Elves and their leaders have been but both are building up to something much bigger and more nuanced (now if they only do something with Drenai...). There is betrayal running through some of the stories where people worry about who gets stabbed in the back and eagerly wants to celebrate when they return the attack in kind. Instead of having personal and drama stuff happen off in a book they want to see it happen before them and the consequences play out in front of them. Whether or not this storyline is any good or the technology is enough to pull off some of the grand things they wanted to try that is another question but it seems to me that if the player can not be the major character in the story this is what they want instead: To bare witness to the drama and "help" afterwards.

#3 Posted by project343 (2838 posts) -

@EXTomar said:

I have held for awhile the best way to approach this is like how writers handle it: Embrace it but not draw attention to it. It is fine to have a female character that as a little girl lost her mom and spent a lot of time learning from grandmother instead that saves the world. Such a character wouldn't do it using nonsense idea where trying to rescue the world by being Rambo-ette makes as much sense as baking cookies. The Heroine does what they have to do with the tools given to them where game designers shouldn't give them an apron or giant gun and tight fitting armor.

So make sure that there is a narrative justification for the gameplay mechanics?

One thing that always bothered me about the Mass Effect series (a series I adore) is that, while Jennifer Hale's Femshep is certainly one of the most respectable female protagonists in gaming, the fact that she is a woman is almost irrelevant to the narrative. It is a bit of a double-edged sword: throwing in narrative quibbles that identify her sex makes it relevant, but it also leads into a shallow essentializing of femininity. Regardless, sex and gender are not irrelevant to everyday life: they have profound effects on how we are perceived and act--and should not be irrelevant to the experience.

I suppose another great avenue to allow players to experiment with gender outside of linear narrative is with the interactive narrative in both Persona and Mass Effect. Exploring relationships, expressing passions, hostilities, and the like with NPCs may be worth something from a gender performance perspective.

#4 Edited by Viking_Funeral (1896 posts) -

How do you make gender relevant in 4 square? Or in a game of tether-ball?

At some point, people have to concede the fact that games are primarily an entertaining mix of mechanics, with narrative being tertiary. Some of the best and most defining games in video game history have absolutely minimal narrative, and are mostly driven by their gameplay. Sure, a good narrative can improve the overall package dramatically, but a lousy story doesn't necessarily detract from good gameplay.

Examples:

I could go on. I'm not trying to make the point that your question and exploration of gender-identity in video games is a moot point, but rather that you should be looking at the question of gender in video game narrative, which is a very different beast. How does the narrative intertwine with the gameplay to produce notions of gender, etc.

That said, gender is a societal construct. It means different things to different people, with the societal consensus being a sort of vague, Jungian archetype. I find the black & white model to be a bit restrictive myself, as the range of human sexuality is more of a spectrum of colors, many of which have very little to do with eroticism at all. Kind of like America politics, most people don't agree fully with one party of the other, but find themselves forced to choose a side in a two-party society. A vast majority of us are near the middle, or have neither side represent certain facets of our being/opinions. Perhaps you agree with me on this, but from the onset you are presenting gender as being binary.

@project343 said:

TL;DR:

How do you make gender relevant as a performance and negotiation?

I've thought of three approaches:

  1. More variety to the interaction with the world (i.e. noncombat alternatives)
  2. Make physical nature of sex more relevant to players so they can explore radically different bodies and have it be meaningful
  3. Incorporate social elements/online play

Can you think of anything else? Thoughts/criticisms?

1) I fail to see how this relates to gender, unless you can somehow relate non-combat abilities to gender. Even then, how does one incorporate this into non-combat games such as Theme Park? I really get the feeling that you're focusing on first person games with a branching narrative, such as Mass Effect and Fallout 3. (Which, to be fair, you did mention). You may want to refine your scope, or at least explain at the front of your exploration that you'll be focusing on gender & narrative in a very specific vein of video game.

2) No.

2.1) Seriously, how would you accomplish this? How would anyone accomplish this? Video games are not life simulators, at least not yet. Many have come close, but for the most part, they still remain primarily an interesting and entertaining mix of mechanics. To incorporate sexuality into a video game, you either have to present it as a non-interactive scene (such as in The Sims or Dragon Age: Origins), or to make it a gameplay mechanic. Sex would be a horrible gameplay mechanic. Just look at Hot Coffee for GTA: San Andreas. I can sort of see where you are coming from with the notion of "explore radically different bodies," but again that sounds more like a(n erotic) life simulator than a video game. Also, there is more to gender than having sex, as I mentioned earlier.

3) Given the vast number of online play in games today, and how homophobic and misogynistic teenage boys can be over life chat from the safety and anonymity of their homes, I have honestly no idea what you are recommending here. Something life Second Life, where people pretend to be their avatars? I think you should expound on this.

~

Sorry if I come across as harsh, but sexuality has been a popular topic in video games recently, and I really think to address it you have to really set out your scope and what you want to address. A little focus will really strengthen your arguments.

#5 Posted by JZ (2125 posts) -

Female charters get berserker rage at the end of the month. Ok that's pretty messed up.

#6 Posted by Silvergun (297 posts) -

One thing that strikes me as a little off when it comes to these comparisons is the idea that when faced with a problem, men instantly go shooting/slashing/etc their way through it, while women would find other means of problem solving. The problem there, is that the scenarios you're faced with in almost every game are so extraordinary compared to anything a person would encounter in real life (except I suppose if you're a soldier deployed in a war zone), that there really aren't a lot of options as far as solutions go. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that when you take a male or a female soldier and put them in a combat situation, they're going to do the same thing, start shooting/flying/navy-ing/etc. It's really only when we get to the more mundane parts of our lives, how we solve the smaller problems of a day at work, how we pursue happiness, and stuff like that where you can start to see a noticeable difference. Most games don't focus on this though.

To use writer terms, these are generally the 'sequels' in between the more conflict driven 'scenes'. For the most part, games have the majority of their time spent on the scenes as this is where the action happens, while relegating comparability little time to the sequels where you'll generally have a lot more of stuff like character development. This is kind of a rule of thumb if you want to have a brisk pace to your narrative Pretty much every game I can think of off the top of my head has things happening in their scenes that fit the above scenario, conflict so exceptional that you're probably not going to have a lot of room to show how men or women would resolve it differently.

The Uncharted series gives a great example of how this is done right (ignoring that the characters in that will gun down dozens of human beings and then have a nice chat afterwards). Look at any part where Drake and Chloe are together, when it comes to dealing with the bad guys, she's shooting them up just like Drake is, but once that scene is over, and they're catching their breath, defying death, or something else, her dialogue, actions, etc are definitely different than what you'd have from a male character. It makes her a much stronger character than she would have been otherwise.

#7 Edited by project343 (2838 posts) -

@Viking_Funeral said:

How do you make gender relevant in 4 square? Or in a game of tether-ball?

At some point, people have to concede the fact that games are primarily an entertaining mix of mechanics, with narrative being tertiary. Some of the best and most defining games in video game history have absolutely minimal narrative, and are mostly driven by their gameplay. Sure, a good narrative can improve the overall package dramatically, but a lousy story doesn't necessarily detract from good gameplay.

I'm not demanding that all games make gender relevant. I'm asking: if someone wanted to make gender relevant to a game experience, how would they go about doing so? Moreover, you jump right into narrative which was one of the first things that I stated I wanted to avoid. Interaction is what makes video games... well, video games. And linear narrative gives the player zero agency in their ability to explore gender.

@Viking_Funeral said:

1) I fail to see how this relates to gender, unless you can somehow relate non-combat abilities to gender. Even then, how does one incorporate this into non-combat games such as Theme Park? I really get the feeling that you're focusing on first person games with a branching narrative, such as Mass Effect and Fallout 3. (Which, to be fair, you did mention). You may want to refine your scope, or at least explain at the front of your exploration that you'll be focusing on gender & narrative in a very specific vein of video game.

2) No.

2.1) Seriously, how would you accomplish this? How would anyone accomplish this? Video games are not life simulators, at least not yet. Many have come close, but for the most part, they still remain primarily an interesting and entertaining mix of mechanics. To incorporate sexuality into a video game, you either have to present it as a non-interactive scene (such as in The Sims or Dragon Age: Origins), or to make it a gameplay mechanic. Sex would be a horrible gameplay mechanic. Just look at Hot Coffee for GTA: San Andreas. I can sort of see where you are coming from with the notion of "explore radically different bodies," but again that sounds more like a(n erotic) life simulator than a video game. Also, there is more to gender than having sex, as I mentioned earlier.

3) Given the vast number of online play in games today, and how homophobic and misogynistic teenage boys can be over life chat from the safety and anonymity of their homes, I have honestly no idea what you are recommending here. Something life Second Life, where people pretend to be their avatars? I think you should expound on this.

  1. If you give the player the ability to choose between red and blue, the choice they make is nowhere near indicative of their identity or expressive of themselves. The more tools you give them to interact with a space is the more representative that interaction is. Gender is about performance: choosing between 'shoot' and 'not shoot' is hardly giving them a breadth of actions and expressions.
  2. I was talking about sex (read: biological 'male' and 'female'--not sexual intercourse. At no point in this topic do I mention sexual intercourse [*edit: outside of the mention of rape]).
  3. Second Life is a brilliant game in this regard, mostly due to the sheer breadth of the toolset that players are given to interact with one another. Performing gender is also a lot more subtle than 'I'm going to be a girl today.' Emoting more in World of Warcraft is a way to explore and drastically change your gender performance. Or even altering the language that you use. Reaction is also pretty integral to gender performance, so I don't see bigots and misogynists as being a problem.

@Viking_Funeral said:

That said, gender is a societal construct. It means different things to different people, with the societal consensus being a sort of vague, Jungian archetype. I find the black & white model to be a bit restrictive myself, as the range of human sexuality is more of a spectrum of colors, many of which have very little to do with eroticism at all. Kind of like America politics, most people don't agree fully with one party of the other, but find themselves forced to choose a side in a two-party society. A vast majority of us are near the middle, or have neither side represent certain facets of our being/opinions. Perhaps you agree with me on this, but from the onset you are presenting gender as being binary.

I most certainly do agree with everything you've said here. If I've made gender seem binary in nature, I apologize. I didn't want to go into the deep end of postfeminist thought on these boards--I'd imagine most would ignore my topic like the plague if that was the case. Keeping things binary makes it approachable. But I do make an effort to talk about the nuances of gender performance (i.e. socializing and emoting in World of Warcraft). Full-on gender bending is not the only way to approach things.

--

@Silvergun said:

conflict so exceptional that you're probably not going to have a lot of room to show how men or women would resolve it differently

You have a spectacular point. So I guess one potential solution would be to come up with experiences that are specifically not exceptional to give room to more nuance in both the narrative and gameplay departments.

Two of the most remarkable experiences that I think take this to an extreme degree are Octodad and Minotaur China Shop. They both focus on the foreign feeling of embodying something that is nothing like themselves within the context of something wholly mundane. The whole time, players are 'figuring things out.' I think this harkens back to my initial second point wherein a potential solution is to make things foreign and focus on the physical body.

#8 Posted by GreggD (4515 posts) -

You don't.

#9 Posted by Giantstalker (1727 posts) -

@project343 said:

How do you make gender relevant as a performance and negotiation?

I've thought of three approaches:

  1. More variety to the interaction with the world (i.e. noncombat alternatives)
  2. Make physical nature of sex more relevant to players so they can explore radically different bodies and have it be meaningful
  3. Incorporate social elements/online play

1. How many other ways are there to interact with the enemy in a Modern Warfare game? Capture and interrogation, I guess? This doesn't seem to apply to very many tightly focused, skill-based games.

2. I agree with this. Women and men have different physical/mental attributes and being one or the other should change the game. But then again, I also think the same thing about ethnicity, culture, and upbringing (for another discussion).

3. Once again, like the first point, most games are that are skill- or strategy-based just don't have enough room for this. Well, they have online play, but not in the way I think we mean here. Likewise, there are social games out there that generally don't appeal as strongly to most men and have a proportionally higher female base. It's easy to say, "let's put in stuff that women like!" but the pre-concieved notion of what this is goes against the very core of what skill based, competitive games should be about. At the end of the day, ketchup and peanut butter just don't go together so well.

There are genres that are a middle ground, sure. What we call RPGs these days is a great example (I increasingly hate that definition too, but that's off topic). Coming from the angle of the modern, high-end first-person shooter or strategy game - often two genres which are considered the least feminine - I just don't see how it's done. Furthermore, I don't really think it's important or necessary for such genres to branch out in order to be better games. Just let people appreciate what they like and gravitate towards titles that suit their needs, I say. No need to upend the table and try to invite everybody by forcing an all-inclusive focus to your game.

#10 Posted by TheHumanDove (2523 posts) -

@GreggD said:

You don't.

#11 Posted by Jams (2966 posts) -

@project343 said:

TL;DR:

How do you make gender relevant as a performance and negotiation?

I've thought of three approaches:

  1. More variety to the interaction with the world (i.e. noncombat alternatives)
  2. Make physical nature of sex more relevant to players so they can explore radically different bodies and have it be meaningful
  3. Incorporate social elements/online play

Can you think of anything else? Thoughts/criticisms?

Maybe it's the Libertarian in me, but I think these things have a normal way of working themselves out. Let's not force change on peoples creative works just because there's not enough of something some of us would like to see in the game.

#12 Posted by Ravenlight (8011 posts) -

Main character is pregnant. Bam. Relevant.

#13 Posted by crusader8463 (14429 posts) -

At the end of the day it's still a guys brain acting out a lady avatar or a lady brain acting out a guys avatar. No matter what level of choice you give the player what we take into the game as a person will reflect in how we play and how the character acts in the world. At best you would roleplay how you think the opposite sex would think but even then it's just you doing what you think they would do/act and not the real thing. Unless it's a linear story with no player choice being written and directed by someone of that sex then you don't in my eyes.

#14 Posted by project343 (2838 posts) -

@crusader8463 said:

At the end of the day it's still a guys brain acting out a lady avatar or a lady brain acting out a guys avatar.

But then you're thinking about gender as binaries. And you're also making the assumption that all men are the same.

#15 Posted by believer258 (12188 posts) -

@crusader8463 said:

At the end of the day it's still a guys brain acting out a lady avatar or a lady brain acting out a guys avatar. No matter what level of choice you give the player what we take into the game as a person will reflect in how we play and how the character acts in the world. At best you would roleplay how you think the opposite sex would think but even then it's just you doing what you think they would do/act and not the real thing. Unless it's a linear story with no player choice being written and directed by someone of that sex then you don't in my eyes.

This is what my answer boils down to, though I would say that some people could more accurately guess what the opposite sex would think or do in a situation than others. A tomboy might better guess what a big, strong, thickheaded man would do better than a girly-girl. There's no real way for us to truly experience what it's like to be born in and grow up in the body of a different sex; even if you do run out and get your junk rearranged and your hormones changed, it can never be the same.

#16 Posted by JasonR86 (9726 posts) -

Make the penis or vagina sentient and give them fangs to fight with.

#17 Posted by GERALTITUDE (3504 posts) -

Hey, this topic isn't totally overrun yet! Nicely done

Where to start though - this is such a massive topic. I hope I understood your points, here's mine:

1) This has been mentioned, but, yeah, the context most games create to justify their existence does not leave much room for much gendered gameplay. This is not actually just because games are "so extreme," but because games themselves ignore gender politics wherever they can. Call of Duty, last I checked, has no women soldiers in it. What if there were? Would it be the same game because all you do is move forward and shoot? Maybe. But this isn't because the context is moving and shooting, it's because it takes place in a cartoon world. In the world we live in female soldiers are second-guessed and abused by their male counterparts, either in private or open derision, and they are sometimes physically abused. In some cases, bad shit happens. Never mind what may happen to them when they are captured.

2) Gender politics define gender roles, not the gender itself. Being pregnant is a natural occurrence, yes, and a game could use this as a device of some sort. More common is that the skill sets we associate with either men or woman are just historically common occupations for one or the other: for example, because of, uh, history, women are more likely to be seamstresses than electricians, doctors than lawyers, teachers than carpenters, waitresses than cab drivers. Of course thousands, millions, of exceptions exist, but these are the ideas we have. If you want subtle, "appropriately" different gameplay, than maybe work is what we should look at.

3) I have to run so I can't finish everything I wanted to say right now, so here's the long and short: gender roles are defined by gender politics, outside the basics like "provide sperm" and "accept sperm; grow child in womb". So to have gameplay that makes the gender important you need gender politics in your game. Right?

#18 Posted by TeflonBilly (4713 posts) -

YOU'RE STUCK IN THE KITCHEN!

#19 Posted by commonoutlier (136 posts) -

Well, I personally wish for a day that gender literally doesn’t mean anything, since personally gender roles and stereotypes I think are among the worse things in society. Mostly because I believe people, if they could truly be the people they want to be, would mix and match things that are usually assigned to one gender and no longer avoid certain activities or expressions because they are taught it is not for them or that they would be lesser for it. I think society expects people to stick with one set of gender characteristics and not stray from it, and I think that is incredibly wrong, and that if gender no longer defined us then we wouldn’t have that problem. So, in a one way, I strongly disagree with you and I wish that games would literally not differentiate in anyway being a man or a women—especially since the switch from man to women often involves sexualizing the role. It’s funny that you bring up Fallout 3, because I like it that you can construct an identify, but being a man or a women in the game doesn’t really change things up (I mean, for the Fallout games it does in very little ways, because that's the reality of it, even if I don’t wish it were that way).

Of course, though, a lot of this ties into my own personal desires to not conform to either gender, which in itself is another gender expression...and it would be entirely wrong of me to suppress other people’s desires to express it through narrative and games. Don’t get me wrong, I think that games should open up to different expressions of identity and experiences, I just don’t particularly enjoy segregating it by gender, since I think that is limiting too...and that games could be a tool to show people that there is nothing wrong with taking on characteristics normally reserved for the other gender.

I do NOT think your second point, the physical nature of the sexes, is at all what you’d want to go for, since you sounded like it was truly the gender aspect you wanted to explore, and particularly people may just think, “oh, make women weaker,” and I don’t think that would be a benefit to the gaming industry one bit, or really an expression of an individual’s identity...but on your other points, I do see them as being very good things (in general, I think there needs to be more diversity in player interaction, regardless of the gender factor). Especially what is needed is a diversity of viewpoints in the industry...and different experiences. Although again, I wish that there weren't different experiences purely based on gender, I can’t deny the reality of it, and I think that’s what you may have been going for—that the different genders/sexes face different problems/experiences due to their gender identity, that games often do not capture (or show a diversity of).

Haha, it’s a touchy subject for me, one I’ve been thinking about a lot, but it feels good to let it out. Sorry if I upset anyone, it’s just my opinion, and while I say I wish things were a certain way, I by no means have any right imposing my views on the rest of society.

#20 Posted by project343 (2838 posts) -

@commonoutlier said:

Well, I personally wish for a day that gender literally doesn’t mean anything, since personally gender roles and stereotypes I think are among the worse things in society.

Meaty and delicious post. Thank you so much! :)

First off, on this bit: there is a solid variance to human experience and I think exploring that variance is all sorts of interesting. If we ask for gender to be irrelevant, we are inherently asking for gender variance to become irrelevant and are begging for a homogenization of the gendered experience. It would be like asking for all races/cultures to be nonexistent in the world: it would be a really fucking boring place, and diversity is what makes life so goddamn interesting.

@commonoutlier said:

and it would be entirely wrong of me to suppress other people’s desires to express it through narrative and games. Don’t get me wrong, I think that games should open up to different expressions of identity and experiences, I just don’t particularly enjoy segregating it by gender, since I think that is limiting too...and that games could be a tool to show people that there is nothing wrong with taking on characteristics normally reserved for the other gender.

The gist of my argument was to avoid narrative (as it's very one-directional and gives little room for player feedback), and to open up the gameplay experience with tools that would enable more gender experimentation and performance. All this really means is a more diverse sandbox. Think about the modern day MMORPG and imagine if the genre never had social animations: adding those tools does not directly hurt the combat aspect of the game.

@commonoutlier said:

I do NOT think your second point, the physical nature of the sexes, is at all what you’d want to go for, since you sounded like it was truly the gender aspect you wanted to explore, and particularly people may just think, “oh, make women weaker,” and I don’t think that would be a benefit to the gaming industry one bit

It was a very difficult point to convey. It was more about opening up opportunities to explore bodily (and perhaps social dynamic) experiences and differences in hopes that it may be enlightening. In another response, I brought up Octodad and Minotaur China Shop as non-gender extreme examples and I think perhaps stand as better examples than the Heavy Rain and Tomb Raider examples I provided in my initial post. I suppose a more relevant example from Heavy Rain would be the 'doing yourself up at the club as a lady' bit. Unlike my previous point, this one is very much about subjecting the player to experiences that they may not like and may not be comfortable with.

#21 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

@project343 said:

I think it is important to transcend linear narrative as the primary delivery mechanism here. We do not interact with linear narrative and there can be a fairly severe disconnect between character agency and player agency.

No no no no no no. Linear storytelling still has its place in gaming, especially in tandem with interactivity. Perhaps this could emphasize the lack of the player's importance or the inevitability of the events within the narrative or something like that. It'd kinda be like saying we should move away from cutscenes because of the lack of interactivity there. Both are just tools game developers have to know how to use.

#22 Posted by project343 (2838 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: Oh no! I didn't mean I wanted to forgo linear storytelling altogether. I just wanted to transcend linear storytelling as the exclusive device for conveying gender.

#23 Posted by mlarrabee (3061 posts) -

Gender and sex are not isolated aspects of a personality.

Make a good character and the gender-affected gameplay will follow.

But in truth I've found this entire decade-long discussion about destroying the gender barriers absurd. Everyone is so damned sure they're special they can't just be themselves without demanding they be categorized and dissected, labeled and arranged.

#24 Posted by JadeGL (963 posts) -

Gender is hard. Simple to say, I know, but I think it's true. No matter what a game designer attempts to do with mechanics or whatever, you can't make someone necessarily understand how it feels to be that other gender. I come at this from the other angle. I have been playing games for over 20 years and, most of the time, I have been playing male characters. As a female, I don't think any gameplay mechanic has ever made me feel or understand what it is like to be male. I love playing the Gears of War, Halo, Condemned, and Bioshock campaigns. All of those had male protagonists. I never felt what it must be like to be a male playing those, though. I was just a character in a game that happened to have a male avatar and voice, but nothing in those games made me understand what it is to be male. Because of that, I don't know what you would do to make someone feel like a woman. Sure you can be a female avatar with a female voice, but in the end you're just playing a level in a game, not becoming someone else. At least I never felt that way.

This is some very deep stuff, and I don't even think other forms of media necessarily have made that step either. Maybe the only form of media that could make one feel or understand the opposite gender may be novels. Even then I am not so sure. Our own experiences and gender color how we perceive the world, so how would a mechanic in a game fundamentally alter that?

I think you point to games like Fallout 3, and I would lump in other Bethesda games and RPG games that allow a deep level of customization and I think that is where you can really be who you want to be. However, most people I know including myself, like to make themselves in the game. My character in Fallout 3 was a white woman with brown hair and blue eyes, just like me. My Shepard in Mass Effect was white, with brownish-red hair and blue eyes, like me. My character in New Vegas looked much like my character in Fallout 3. My character in Oblivion was a Nord, with brown hair and blue eyes. My Warden in Dragon Age had reddish hair and blue eyes, as was my character in Dragon Age 2 with minor tweeks. In KOA: Reckoning I was a brunette with blue eyes. Heck, the only time I have ever deviated from this formula was in Skyrim, and I mainly did that because my husband said he was bored of me always looking the same and making characters with the same stats and starting type skills. I couldn't argue with him, he was 100% right! So what did I do? I made a wood elf with red hair and kind of yellow eyes, not really all that different after many minutes stuck on the character creation screen. In the end, these games can give us that tool set, but they don't make us play very differently from how we have before. Even with a huge set of tools, if you aren't forced or guided into using them differently, I find I tend to always gravitate in a specific direction. I make people that look just like me and then I try to play them in a way that matches with my worldview. That means I am super nice, try to avoid conflict as long as I can by talking my way around it, and then, when all else fails, I stick a gun in it's face and pull the trigger until it stops moving.

The reason why I, as a female, enjoy playing as a female avatar is just so that I can feel like I am represented. That's really it. I like being able to be a female Shepard in Mass Effect and romance a hunky space marine. When you get right down to it, there really isn't any difference in male or female Shepard. They are the same set of values, ideas, it's the window dressing that changes. And yet, that can make a huge difference to the person playing.

I realize I have totally rambled on and maybe gone off the rails a bit. I find the question very interesting but in the end I have no ideas for experimentation or implementation in game mechanics to make one understand or experience a different gender identity than their own. I think it is a huge internal hurdle and while games have attempted it (you mention Heavy Rain) I wouldn't call them successful necessarily.

Moderator
#25 Posted by Raven10 (1923 posts) -

I think it's something really hard to design for. On a game I'm currently working on, the development team initially wanted a playable female character. We discussed this for a while and determined that we just didn't want to get involved in that topic. I think the thing is, if you want to focus on gender issues in a game then you need to go all out. Risking the reception of your game by randomly placing a female character in a major role (especially a playable one) is just something a lot of developers just don't want to do. It's sad, really. But it's the type of thing where when gender roles become involved you need to tread so carefully that you really need to be invested in doing it right.

A recent Kinect project worked on by a couple old friends of mine might interest you. Their game was called A Fitting and it basically had players try to fit themselves into classic dresses. Obviously these dresses were impossible to fit into for the average person and the game would force you to contort your body to try and "fit in". They ran an unsuccessful Kickstarter to have their game in the Games For Change Exhibit but I think they are still going to have the game displayed somewhere hopefully. So that is a game that focuses almost exclusively on gender issues (the designers are both women).

I think one of the key examples you use is the Tomb Raider example. Here is a game written by a woman that attempts to show a coming of age story for a legendary character. But look at the anger the game has caused. That is the huge risk you take when trying to make a game about that type of thing. If they pull it off then great, if they don't then that is something they will never be able to live down.

I think you are right in that gender issues are best explored through emergent narratives, or narratives that form from player interaction with a sandbox environment. You look at WOW and you see all the terribly sexist activity that goes on there and you might think that the game is a bad place for women or homosexuals, or any other person who isn't a straight male. But then you see people who are able to create a very powerful bond with both their character and their community and you realize that there can be amazing stories about gender roles in WOW, if you just look in the right places.

I think the final thing you should think about is some of your examples/points as they could be offensive to some people. So women are often smaller and weaker than men. So what? Wouldn't it be better to focus on female strength in games instead of their weaknesses? I agree that in certain situations having female soldiers doesn't make a huge amount of sense, but that doesn't mean women can't fight, or at least be strong in some other way. You look at Laura Croft and find she is a strong, powerful woman. She does a lot more than most men ever could. I think that her weakness in the trailers for the new game is what has people upset. Now I think showing her journey from innocent schoolgirl to strong adventurer is a great thing to show. People miss the point in that game that she is going through hell so that she can be molded into the hardened warrior that we all know her as. That is the type of story that I think works really well in a game, and for a female character especially. I think it's risky to say that a woman shouldn't be shown in a combat role, or that you can't define a woman through combat. Games define men easily in games where the focus is combat. That said, I'll say that many of the strongest female characters in gaming are not fighters so there is that aspect to it as well. Showing women in other roles is a good thing, but women can be just as capable warriors as men can be.

I think the best way to display gender issues in a game is to have women and LGBT characters appear regularly in games where their characters are shown to be just as good as the male characters at whatever they do. Don't make it a focus. In fact, make it a non-issue. Think in Gears of War if Dom was gay and instead of looking for his wife he was looking for his husband? It would have been a tiny change to the story but it would have been a huge thing for the LGBT community. And the key would be to have absolutely nothing different about that character. He would still be the badass soldier and caring father that he is now, except there is suddenly some diversity in the cast. I think adding women to the COGS was a smart move, although I think certain aspects of it could have been handled better. The thing that made it work, though, was that the women were no different than the men. They were expected to do all the same things and were able to do all of the same things. The fact that they were women was never a focus as far as their combat ability was concerned. Yea there was some romance involved, but the women helped the men almost as much as the men helped the women. It was a good experience.

The final game I'll mention is Ico. For me it was the best relationship in a game. For me the best relationships are those where together the couple is greater than they ever could be apart. Ico and Yorda need each other. Neither can get out of their situation without the other. It is only by working together and using each of their strengths that they can escape the castle. One of the main mechanics in Ico is holding hands. It's a brilliant feature. There's no talking, no bickering, no sexual tension. The characters just hold hands. She needs you and you need her. Now some will argue that Ico is sexist because Yorda is the weak one and Ico is the strong one, but I argue that being physically stronger does not mean that Ico is the stronger character. Yorda can open doors Ico could never hope of moving. Her powers are far vaster than Ico's. They are just not physical powers. It's a great relationship that is really touching and that I really enjoyed.

So those are my random comments on this.

#26 Edited by commonoutlier (136 posts) -

@project343 said:

@commonoutlier said:

Well, I personally wish for a day that gender literally doesn’t mean anything, since personally gender roles and stereotypes I think are among the worse things in society.

Meaty and delicious post. Thank you so much! :)

First off, on this bit: there is a solid variance to human experience and I think exploring that variance is all sorts of interesting. If we ask for gender to be irrelevant, we are inherently asking for gender variance to become irrelevant and are begging for a homogenization of the gendered experience. It would be like asking for all races/cultures to be nonexistent in the world: it would be a really fucking boring place, and diversity is what makes life so goddamn interesting.

Yeah, as I explore my dislike for gender roles and identity, homogenization is one of my biggest fears at what may be the result, which is not at all what I'd want. Diversity is a beautiful thing, but I wish there was some way that it could exist outside the confines of defining gender (and I suppose race and culture). I suppose the real thing is that I want is for people to not at least feel confined with what they were "assigned" at birth, and to not feel pressured to participate or take interest in something that is not normally expected of a particular gender...it's something I've had trouble expressing this idea of gender irrelevance without somehow also saying that it shouldn't lead to a homogenization. Heh, maybe someday I'll find a better way of putting it.

@project343 said:

@commonoutlier said:

and it would be entirely wrong of me to suppress other people’s desires to express it through narrative and games. Don’t get me wrong, I think that games should open up to different expressions of identity and experiences, I just don’t particularly enjoy segregating it by gender, since I think that is limiting too...and that games could be a tool to show people that there is nothing wrong with taking on characteristics normally reserved for the other gender.

The gist of my argument was to avoid narrative (as it's very one-directional and gives little room for player feedback), and to open up the gameplay experience with tools that would enable more gender experimentation and performance. All this really means is a more diverse sandbox. Think about the modern day MMORPG and imagine if the genre never had social animations: adding those tools does not directly hurt the combat aspect of the game.

Aah, okay, I see what you mean, although I would distinguish narratives that are one-directional as linear narratives (and linear narratives definitely do still have their place in the industry, since they serve a different purpose, but I personally think what is special about the industry is when they are not linear)...I personally do believe sandboxes can be or are narratives, since what is a narrative but a sequence of events? The designer does not have to be the one to predefine them. What makes video games special is that the player is participating in and changing the events. So, I do agree that there is a need for more diverse sandbox, since being able to choose different courses of actions or interactions would allow for more experimentation of not only gender, but of other personal beliefs or other forms of identities. And the social tools of MMORPG are certainly another interesting aspect worth looking into...

@project343 said:

@commonoutlier said:

I do NOT think your second point, the physical nature of the sexes, is at all what you’d want to go for, since you sounded like it was truly the gender aspect you wanted to explore, and particularly people may just think, “oh, make women weaker,” and I don’t think that would be a benefit to the gaming industry one bit

It was a very difficult point to convey. It was more about opening up opportunities to explore bodily (and perhaps social dynamic) experiences and differences in hopes that it may be enlightening. In another response, I brought up Octodad and Minotaur China Shop as non-gender extreme examples and I think perhaps stand as better examples than the Heavy Rain and Tomb Raider examples I provided in my initial post. I suppose a more relevant example from Heavy Rain would be the 'doing yourself up at the club as a lady' bit. Unlike my previous point, this one is very much about subjecting the player to experiences that they may not like and may not be comfortable with.

Yes, I can see better what you're getting at with the other examples. I think the problem was that the Heavy Rain and the Tomb Raider examples of I think what most of society things are the "different experiences," and honestly the later about rape is something that all genders/sexes face (even if statistically it affects women most). But yeah, the bodily exploration and experience exploration are two different points. I guess it would be a bit hard to convey bodily differences between your standard man and women, since I personally feel like that it would not be so much their sexes that would make differences, but other factors (if one works out more than the other, etc). Although, I suppose there are factors related to gender (BUT not restricted to), that I have wished games would explore more, that are bodily. I, for example, am VERY short (I believe the doctor said once I was shorter than 90% of people my age), and I KNOW that it is a very different day to day experience for me than a tall person, even if its dragging a chair to reach something in an upper cabinet or struggling an entire class period to see over someone else’s head. So from that perspective, yeah, I can see both points being worth exploration.

#27 Posted by TeflonBilly (4713 posts) -

Playing with a female character gives you less achievement points for the same task

#28 Edited by EXTomar (4943 posts) -

@project343 said:

@EXTomar said:

I have held for awhile the best way to approach this is like how writers handle it: Embrace it but not draw attention to it. It is fine to have a female character that as a little girl lost her mom and spent a lot of time learning from grandmother instead that saves the world. Such a character wouldn't do it using nonsense idea where trying to rescue the world by being Rambo-ette makes as much sense as baking cookies. The Heroine does what they have to do with the tools given to them where game designers shouldn't give them an apron or giant gun and tight fitting armor.

So make sure that there is a narrative justification for the gameplay mechanics?

One thing that always bothered me about the Mass Effect series (a series I adore) is that, while Jennifer Hale's Femshep is certainly one of the most respectable female protagonists in gaming, the fact that she is a woman is almost irrelevant to the narrative. It is a bit of a double-edged sword: throwing in narrative quibbles that identify her sex makes it relevant, but it also leads into a shallow essentializing of femininity. Regardless, sex and gender are not irrelevant to everyday life: they have profound effects on how we are perceived and act--and should not be irrelevant to the experience.

I suppose another great avenue to allow players to experiment with gender outside of linear narrative is with the interactive narrative in both Persona and Mass Effect. Exploring relationships, expressing passions, hostilities, and the like with NPCs may be worth something from a gender performance perspective.

I consider that the most powerful stories are more universal and rarely have a gender angle to them. Mass Effect is a good instance of this where the core idea of individualism and how it is worth fighting for doesn't appear to have a male or female perspective to it. Ideas of like freedom and justice really don't seem to have a gender bias in their purest form. For me I would be bored by a game that feature male characters that are motivated by just domination just as much as a game that feature female characters that are motivated by just matronly emotions.

I don't think Nathan Drake is particularly manly nor do I think Elena Fisher is particularly feminine but the way they are written especially in Uncharted 2 makes them kind of believable...if you put aside the huge amount of killing they have to do. Maybe an aspect of this topic is that some situations and games don't need more "gender relevant stuff". On the other hand I can easily see how Ellie in The Last Of Us is going to need to touch upon this. It would not be believable if Ellie collapses into crybaby when broccoli people show up nor would it be believable if Ellie goes Rambo-ette but we need to believe she has the limitations a girl of her age would have. I don't know if that strictly "gender relevant stuff" or just sound writing.

#29 Posted by aquamarin (555 posts) -

Why couldn't they just put a playable female character in GTAV?! Also, I really like playing as female alts in MMOs and roleplaying as much as I can. I don't know what that's all about or if there's something wrong with me because of it.

#30 Edited by Zekhariah (695 posts) -

@Viking_Funeral said:

How do you make gender relevant in 4 square? Or in a game of tether-ball?

I have mostly seen gender relevance addressed in RPGs, giving different stats to female vs. male characters (bonus to cooking hur hur hur......).

But maybe story could be a more relevant point. Physical characteristics vary a lot between people of both genders, so making one stronger vs. weaker is not really all that interesting from a gender prospective. But maybe a world where the character might be challenging the imagined society's preconceptions (or alternately following them) could be really interesting and increase the level of immersion the player can have in the world. Like maybe gender A receives acceptance for completing a task, but gender B doing the same thing makes you a pariah, and opens up a different storyline. And if the gameplay action has some story relevant gender overtones (certain types of quests objectives in a RPG) it might still feel like a gameplay impact in terms of the mechanics you choose to use. Although, the game would need to do a excellent job with world construction, and it would probably take a lot of care to not overly expose game systems and break the effect of the world for this kind of approach to gain any momentum.

Vampire Masquerade: Bloodlines had a primitive form of gameplay impact, in terms of who you could seduce or effectiveness of intimidation. But overall I think having the impact in the players perception of the game instead of mechanics is more interesting (maybe have gender alter the how the alignment systems are presented to the player?).

#31 Posted by Dagbiker (6978 posts) -

I think one of the problems is when they try to address genders as separate, they get pissed on. Such as with all the crap with the Tomb Raider stuff.

#32 Edited by project343 (2838 posts) -

@commonoutlier said:

and honestly the later about rape is something that all genders/sexes face (even if statistically it affects women most)

I understand that rape is a universal, two-directional thing. But it was more about experiencing victimization through physical subordination due to a distinct lack of physical size (typically women are smaller than men and are less frequently conditioned into establishing a physical prowess). It is a touchy subject that I would probably never want included in a game.

@mlarrabee said:

But in truth I've found this entire decade-long discussion about destroying the gender barriers absurd. Everyone is so damned sure they're special they can't just be themselves without demanding they be categorized and dissected, labeled and arranged.

If we do not break barriers, people will be essentialized and stereotyped into small little boxes that they are socially pushed into conforming to. I will take a million people claiming that they are 'special snowflakes' over a single essentializing/stereotype-dependent person.

@JadeGL said:

  • As a female, I don't think any gameplay mechanic has ever made me feel or understand what it is like to be male.
  • However, most people I know including myself, like to make themselves in the game.

A really lovely post, thank you so much.

I just wanted to address these specific points.

  • My point is more not that video games should allow people to explore the opposite gender, but rather, enable the player to explore themselves. In that respect, I have to ask: has being funneled into 'blockbuster 100%-action-all-the-time violence-oriented experiences with male protagonists' given you the ability to explore parts of yourself in meaningful ways?
  • I think a lot of people do like to recreate themselves in game, but you also have quite a few who like to explore worlds from different perspectives. For me, at the very least, I tend to create tiny latin-looking men with character creators. I'm an average-y white male. The closer the character is to myself, the more I dislike playing the actual character. Every now and then I'll also gender-bend (Femshep is a great example). There are a lot of strong women in my life that I completely adore, and I had a really great time approaching Mass Effect with Jennifer Hale yelling battle orders around and kicking ass.

@Raven10 said:

I think it's risky to say that a woman shouldn't be shown in a combat role, or that you can't define a woman through combat. Games define men easily in games where the focus is combat. That said, I'll say that many of the strongest female characters in gaming are not fighters so there is that aspect to it as well. Showing women in other roles is a good thing, but women can be just as capable warriors as men can be.

They certainly can be. My point wasn't to remove female characters from combat, but rather, to give all characters the option to engage with the content from different perspectives.

Slightly on-female-soldier topic: one of my problems with Femshep is that she is identical to Manshep in every every--making her gender identification irrelevant. The closest thing that you get to relevant is Femshep's slightly more promiscuous 'casual wear' and her romance options. Realistically, characters should react to the female player character differently from the male characters: it just presents a glorified future world where apparently sexism is non-existent. And I understand that, from a budgetary perspective, creating additional content for a gender swap makes no economical sense. In either case, the only way to make gender relevant in Mass Effect is to role-play it with dialogue choices, but there is still room for the world to react differently to you as a female character (as oppose to you reacting different to the world).

And, on the physicality point, I want the physical body to be more relevant to the experience: whether the relationship between player and character is gender-bent or not. If I play as a hulking dude, I want to feel like a hulking dude. If I play as a tiny lady, I want that to matter. Exploring new identities is a great to learn more about yourself.

@EXTomar said:

I don't think Nathan Drake is particularly manly nor do I think Elena Fisher is particularly feminine but the way they are written especially in Uncharted 2 makes them kind of believable...if you put aside the huge amount of killing they have to do.

I actually completely disagree on this. Nathan Drake is a cocky, adventurous, comical lady's man; Elena Fisher is incredibly non-confrontational (at least by the universe's standards) and has some moments of pretty strong jealousy. I think both characters fit their in with gender binaries pretty well.

While I do think that grandiose and universal messages are, well, universal... I also think that the performance of gender is an incredibly internal, nuanced, and small-scale thing. When the world is exploding, gender is by far one of the least interesting developments or forces on screen. But that isn't to say that it doesn't matter. Gender as a relevant topic for video games would mostly prosper in low-key and subtle experiences (not to say that it doesn't have sway in those before-mentioned larger events). Stuff like Persona 3/4 is a great example where gender and the exploration of Charlie as a character can be enlightening and give you room to explore yourself.

#33 Posted by Aetheldod (3723 posts) -

There cant be ..... a trained soldier is a trained soldier , no matter if is male or female ... because at the end of the day they both know how to pull the trigger and the end result is a dead enemy. Only during the character development were being of x gender can be explored ... in the world/universe concept of said game (Mass Effect has the Asari... a monogendered species that resemble human females and how humans perceive such things... a great example would be in ME2 when the female human that is conquered by Morinth in her diaries expresses concern or rather misconception that morinth is a girl). I personally dont see that there are many types of genders ... either you are male or female , nature hardwired you one way or the other (our brains work acording to nature mandates) , either you have a penis or a vagina , prominent breast or not ..... all biological differences , and all human activities can be performed be either sexes , and in may different times some activities are prefered soccially to be done by one or the other , but a man can sew , so does a woman , a man can shoot , so does a woman.

But only females can have menstruation , only females can give birth , only males are %100 all the time ready to pregnate (this I mean that men sperm can fecund regardless of age). Men are usually taller than women , but a tall woman would be tall against a short man ... so in the end only the height of individual matters not the sex. Now you may say but what about LGTB? Well even if a woman is a lesbian ... she is still a woman , so is a gay still a man , and transexual try to pretend they are the other sex but in the end they are not , nor will ever know exaclty how the other sex really is , only roleplay what they think is the other (again a transexual who became a woman will never be able to have the real funtions of female genitalia nor a transexual who become a man will never produce sperm etc.). So , again only in the story beats/characterization can gender differences be explored (but compared to the culture were the game is set and our own).

#34 Posted by Delta_Ass (3282 posts) -

Shoot aliens with your penis.

#35 Posted by project343 (2838 posts) -

@Aetheldod: Everything that you're talking about is sex. Gender is the socially constructed identity and performance that is typically informed by sex. Extreme examples of the incongruent division of sex and gender is with transgendered individuals (people who may be biologically male but identify with and perform something closer to society's standard for women).

Personally, I am a man who fits into both hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity at the same time. I love romance, I love action. I can cry frequently and I can be hella blunt. I tend to wear darker clothing because I don't want to stand out or appear to be 'vibrant' or flamboyant. I adore Meryl Streep movies. I will buy every Animal Crossing game ever released. I love to use emoticons when texting. This is gender.

I have a dick and a pair of balls. This is sex.

#36 Posted by EXTomar (4943 posts) -

I do totally agree that the banter between the characters, especially those two, is what makes the setup work well. Drake says typical guy stuff while Elena usually has the girl retort. However I don't believe dialog is an effective way of defining gender in fiction, games or the real world but instead dialog tone is consequence of that assignment. I guess what I am getting at is that I believe trying to reflect gender in game play is a poor idea where the much wiser way to do it is in the story. Don't make Drake or Elena shoot bad guys different but make what they say to each other distinct.

If we want an interesting example to discuss lets take a look at Personal 3 Portable. The game is superficially the same but allows the player to pick a gender. Maybe this is the way to make gender matter in games where neither gender is offered all of the side options but are still equally capable of completing the game. And it also helps that the narrative fits the justification fits in multiple places where my favorite has always been the male character is at tarot 0 while the female character is at tarot 22 which is the same as well as opposite. :)

#37 Edited by Jaytow (705 posts) -

+5 to dish washing.

SORRY...

#38 Posted by commonoutlier (136 posts) -

@project343 said:

@mlarrabee said:

But in truth I've found this entire decade-long discussion about destroying the gender barriers absurd. Everyone is so damned sure they're special they can't just be themselves without demanding they be categorized and dissected, labeled and arranged.

If we do not break barriers, people will be essentialized and stereotyped into small little boxes that they are socially pushed into conforming to. I will take a million people claiming that they are 'special snowflakes' over a single essentializing/stereotype-dependent person.

That, sir, is one great response. I second that...and I think that's the point I was trying to get at earlier.

#39 Posted by imsh_pl (3314 posts) -
#40 Posted by StarvingGamer (8555 posts) -

It's early and I can't think of anything to add to this thread other than to say that I support your sentiment wholeheartedly.

#41 Posted by cannonballBAM (609 posts) -
#42 Posted by Brodehouse (10129 posts) -

In gameplay, completely divorced from narrative, I don't think so. Gender is a social construct, sex is mechanical; we can form that same difference between gameplay and narrative. One is dependent on our understanding of people, narrative devices, verisimilitude. So no, I don't think there can be gender differences in 'pure' gameplay. You can have sex differences, but nothing that touches our social understanding.

(I typed a bunch of stuff here, but I don't think I'm making strong or interesting points)

Despite the condemnations of oppression, it's most interesting to see how the 'traditional' gender roles of men and women are influenced by the hunter-gatherer construct we evolved from. It's even left imprints in our biology.

#43 Edited by project343 (2838 posts) -

@Brodehouse said:

Gender is a social construct, sex is mechanical; we can form that same difference between gameplay and narrative. One is dependent on our understanding of people, narrative devices, verisimilitude.

But then what about emergent/gameplay-facilitated narratives? What about gameplay experiences that are inherently social or replicate social experience (online games, Mass Effect, Persona 4, etc.)?

Flanagan (2000) made the claim that everything in cyberspace is constructed, and every interaction is a performance within a world. By simply assuming the existence of an avatar, we are (at least on some level) performing subconsciously. And she relates this to gender. So, assuming that this reasoning is sound, how can gameplay not be a way to enact gender?

*Edit: premature posting. (I swear, I don't usually have performance issues like these XD)

#44 Posted by Beforet (2934 posts) -

I don't see why it needs to be a gameplay thing. Gender, to me, is more of a narrative and presentation issue than gameplay itself.

#45 Posted by granderojo (1792 posts) -

I do not know how pertinent this is to this discussion, but the farther I get from when I played Episode IV of The Walking Dead, the more I think Molly is my favorite character in a video game up to this point. Before that, ironically this was probably Kiki Jenkins from GTA IV just because unlike the other Niko Bellic confidants she had a twist to the end of her story arc. Similar to what the cheating girlfriend set of mission in Sleepy Dogs had. Molly's arc is fucked up, Gary really created a fucked up calloused character with her. Definitely the best character so far in that game full of wonderful characters. I'm really glad she only lasted one episode too. You learn all you need to know about her, and she doesn't stick around long enough for the writers to write her into a hole. As close to a perfect arc if there ever was one in a video game.

I said it before, and I'll say it again here. GTA V needs a DLC main character staring someone like a Molly. Maybe not so young, but a lady who finds her strength through her confliction. Her and bring the kid from Bully up, Jimmy Hopkins, have them be a relative Bonny and Clyde duo that you play as across two DLC segments.

#46 Posted by StarvingGamer (8555 posts) -

@Beforet: But games have the unique ability to make us experience things in a more direct way. There's a world of difference between reading about "feeling wrong in your own skin," and actually experiencing that sensation for yourself. Is there a gameplay path to that? I don't know. But if the possibility is there I feel it's worth exploring.

#47 Posted by mlarrabee (3061 posts) -

@project343 said:

But in truth I've found this entire decade-long discussion about destroying the gender barriers absurd. Everyone is so damned sure they're special they can't just be themselves without demanding they be categorized and dissected, labeled and arranged.

If we do not break barriers, people will be essentialized and stereotyped into small little boxes that they are socially pushed into conforming to. I will take a million people claiming that they are 'special snowflakes' over a single essentializing/stereotype-dependent person.

But that's the very point. So many people drive themselves into stereotypes in their attempt to not conform to a stereotype. Lesbians bear the stereotype of plaid and Birkenstocks through their avoidance of the female stereotype of skirts and high heels. Religious adherents carry the stereotype of being uptight and "holier than thou" because of their attempts to not be included in the human race's stereotype of being amoral and immoral.

It's quite similar to the the over-prescription of ADD/ADHD medication. These days children can't have varying levels of excitability or energy, so we medicate them with Ritalin to make them all fit into the same category. We simply moved them from the "Rambunctious," "Excitable," and "Energetic" columns to the "Sedate" column.

No one is allowed to just live with a unique personality anymore; now it's probed and examined. And so far, the only result I've seen from this phobia of being a stereotype is exponential subdivision of the stereotypes. Nobody's destroying the stereotypes; they're just playing Asteroids with them.

I'm not trying to change your mind on this issue, but judging by your response I think my original post didn't convey my position well.

#48 Posted by Brodehouse (10129 posts) -
@project343

@Brodehouse said:

Gender is a social construct, sex is mechanical; we can form that same difference between gameplay and narrative. One is dependent on our understanding of people, narrative devices, verisimilitude.

But then what about emergent/gameplay-facilitated narratives? What about gameplay experiences that are inherently social or replicate social experience (online games, Mass Effect, Persona 4, etc.)?

Flanagan (2000) made the claim that everything in cyberspace is constructed, and every interaction is a performance within a world. By simply assuming the existence of an avatar, we are (at least on some level) performing subconsciously. And she relates this to gender. So, assuming that this reasoning is sound, how can gameplay not be a way to enact gender?

*Edit: premature posting. (I swear, I don't usually have performance issues like these XD)

But those portions of those games that involve the social side are intrinsically tied to the narrative. In pure gameplay terms, beref of narrative, gender concerns cannot exist. Narrative is the oxygen that allows emotional constructs to exist on top of constructed mathematical forumla.

Now the majority of games use narrative to inform gameplay, and almost all the gender concerns there can be lumped under Men Act, Women Are. The supportive and passive roles in gameplay are considered intrinsically female, the active and aggressive roles intrinsically male. Even in a game where direct action is unavoidable (fighting games), female characters trend towards zoning and fragility over overt conflict like rushdown or grappling. Female characters who trend to the other side of that spectrum will invariably be depicted as lacking femininity (Chie Satonaka, The Carnivore Who Has Discarded Womanhood). It carries across more games (it carries across all media) but it's the core definition of just about every gender trope. Even the idea that Men Are Generic/Default and Women Are Special is derived from it.
#49 Posted by project343 (2838 posts) -

@Brodehouse: But my theoretical push is to broaden the toolset available to players so that they have the ability to approach scenarios and gameplay encounters from whatever angle they desire. This broadened toolset would give players more agency and flexibility in gendered performance. It really has little to do with funneling male and female characters/players into gender role binaries.

#50 Edited by cexantus (131 posts) -

@Viking_Funeral said:

How do you make gender relevant in 4 square? Or in a game of tether-ball?

At some point, people have to concede the fact that games are primarily an entertaining mix of mechanics, with narrative being tertiary. Some of the best and most defining games in video game history have absolutely minimal narrative, and are mostly driven by their gameplay. Sure, a good narrative can improve the overall package dramatically, but a lousy story doesn't necessarily detract from good gameplay.

I actually disagree with this. Keep in mind: the novel was once considered mindless entertainment as well, little more than something bored housewives would read to keep themselves busy when they weren't playing moms. In fact, many of what we now consider to be high-art began life as spectacles solely to entertain the masses. It was years before anyone thought that film or art or literature could actually have something to say on an intellectual level.

So what makes video games any different? I'd say that with the dawn of the indie developer, we're getting more and more games that are for more personal than something like Call of Duty. That's not to say there isn't a place for those type of games, but I think video games are soon coming into an era where it can be considered more as an artistic medium.

Edit: Also, I really think we should expect more from gaming on an narrative level as well. As games become more complex and ape film thematically, we should hold game's narrative in higher regard. What's the point of shelling $60 for a video game when I don't give a shit about what's going on or the people I find myself in contact with?