Friday, April 12, 2013

Gender and Video Games

Hey all, just thought I'd take a break from my Writer's Block to tell you about a great article I just read, by Sophie Prell at Penny Arcade,  regarding Transgender identity and Video Games.  The article brings up the idea that with video games, players can role-play as the opposite gender.  This allows them to build a virtual identity free from the scrutiny that they would have to endure in public.  It also is a great place to experiment. 

As I mentioned in my comment on the article, I play as women all the time in games.  In fighting games I almost always choose the woman (so often there's been only one).  This started with Chun Li from Street Fighter 2,  and may have been based entirely on how easy it was to do her lightning kick.  (I'm really disappointed in how hard it is to find a good lightening kick video on youtube,  but for our purposes, the move is performed by relentlessly smashing the 'kick' button).  After getting to know Chun Li she became my favorite character.  She's so leggy, and she jumps very high.  Since Street Fighter 2 I have gravitated toward light characters who are very agile, which is how fighting game makers usually design their female characters.

Let's see, any others?  Female Warrior in Golden Axe.  Paladin in Ultima IV.  Female Cat character in Final Fantasy XI.  Sprite in Secret of Mana (actually male, but I always thought female.)  Help me out here, I'm drawing a blank.  I know there are plenty more. 

I'm not too concerned about what this says about my own gender.  I just really appreciate that I can play around with it in video games.  I've never crossed the line to performing as female for others - ie: pretending I'm a woman on an MMO or something.  In fact, my FinalFantasy XI female character was named 'Imadood' - just so there was no mistaking.  That said, I think its important to point out that any assumptions we make about what gender a player is - those are just assumptions.  It's a video game, and we are free to express ourselves through the game- who we are in real life is really nobodies business. 

I do want to say that the subject of gender and video games on the internet is fraught.  Fraught, I say!   It's so hard to find a mellow and respectful atmosphere to have that discussion without a zillion people throwing around slurs, porno and generally thoughtless ignorance.  I would say that the experience of talking about gender and video games on the internet is like playing Contra or Raiden - shit is just flying everywhere! (click links for videos of those games in action to see what I'm talking about).  

Contra and Raiden are fun games, who doesn't love a good shoot'em up?  Well, some people don't.  And even those who love them - they're hardly my first choice, I can tell you that.  No, I prefer the calm environment of an RPG, where the pace is slow and steady, and I can save the game and come back to the action.  It's so hard to find this sort of pace on the internet, but I am glad to say that the Penny Arcade moderators have done a great job with this article.  I suggest you read it, and browse the comments a little.  


“Video games showed me who I could be:” transgender gamers share their stories, joys, and fears-   by Sophie Prell

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