Posted by : Wendy B Monday, 23 April 2012

Um. No. Moving on.
We know that a large number of female characters in video games are depicted in an overly sexified manner, possibly in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I’m not the lowest common denominator, however, I do appreciate the eye candy to an extent. It upsets me when my mage or warrior isn’t showing enough unprotected flesh. My school of thought on sexism in this matter belongs to The White Queen, so don’t bother arguing with me on that point. Not interested. Because. Breasts.

What has been niggling at me lately, though, is this need for my characters to prove themselves as females in the three games I’ve been playing: SWTOR, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. These are all Bioware games, so this may be common to them only, but I’ll venture to assume that it is not so. It’s not a prominent point of stress for me. The notion only comes up in dialogue briefly and usually towards the beginning of game play. But it keeps happening enough to garner my bloggy attention.
  1. In SWTOR, my Trooper enters her early mission area and is greeted by a young private who stammers his message in surprise at meeting her for the first time. The dialogue options include defensively asking if he’s never seen a woman in the military before. 
  2.  In Dragon Age, there are a few moments during the Grey Warden introduction and initiations where being a female is specifically questioned in surprise. 
  3.  In Mass Effect, FemShep has a similar conversation with someone. I don’t remember where or when this occurred, but having dealt with the other examples, it reminded me that FemShep did have such a moment and it irked me then, too. 
 In these minor cases, the NPC would back down immediately, not meaning to cause offense and the moment passes. I’m not sure what dialogue options occur for a male character because male characters are poopy and I don't play them, but I suspect a male character does not deal with such prejudice. There’s likely no dialogue option requiring a male character to feel they have to prove themselves because the male character starts on equal footing.

What is the reasoning behind including this dialogue? Who is it for? I know some guys play female characters, but I'd wager a lot of women choose female characters, so I can only assume those moments of GRRL POWAH! are for me.

These stories take place in fantastic new worlds, not entirely related to our own, but women are still considered the lesser of the species. There is an opportunity to move past the prejudices of our current times, but we don’t. We’ve managed to excise human vs. human racism by transferring it onto aliens and fae creatures. But sexism? That’s gotta stay true!

Now we all know George Lucas is a sexist bastard and that the Star Wars universe he made doesn’t have room for too many ladies, but I would hope that, under someone else’s reigns, that attitude wouldn’t need to persist. Yet one major NPC specifically disguises herself as a male because she (believes) she wouldn’t have been taken seriously in her role otherwise.

At least in Mass Effect 3, which takes place in our potential future. Eve addresses the issue directly, in a thought-provoking manner, commenting on how Shepard is treated with respect and equality in comparison to her species. Eve is a rarely seen krogan female. She is dressed and treated in much the same manner as a Muslim woman (though she’s allowed to speak her mind freely and can shotgun the shit out of whatever she wants.) I would like to think that resolving this particular mission also serves to return the krogan females to their rightful place as equals to the males, rather than as coveted prizes. Mass Effect takes place not far into our potential future, so, fprtunately, other than that one comment earlier on in the series, it was pleasing to see that the writers did not make Shepard’s gender a major issue. Shepard is a strong character, no matter what her gender.

 Gaming companies are finally realizing that women play and have always played video games. And now they are learning how to lure in more of us. Hint: We know we belong here. We don’t require reaffirming moments in video games to remind us of this. We know. Because. Vagina.

WHAT IS THIS?

This is my mindspill. Mostly about comics, books, video games, movies of the science fiction and fantasy leanings. Sometimes recipes and parenting stuff will sneak in, along with a real world rant or two.

I also write about geek culture at Women Write About Comics, and I review genre fiction at The BiblioSanctum.

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