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The Un-Male
by Jacek Wesolowski on 08/02/14 10:37:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

My body is male, and I identify as male.

 

This hasn't been always the case. Back when I was about eight years old, I didn't perceive the two genders as separate. I believe that's actually fairly common among eight-year-olds.

 

Me and my brother spent much time alone at home. We made up stories of exploration and adventure, and we cast ourselves as fictional heroes. The name I picked for myself most of the time was “Kasia”, and yes, it's female. I often, if not most often, identified with characters who happened to be girls. One of a few things I remember from that time is how, at one point, I wanted to be a princess with angel wings and all that stuff. You might think I wanted to be a girl, but that was not the case. I simply didn't realise boys were not supposed to be princesses.

 

One day I noticed some people were placing their left foot on the right and their right foot on the left as they walked, so I decided to give it a try, too. My father noticed and made fun of me, because I was “turning into a woman”, and that was, apparently, very wrong. Let this anecdote illustrate the point that there are plenty of things we take for granted that aren't actually hard-wired into our identities. We have learned them from our parents and peers. We just don't remember.

 

This isn't a “coming out of the closet” piece. Despite what I just said about princesses, I am not a crossdresser. The idea doesn't feel appealing at all, and in fact I'm quite obsessive-compulsive about wearing the same kind of clothes all the time. I never wear belts, button shirts, ties, or suits. When I bought my first T-shirt that wasn't a shade of grey, it felt like a big, brave step into the unknown.

 

On an unrelated note, I only fall in love with women, for some reason.

 

The person I am has been at odds with the person I am supposed to be since I was five. That's when I was told I was “being a woman” for the first time. My leg was hurt, and my (female) teacher in pre-school didn't like the fact that I was crying. This is how early we start to indoctrinate our children not only into thinking that there are “boyish” and “girlish” things, but also that a boy doing “girlish” things is wrong and disgraceful. Or, to rephrase it in a much more unpleasant way, that being a woman is bad.

 

I was, of course, oblivious to all this subtext until around the time I first fell in love. Suddenly, things got complicated, and all that men vs. women drama begun to matter. It always made me extremely uncomfortable. One of the most hurtful prohibitions was the one that said I was no longer supposed to have female friends. Before my tenth birthday, I had seven school friends whom I remember to this day, and five of them were girls. But after that, every time I admitted to something as simple as having a conversation with a girl, everyone would assume I was having a crush! There was nothing in between any more! My mother was particularly keen on making fuss about it, but class mates were not much behind. On top of that, I was a quiet and shy person who didn't like confrontation. I hated breaking rules. I felt comfortable gossiping, but not having fights. Alas, boys who gossip are “being a woman”, and that's just despicable.

 

I spent my entire adolescence in this limbo. I desperately tried to fit in, but I was very bad at it. I tried to avoid all the forbidden things that I was good at, and it made me very unhappy. As one of side effects, my way of thinking about women became so weird that I'm really glad the Internet wasn't around at the time, because I would probably come across as one hell of a creep. I was pretty much doomed to a lifetime of misery at that point.

 

It took me a good few years to realise that my world didn't need to be like this, that I could be the person I really was, and that all those rules were arbitrary. I believe literature was my gateway to this revelation. Because I was a good student, I took part in a writing contest, and for my research I needed to read “Anne of Green Gables”. I ended up reading the entire series. These books were officially sanctioned as “good literature”, and the protagonist was considered a good role model. She was also someone I admired, and someone like me in many ways. So why on Earth was I allowed to admire Anne of Green Gables, but not be like her?

 

Fifteen years later, in a certain level design meeting, a certain creative director would mock “Anne of Green Gables” as an unworthy reading that undermined one's masculinity. I don't think I've ever despised a person more than on that day.

 

I'm quite confident about my gender identity, but I'm also pretty sure my body is a bit more fuzzy on this subject. It gives a noticeable (and somewhat erotic) response to pregnant women (all of them), so I guess that's where it's fulfilling its macho duties. Sometimes I suddenly get high on hormones when I'm around children aged one year or less, and I'm not sure if it has anything to do with gender at all, but it's definitely not part of the “male” social role. I have experienced a number of peculiar and actually quite pleasant sensations associated with infants that I have had trouble comprehending – but I suspect they involve my body somehow being fooled into thinking that it can perform breastfeeding. That's not a “male” thing at all. I distinctly remember that one occasion when my body thought it was holding a baby, but it was actually a bag with a kilogram of apples in it (which goes to show how silly one's body can be: newborn babies weigh 3-4 kilograms on average).

 

Oh, and by the way, at one point in my life I spent thee years playing Counter-Strike every day. I was in a clan. I had good stats. For those in the know – I preferred the SG over the AK. If you've read up to this point, you're probably not surprised.

 

I am deeply unhappy with stories in games. There is almost never room for me in there. I'm a thirty-something with a male body, I identify as male, and I'm even, you know, heterosexual, and I still tend to identify with female characters, except that there are very few female characters worth identifying with. On the other hand, the male characters usually act and speak in ways to which my only response is “oh God, they're not like me at all, they're some aliens from another planet”.

 

Or perhaps I'm the alien.

 

Or maybe we're all aliens in one way or another, only we've taught ourselves not to admit it.

 

The characters we put in games are not like us, but they are shaped after the people we are supposed to be. It's a vicious circle. We are taught to admire certain combinations of traits, rather than traits themselves, hence we apply those combinations to our characters, who are supposed to be admirable, after all. They become points of reference for our audience, and the stereotype is reinforced. But think about it in this way: I would probably be a complete mess, if not for Anne of Green Gables. Yet, people like her are such a rare sight among game characters.

 

Diversity does not reside in our crotches, but in our brains. Even if you narrow your scope down to heterosexual males with male bodies – I don't think you should, but I can't stop you – you are still going to see a huge variety of personalities that aren't reflected in our creative output. You don't have to look that hard to find men who are more comfortable gossiping than fighting, teenage boys who might want to write a diary (I did!), men who feel comfortable around infants, men who cry from time to time for mundane reasons, or men who can be soft, passive, kind, or weak, but still remarkable in one way or another. And you will be neglecting the strong, determined, bullish, or otherwise non-stereotypical women who also like to play games.

 

You have the power to foster this diversity. You can't change the way people are raised, and you can't undo the things their fathers, mothers, teachers, and peers put in their heads, but you can create gateways for their self-expression and self-discovery. You can offer new points of reference. You can build new role models. You can make people feel at home.

 

Somewhere out there is a boy, or a girl, whom you can rescue from a lifetime of misery.

 


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Comments


Christian Nutt
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Well, like you experienced in your meeting, I think that a lot of developers who make games starring these uber-masculine characters have a narrow view on gender.

Also, I found that when I was writing for game magazines, the ones who talked a lot about who their readers were had an imaginary reader that was really reductive, and kind of an asshole; and from what I gather, the same applies to a lot of audience-based creative efforts, and certainly what I hear marketing execs and devs say about the imaginary dude who plays their games is, well, extremely reductive.

Thanks for sharing though - brave and a good read, a good reminder.

Jacek Wesolowski
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In my experience, these reductive statements come in two major varieties.

One is spontaneous. This is the kind of statement that happened in that particular meeting. Among other remarks made by the same person on other occasions was his dread at the thought that his newborn daughter was one day going to give blowjobs, and a joke that implied that part of the job of our newly hired receptionist was to have sex with team members (it happened in front of the entire team, including the receptionist).

I've met more men like him. Most of them are nowhere near as dysfunctional, but they all have this distinct vibe to the way they speak, act, and joke. One common trait among them is that they're incredibly insecure. Perhaps they are more like me than I would like to admit, only they didn't find their way out. They crave validation, and I think they get it from enforcing a very narrow definition of "a good person" (in this case: a proper man). On one hand, since it's so narrow, it's also simple. There are a few rules you have to follow, and then you're safe for life. On the other hand, if you happen to meet this particular set of arbitrary criteria perfectly, then you're automatically "better" than the vast majority of men who can only fulfill that role to some degree, if at all (they might do better in different roles, which is all the more reason to brand those roles as "un-manly").

Part of the narrow definition of masculinity is competitiveness. This is just perfect for an insecure person in a management position, because the hierarchy guarantees that the boss always "wins", while the norm of masculinity that puts emphasis on confrontation guarantees that people won't back away from contests they can't win. I think we have lots of people who buy into this in gamedev, because games do have a certain affinity for competition. There's very often some kind of "versus": me vs. other players, me vs. the environment, me vs. myself. On top of that, the early gaming culture revolved around games that needed to be very hard for technical reasons. The good thing is that we can expect to see less of this kind of behaviour in the following generations, because some of the conditions that fostered it aren't there anymore. In my last job I had a rare opportunity to build a nine-person Design team from scratch, and I had no trouble finding candidates who pursued a very diverse set of ideals. Most of them were under thirty.


The second variety is rationalization. We're used to making certain kinds of games. They have worked for our business. We know the technical challenges involved. We understand the creative aspect. Inventing something new is hard. Making a carbon copy of "Gears of War" with better production values is easy and makes you feel creative. Many reductionist statements are essentially displays of the fear of failure. They take form of the "it's not me, it's the world" argument, because it removes personal responsibility (in other words, failure becomes acceptable, because it's not our fault anymore).

There are also some slightly more quirky approaches. For example, in one job I was told that "female protagonists don't sell" by... a female concept artist who didn't want to get stuck drawing a female character for a month. She really, really wanted to only ever draw long-haired, big-eyed, slender, naked men kissing other long-haired, big-eyed, slender, naked men. But she wouldn't admit it, so she defaulted to the "it's not me, it's how the world works" argument, which, in this case, took the form of "female characters don't sell". I have nothing against yaoi, but I wish she felt secure enough to just say it out loud.

Gender issues are complicated, and so is gender reductionism, but the feelings of insecurity crop up very, very often when gender is discussed. Basically, I wrote a piece that aims to make people feel a bit more secure. :-)

Ian Uniacke
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This is a pretty long read, but seems to describe the people you're talking about (the clueless) exactly:

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-or-the
-office-according-to-the-office/

Jacek Wesolowski
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The article is about companies rather than social structures (which differ from the former in that they can survive without making money), so we need to be careful not to draw the analogy too far, but I think you're right. Those people do seem very much like the Clueless, and the relationship between them and the Sociopaths seems to be there as well.

Ray Dahlia
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This was a very well written piece and you raise a rarely heard point of view.

I'm tired of having to defend my choice of playing female characters in games. It's a *character*, not myself I see reflected up on the screen. It doesn't mean I want to be a woman or that I'm a pervert, any more than playing an elf means I want to be (or think I am) an elf.

Unfortunately, men acting in any way "unmanly" is seen as grotesque or bad or a perversion. Acting "like a woman" is automatically the worst thing a man can do. If I were a woman that would deeply offend me.

Benjamin McCallister
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Its entirely contextual. Take a big, unshaven, long haired macho hunter and stick him on a show on bravo or lifetime and see how he gets marginalized or mocked.

If you are looking to studios that produce "manly" games doing "manly" things, like being extremely violent soldiers, etc, of course those will have those stereotypes.

Come up with ideas that can embrace the idea of an effeminate man who's sexuality may or may not come into question and wrap a story around it. No one wants to see Richard Simmons Goes To Gaza in as much as no one wants to see Hulkar the Gunzerker as the star of a Thief game.

I'm all for equality, but instead of trying to mold existing properties to fit, or complaining about bias in already established genres, lets make new genres that differently minded people can have ownership of.

Brian McCarty
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Very well said. I think this point is often lost when it comes to this topic.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Yes, that's a good point. We can't have a character who, for example, hates confrontation, and have him (or her, for that matter) spend 20 hours confronting other people violently, unless:
- the character is a hypocrite
- the character is evolving
- the theme of the story is the conflict between what the character wants to do and what the character needs to do
- the game is meant as a commentary on its own tropes (for instance, you could have a first person shooter that criticises some first person shooter tropes)

I agree that in the long run we're going to need new kinds of games. Perhaps these new tropes will expand upon the existing ones, in the same way tactical shooters, story-driven shooters, role-playing shooters, survival horrors, and first person "sneakers" sprouted from simple "trigger happy" shooters of the early 90s.

Benjamin McCallister
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What's interesting about your statement: " We can't have a character who, for example, hates confrontation, and have him (or her, for that matter) spend 20 hours confronting other people violently"

Is that perfectly describes the recent Lara Croft game. In that example she would have been "evolving" but it felt trite and silly to me personally. (And a lot of other people as well)

At games core, they are our imagination played out with us as the star.

I would say to people, "what is your dream, what do you fantasize about?" and then say "make a game out of it". It may be niche, it may be the next big thing, who knows.

Jacek Wesolowski
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I need to play it. It's on my "to buy" list. Based on what people are saying, the game makes an attempt on making the violence meaningful (as in: "something that carries a meaning"), but there's some debate as to whether it's been successful. I think it actually falls into the category of "the conflict between what the character wants to do and what the character needs to do", because the events give Lara a PTSD. Part of why I'm curious to play it is that some people are complaining about the portrayal of PTSD not being very good, but they do that in ways that make me suspect that they might be uncomfortable with the idea of having a PTSD sufferer as a protagonist.

Christian Nutt
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@Benjamin McCallister, But it sounds like you're buying into a stereotype right there, unnecessarily. I can't tell if it's for purposes of simplification, or you really do believe there's some sort of binary choice between "effeminate" men and "macho" men. Like there are only two kinds of men?

I think the important takeaway is not that "there are effeminate men" but "the definition of so often men pushed by the game industry is incredibly simplistic."

Cordero W
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Come on, we all know why a lot of men make female characters. There's really no reason to spin a tale around it, and you're not fooling anyone otherwise.

And the thing is, it's not wrong to think that way, to have a reason to play a female character for that reason. So stop lying to yourself to save face.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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Love reading articles with different points of view like this.

I also strongly agree that we need to stop making fun of games/media that don't fit the rigid masculine stereotype (like Anne of Green Gables, which is a freaking awesome book to read growing up!).

Sean Conrad
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Wouldn't it be nice if every man wasn't neckless, and every woman didn't make Barbie look realistic?

John McMahon
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Great article, some people do feel compelled to enforce social norms as that is the other way to behave.

I recall having a black bag with a zipper on the front of my bike as a kid and being told that it was akin to a girl having a pink flowery basket on her bike. Despite the fact that I rode my bike as much as I could, in the woods in my neighborhood to the store down the street. It made perfect sense to me to have something I can store stuff in.

Additionally, this article has made me reflect that some of the characters that I really enjoyed growing up were women. Roseanne, Murphy, Buffy, Kylie Griffin (Extreme Ghostbusters), Samantha Carter, to name a few.

The three male characters growing up that I related to was Peter Parker, Xander Harris, and Angel.

Growing up there weren't many other characters I could related to and see as role models.

At that point I wasn't exposed to much storytelling in video games. What would it be like to play a game where similar to Xander Harris you are trying to find your own role in society, but often underestimated, not given opportunities to shine, or mistaken to be attracted to a gender you are not interested in?

Games can be more than movie-like blockbusters, but in terms of design how can the big publishers get behind them?

James Yee
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Okay I can't help but give you props for Kylie from Extreme Ghostbusters reference. :)

Jacek Wesolowski
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I'm a fan of Willow and Fred myself. Xander was a fantastic character, though. One of great things about him was that he had what we could call "the heroic potential", but he just didn't often get to be in the right place at the right time. There is that episode where he saves the world, and nobody notices, because they're busy saving the world... The authors put him in a role where he was often the one in need of rescuing, but they didn't make him pathetic.

You're asking a very good question. I think in order to create more diverse characters (and especially protagonists) we're going to have to have games with more diverse gameplay, and that's always a tough sell. Good thing we have the indies. :-) One example of what could be attempted that springs to my mind immediately is the "healer" class from MMOs. That's a full-time role for many people: they do nothing but follow people around and heal or buff them. So how about we make a game where healing is the core mechanic for the player, and only NPCs can actually fight? This could be perfect setup for a character who is caring, kind, perhaps a little risk-averse, and possibly also more than a little underestimated by his mucho-macho team mates.

Tim Knauf
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Xander Harris is my favourite male TV character. The combination of introspective self-doubt with deeply-rooted — but often unsung — heroism feels strongly identifiable (and aspirational) to me. I would love to play a game starring a character with those qualities. And yes, the "healer" class would be an excellent match.

David Canela
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thanks for posting this very personal article. I think that while all the current discussions of women in games and gender have their place, it's easy for our thoughts to circle around the male/female differences and forget about all the other dimensions of personalities, e.g. introverted/extroverted, just to name one.

Sometimes I get the feeling the discussions get a bit lazy, focusing on the rather easy distinction between the sexes and try to draw conclusions from that single dimension of personality that end up being not very useful, because there may be things that define your personality much more in some regards, than just what happens to be between your legs.

Johnathon Tieman
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I can understand where you are coming from, quite well. I too was never considered very "masculine" growing up, and even to this day there are still things I enjoy that aren't considered "masculine" (apparently a love of all things Disney is now considered "feminine" - even by women - despite being the legacy of Walt Disney and his nine Old Men).

That being said, you make a couple of false assumption in your piece. "The characters we put in games are not like us, but they are shaped after the people we are supposed to be." Characters in video games are not necessarily "shaped after the people we are supposed to be." They can be, but don't have to be. The Grand Theft Auto series is a clear example of protagonists that are not role models. For some people, they are roles we recognize we would *NEVER* do in real life, but offer an escape, a view into worlds too far outside our normal lives.

You also claim, "We are taught to admire certain combinations of traits, rather than traits themselves, hence we apply those combinations to our characters, who are supposed to be admirable, after all." The problem is (in addition to the flawed assumption that the characters are suppose to be admirable), "we" are not taught that. Perhaps you were, and many others may have been, but you do not get to speak for me any more than I get to speak for you. Your experiences are not mine, nor are your desires.

You also claim that "diversity does not reside in our crotches, but in our brains." The thing is, this isn't an either/or situation. Diversity can reside in both, and it does. You acknowledge that you do not fit in some stereotypical mold of "maleness" and that there is a range, but you reject the influence of those factors on diversity without any justification.

Look, I'm all for expanding the types of video games that exist, but I also recognize that the ones that are getting made have happened because people spent their time working on accomplishing the goal. You, Jacek Wesolowski, have the power to foster this diversity, by doing it, not by asking for others to do it for you. It's clear you have some capability at writing, so download a copy of Inform and get writing, because very few people put their own passions and desires aside to make something someone else desires but is unwilling to put their own time/money into.

Jacek Wesolowski
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A didn't make assumptions. I made shortcuts. This was supposed to be a short piece, hence I opted to not discuss the anti-hero archetype, and focused solely on role models. The relationship between the reader and the character deserves a book, and not a sentence. In that sense, you're correct to point out that this is a complex topic that has been barely touched upon in this article.

Similarly, I used the 1st person plural because this piece is painted in broad strokes. I didn't mean to say "literally all of us".

Johnathon Tieman
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Since you seem open to discussing your point of view, I hope you don't mind if I ask what the point of this piece is? The way it comes off to me is, "Here is the things I encountered in life, and here are all these general implications I drew from it, and could game developers make games so those like me won't feel as alienated?" That's why I pointed out that the generalizations you mentioned have issues, and given that there are many different types of people who are alienated, the ones best suited and most motivated to fix those problems are those who went through them.

I see pieces like this written all over the Internet, and I'm hard-pressed to find general value in them, especially when the time could be better spent doing something. Personally, after reading three-quarters of the article, I was still baffled what it was doing on a game development site, and even after finishing it I'd argue that it is at best only vaguely related. Honestly, this is something that is largely better suited for support group site. However, I certainly am not in any position to say definitively it shouldn't be here, and I am curious to see what motivates people to write these, and why you think other game developers should be interested in your situation, given the infinite number of viewpoints that exist in the world that games haven't yet had a chance to reflect.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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@Johnathon
Personally, I believe articles like this are very informative as it exposes us to perspectives/points of views different than our own. And as developers, it shows us potential markets that we may have not thought existed beforehand.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Elisabeth: I certainly value being exposed to different viewpoints and the discussions that come from them, but that's an element that really has nothing to do with game development and more has to do with society, which is why I am confused as to why it is here.

As far as different markets, it is pretty trivial to go through all the artistic works (books, films, etc) and see thousands if not millions of viewpoints that haven't been adapted to various mediums (certain books don't do well as movies or games). What aspect of Anne of Green Gables does the author of this piece want to see more of in video games? Do we even possess the ability currently to simulate the things he wants? Games are notoriously bad at being able to have good, free form emotional conversations, for instance.

And while a market might exist, its existence isn't enough to justify spending time on it. Resources are limited in game development, and if we have to develop entirely new systems to capture a few thousand, even ten thousand people, it'll never recoup the investment. That's why things like this will always be a labor of love, and how the game development business initially got started - people like Roberta Williams were working on things at home during spare time, and only after years of experimenting and producing really bad games did we get good games that were viable to be sold. New markets are always approached like that, which I why I suggest the author's time would be better spent doing, not asking. We need good, experimental indie games made, and those are made by those who care, like the author.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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@Johnathon
"I certainly value being exposed to different viewpoints and the discussions that come from them, but that's an element that really has nothing to do with game development and more has to do with society, which is why I am confused as to why it is here."

Because we are a part of an industry actively creating content that can have an influence on society, I'd say this type of content is definitely something to be aware of.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Elisabeth:

All industries influence society though. The video game industry is no more special than any other. At some point, things become so general that there is no reason to call out a specific viewpoint to a specific group. To me, that is the case here - the video game industry does not go out of its way to suppress or ignore this viewpoint, it just possibly hasn't done so yet, and its one viewpoint out of a million. A general call to be aware of *all* viewpoints, not just certain ones, would at least avoid the appearance of "why don't you care about my issues?" that I see here (and again, these are issues that I share with the author).

To address this specific case, the author admits it took years before he encountered Anne of Green Gables. What makes him think there isn't a single video game that has the elements he desires? The thing about uncommon viewpoints is they are less commonly presented, and thus harder to find. Has the author played King's Quest? What about Space Quest, or the Monkey Island series? All have protagonists that don't fit the modern day mold of the "ideal leading character". In another post, he admits he hasn't played the latest Tomb Raider, maybe that would give him what he desires? Perhaps what should really happen is society needs a much better cateloguing system for its artistic works, and all the ways people interpret such works. (As a slight aside, I remember a previous attempt to do this, something called "The Great Games Experiment", that people could list the games they had played and rate them and provide commentary on them.)

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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@Johnathon

I understand the position you're going for here and I guess we'll just amicably agree to disagree. Personally, I am intrigued by learning about different viewpoints/perspectives/cultures. Anything different than what I've experienced in the past I find can give me inspiration for my design work.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Elisabeth

We certainly can. Really, all that concerns me is the context, not the content, so we've probably gone too deep down this particular rabbit hole. Further discussion will only detract from what is otherwise a well-written piece with a noble intent. :)

Tim Knauf
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Thanks for writing this. Contrary to some of the other commenters, I feel like this was a fresh take, and I got a lot out of reading it.

I can identify with a bunch of what you wrote. I'm cisgender and heterosexual, but most of my friends until I was six were girls. They drifted away, presumably as they were socialised out of spending time with boys. It wasn't until the end of high school that the ratio corrected back a little.

I'm currently replaying the Mass Effect trilogy, and once again could not bring myself to play a male Shepherd. Part of that is knowing I'd be missing out on Jennifer Hale's superb voice acting, but it's also that the male character creator doesn't seem to allow much outside of a hyper-masculine military look — the female side feels like it has more of a range. I identify more strongly with my "grizzled but womanly veteran" FemShep than any of the male character designs I could produce.

Brian McCarty
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I've seen some Japanese games that star effeminate male and masculine female characters. I haven't gone through list with this perspective in mind, but I do recall seeing it often enough to say that those games are out there to at least some extent.

Stephen Korrick
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As a heterosexual white man who's always identified better with female characters, has always maintained better friendships with women than with men, and is profoundly turned off by hypermasculine and/or competitive game designs, I'm glad to see I'm not alone out there. I'd love for greater diversity in styles and values and appeal beyond the dominant stereotype of each major intersection of social categories.

Mikhail Mukin
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We normally want users to "associate" themselves with positive characters. So character needs to be attractive - on some level (strong or smart or good looking or caring/honest etc).

Agree that prevalent muscle macho guy should not be the only possible type. Some excellent musicians, scientists, organizers/politicians were not strong at all.

This said... living beings seem to be genetically programmed to prefer "better", to prefer characters that solve problems and achieve goals (one way or another). Consider it some "weighted (nonlinear) sum" of traits. Being physically strong is one of them. There is no shame in not being super strong, but I think there is a shame in not being able to do a few pull ups or run 3 miles.

When other people "estimate" a person (or a character) - all the traits might matter. For some genius mathematician, being weak or awkward might not matter (might be even funny or "cute" - often used in movies). But one needs to be a genius level character/person in one area, so that other aspects are "forgiven".

We are not at the level of tech/AI that would allow us to portray non physical (killing) interactions in games nicely. For now, most of the time character has to shoot, jump etc - and be good at it. With time, different types of interactions will be possible - more general dialog, puzzles, deeper emotions etc.

As to real life... I think there is no reason to not be at least "fit" and self assure (does not mater if you feel yourself more a boy or girl). An hour a day in the gym will not hurt. Will not make you a commando - but you will be healthier and likely more sure of yourself. Will help in case of zombie apocalypse too ;)

I could never understand crying. It is a "activity w/o purpose" for me. But if it helps some people to cry - to get strength, "plan revenge", get motivation - I do not see anything wrong with it. Crying for the sake of drama... such character is not attractive to me. But could be ok for some female soap opera - depends upon genre.

Rodney Emerson
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"We are not at the level of tech/AI that would allow us to portray non physical (killing) interactions in games nicely. For now, most of the time character has to shoot, jump etc - and be good at it. With time, different types of interactions will be possible - more general dialog, puzzles, deeper emotions etc."

I honestly doubt this is a technical issue in any sense of the phrase. Rather, it's the result of very few people attempting to design something that does not involve murder. Game choices and interactions are not dictated by a computer, but the person designing the rules of the game. If all you're doing is taking a design that's already been made and building on it (genre), then even when computers are strong enough to simulate something close to human thought, we would still use it's computational power to have gruff n' tuff dudes shoot equally gruff n' tuff lizardmen in the face.

Luis Guimaraes
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It's really an AI/tech limitation.

Yes, there will be lizardmen which you probably can't openly negotiate with in most situations unless you have some upperhand in the terms, but that'll be an AI programing too. There's people with strong views you cannot easily change in the real world, I don't see why video-games should be any different.

Unless the video-game is not using that technology at all, which makes it effectively the same as it not existing.

Rodney Emerson
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This article is a strange can of worms to me. On one hand, I do find myself relating to many things (I liked Anne of Green Gables, too), many characters I liked in media were female, and I am working on a game design that has a girl as the main character. On the other hand, my experience has always told me to that gender issues are always, ALWAYS a confusing mess of expectations, mixed-up realities, and other bits of murkiness.

Media, more often than not, makes this much worse with it's monstrous display of gender extremes, it's mixed messages, and conflating all positive male traits to their willingness to be outrageously violent (You want to be a kind, gentle man? Go kill this dragon for that princess!), it's all a mess, really. I used to proclaim up and down that media did not affect people in their average lives, but I can no longer hold this view in good conscious: What kind of perception of humanity do you expect people to have when the media, video games in particular, are obsessed with displaying the absolute extremes of excess they possibly can? How can you not get "Men are weapons. Women are dolls" out of AAA video game output?

I'm not saying that video games turn men into murderers, and women into prostitutes, or any other such nonsensical extreme. But I think the type of media people absorb does have a subtle, almost unnoticeable, effect on a person that builds over time, and the end result is usually something that one would not expect. At the very least, I cannot in any way say that hard gender roles are a good thing.

Kayne Ruse
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I love this article, because you just described me exactly. It was only within the last year that I've discovered how to really be myself, but I'm trying to make up for lost time.

Anna Tito
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Thank you for writing this :)

Mikail Yazbeck
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Sharing helps move the needle, thank you for writing this.

Joshua Dallman
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Big games are green-lit by big executives. Big executives tend to be "Type A" personalities and men. Hence, their preferences and worldviews are reflected disproportionately in the final product compared to the audience at large. More inclusive characters garner more inclusive audiences, but they're not the ones green-lighting the design and budget. As games become more casual and accessible "for everyone" so too will "everyone" be more involved in creating them, and when that happens we'll see "everyone" represented inside them instead of narrow tired stereotypes.

Jonathan Lin
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This is a fantastic article - thanks for writing your perspective! It really is worth it to hear from POVs that don't fit the perceived "standard".

That said, I'm a little surprised about some games that *haven't* been mentioned here, either in article or comments. Persona 4 addresses similar issues of gender. In Japan, gender roles and its critiques take on a different life, so some of the gender issues in Persona may not resonate as strongly for Westerners, but I found it to be universal enough.

On the other side of the ocean, Bioware games have made commendable strides towards character diversity - all the better since their games have player-input driven protagonists. I know I'm not the only one who prefers to play as female Shepard (at least in part because I find Jennifer Hale's performance far more engaging).

Jacek Wesolowski
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Personally, I perceive customizable RPG characters differently from pre-set characters. The former are "avatars", and as such they are designed to take on some of the characteristics of the player. The latter are characters in the same sense as the fictional people from books and movies.

As a teenager (but we're talking about my 18-20 years old self here - I already had some idea of who I wanted to be), I really liked playing role-playing games that actually allowed me to play the role I was interested in. "Fallout" and "Fallout 2" were particularly satisfying in this respect, since you could create a character who relied on intellect and charisma, and solved problems by talking to people rather than shooting them (you could also gather a large party and ask them to do the shooting - a stronger but less charismatic character couldn't do that). A few years later, "Arcanum" also did a good job. Despite its flawed balance, the gameplay system supported a large number of roles and approaches. I played through the game three times, each time with a different kind of character, and each time I had plenty of opportunity to express the "role" in gameplay. "Deus Ex" offered a much more narowed down choice, but it gave exactly the kind of choice I cared about at the time. I remember how satisfied I was when in one of later chapters I took some additional risk in order to pay Smuggler one last visit (I didn't even want to buy anything), and the game actually noticed (and it even changed the story a tiny bit).

I'm afraid I never found that kind of flexibility in Bioware games, and I think I've played everything they released from first "Baldur's Gate" all the way to first "Mass Effect". I'd like to leave that for another time, though, because Bioware have shown a great deal of good will towards the gender sensitivity of their fans, particularly in the last ten years.

Jannifer Hale is an excellent voice actress! I think her role I liked best was Jun'Ko Zane from "Freelancer". She was a very down to earth person who was very commited to her cause, yet didn't take or give bullshit. Oh, and she never fell in love with the protagonist. It was such a relief!

Tim Knauf
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Hale's performance in Mass Effect is really something special, isn't it? I'm currently replaying the trilogy, and it's exciting to hear her nail line after line after line — thousands of them! Incredible.

Cordero W
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I work out and live an active physical life, so I relate to the muscled guys featured in games. Like many of the consumers of this media, contrary to popular belief. Just saying.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Good for you!


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