Evolve and the Representation of Gender in Gaming (Lengthy Post Ahead! You Were Warned)

I commented very briefly towards the end of last class about our extensive discussion regarding the portrayal of gender in video games. We focused on the likes of “Bayonetta” and “Final Fantasy” in terms of each game’s respective portrayal of the female and male body. We also spoke briefly about games such as “Super Mario Bros.” and “Dying Light” in terms of each game’s portrayal of gender roles/hierarchies. Despite the truths to these examples, I wanted to move us towards recognizing that there are prime and very prominent examples of games that give little to no regard to gender in the way that we expect. 

The games that I would steer our class to consider are “Left 4 Dead,” “Destiny,” and “Evolve” – my current love and obsession. Within each of these highly successful and enjoyable experiences lies a common thread aside from the multiplayer and seemingly non-narrative centric experience.

Male or Female? Or Robot? I have no idea.

Someone in class, sorry I am completely spacing on his name, mentioned “Destiny” during the discussion, maintaining that the game seemed almost oblivious to male and female genders (sorry again if I misinterpreted what was said). In this regard, I would have to agree: “Destiny” essentially becomes an experience that revolves around “loot” and visually showcasing your skill level to other players. Through this device, players could almost care less about the gender of other characters aside from their own. But hold on a second! Now gender becomes a focal point for the subjective player experience during character creation. in which males and females will pick an avatar based on their own gender identity. Can this be solved?

Character roster of “Left 4 Dead 2.”

Now I move you to “Left 4 Dead:” a game that pits a team of four players against a hoard of zombies. There exists a range of female and male characters on both iterrations of the series, all of which contain individual identities and backstories created by the developers. Yet, the beauty of this game lies in the subjective roles of the player. In “Left 4 Dead,” each player becomes assigned to one of the four available characters before setting out into the zombie apocalypse. During the journey, players come across weapon caches of different play styles: snipers for the precision gamer, assault weapons for the ever effective “spray-and-pray,” and melee weapons for the bruiser. This places an emphasis on each player’s desired experience within the game, which is entirely up to the individual gamer.

An assortment of hunters in “Evolve”

Lastly, I would like to call attention to developer Turtle Rock’s “Evolve.” This game sets a four-player squad of hunters against a single, constantly evolving monster character. Much like “”Left 4 Dead,” each of the hunters, both male and female, has an original backstory that becomes fleshed out in character-to-character conversations before each match. Yet, unlike “Left 4 Dead,” the hunters of “Evolve” have pre-assigned roles in the battle, all of which contain pros and cons in the fight: assault, medic, trapper, and support. Although players must choose their favorite class of character, the choice does not revolve around gender (like i mentioned, I find myself playing as a female character more times than not on a given day) but rather centers on role preference. Thus, the mechanics of “Evolve” works to blur the line between portrayed male and female roles through adhering to individual play style.

Although I do not think there exists a perfect example of gender equality in video games, I find it fascinating to consider these three games in the discussion. Each work seems to move closer and closer to a space of storytelling that can allow character roles to depend largely on a given play-style as opposed to a forced perception of what a character should look and feel like during a gaming experience.

0 thoughts on “Evolve and the Representation of Gender in Gaming (Lengthy Post Ahead! You Were Warned)

  1. I think these are some really interesting examples you’ve listed here. I just wanted to point out that even in Evolve, which you say “doesn’t notice gender,” the classes themselves are still incredibly gendered. The Assault class is full of giant, burly men. The medic class is mostly women- keep in mind that nurses are supposed to be women because we are the “healing, nurturing” sex. Just a reminder that even when things are supposedly value-neutral, sexism is still there.

    1. I think you misquoted me; I never once stated that “Evolve” does not notice gender. In fact, I stated that the game works to disassociate user choice and the gender of a character. For example, I will not pick Lazarus over Val or Caira because he is a man and I identify with that identity, instead I will pick whichever character has the best arsenal for a given monster type/whichever character fits best into the make-up of my squad. The game is very aware of its portrayal of female and male characters, but not in a patriarchal sense. The medic class that you deem “nurturing” — almost negatively, in fact — is by far the most valuable and dangerous asset of the hunter group, regardless of whether you pick the male or female versions of the class. A player-controlled monster will always try to take the medic down first in order to eliminate the rest of the squad more quickly.

      Additionally, the assault class needs to be large and burly; they are carrying massive weapons! Each of the characters within the class are probably upwards of 250-300 pounds (not including the weight of gear), which is a realistic requirement in order to wield two heavy weapons while running around an extensive map. This isn’t a knock on female physical strength, but rather a point about the physics of carrying a heavy load of weapons effectively. Perhaps the developers will include a female assault character in future DLC — I actually think they will add a female support character in the near future — but that’s something we will have to wait to see.

      Thanks for the comment! Maybe we will touch back on this subject in class tomorrow.

  2. Your point is valid that females are type-cast as nurturing as two of the three or so females in the game are medics. The whole nurturing point about women is valid, but generally because that is true. There are many studies that show that female animals care for their young more than males, and in some cases induce males to start showing paternal instincts. That is a natural development (natural as in seen in caused by nature) due to the much higher investiture of time and energy on the female’s part in the offspring. However I would like to challenge the notion that medics are considered nurses. The term ‘medic’ is an umbrella term which can be applied to anyone with at least EMT-level training but this term can also apply to a full-blown MD doctor who is part of a military personnel. Arguably they would be the most educated unit in a military unit. Is that sexism to have females predominately in that position? Just incase internet text construes that as sarcasm, that was a serious question. One last point, in the game there are two female to one male medic in the class, the science major in me screams that is too small of a sample size to draw too many conclusions from.

    Speaking more to the physics/realism part of the game that Marquez mentioned, I would also like to point out that the assault class has only burly men, operative word there being burly. You don’t see any skinny guys, no they have to at least look like a fit Vince Wilfork-size to be in that class. You don’t see any marathon runners in that class.

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