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.
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?
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.
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.