Gender in Video Games

In twine games, female protagonists seem to be portrayed in a normal fashion and as characters who have agency of control like male characters in text-based games—such as in The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo or the cat-petting simulator—but can also play secondary roles in other twine games like Her Pound of Flesh, which objectifies an absent female through the heartbreak memory of a male. Likewise, Depression Quest considers only the emotional consequences of the male protagonist but not the female characters involved. However, women are also objectified in more subtle manners than the case becomes for the preceding 80s and 90s arcade, console, AAA, and PC games. Negative portrayals of women in text-based games only allow for imagination of an individual but some of the explicit graphics and sex appeal in the 80s and 90s titles paved way for a more intense objectification of women in video games. For example, the game company Mystique was one of the few video game companies that implemented sex appeal for lucrative measures during the 80s with Atari 2600 titles like Custer’s Revenge and Beat Em and Eat Em. In addition to being affiliated with an American pornographic studio that thrived during the 15-year Golden Age of Porn period (around 1969–1984), this correlation of national and international influence may partly explain why there was a rise in writing games that essentially dehumanized women in sexual manners since the 70s but failing with the 1983 crash of the video game industry. In the modern sense, there are traces of this influence through games like the 2003 Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball title (having sexually appealing female characters compete) and the 2005-10 God of War series (utilizing sex with women as a means of gaining experience points).

A similar case can also be made with the popularized otome games in Japan during the 90s, which were intended to function as love romance simulations for young male and females; however, even though women are the targeted audience, the goal of winning the desired partner also seems to objectify women as prizes to win in a game.

Moreover, women in video games commonly fall into tropes of a “Damsel in Distress” as proven throughout gaming history and  various franchises. For example, the role of the Nintendo female character Princess Peach epitomizes this trope; starting since the 1981 Donkey Kong game and the seceding Super Mario Bros. franchise, Peach is kidnapped and rescued by Mario in 13 of the 14 appearances in the Nintendo series. This video game trope may have been influenced by the popularized use of the “Damsel in Distress” plot device at the turn of 20th century media and literature—such as in the 1933 King Kong film, Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of Tarzan and the Apes, or the show Popeye. The plot device is referring to women who are in captive or dangerous situations and are rescued by capable male characters. In turn, the growing influence of these tropes may also reflect a shared opinion among the predominantly male-led video game companies of the late half of the century; this shared view may see virtual women as ideally subservient, objects of sex, or non-autonomous individuals that need to be saved by men.

As it relates to masculinity, developers seemed to be more inclined to implementing male heroes and masculine characteristics during the 80s and 90s; some male game developers of AAA titles for Nintendo, like Starfox’s Shigeru Miyamoto (the same creator of Donkey Kong), would intentionally re-write and re-design a game originally made with a female protagonist to a male-led narrative—this was the case for the unreleased Dinosaur Planet around the late 90s to early 2000s. The intent would become more obvious over the years when most video game titles leaned towards the typical male protagonist. Although female roles are primarily portrayed as secondary in most early and modern console games, there are also exceptions of female heroine protagonists that defy the gender roles in AAA titles like Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft and Horizon Zero Dawn‘s Aloy, whose capabilities parallel some characteristics that are typical of a male video game hero–such as being a solo but strong survivor or fighter.

Given the historical context of females in video games throughout the years, there has been slight progress with the use of dominant female protagonists becoming more visible not only through AAA titles such as Tomb Raider or Horizon Zero Dawn, but also through indie games like Life is Strange or Transistor. At the same time, however, there are still traces of female objectification through AAA titles like God of War or The Witcher 3. Given that women makeup the majority of videogame users today, the market could be more inclined towards non-dehumanizing portrayals of females in AAA, indie, or app games that appeal to their consumers; perhaps because doing otherwise could contribute to a financial disadvantage as it did in the 1980s. So, given that more video game companies have female protagonist-led and less secondary roles of focus, the times now reflect a much different portrayal of women than earlier “pixilated” versions.

Critique of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The question as to what extent an individual goes to attain what one wants has been given a different meaning with each passing generation, but the idea was explored across the Caribbean Sea by pirates in the 18th century. This is the historical setting in which Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag explores some of the events within the Golden Age of Piracy that feature three main cities: Nassau, Kingston, and Havana. In a time where a Republic of Pirates was established to be free from the authority of British and Spanish government, the game also presents a historical narrative in the fictional plot amid the struggle of the Templars and Assassins; templars intended to achieve peace through control, while Assassins saw free will as the means to peace. That being said, it seems that gameplay of Assassin’s Creed IV is one that agrees most with its narrative. The game lets us play as Welsh pirate, Edward Kenway, who unwittingly joins the battle and finds out a dark secret of the conflict as the plot and character development of various figures unfold. The motives of Edward Kenway as a pirate seem to be in alignment with the gameplay options, which are leaning more towards any means of profit gaining and reputation building. It also is useful to know that the plot presents him through his flashbacks as a peasant farmer who wanted greater things. As it relates to the ludic aspects, the game allows players to engage in historical gameplay that consists of naval warfare, hunting sea animals and fish, and discovering treasure underwater through the new aspect of the player controlling the Jackdaw ship. In addition, the player will encounter many jungles, naval forts, Mayan ruins, and small villages as the world in Black Flag is built to allow players much more freedom. Moreover, the game uses the typical third-person combat and stealth systems of the Ubisoft franchise. Although exploration is big part of the game’s ludic aspects, it is also the agency of choice (or freedom to do as you please, being a pirate) that is considerable within the game’s structure. Players can collect loot, animus fragments, rob other ships and annihilate their crew members if they choose to, and even collect sea shanties that help historically recreate what pirate life might have been like as a simulation. Something else that is considerable is how the actions of the players may show that actions possible in the game were not available in other time periods to perhaps help explain why certain events unfolded as they did; in a counterfactual lens, you could kill all of the inhabitants and slave master of a plantation’s house, but this would not necessarily mean the slaves would be free. The deed was just done for money (at least, that’s how it would seem at an earlier time in the game before the narrative changes). This could be done to mimic one of the aspects of control, as the templars would see it. Similarly, it seems that the free and unshackled nature of the game is meant to reflect the pirate philosophy the Assassins organization agreed with in this open world. At the same time, however, players come to see that Edward that is just motivated by his selfish nature. He has allies within the pirate community and at times does help them out in Nassau but is doing so for reputation and profit rather than commitment. As it progresses, we can also see that the gameplay’s use of human motives is meant for us to sympathize with the protagonist on the ability of free will. For example, in the naval battle we are allowed to engage in battle with higher level ships but usually will be done by a player to attain greater treasure. This does, however, teach us about the virtue of patience with ship enhancement, which could really pay off when players take on the four legendary ships that have some of the greatest treasure. The narrative as well puts into question the morality of power due to the ability one could have if a Templar gains the Observatory—a First Civilization structure and historical artifact the game centers the unraveling conspiracy behind. Overall, the agency and ludic aspects in Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag allows the narrative framework to intertwine with the various roles in the game; this allows for an understanding of what players could understand the history of piracy to be in its Golden Age.

The Oregon Trail Blog Post

Narrative?

Oregon Trail’s narrative consists of using specific elements and rules the game offers to reach the destination Oregon while exploring different facets of the game’s environment within given time frames.

Primary Historical Argument?

The historical argument presented by this game sheds light on how Americans at the time were able to embark on travel while being limited to older resources and commodities, like the use of wagons and oxen. Thus, the simulation of a journey by wagon, allowing the player to choose a pace at which to play, and the rest of concepts in the game reflecting 1848 America makes for an interactively subjective experience in which one experiments through active participation. At the same time, the west seems to be represented through the sense of travel, trade, occupation and hunting; on the other hand, there seems to be ranking scale with what occupations are offered. For example, doctors get a substantial amount of money to start off with buying supplies, giving them an upper hand, but also being wise about the time one embarks on travel. In retrospect, societal ranks provide different approaches to reaching the end goal.

Treatment of women, Native Americans, Latinx, and African American?

Treatment of Native Americans did not seem insulting nor for Latinx, women, or African American. In my first playthrough, trading with Native Americans seemed to lean more on commodity products like clothes, wagon axles and wheels, while African Americans followed the same pattern but including livestock. Although, Latinx, Africans, women and Natives did speak more of tragedy and suffering that befell them. In addition, it seems that women tend to live longer within the game’s confines.

Who’s the main protagonist? Why would that matter?

The main protagonist may lean towards a white male leading his family towards Oregon, considering the many occupations that may have been predominantly occupied by Anglo-Saxons. For example, our character was a wealthy doctor, so players tend to start off with more money than the rest of the occupations offered in the games and the crew tends to heal a lot quicker as well, which helps. I feel that this matters to know because it sheds light on the different trajectories each player may have in a simulation run that mimics what life may have been like in the 1848 Americas.

Overall effectiveness of game? I think the game incorporates certain elements of choice when you can limit yourself or make the best use of, depending on choice and outcome. Due to the replayability of the game, one as a player can explore other narrative specific elements with each character/occupation offered to see how, for example, a blacksmith’s access to resources and wealth varies to a merchant.

Do the graphics matter?

For this particular game, graphics may not be the priority of the gameplay. More than anything, it is in the manner of the simulation that presents the artifacts of history—such as the wagon—in detail. In addition, the replayability of this game is what provides opportunities to reconstruct or rewrite a diegetic history (or story told) and the external facets (or extradiegetic) to the narrative, which depend more on choice than sheer graphics.