Gender in Games

Of the Twine games suggested in class, the one that held all of my attention was The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo. In my intrigue towards the narrative, I spent the entire class period only playing this game in attempts to decode every ending possible. With many trials and a little assistance from the internet, I managed to make it to the end and unlock all of the standard endings and an additional easter egg ending. Within my gameplay, I found myself drawn to playing the character as female because of my own female identification and because I found that the storyline for the character under a female name was easier to navigate with emotional vulnerability to get the results I was looking for. I am unsure that ease of gameplay as a female character was correlated to being female myself or if the portrayal of emotional vulnerability just so happened to create faster results.

As part of the female narrative, commentary about the involvement of women in the gaming community is offered from the female friend/antagonist. Notes of being bullied for being interested in gaming were present as a trigger for the friend which eventually led her to make a pact with an entity that consumes people for power. Although gaming for women was presented as a taboo idea and the player had the option to agree or disagree with that statement, the idea was still interwoven in a way that made the notion clear to the player that this was a concept worth thinking about.

The character in The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo is an adolescent. Even though (female) children are sometimes present in AAA gaming, from what I have seen, female characters are often adults and come with tropes of falling in love with the main protagonist, being sexualized, being saved, or not being relevant. There is no denying that the gaming industry is masculine catered and the purpose of women characters in this sphere are to appeal to men. Within the arcade games of the 1980s and 1990s, game mechanics were very limited. In order to create narrative, women characters were used as motivators for men to encourage gameplay. Although characters like Lara Croft have been considered as token female characters that show strength, many of the characteristics and gameplay mechanics are masculine based. For Lara, the only difference is in her appearance of short-shorts, leg holsters, and a tank top obviously meant to accentuate her cleavage. In recent years, there has been an influx of female protagonists in games. However, in the spheres of game franchises like Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed, and Uncharted show women as capable of men but also remove qualities associated with women like empathy instead of killing on whims. Characteristics like empathy often are exploited as weaknesses or the gameplay does not move forward.

Women have been been present in the gaming industry from the very beginning. However, this fact is often ignored in the overall industry, especially now that the majority of “gamers” are now women. Since women spend more time interacting with puzzle games on phone applications, the gaming community does not take them seriously as “gamers.” To be considered a “gamer,” the qualifying games in question are more likely to be combat and strategy based. Other games do not hold the same kind of weight and competitiveness in the industry. By having a history of masculinity, the gaming industry has barely begun to shift to female characters of substance. Characters like Elena Frazer and Nadine Ross in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy proved that it is possible for female characters to be equally strong and vulnerable. If the industry keeps moving in this direction, women representation will positively develop tenfold.

Female Representation in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

 

Women in gaming, whether that be as gamers or as characters, are often seen as an afterthought to the industry. Although, by definition of gaming being a balance of ludology and narratology, women are the higher percentage of the gaming population. Furthermore, the industry itself derives from the lanes of white men and much of the game coverage is based on AAA games that lack female protagonists. However, the minimal coverage is not an indicator that strong female leads do not exist in AAA games. For example, as a representative of historically-based gaming, the Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft has made its mark on the gaming community with a reputation of creating engaging narratives within backdrops of past time settings. By allowing the player to explore and experience these time periods through simulation, gamers ingest historically based information regardless of its levels of accuracy. Released in 2015,  Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is based in late-Victorian era London, near the end of the second Industrial Revolution. The character of Evie Frye, as a female lead creates an intellectual image for women characters in contrast to her brother’s own character

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate follows the characters of Jacob and Evie Frye, twin assassins and main protagonists, as they break down cornerstones of organized crime delegated by the organization of the Templars in the year 1886. Firstly, as playable characters, Jacob and Evie can be used as a foil to discuss male and female representation in the game. In physical representation, the appearances of gender are obvious in their facial features, body structures, and minor details in their outerwear that are not overly distracting. They are, in fact, assassins first.  In terms of personality, both characters are presented in a one-dimensional manner to distinguish the stark differences between the two. For instance, the twins act in polar opposite personalities which translates into their assassination styles in addition to their approaches to their individual goals and overall joint objective. Jacob, as the male lead, lacked tact and reasoning in his decision making and would much rather rush into combat to fight at a close range. Evie, on the other hand as the female lead, was extremely calculated in her decision making and specialized in stealthing. Her gameplay tactics often involved crouching, hiding, and assassinations by luring her targets to her with a whistle and then hitting the target with a throwing knife. Later on in the game, Evie has opportunities for in addition to her set of assassination skills. Her strength in interpersonal communications gave her agency in venues where her brother did not. Evie proved to not be subversive to her brother’s reckless lead which eventually led to their decision of temporarily ending their partnership.

A disappointing observation made about the game includes Evie’s need for some sort of male guidance or companion when she, as a character, has proven herself capable in the field. Although they perform solo missions, Jacob is there in presence as her partner and the character played in the instances that they are together are often as Jacob. In the game, Jacob makes comments of her following their father’s path and ways of thinking. A fact that she too acknowledges in the game. Also, briefly teased in the game narrative, Evie and Henry Green, informant and acquaintance of the twin’s father develop romantic feelings for each other which are expressed at the end. The romantic relationship was not particularly relevant or necessary for the overall narrative. As a side note: this romantic relationship played no effect into the timeline of the Assassin’s Creed universe whereas Jacob’s descendant did.

Aside from the unnecessary inclusion of a romantic relationship with Henry Green, in conclusion, Evie Frye is a character that women can be proud of. The narrative of the game presented her in a way that is strong, full of wit, and capable of getting the job done. Her role has agency as a female character that is not overly sexualized in an industry where women are most often portrayed as such. Although the representation of women in gaming is often sparse and problematic, characters like Evie Frye change the game, the industry, and the future of gaming for everyone.

Blazing the Oregon Trail in Game Form

The Oregon Trail is a computer game in which the player acts as the protagonistic main character who leads a party of four other non-player characters from Independence, Missouri to Willamette Valley in Oregon. The game itself creates a narrative based on various circumstances present within the game such as illnesses and physical obstacles in addition to responses to player choice. In terms of the primary historical narrative, The Oregon Trail depicts the hardships of settlers enacting in the ideals of Manifest Destiny and the difficulties that ensued while traveling west, albeit in a watered down experience.

Although the there are external factors that could affect the experience of the traveling party, The player pre-determines the occupation of the PC which is allotted the number of funds available for the purchases of resources, and ultimately, the likelihood of the party’s survival. Based on the options of occupations available for the player to choose for their character, the assumption is that the protagonist character is a white male. Throughout history, the role of the “white man” is in tangent with the idea of power and is a constant in the forefront of expressed narratives in comparison to minorities.

In the “Talk” option for the game, the PC “converses” with people who are either traveling or trading at fort posts. Of the NPCs, there were no Latino characters present but there was a white man, a white woman, a white male child, a Native American man, and a black woman. None of these characters expressed any real conflict with the party and mostly did not say anything of significance. However, in one of the statements made by a black woman, she informed the PC that her husband had died but she was still traveling along the trail with her five children. This line intrigued me because it implied the need of this woman to still make it to the West and start anew with her family. To me, it showed equal parts of desperation and determination to reach her destination. Another line that caught my radar was said by the Native American who made note of an increase in white caravans coming into their territory and asked if there was more space available in the East for their people to migrate into. Although the statement seemed extremely passive, it does highlight that there was an issue present of Native Americans being run out of their lands with the influx of people settling in the area. Overall, the characters do not make any gameplay impact or create any influence on the decisions made by the player.

In the end, The Oregon Trail does simulate the difficulties of westward travel for 19th-century pioneers in a way that still seems fun and engaging. Although the certain ailments were present but not as lethal as real life, the player still experiences tension and competition to finish strong with a full party. The graphics contributed to a visual representation of shifts in seasons which makes the player more aware of seasonal changes and various locations. In the end, the game does its job in its representations and still offers insight into what 19th-century American pioneer life was like.