Can you really not tell?
All the Pokemon professors have been stumped by this question. The smartest men of the Pokemon universe who entrust all scientific research to children. Through the use of science and logic, have they determined that gender doesn’t really matter? Could they have possibly come up with the next scientific question that is most relevant to our current society? The men of Pokemon are asking the tough questions.
So does gender matter?
Well we can look at it from a number of perspectives to answer this question. The most important perspectives to look at are the players, characters and the choice to choose what gender to play as. With the evolution of games we, as players, have been given more options over the exposition and direct control over our experiences. However there are many games today that pre-determine the characters in a game to tell the story a particular way. There is a reason behind the gender of Samus Aran or Lara Croft and it directly effects how the player interprets the story and controls the characters. Imagine Lara Croft as a man; pretty much Nathan Drake but they are two characters and the stories/experiences we have with them reflect the differences of those characters.
As a player, you choose the actions of the characters you are controlling. Obvious but when we are given the choice, do we immediately fall onto traditional stereotypes? Diablo 2 immediately place the female characters in Amazon aka Rogue and Wizard classes that are ranged, lower constitution, and support type classes. The Final Fantasy lineage places females into the White Mage role frequently. Since those early games of saving the princess, as seen with all other mediums and society, started to assign gender roles. But we have the choice now to change that. Does our choice make a difference? Sure does. Subconsciously we as a culture will start to appreciate women in gaming for more than just looks and a heal spell.
Samus Aran was a huge paradigm shift for the newer medium in an attempt to prevent it from falling into the trap that society has made about gender roles. There is no mention of Samus being a female until you beat the game. The whole time, we imagined ourselves to be a macho space bro killing aliens. Well, not the case. It showed that it really didn’t matter that she wasn’t a male. Would the gameplay be any different? Even back then with the limitations of the tech, it was such a small detail but it was impactful none the less. A bounty hunter that could go head to head against Boba Fett on a BA scale, who would have thought?
Seriously, look at her, she is Awesome
You’re a girl playing video games?!?! Sounds good. It matters and doesn’t at the same time. It doesn’t matter in the perspective that video games are still seen as a boy thing. Really? Like books they are a form of entertainment and storytelling. Sure there are a lot of games that are marketed to appeal to guys but does Magic Mike and Fifty Shades of Gray ring any bells. Looking at those movies, I should just make an empty assumption that all movies are tailored toward women. It does however matter if you’re a girl playing a video game because it’ll change the way you experience the game versus the majority. It is the minority voice that are the loudest and influential. Like anything; gender, skin color, life experience will affect the interpretations of those stories. Which is fantastic for the industry because the more varied voices there are, the more we grow and learn.
Roleplaying games especially, Western RPGs mix this up by allowing the players to create their own characters and choose their gender. This control allows unlimited freedom of how to experience the whole game even if the gender has zero impact on story, NPCs, gameplay, etc. You could stick to traditional gender roles or completely flip them on their head. No matter the choice, the experience changes to fit your play style and what kind of character you want to grow with. By picking the opposite gender, it gives you an opportunity to walk a mile in their shoes so to speak. It is a safe environment to explore what it is like to experience a story as the opposite gender and learning what influence that has on an experience.
This article is inspired by all the gender talk in the media today with the discussion about Caitlyn Jenner. There have been major issues within gaming culture towards women and labeling of the genders. From a story perspective, sure it matters because it determines how the world interacts with you and the experience essentially unfolds. But from a player perspective, video games only discriminate against the unskilled and has no reflection or care if you are a boy or girl.