I’ve recently stumbled upon an interesting feature on Game Career Guide. Time for Change is about what would happen if you swapped the gender of game heroes and heroines, and how that would affect them (and the game we’d get to play if they were for real).
“The aim of the project was to examine how female characters are created for games, what purpose they serve, and how they could be designed to stay true to the spirit of an exisiting character while offering a new experience that might appeal to a broader audience, and making sense in a real-world context.”
Not all of them are really appealing to me, but the idea made me think. I usually play games in which I can pick the gender of my avatar and that are dialog-heavy, already giving lots of options of behavior and thus a feel of being able to customize your avatar’s personality. Some of these options are more traditionally male, others are traditionally female. I might go one way in my first playthrough as female, and an entirely different one in a consecutive playthrough as male. But that’s my interpretation of the game, not an intentional “feminine path” that is offered to me. It is, as I have explained before in this post, that the “masculine path” is the norm of what we get to play, and often enough, all that get’s changed is the body of the avatar and the address of Sir to Ma’am.
[Side Note: Check out this list of action heroes on Wikipedia. See how Commander Shepard from Mass Effect is listed as male, but not female? MaleShep is considered the "iconic Shepard". FemShep, in spite of being loved by many fans for her great personality (thanks to the fab voice acting by Jennifer Hale) is not mentioned.]
One of the gender-swapped concepts in Time for Change is Princess of Persia, who relies on subtlety and (even more) agility than the Prince. Another is Leisure Suit Larissa, whom you have to help finding a mate suitable for a lifelong relationship – ok, maybe not that exciting a game for me and many of you – that’s not the point right now, though. A third is playing Zelda instead of Link in Ocarina of Time, paying attention to the physical differences between men and women – i.e., Zelda has no heavy shield, but casts a magical barrier for protection, and so on.
I clicked more links, hoping for more such great ideas… and I promptly found a more ambiguous one showing sketches of a few gender-swapped action heroes and heroines. I like the ideas of the artworks, but as one of the comments suggests – there HAS to be more to heroines than big boobs and small pieces of fabric. [Mind you I like mini skirts myself, but I wouldn't want to be defined by that choice.] I wish I could draw some sketches myself – instead I have found another great image of how different male body types can be within one and the same game, Team Fortress 2 in this case. (Although I must point out that TF2 doesn’t feature any women, so that’s not a perfect performance in my book, either.) These are all different classes from Medic to Heavy Gun Specialist, Spy, etc.:
An artist took these as basis for designs for females… designs with which I’m in love! ;-) Note that these were, at least two of them, implemented in the game, so the basic models had to remain the same for the animations to work. That’s why these ladies have unchanging, and slightly off proportions within their class, but nonetheless, they are awesome! I had to laugh because the left gal in the 2nd row has visibly unshaved legs, and her creator wrote the note “stubble legs” next to it. I suppose survival should beat beauty on the battlefield. ^_^
Of course, these are just female faces and bodies again – not a “feminine path” to play. But as I’ve talked about interpreting meaning into the choices we do have – I think I can more easily interpret game heroines like these as realistic women with character than “tits and ass in a steel bikini” [quote from the producer of Mirror's Edge about a fan-made adaptation of its main character; also to be found in Shaylyn's article at Game Career Guide, see link below].
Big recommendation: The whole article from which the two images were taken: The Aesthetics of Unique Video Game Characters by Shaylyn Hamm. The article features a link to her whole thesis about this topic. Great job!
What are your ideas for gender-swaps in games? What could work, what couldn’t at all?
[Edit: A friend sent me this link with more gender swap images.]