The ideas of masculinity and femininity fascinate me. This is a large part of my life for reasons I will explain in more detail in a subsequent post. Masculine traits exist thematically in games, their characters, online in multiplayer arenas and can be assigned to specific regions. Men aren't really from Mars they're from North America, Canada and Europe.
Development in these countries is predominantly masculine in approach, theme and implementation. GTA IV for instance is so extremely steeped in masculine traits that it's hardly surprising that the only female characters are "victims" of the game. The exploited 16 year old drug addict, the abused mafia daughter, the painfully insecure (admittedly hilarious when drunk) sister of Irish mobsters, and the evil, emotionally manipulative cow who is in a difficult situation because men hold all the power. There's the NPC hookers and strippers and they hold a lot of relevance to the game. Not one female (if my memory serves) has any actual gameplay impact on the game, not in the same way Roman, Little Jacob, Brucie, Packie and Dwayne do. The women are mechanically useless fluff. Thought provoking stuff.
In Mass Effect you get to play a boring goody-two-shoes or a bully who forces others to succumb to his whim. It doesn't matter what gender you choose for your protagonist the traits of play are clearly masculine, a self righteous paragon or a bully. Gears of War. Every first person shooter ever made. Army of Two. Battlefield Rainbow Six Clancy's Men of Killing Stuff in a Manly way because anything else might be gay! Oblivion, The Witcher and Assassin's Creed all informed by the masculine aesthetic. I'm scrolling through metacritic to find games developed in the regions I nominated above and I'm finding none. I'm not saying they don't exist, I'm saying they're rare, very rare. Even Lara Croft is a bloke. Sure she's wearing a female skin but I can't find her feminine qualities beyond the silhouette. If she was an MMO character then a man would be playing her. Shamus Young perhaps?
I can only think of a few women who are indeed feminine that exist in the world of video games. Elena Fischer from Uncharted is one example, although her propensity to play catch up to the men teeters on the brink of de-feminisation I will give her the benefit of doubt as it could just as easily represent the needs of the game's structure and their intent with her inclusion. Ultimately there is enough evidence to claim her as a feminine character.
Possibly the only game developed in North America, Canada and Europe (UK included) that features a clearly feminine lead (that I can think of) is Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. The best part of that game in terms of gender traits thematically implemented in game design is its compare and contrast features that exist between the three main characters Jade, Peyj and H. Jade is a sensible woman, informed with strong feminine traits (mostly), Peyj is the desirable man, the fool, the mechanic, the friend, brother companion. H is the brute, albeit a well meaning brute but he is the man's man. If games can teach and inform then this game suggests ways for boys to impress girls by demonstrating that pig faced goofballs are much more endearing than penis waving (a metaphorical reference - don't buy the game hoping for penis!) machismo bullshit of the boorish H.
In spite of what individuals who will not be mentioned by name might say in the comments I am ignorant. Do you share this impression or do you believe that games developed in the "West" are balanced or even feminine in their themes, construction and character design? If possible could you provide examples either for or against. This is a four part series of posts so there's more to come… where women are from, the genderless experience and finishing with a personal exploration of why this interests me.
If this is actually true rather than a feature of my own delusions, does it mean that feminine qualities are considered undesirable by "western" developers? And if Beyond Good and Evil is an example of a game informed with more feminine sensibilities is that the reason it sold poorly?