Markus “Notch” Persson has written on he’s blog recently about the issues of gender in Minecraft. Notch says he’s original intention when designing the game was to have the playable character “Steve” to be entirely genderless. He also says that he regrets adding a goatee to the character and that the character name Steve came from a joke response when someone asked him about the character.
This gave me an idea to explore about gender in games such as Minecraft and Tomb Raider while looking at how films handle this problem at the same time. Also I will explain why sex and gender is important in the various entertainment mediums.
Minecraft genderless genders
From notch.tumblr.com: “If it wasn’t for the fact that the default Minecraft character is referred to as “Minecraft Guy” and that I once jokingly answered “Steve?” when asked what his* name was, Minecraft would be a game where gender isn’t a gameplay element.”
Notch also wrote about the gender of the animals in Minecraft saying that wanted them to be ambiguous. “Cows have horns and udders (even if I’ve later learned that there are some cows where the females do have horns), and the chicken/duck/whatevers have heads that look like roosters, but still lay eggs. For breeding, any animal can breed with any other animal of the same species.”
Notch also said that the genderless nature of all the animals and characters in the game makes them all technically homosexuals. “Also, as a fun side fact, it means every character and animal in Minecraft is homosexual because there’s only one gender to choose from. Take THAT, homophobes!”
All of which is I find pretty interesting. I like when developers look back at their games and say what they intended to do, how they manage to accomplish their goals and what they failed to add or implement in the final game release. However saying that, it seems more like he’s trying to make the game even more special by basically saying that “we don’t care about gender” even thought the main character made male grunt noises. Even if the main character didn’t have a beard you wouldn’t mistake the main character for being masculine or a male. He didn’t even make the character have long hair which doesn’t alone signify a famine character but would make it more feminine than it is now.
Animal genders are interesting as this hasn’t been explored much in games or films. When’s the last time you saw a genderless animal in films and video games or two males that can produce an offspring? Beside Minecraft I can’t think of any.
However in the end with the ability to change your character skin to make it more feminine or into an animal, makes the whole debate of whether your character is male or female become unimportant to the gameplay of Minecraft unless you are role playing of course.
With Minecraft being a good example how a developers intent of a genderless main character turned out having a gender. I will now talk about gender in video games and films in more general terms and detail.
Why is genderless games and films hard to make?
It’s hard to make a game or where film where no gender is involved. The problem is that unless it’s a puzzle game like Tetris or some sort of art game like the PlayStation 3 game called Flower it’s not easy to convey your message. We can all associate with fellow humans because we all our one. Humans our well versatile with hands and opposable thumbs so we climb and create things, we can swim, communicate effectively, jump and many other things. This isn’t including any of the made up things such as having wings. This alone makes humans themselves unlimited possibilities when creating drawings all the way to a film.
I don’t think I can think of a signal game where theirs a main character or characters where there gender isn’t explained or shown. Even simple games like Worms franchise have basically masculine worms and they talk with male voices too.
Then theres games like the Kirby franchise where the main protagonist is apparently male.
From wikipedia.com: “a small, pink, spherical creature with large red shoes (Or feet), stubby flap-like arms and trademark pink cheek-blushes. His body is soft and flexible, allowing him to be flattened. He is referred to as male in the animated series, and is roughly 8 inches tall. He is from the planet Pop Star, where he lives in a domed house in Dream Land.”
However hes pink and likes sucking stuff up (sorry, could be both genders I guess). However Kirby is just a pink circle thing with red shoes. Kirby could be any gender for all we know. What Kirby shows is that even with something as odd as a round bubblegum we associate a possible gender. It can’t be both or none it has to be either a male or female blob.
Why don’t developers make more genderless games and why gender is important?
The reasons developers don’t make many genderless game is because gender is important in games as they help the player to relate or sympathise with the characters. For example in the Mass Effect series I make a male character as a male person in real life therefore even thought I am not Commander Shepard I am male so what he says, loves and does has more relevance to me than if I was controlling a female character.
It’s hard to make a realistic or engaging story when you play as a brick (not to be confused with a prick). It’s a rectangle object which is used in buildings, you try to make a Lord of the Rings type epic out of that when it can’t talk (make brick noises) or have anything relating to a gender.
When there is a choise of gender for your main character several things happen. Either a male person will do what I stated above or they will make a female character for basically the main reason of looking at something nice and pretty while running around in skimpy unprotecting outfits. “I am tough female knight, so tough I don’t need chest protection”… “Ow a bee stung me.” In MMORPGs most female characters are likely to played by men (of course MMOs are very popular both genders) this is because as in real life and in games females are helped more by males tha the other way around. This goes back to the whole Princess need rescuing mentality from centuries ago. If you be a female character in for example World of Warcraft and don’t ever say or mention what gender you really are then most other players who are likely male will assume you are actually a female. This happens even when males know these situations happen they will be so distracted by your in-game avatar that they will forget. Pretending to a female in the game (I never do it) has many benefits when playing a game that is so focused on team and group gameplay. Look at Left 4 Dead I have heard that Zoe is helped more than the other survivors because of this fact. However I don’t know if this is actually true. Females are apparently like Yeti in video games or woman in China they have all the power of choosing a partner while the males hope they get chosen.
Females do the same as males but I find they are more likely to be male characters as they don’t want men to know they are a woman. I am sure most people are aware of how people are on the internet especially young males. If they find out you’re a woman the first thing is they want proof. I am male and I find that outrageous. You don’t see men asking for proof that who you are talking to is a man.
The best policy I find is to assume everyone is male because more than likely that’s the case. When a woman pops up it shouldnt be related to being something a unique or special, they should be treated like everyone else. Saying that I do hate woman who use their gender for gain or something like it’s a struggle. We aren’t in the year 1800 most men and woman have equal rights now a days. Unless you are a black man or woman then I respect your struggle.
The Tomb Raider games are an enigma in the video game and film industry as its undoubtably mostly played and watched by men but a good share of women play and watch the franchise too. Many woman say the game is sexist while many other women says it’s empowering and a good example of a strong female lead in both its games and subsequent films. I feel it’s a bit of both Lara Croft is attractive while at the same time she is intelligent, knows a lot about history and historical objects while at the same time is fit and therefore able to take on tigers and various other wildlife while doing barrel rolls and somersaults of cliffs with her dual pistols. If Lara Croft was a genderless character it might be hard to get as involved as everyone does in the story and characters. If it was a male character you could arguable says it’s a Indiana Jones knock off where Lara Croft manages to stay familiar to the that premise while making an image for her self.
Sex always sells
Everyone knows that in the art, music, film, video game and other entertainment industries that sex sells. Its been proved countless time you only need to look at the type of entertainment being made and the roles being portrayed. These industries seemed mostly for the male audiences with advertising and marketing being aimed at them. Sure video games are played by women but look at the games on sale and its hard to see sometimes what they are playing or might appeal to them. Is being a butch male role like Marcus Fenix in Gears of War appealing to a woman? or is something like playing the mostly genderless female (can see yourself when going through portals) lead in the game Portal more appealing to a woman? I am not sure but I find that women probably have a more diverse palette when it come to games than some young males do. Of course I have no proof to back that up but that just from personal experience.
In the video game, television and film industries there are two type of females main roles. The first is the over serialised character who is either there to be the eye candy and to be rescued by the main character for example most Mario games and lets say for example the modern Spider-man films. The second type is you have the either the clever female who is probably geeky but not obviously attractive but obviously is “Ugly Betty” who plays a supporting/main role or there’s the sexy athletic type of badass for example Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films and games.
Men mostly fit into the same serotypes too with the buff action hero like Bruce Willis in the Die Hard film or Arnold Schwarzenegger in most of hes films such as the Terminator franchise or the suave sophisticated/rugged type such as James Bond or Indiana Jones. There is also a new type for men the emotional (emo) role from films such as Twilight.
There are of course many other roles by woman and men but you want to make a film or game then either choose one of the above male or female role, add some over the top funding and you should at least break even or make a nice profit. If you lucky you might win several Oscars in the process. If you don’t want success and awards don’t make a genderless main character in your film and game. That genderless brick from earlier isn’t going to win many Oscars.
So you might have realised from now its hard to make a genderless game, film etc and if you are thinking of doing that then you will be very limited in the story or appearance of your main character role. Any sane developer or director will just include genders into everything they make (unless it’s that Lord of the Bricks film I mentioned before) because its easy and as we are human beings we can relate it to our own feelings and experiences. We can sympathise with other animals even easier when they have human emotions for example the “Finding Nemo” film.
Include some half-naked woman with big breasts and some flashy effects and see how well it does (Transformer film for example). Mostly likely very well. There always time for entertainment like this but at the moment its dominating everything look at E3 and the Oscars for examples.
However to break away from the exploitation of men and woman in all entertainment and art mediums we will need to explore more genderless ideas, alien objects and abstract ideas. Only then can the industries involved move away from the mindset of a teenage boy. Adults run these businesses so why don’t they start acting and behaving like adults and you never know you might be pleasantly surprise how positively your audiences react when you also treat them like adults.
Some of my other opinions:
- My Opinion: OUYA a Glorified Smart Phone for Under £70 is Storming Kickstarter.
- My Opinion: Final Fantasy VII PC Re-Release Announced, Trailer and Twelve Screenshots.
- My Opinion: European Court Rules That You Can Resell Downloaded Software and Games.
- Steam: LOTRO, DDO and Vindictus MMORPGs Now Available to Play for Free and My Thoughts on Them.
- Stream TERA In Your Internet Browser and My Game Streaming Thoughts.
- My Opinion: To all the People Suffering from The Kony 2012 Bandwagon Effect.
- My Opinions on the Megaupload issue. The New Picture Adorning Megaupload and the Musicians that should be Ashamed.
- Can’t Afford Minecraft or Notch’s Other Video Games? Just Pirate them says Notch.
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