Gender Bending in Gaming-Acceptance or Puzzlement? - Oni no Tenshi Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Gender Bending in Gaming-Acceptance or Puzzlement?

Gamers have been generally considered to be male, white, American and straight. But gaming in and of itself has always been considered somewhat subversive in nature.  Just like "punk culture" and "Invader Zim," gaming has generally been co-opted by the mainstream, but there is still a pretty good amount of stigma on people who game for extended periods of time, enjoy certain "niche" titles (such as pretty much anything strange that comes from Japan), or who has an entire wardrobe of game-themed shirts (not that I'm knocking that fashion statement-I've laughed hard enough to make milk come out my nose with some of the witty and humorous game shirts I've seen out there).

Case in point...XD

Obviously, there are large swaths of gamer culture that don't even closely fit into the dominant stereotype of white/male/heterosexual (although we love you guys too), but it's interesting to see that especially when games come from the Land of the Rising Sun, you tend to see a whole lot more variety in characters (although boring two dimensional 2D anime heroes make Oni cry).

Come on, you know you played as Samus in Smash Brothers just so you could see her naked through her suit.  Well, that and being able to roll around in a little, physics-defying ball.

For example, Samus is one example of a character whose gender is completely irrelevant to the playing of the game.  Far from the age of Dead or Alive bouncing breasts or Tomb Raider's Laura Croft's "shapely buns," Samus's character wears a no-frills non-form-fitting metallic suit that kicks butt.  Samus is described as one of the most capable and expert bounty hunters ever.  And generally, when someone is purported to be the best, especially in a game that was largely marketed to males (as gaming was generally seen as a "guy" thing), the assumption is that the person is male.  After all, it was well known at the time that the only thing female gamers were good for was waiting around in a different castle.  As far as those who know Samus are concerned, though, her "ambiguous gender" is one of the things that will enshrine the Metroid series in gaming history forever.  "Samus is a girl" is such a culturally recognizable game phenomenon that it is actually the name of an official trope!

"Named for Samus Aran from Metroid. In the first two games, the player doesn't learn she's female until after guiding her through an army of alien baddies. Later games in the series still play with this trope. The Prime series, however, does not play with this, and gives her a rather feminine figure considering she's in armor. Other M completely throws away this trope, however, because you see Samus without her suit in the opening sequence, in many cutscenes (sometimes this is just a shot of her face through her visor), and in the death sequence."

Source: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SamusIsAGirl

Because obviously, besides being the best bounty hunter, Samus also moonlights as the best pin-up model ever.

Of course, now that we've seen Samus in her (ridiculously not leaving anything to the imagination) form fitting zero suit, no one seems to want to see her in anything BUT that blue spandex nightmare.

A quick Google search will show you more pictures of her in the zero suit than in her traditional outfit, and the "related searches" will include "samus no clothes" and "samus sexy" as some of the most common searches.  Once her gender is well known, Samus becomes little more than another sexy lady for gamer nerds to drool over, which does frustrate me a bit.  While I do like sexy ladies (and boobies, of course), I think that there is a problem when it seems like whenever a character is female, she is almost always gets turned into a sex object, which often detracts from her innate abilities and character.  When her gender is ambiguous, this is not a problem.  When her gender is known, this all changes.

Before the reveal:

"Samus is the best, most accomplished amazing bounty hunter ever."


Afterwards:

"Samus is a HUGE BREASTED SUPER SEXY WOMAN who also happens to be the most accomplished amazing bounty....oh who cares!?" *DROOL!!*

Now for someone like myself, it's fairly easy to see a sexy character and like her style without being overly objectification-like about it, but I hear that's pretty dang hard (no pun intended) for the average guy.


Which brings me to my next point.

Or at least, that's basically what every guy who has ever heard of Bridget seems to think...

If you haven't heard about Bridget, then you're about to...

According to TV Tropes (yet again!) there is a commonly known trope called "Dropped a Bridget on him":

Just because the (nearly always Male-to-Female) Transsexual character, Wholesome Crossdresser or victim of Gender Bending has worked things out doesn't mean everyone else has. Fair chance one of his or her friends never seems quite able to deal with it, and is stuck between trying to maintain a standard friendship and having really inopportune bouts of vaguely rationalized attraction if they get stuck in compromising positions. You can expect at least one person, or maybe even the rest of the cast to continue to deny this person is anything but the "perceived" gender (see note below). This is often a comedic trope, possibly because the idea of being 'fooled' makes the attraction seem less genuine. Is usually followed by a Stupid Sexy Flanders moment. This can also open up the opportunity for the creator to let loose insensitivity.

Source: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DroppedABridgetOnHim


Yes, Bridget is biologically male.  Yes, he dresses up like a female character.  And yes, he sounds like a cute girl (and acts like one too).  He also plays into a lot of the stereotypes of femininity, such as having toys and stuffed animals as the main ways he kicks your butt all over the screen.  Plenty of guys seem to have the opposite reaction to Bridget's true identity as when they find out that Samus is female.  It kind of reminds me to the video someone once linked in regards to the "reactions to 2 girls 1 cup"-not actually showing the (purportedly) disgusting footage, but simply looking at how people reacted.  Most women, when faced with the footage looked unimpressed or covered their mouth and pointed in disbelief.  But most of the guys that were shown reacting to the footage started out looking at it like they were interested and somewhat aroused, only to suddenly start retching and running from the room.

But as far as Japan is concerned, this idea of the "passing" gender bender is MUCH more common than the "guy in a dress" or other somewhat (to incredibly mean) insensitive takes on crossdressing or genderqueer behaviors. 

To some extent, this is largely because the culture in Japan is actually pretty welcoming towards people who crossdress, are gay, or conform to "non-normative" sexual identities. And even though I am a normative heterosexual woman who, other than being a pretty hardcore tomboy as a kid has had no real gender dysphoria, that's pretty cool.  Even though I personally don't necessarily fall into this category of being, it's pretty dang nice to see people being accepted for who they are (because we all have stuff about ourselves that we secretly or not so secretly think we will not be accepted if "people only knew").

If you try to look at characters in American made games, though, there are few (if any) positive characterizations of characters that are either androgynous or transgendered.  The few that come to mind are either fairly shallow or they tend to have trauma/bad pasts that "explain" why they are the way they are.

American Androgynous Game Character Rule 1: You get one Tattoo and/or body modification for every traumatic experience you've had in your whole life.

But beyond that, let's talk about an even MORE common situation:

This tends to be a situation that you will encounter on MMMORPGs, but it also happens in games such as Mass Effect, Fallout, Elder Scrolls and Fable (or any game where you have a high level of customization available to you).  A lot of people decide to play a character who is the opposite sex of themselves. 

My husband has done this several times, and while he's not a transgendered person, he enjoys playing as female characters, and he's not alone.  Many men actually enjoy playing opposite sex characters, and even though many of them will (if asked) say that they do it just because of the "T&A factor," the truth is that it is much more complicated than that.

Male outfits=boring armor and pants

Female outfits=DIFFERENT, CUTE AND UNQUE

....Any questions?

For example, female characters tend to have the best outfits.  I'm not just talking about sexy outfits, it's just a fact that female clothing tends to be more varied and interesting in style.  Men, on the other hand, get some combination of shirt/jacket and shorts/pants.  Perhaps this is because of the fact that women are expected to be more into "fashion" than men.  But I also think that this is largely because the female form is more likely to be accentuated in an attractive way by clothing, while male forms are a lot more boring in comparison due to the simpler male shape.  Plus, females tend to have really different or interesting dialogue options that are often not mirrored by male character dialogue options.

"Dude, it's just me, Mary.  I decided to play as a male avatar today..."

Of course, don't forget the women who play as men! Being able to choose a different body and shape than the one you have is really fun, and can be a very exciting way to role play, just for the sake of being different than you are in real life (although it can also provide solace for someone who is transgender and feels that they are in the "wrong body."  In addition to gender, a man who is balding can play a character with a full head of luxurious hair  A woman who has very small breasts can play as a woman with major endowments in the chest department.  And so on.   Even though a game often doesn't get nearly as detailed in the role play experience as it might be in your imagination, if you decide to do what my husband does and construct a complicated character background and personality system during his gaming experiences, it can enhance your entire role playing experience.

Who says that men can't learn how to make their own dang sammiches? 

Next, Mama learns to shoot grenade launchers!

SO ANYWAY, after this wall 'o' text, what are your thoughts on "alternative" groups of people being represented in games as accepted characters who aren't totally screwed up?

What about playing as the opposite gender as yourself or playing a character who has physical characteristics that are completely unlike your own?

Until next time!

(Author's Note: I'm dealing with some hand and wrist pain right now, so I might not post tomorrow, but I'm reading each and every one of your comments and I'm loving the blogs I've been seeing on the page this week!)

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