To Be Male Or To Be Female, That Is The Question

If you could start over, start from the very beginning, recreate yourself in entirety, which would you choose: male or female?

Part of what I love so much about video games, RPGs in particular, is the opportunity to take on a new persona. Become someone new. Someone different. Someone bolder, braver, more heroic… or less noble. Someone, even, who can pee standing up.

gender select

But given the choice between male and female, 9 times out of 10 I will still choose to be my original gender. Why is this? Why not try new things, play for the other team, so to speak?

Because… I can.

Because, as a female gamer, I have been playing for the other team for most of my button-mashing life.

The vast majority of games I grew up on offered no real choice between genders, very few playable female characters, and among the sliver of available female characters, most were what feminist/gamer Anita Sarkeesian refers to as “Ms. Male Characters,” duplicate versions of their male counterparts who are made female by the addition of stereotypical genderized symbols, such as the colour pink or lipstick and a bow.

The classic example of when game designers "put a bow on it" to create a female character: Mrs. Pacman.
The classic example of when game designers “put a bow on it” to create a female character: Mrs. Pacman.

In my early gaming days, most female characters were marked by all the cliches about my gender I had come to dislike: overdone make-up, frilly dresses, the colour pink, and stereotyped personality traits like being whiny, materialistic, ditzy, helpless, and constantly in need of rescuing. Why would I choose to be a boring female character? Unless, of course, she has the best power: Princess Peach in Super Mario Bros. 2, for example, or Dixie Kong in Donkey Kong Country 2 & 3.

Princess Peach screenshot
Peach could float for a while so she was the best character to play as. I never really understood the point of this game, though, without a princess to rescue…

There were occasional exceptions. Most famously, perhaps, is Samus Aran, the Metroid star who shocked the gaming world by revealing her true identity at the end of the game. Then there is my personal favourite, Lucca of Chrono Trigger, who, as a highly intelligent, glasses-wearing, non-pinkified scientific genius is a natural hero for mould-breaking girls everywhere. And I can’t fail to mention Lara Croft, although my enthusiasm for her archaeological adventuring and butt-kicking is somewhat tempered by my distaste for the painfully exaggerated by-men-for-men shapely and revealing nature of her pixels.

Lucca from Chrono Trigger
Lucca: Builds a teleporter, accidentally sends someone back in time, then pretty much saves the world with a little help from her friends. Now there’s a female character I can respect.

So when I discovered modern RPGs with the ability to create your character from scratch, the idea that I could create a character in my own image, albeit somewhat enhanced (race: anything but human! hair color: can it be green? tattoos/scars: sure, why not!), was super exciting. Why would I choose to be a boring male character anymore? (No offense, guys.)

And with that reversal in my own attitude I realize there is hope. Someone, somewhere out there in the video game world is doing something right.

Maybe next time I play I’ll choose to recreate myself as a male character.

Not because I have to.

But because I can.

Kirby
…or maybe I’ll be a Kirby. Because what is a Kirby, really, anyways?

Do you tend to play as male, or as female? Your own gender, or the opposite? Who’s your favourite female video game character?

Related links:

“Are you weird if you play as the opposite sex?” – Video

Ms. Male Character – Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games – Video

You Are What You Play… Or Are You? Experimenting With Morality In Video Games – Breaking Moulds

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9 thoughts on “To Be Male Or To Be Female, That Is The Question

  1. I play as both. I normally play through my first go as a male, then the second as a female.

    I don’t often play video games any more, but the option to play as both genders is pretty cool. It’s funny how the stories can change just based on what organs you possess.

  2. Okay, so I’m not a gamer of any sort (though I totally loved watching my brothers play Super Nintendo in the 90s, hey!) but your post reminds me of a conversation I had with a Turkish guy I met in Istanbul– he was one of the few people who could sort of speak English without being translated and we were playing the game “Would You Rather.” His question was would I rather be born a girl or a boy, if I had a chance. I had a long rambling answer for why I’d still opt to be a girl and he was absolutely blown away. He couldn’t understand why ANYONE would want to be a female by choice. I asked why and he explained that women have to be taken care of– for instance, if there was a building on fire, a man would be able to reason his way out of it and escape but a woman would die because she wouldn’t be able to figure it out. As someone who’s escaped quite a few (metaphorical) burning buildings, this offended me to no end. Especially because he was a 28 year old guy who still lived at home and had his meals fixed by his mother (that’s his culture, but whatever). Okay, super long and mostly unrelated comment over 🙂

    1. I laughed so hard at the ‘reason your way out of a burning building’ part because it made me think of, well, video games – you must solve this series of logic problems in order to escape certain DEATH BY BURNINATING! Hahaha. I suppose I can understand the bewilderment about choosing to be a woman, though, especially given the lot many women around the world are still dealt (and women in our own cultures were dealt not all that long ago), but I would probably still choose the same way you did (although if I had been born and raised elsewhere I might choose differently). Who knows. Sounds like your Turkish friend might not be able to escape a burning building without his mom’s help though 😉

      1. That’s EXACTLY what I was thinking about the burning building! I’d have to hold his hand and get him out of there.

        But yes– in other parts of the world, I would certainly see the difficulty in being born female… but I just like the way my mind works as a woman and all of that… Haha but again that’s because I have privilege I suppose.

  3. Chun Li and Peach (esp. in Super Mario 2) were the best.

    I have this problem in Harvest Moon where I decide that I’m going to be the female farmer (who looks almost exactly like the male farmer and is customizable in some of the more recent games), but part of the objective is getting married, and I consistently like the bachelorettes’ personalities better than the bachelors’, so I end up being torn. Even though marrying any eligible person would be an extremely easy thing to program into the game since all the characters you don’t marry hook up with each other anyway, I have to choose between my gender identity and sexual identity. (Of course, in a game where there’s freedom to romance whomever I fancy or romance isn’t a factor, I’m going to play as a female character, because of the same reasons you listed!0

    1. Interesting, I’ve never played Harvest Moon! I think the most interesting game I’ve played in terms of romance options is Dragon Age: Origins. Among your companions, you can potentially develop romance with 4 of them, well, up to three per character – one of the two available men and one of the two available women will “swing both ways,” so to speak. I played the first time through as a girl and was madly in love with Alistair, but after we broke up, well, Leliana was in love with me so I figured what the heck, might as well go for her! Hahaha. The interpersonal relationships made it a super interesting game though, so I hope we see more games with elements like that in the future! 🙂

  4. I play as both. My game of the moment is Guild Wars 2 and my problem is that I have profession envy. This means I’ve had to create 8 different characters (whom I play in order so they don’t think that I’m playing favourites). My main character is a male norn ranger and as I was around other people I started thinking “Hmmm, the engineer looks really fun” and so on down the line of professions. Anyway, having that many characters releases the creative spirit in me. My gender choices were split (unintentionally) even. I’ve ended up with 4 male and 4 female characters. I like the role-playing aspect of games where I can be whatever I want to be. So if I want to be a 10 foot male norn covered in tatoos, I can. I also have a female norn covered in tattoos. I find it fun to be that which I’m not.

    While I’m happy to play as a male, I like to have the option to play as female. Games that don’t give me this option kind of tick me off. The hubs bought GTA V and I noticed that there still isn’t a playable female character in this game. It would be nice if more game developers recognised and acknowledged their female fan base and created games accordingly. I think we’re slowly inching forward but we still have a way to go.

    1. For sure, I always have trouble picking just one profession, or class or specialization or whatever. It’s fun to try different routes.

      I definitely agree that having the option is key. I felt the same way about GTAV – cool, three playable characters and a dog… oh, all guys. Even the dog. Meh. I haven’t played it much even though it seemed like a lot of fun at first. I think the industry is waking up to this… slowly… and it helps that more and more women are entering the industry as well. But there is indeed a long way to go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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