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On gender in video games

August 29, 2019Will Leffert

Apologies for the lack of new posts; I'm starting a new job in about a week, and have been working on getting my home office set up.

Let's talk about gender in video games.

I'm exceedingly excited about Cyberpunk 2077. I'm a big fan of the cyberpunk genre and style; Blade Runner is one of the greatest films ever made. Ghost in the Shell? Love it. Shadowrun was my first pen & paper game. I can't even begin to name all the books in the genre that I enjoy. Plus, my preferred fashion sense is very cyberpunk in nature, and I'm finally getting a chance to embrace that again, since I'm not showing up to an office and doing client meetings anymore.

Also, I'm a transhumanist.

So, when I heard that they were making Cyberpunk 2077 as a video game, I.. Well, I have been watching the news like crazy awaiting any tender morsels of juicy information about it.

Today I saw something interesting regarding character selection & gender in Cyberpunk 2077. Basically, you don't pick a gender. You pick a body type and a voice, and that's that.

It's nothing groundbreaking on a technical implementation, really; the only unique aspect is you can pick either a "female" or "male" sounding voice regardless of your body.

I actually feel like they could go further.

Games like TES and Fallout have had face sculpting mechanics for some time (and Fallout 4 had body-shape mechanics, too). Hell, thanks to mods, you can enjoy a variety of body types (although the bulk of body modders out there in the TES/FO universe tend to focus on creating "sexy" bodies, complete with jiggle physics, but I digress).

The work involved in implementing something like that, however, would probably be counter-productive (and delay the release even further). Ensuring wardrobe, physics, and everything else plays nice with a customize-able body shape makes it harder to make a pretty game, so I understand.

Still, if we're lucky, we'll see such mechanics by default in a game soon enough.

When it comes to creating a character in games, I used to go for the default "man who looks sorta like me, or like what I wish I looked like".

As the years went by, though, I found myself embracing other gender identities in video games. A real turning point for me was when I played Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.

Playing a badass female character is awesome. Assassin's Creed Odyssey is another favorite of mine, and I've beaten the game and completed every side-quest and DLC mission available as Kassandra, who is amazingly well voiced.

There just isn't enough badass female characters out there in the gaming world. Sure, its getting better, but it could go further.

The best shift in game creation culture, at least, is the idea that female characters don't have to be scantily clad (e.g. chainmail bikinis). Sure, there is still a large demographic for that sort of thing, but we're seeing it less now, as opposed to when it was almost the standard for female characters.

So, when will we see non-binary options in video games? Will we be able to use a slider to shift between masculine and feminine features? Will we be able to tweak vocal frequencies to exactly what we envision our protagonist sounds like?

I don't know, but I'm anxious to see it happen. The video game industry is massive, and while it is very cis male-dominated, we're seeing more and more growth outside of the stereotypical gamer.