Computer games – getting it right and wrong since forever

I love computer games.  I’ve been playing them since I was at least 10, so for the majority of my life.  And, in what used to be something unusual, I’m a female gamer.  Like all computer gamers (and people who read books, watch TV, grow plants, etc), I prefer some types of games over others.  I’ve never been much of a first person shooter (FPS), though there have been the odd FPS I’ve enjoyed multiplaying with friends/the household.  I’ve always tended to play god/civilisation-sims (Civilisation, Populous, Sim City, Tropico, etc) and Role Playing Games (yes those based on AD&D style mechanics).

One of the things I’ve noticed about these games is that either you’re playing a faceless character with no specific gender (though the nations in Civilisation are represented by particular historic figures who are gendered), or you can create your own character and pick the image or now the entire appearance that this character has for the game.

One of the things I have spent a lot of time doing in role playing games is playing non-white characters and then noticing how many other non-white characters exist (almost none, especially noticeable in the Neverwinter Nights series).  I also notice when I can and cannot play female characters, and how many other female non-player characters who are important to the plot exist in the game.  (Just a hint for game developers, if I can’t play a female character for a good reason, I’m less likely to stick with playing your game).

Sometimes I’m surprised by games and how far they go to get things right.  I recently finished playing Dungeon Siege III, after playing Dungeon Siege I about a billion years ago, and completely ignoring Dungeon Siege II.  I played a female character in the first instalment, and when they referenced that character in the third game, they stated that she was female.  Now there was no way to know that I played that character female because that was a billion years and several computers ago, the developers just decided that this now grand historical figure could be female and that would be ok.  That made me cheer from my desk, and made the rest of the household wonder what was going on until I told them.

Dungeon Siege III had some other good points, the “evil” character was a powerful woman who when defeated agreed to repair her wrongs.  She wasn’t evil because she was insane, or female, she took on the not-quite-so-good knights because they’d killed her father.  There were lots of good greys instead of black and white.

There were some points of face palming, the two female characters you can play (one of whom wasn’t white and was part angel – so not white and not quite human… not necessary great), wore stupid clothes.  Thankfully not chainmail bikinis, but still not a big improvement.  I’ve never found a corset that would add significantly to my ability to defend or attack… and both of them waggled their arses all about the place.

Overall though, Dungeon Siege III did many things right, something that Skyrim has also managed to pull off quite well (the current reason for my lack of blogging and reading of blogs).  You start in Skyrim as a faceless character, learning a little about the world before you get to tell someone your name, and decide how you look.  You can choose from a range of races (including a lizard and feline race), and select the fine detail of your appearance.  This is in line with other games like Mass Effect.  The other thing that Skyrim is doing well is that you get to meet non-player characters from those other races, even though the game is set where the Nords (Vikings) live.

The characters comment on the fact that my character is female from time to time, other female characters wish that they could also go adventuring while running stalls, guarding towns, and being smiths.  The bandits and other humanoid enemies you fight are made up of male and females alike.

Then I found via Twitter that there is a slut shaming section in the game.  Really Skyrim could have done much better.  It’s great that we’ve done so well in games, clearly there is such a long way left to go.

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