So, an interesting gaming & gender thought experiment…
I usually only play female characters in games. There are good reasons (such as feeling that a game with no female options is like the developers saying, “We don’t want you here.”). That still holds true.
I recently decided to do another play-through of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Having played it a few times now with female characters of various races and backgrounds, I thought this time I’d try a male character. (I know, shocking…but there are different relationship options for males and I wanted to see them, lol.)
My experience thus far has been eye-opening, and not for the reasons you’d think.
Early on, you, a prisoner, are taken to the site of an explosion the authorities think you may have caused, because you might have a special power to repair the damage. The two main authority figures, both female, can’t agree which route to take, so they ask your opinion.
I rolled my eyes and grumbled about the state of game writing, even at a company like Bioware…because of course the two chicks can’t resolve their issue and need the big strong man to tell them what to do. It wasn’t like this when I played a girl character.
I had a little epiphany last night, after getting further into the story, though…and I realized, no, it was exactly like this the other times I played. The events, reactions, and voice-over lines were literally, 100%, the same.
It never struck me this way before, though; then, I perceived it as two strong leaders who’d been through days of chaos, asking for a third opinion out of frustration and exhaustion. It seemed natural they’d try for a group consensus.
So it had nothing at all to do with the game, and everything to do with my own perceptions.
I had also decided to handle romance options differently. For anyone unfamiliar with Bioware games, there are usually conversation choices that allow you to develop a relationship with one of your party members, almost like a side-quest.
Before, once I met all the characters, I decided which of the romance options I wanted to pursue. Then, I made sure to only choose the flirty dialogue options with that character, to make sure I didn’t inadvertently get stuck with a different person.
This time, I decided I was going to flirt with everyone. Whenever a flirt option popped up, I chose it. I had a few relationship possibilities in mind, but would figure out who I’d end up with as I went along.
At the time, I thought it was just because I’d played the game before and wasn’t as set on a specific outcome.
But in light of my little epiphany, I wondered…did it feel more okay for me to hit on everybody as a guy, while as a female, I felt I had to be careful not to give wrong signals to someone I wasn’t serious about?
Later in the game (no spoilers), you get to become the leader of an organization you’ve been helping. It felt less epic this time than other play-throughs. I wondered why, which is what started me thinking about this in the first place.
When I played as a female, especially when I played a female of a race generally looked down on within the game world…it felt like this huge achievement. Like I had overcome all this adversity and had become so respected that everyone finally believed I was worthy of leading them.
When I played as a male…it felt like I’d really been in charge all along, from the moment I told those women what to do, so it was a given that they’d choose me to lead them officially. It felt like a formality.
Again, what happened and what was said in the game was exactly the same. My male character did just as much work as my female characters. The only thing that changed was my internal reaction.
In our world, getting taken seriously and made a leader is harder when you’re a girl. So of course it seemed my female character must have done more to get there…since otherwise, she wouldn’t have succeeded.
I mentioned this to my husband, who frequently plays both male and female characters, and asked him if he’d ever noticed any differences like that. “Not really,” he said. “For me, it’s more about stepping into the role of being a hero.”
And I realized, that’s not how it is for me. I am always conscious of specifically being a girl hero. Because somewhere in my psyche, girls don’t get to be heroes, so when I’m playing one in a role-playing game, that’s an inseparable part of the role I’m playing.
Huh, interesting. Wrong, of course…but interesting.
And ultimately, it’s things like this that are why I choose to write sci-fi and fantasy. By taking yourself out of your normal comfort zone and seeing things from a new perspective, you never know what you’ll find out.