The Shepard/My avatar discussion from WisCon was one of several gaming related panels this year. A section titled “Gender and Class in Gaming” had the following description:
This panel uses Dragon Age II, Mass Effect and classic tabletop games as a starting point to discuss class and gender issues that have been raised by players. We’ll discuss the ways in which class and gender are used in past and current games. How are gender and class issues used in the plot of the game? Does this detract or add to the gaming experience? Is it possible to be a feminist gamer?
It is clearly possible to be both a feminist and a gamer. I assume that line was added to get people enraged at the dismissal of such a person existing and get audience members fired up for the panel. WisCon is a feminist science fiction convention, therefore most audience members were likely feminists and gamers.
The following are my notes from the panel:
Games that discuss these issues
- Tales of Graces f
- Dragon Age series
- Dreamfall (a game that values traits that are coded as feminine)
- Sims 3 (Alice and Kev – roleplaying a homeless family)
- Seeing yourself represented in game/media is important for many people. So, games where girls/women get to be active and integral to the storyline help send the message to girls that they matter.
- It is important to look at who doesn’t get represented in games. Who do companies use their resources to represent? Who gets left out?
- There are so many more options than just a white, straight, male as the lead for games.
- The avatar you choose in multiplayer games often affects how other players interact with you.
- Some games impose their own stereotypes based on gender -> dexterity/agility high for women, and strength high for men. But ask any acrobat and they will tell you that strength is required along with agility.
- The characters of Sten and Shale in the Dragon Age games address gender stereotypes and expectations in their stories and dialogue.
- The more games rest on sexual dimorphism, the more stereotyping may exist.
- Even if we concede that a female and male character in a game have different strength and size, how much does that matter when the characters are using tools and magic?
- World of Warcraft had a line in the Cataclysm expansion where Garrosh Hellscream said to Sylvanas Windrunner “Watch your clever mouth, bitch!” Within the game they use a gendered slur used to silence a female character.
Fantasy class and race
- Tolkien fantasy intermingled race and class and has become part of the backdrop for much of fantasy. We see the same stereotypes repeated over time.
- Dragon Age had two different classes of elves and neither one were the high/rich elves of Tolkien fantasy. But while class and race were present, did the stories discuss either one enough to our satisfaction? The strata of dwarves allowed for a discussion of class, power, and oppression. What more could they have done? What do we want to see done next?
Board games/ Role playing games
- Monopoly was based on The Landlord’s Game, which was meant to show the negatives of monopolies. But the more popular Monopoly game is all about acquiring as much property and money as possible.
- Small World is a world conquest game that allows players to play with a mix of fantasy races but is still about world conquest and occupation.
- Puerto Rico is a game where players each run their own plantations using colonists (represented by brown pegs) as the workers.
- Eclipse Phase role playing game lets your characters play with/change genders throughout the course of the campaign. You can be gender neutral, change gender, or inhabit other characters.
The panel covered a very broad topic, but what are some of your thoughts on gender or class issues in games? What other games have discussed class issues but were missed in this discussion? What has been done well and what do we want to see done differently?