Indie Diaries #9 - Thoughts on Gender Roles in Storytelling
My previous blog post about Tao Lin, Terence McKenna, and Riane Eisler's opinions on our male-driven society got me thinking...
What is the role of gender or sexual identification in stories? Sure, there are many over simplified caricatures of raw, primal instincts and actions, such as the heroic, over-powering male or the guileful, seductive woman. But what is the man or woman's role in the mind of the audience?
The answer, to me, is quite simply for the use of connecting an audience to the story itself. Seems rather obvious, doesn't it? Well, perhaps its too obvious, as very few actually notice how gender and sexual identification is often misused in storytelling.
Women are either objects of desire or angelic perfection, or they are web-spinning seductresses out to capture another unsuspecting victim. They are vixens of both absolute purity or absolute corruption, pedestalized on either glory or damnation. Men are typically the heroes of the plot, meaning that they get all the attention of the audience's concern. When a man runs into a woman in any typical story, the knee-jerk expectation would be that this man is going to have an encounter with this passerby woman. In other words, she is secondary to his very existence in the plot. Most of the time, at least.
The best characters that come to my mind are gender-nuetral personas, ones that need not be defined as masculine nor feminine. They are as complex as normal people are, yet it is their reactions to their particular surroundings that turn them into either heroes or victims, depending on how they choose to act. But their choices aren't dictated by gender stereotypes so much as their core values, which is what makes them a hero instead of a normal person walking down the street. Carla Jean Moss in No Country for Old Men (played by Kelly Macdonald) is a great example; her final dialogue before being killed is just as heroic as Llewelyn's (Josh Brolin's) stoic gaze into the face of death. Did she have her cleavage out to remind us (erm... the male audience) why it's important to pay attention to what she's saying? No. Did we listen to her anyway? Hell yeah we did. She was more of a badass than Woody Allen's character who practically soiled himself before being blown away by the devil incarnate and it was her final words that made the movie so poignant in the end.
I could go on and list many examples of how women have been poorly written into stories for ages, but it's 11:33pm and I'm no Carla Jean Moss. So, let me get straight to my point: women in video games are (for the most part) among the most obtusely written, modeled, and portrayed people in the medium, if not the most just by the virtue of sheer numbers. There are many arguments to be made as to why this is the case, but I'm certainly not qualified to lead any deeper discussion of the matter. I am only trying to make the obvious point clear to those unwilling to see that women in media are more than just the skin they show. They are the bridge that will connect ~60% of the audience to the story, and if you want to create meaningful, memorable characters, remember that gender roles have little to do with that (other than the my claim above).
So, when designing my character, Eue, as a male and female image, I tried to keep their differences simple yet obvious enough for people to relate to one or the other.
Honestly, I don't know if I'm doing the right thing. All I can say is that I've kept in mind how important it is for this game to have a male and female version of the hero, simply because to leave out one or the other would alienate huge groups of people. Furthermore, that's why I've made him/her so cartoonish to the point where race is (hopefully) not up for contention. But, I guess I'll find out if I've succeeded or not once people play the game... (Though, if one were to go too far into creating the perfectly gender and racially neutral human being, they'd end up with the terrifying mascot from Community).
We'll see if I'm on the right path or not...