In my opinion, one of the most appealing aspects about video games is the chance to play a hero. As the hero, you get to exist in a world specifically designed for you and your chances to triumph. There are hardships but it’s those hardships that provide an opportunity to empathize with the emotions and situations of the character you play. You learn to relate, and although you may not always view the character as yourself, you definitely grow an attachment. So, if there is a possibility to get so captivated with the game, shouldn’t there at the very least be a gender option for the hero? What I want to focus on in this article is the lack of a female option in E-rated games and how it may impact perceptions of self in children.
I recently read an article on Kotaku that talked about a father who re-coded a copy of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker to change Link’s gender to a girl. His gesture was noteworthy and more beneficial than harmful to the child but the comments still included remarks of disapproval.
One of the arguments stated that the action of the father had good intentions but that he was doing the creators a disservice by altering what they originally designed for the character to be. They stated that characters in games are like characters in movies and at no one would ever replace a movie character with themselves. As we have discussed before in class, video games are much more interactive than movies could ever be by providing you control. Sure, when you’re watching a movie you may feel sad if one of the characters die but you will always be seeing it from a third person perspective. When you are playing a game, however, you control the character and the results from your actions are received from a first person perspective.
“I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers.” ~ Maya’s badass father
But, let’s stop looking at this from an adult viewpoint and think more about it from a child’s viewpoint. When we are children, our brains are a lot less developed but we still hold many biases and opinions about the things we like or dislike. A psychology experiment by Rebecca Bigler demonstrates that children have a natural tendency to gravitate towards things that are similar to themselves. In the experiment, preschool children were randomly assigned to a t-shirt color for three weeks. They were not told the reason for the experiment and proceeded to play among their usual groups. Three weeks later when asked which color was the best, every child stated that the people wearing the same color as them were better and even smarter than the other colors regardless of the fact that they might have never even played with another child with their shirt color.
So, let’s relate that study to reflect video games and children. It may seem harmless to exclude a gender option in a video game but by not having that option game makers may be unintentionally discriminating an entire audience. Like the experiment showed, children tend to gravitate towards things that are similar to them. If there is only a male option, male children may come to the conclusion that only males are strong, fearless heroes and females are always the weakling that needs saving. Females who do end up playing the game may project themselves as the damsel in distress and believe that they can only play a hero temporarily when they feign being a male. Video games to a child are like a hand held version of make believe. In their happy world filled with imagination, it is much more rewarding to think that they themselves can conquer whatever evil is conjured up without having to change someone as a significant as gender.
During my search for female protagonist in E-rated games, I barely found anything. What I did find was female character do exist in games but most of them are like Princess Peach from Mario Brothers where they only playable in the spin-offs, are love interests of the male lead and get kidnapped…a lot. Like, a lot. Seriously. One of the positive things I found that did catch my attention was a game called Dinosaur Planet. Dinosaur Planet was a game that allowed you choose your gender but for advertising they mainly used their female heroine, Krystal. Krystal was a strong, capable and fearless character that displayed all the aspects of a hero. Right when I found it I went to search where I could buy the game only to find out that it was never developed. Instead, the original game became part of the Star Fox series where Krystal’s heroic role is completely stripped from her and given to the male protagonist instead. In the end, Krystal becomes another damsel in distress with the male lead now using the magic staff that was originally designed for her.
Now, don’t assume that I’m saying that games without a gender option are terrible games and always badly influence females by not providing them an option. There are many, great games out there such as Pokémon that do allow the choice of female protagonist. It is, however, extremely important to remember that children’s minds are very simple and that these conclusions may seem extreme to us but to an impressionable child, what they see is what they believe and that is what helps construct our society. I do understand that there is little marketing for female protagonists in video games but if parents were brought to the attention on how even E-rated games could affect the confidence of their daughter, maybe it could spark a change. I honestly believe that we need to take a break from all the politics and business of games for just a little bit and remember that the main reason for their creation (at least for E-rated games) is for children to learn and have fun.