Friday, June 1, 2012

Op/Rant: GMPC

We begin today with a little bit of a quiz. Nothing too hard, just follow along in your heads. Question one: Think of a few female video game characters. Question two: How many of those characters, discounting inherently multiplayer games like fighters or MMOs, are player characters? Done? Okay, that's it. But why did I subject you to such an infantile mental exercise?

Now, I put myself through this same quiz, so it wasn't just you. And, off the top of my head, I only came up with two answers for question two: Lara Croft and Samus Aran. If I thought about a little longer, I came up with two more, namely Faith from Mirror's Edge and Nariko from Heavenly Sword, which I admit I never played. If that scenario was turned on its head, I could sit here until the heat death of the universe listening to people name male player characters. That's probably an exaggeration, but it gets to the heart of this matter. I'll do something fun and non-activisty again soon, I promise. But this was a matter I felt like needed to be addressed.

Some of you are probably wondering what the acronym in the title stands for. Generic Male Player Character. I'm not trying to say that this is something new, for the record, but I am saying that its continued persistence can be a little disheartening at times. The thing that really put it in my mind was the quiet reveal of the new Star Wars game, codenamed 1313, last night. The one screenshot of the player character they showed looked as generic as could be. I understand it's only pre-production art, but still, if they're hoping to tell a "mature" story like they claim, they can do better.

Before we go any further, I want to break down exactly what I mean by "Generic Male Player Character" so I get everyone on the same page. To me GMPCs generally have/are:

  • White
  • Short, dark hair.
  • Square-jawed, often adorned with stubble.
  • A gruff, me-agaisnt-the-world, laconic badass, or otherwise outsider, lone wolf personality.
  • Bonus points if they're voiced by Nolan North or Steve Blum. 
I can't even begin to think of how many characters in western games fit into all of those categories.

The big question I have is why is the modern gaming industry so uncomfortable with asking consumers to play as a woman? It's probably a very complicated answer, but I think some of the blame lies at the feet of the consumers themselves, rather than on the companies that make the games. It's long past the time when gaming was "only for the boys" but that attitude has kind of lingered. And it's not just with gaming either. The internet in general has a very hostile feel towards women sometimes. You can only laugh off "Tits or GTFO" or "Go back to the kitchen" so many times before it becomes hurtful. 

The best example of how this is affecting the video game industry is actually another Star Wars game, or rather, a decision that was made after the game was published. Like it's predecessor, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords allowed players to create their own playable character. However, due to the need to integrate the game and its story into the larger Star Wars canon, some decisions had to be made. Among those was the decision to make the player character, known as the Exile, canonically female. The choice was met with derision and hostility by the male gaming crowd, for reasons that, to be honest, are still a little unclear to me. This is the first, and so far last, time that an RPG protagonist has been officially declared to be a woman, but it still riled up enough people that Wookieepedia had to lock the article on the Exile because users were constantly editing the page to take away any mention of her gender. Even though they were still completely free to go and play the game as a male.

I guess my problem is that I don't understand why it's such a problem for some men to play as a woman, when a lot women have been quietly playing as men for as long as gaming has been around, and for the most part enjoying it. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure who this article is aimed at more, the industry or the consumers. Maybe a little bit of both. I guess I have a message or a request for both.

Industry: I would humbly request that you put out a few more games with female protagonists.

Consumers: Playing as a girl isn't a threat to your masculinity. Try it sometime.

Thanks for bearing with me. Like I said, back to more fun stuff soon.

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