I’m reading books about game design and game development at the moment. The reason I’m reading is because I actually want to read all those books I bought way back in order to see if they’re any good, really. One discovery that shouldn’t suprise me or bother me is the constant gendering of players as “he”. It is unbelievably common, and despite owning several books on game design, only a few – most of the time written by women and about women and about women – use “she” or avoid gendering the player at all.
These are books used by teachers and read by fledgling designers, starting out in the industry. What does this tell them?
It tells them that the player is a “he”, unless we look at “games for girls”. It reproduces the view that all of society seems to share – that the default experience is that of a man, and that the rest of us should be grateful that we get to share it.
People ask me sometimes why I never or almost never play games with male protagonists. I can’t feel those games. I don’t enjoy them. For the same reason I now rarely read books by men. Why should I? If I can’t relate to their hero’s, why waste time on them?
Do you think I’m being unreasonable?
Isn’t this what the world and society is already asking of me? That I put my experiences aside to identify with a man as the hero? If I choose to view the world from a different perspective, how is that not okay? Is it because I’m breaking the illusion that the default position is a man’s position?
It’s intersectional, of course. If you’re Black and a woman finding something to represent you is even harder. Non-binary? Latino? Asian? Mixed race?
So few stories about other than white men so rarely reach the mainstream. When those stories do, the entitled cry-baby crowd go ballistic, crying about how their stories are corrupted to fit a politically correct ideal, that most of the time they’ve made up.
Not only are some of us underrepresented. We also have to deal with the outcry that inevitably results from being represented. (Oh no, a Black Little Mermaid, oh no, women Ghostbusters, oh no, Black elves, oh no… Do you want me to continue?)
There is such a repulsive lack of generosity in those outcries. You have the whole world. We are only allowed to exist in a small part of it, and even that space is contested. In this world, where everything is made for the ubiquitous “he”, even those small spaces we make for ourselves are seen as an invasion of “his” white, western, colonial space.
I often hear the argument that if I want a game about women and for women or if I want to books or really any kind of media relating to my experiences in this world, I should make them myself.
The problem is of course that if I do, the outcry is similar to as if I had pulled A Clockwork Orange on he haters and force fed them the game or the TV-show or the movie or the book.
We often talk about creative freedom, but that only seems to be supported in one direction. “Creative freedom” is only okay when it reproduces patterns that confirm that the white, western, colonial “he” is the default.
The irony of tough babies talking about creative freedom shouldn’t be lost on you. It isn’t about being able to explore different experiences or ways of thinking. It’s about a power play to reinforce the existing status quo and to cede as little cultural power as possible to anyone else.