Video Games & Gender: Yes, They Play Nicely Together

In today’s media, one outlet that is becoming progressively more gender-friendly is video games.  From surprise female lead, Samus Aran, to choosing “boy” or ”girl” when you first begin Pokémon, video games are not just meant for the twelve-year-old boy shouting “Suck it, faggot” through a headset every time he gets a kill in Call of Duty. Instead, video games are meant for all genders and some of the good ones portray gender in a positive manner.
Let’s kick this off with Nintendo’s first (and one of the overall firsts in games) leading lady, Samus Aran.  Making her debut in 1986, Metriod put you in the shoes of an intergalactic bounty hunter rocking a futuristic artillery power suit, side scrolling through the planet Zebes in order to retrieve dangerous leech-like organisms from space pirates.  However, what you didn’t know until the very end of the game was that this badass bounty hunter with a cannon attached to the arm was actually a girl.  At the end of the final level, the suit breaks off, and the player sees an 8-bit girl wearing a bikini (yes, the stereotypically way to portray women in games, but you didn’t have much other options to show she was a girl with 8 bits).
I have a cannon, your heteronormative argument is invalid.

Called the “greatest twist in video games” by the magazine, Game Informer, no gamer would have guessed in 1986 that they just dominated evil as a lady.  Aside from when from this famous scene, Samus has never been portrayed as a sexy, wearing-next-to-nothing, mindless blonde. Instead, she is quiet, clam, strong, and almost always wearing her power suit.  This was a monumental step for Nintendo and for games in general, and proved that it was not just men who were the heroes.  Even today, Samus, remains on of Nintendo’s leading mascots, and is considered a pioneer for women in video games.
Next, breaking all of society’s gender norms, we have Birdo.  First causing a scene in Super Mario Bros. 2, Birdo, is a pink dino and the original North American game manual states “Birdo thinks he is a girl, and likes to be called Bridetta. He likes to wear a bow on his head and shoots eggs from his mouth”. Woah, wait…  What?  Something that is pink is a boy?  I thought pink was a girl color!? (yes, because colors totally have a gender… NOT)  Bridetta, as she likes to be addressed, has caused quite a stir in the topic of gender in video games.  Sadly, the original quote above was changed and she is now portrayed as a “normal” female, but there have been light-hearted references to her interesting past.  There have been mentions of whether or not her and Yoshi (Mario’s trusty dinosaur steed) are in a homosexual or heterosexual relationship, in the Japanese version of Mario Kart: Double Dash, Birdetta’s bio states, “Catherine [Birdetta’s Japanese name] appears to be Yoshi’s girlfriend… or does that mean boyfriend!?” and in the Japan-only game, Captain Rainbow, there is a sliver of the plot dedicated to debunking the truth about Birdetta’s real sex.  Despite Nintendo’s uptightness towards gender in their games, Bridetta continues to make appearances in all of their games and is usually accompanied by a subtle reference to her trans origins.

I’m fabulous and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.

While there are some cases that reinforce society’s gender norms and stereotypes (Grand Theft Auto, I’m looking at you), companies such as Electronic Arts (EA), are making sexual orientation a factor in their massively popular series, Mass Effect, and EA is supporting and taking part in Pride parades across the nation serves as evidence that video games are becoming more and more gender friendly.   Not only that, they also portray women in strong leading roles which attracts more female players and is overall empowering.  From Cooking Mama to Halo, there is a game that any gamer, regardless of their gender, can enjoy.

By Wetlands Magazine

Wetlands Magazine is the University of Puget Sound campus publication dedicated to the critical interrogation of gender, sexuality, ability, age, class, race, embodiment, intersectional identities and social justice as well as the celebration of related art, poetry, literature and performance.

2 replies on “Video Games & Gender: Yes, They Play Nicely Together”

Thinking of the increasingly prevalence of lady characters in video games, I’m wondering if there’s an increasing prevalence of less normative male characters as well? Like, male characters who are not just hyper-aggressive and bloodthirsty. Or maybe there already were those types of characters?

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