The Persistence of the Gender Binary in Video Games

The video game industry relies upon clearly defined boundaries, good vs evil, playable vs unplayable characters, clearly defined classes, and even ranks in competitive video games. In the last 45 years, the industry has existed, these concepts have been rarely contested. So far the industry resists breaking the mindset which organizes things within binaries and both the historic and current handling of gender is no different. It remains highly binary. You get the option of being a cis boy or a cis girl and more narrowly if you choose to pick a girl, you're also choosing to play as a fem. And there's absolutely no option to play as a fem if you pick to play a "boy". If you exist outside of those highly defined binaries, good luck. 

I mentioned in an earlier post that the discussion of racial representation in video games is one which has just barely begun but the discussion of the gender binary and representation of those who exist outside of it is almost entirely nonexistent. Everyone cheers when a game allows the player to play as a cis woman and then the discussion stops. But if you exist in the world, and have your eyes open you should know that the world doesn't function in binaries. You have people who exist outside of simple classifications cis man or cis woman and the gaming industry has done and is doing virtually nothing to acknowledge their existence. There only a few games that even begin to broach the issue and none that do it without major fault.

In 2016 The Sims 4 broke ground by finally allowing players to create trans and non-binary sims. In place of the binary cis man, cis woman options in the character creator, there is now the option to choose between female and male bodies, clothing is no longer gender specific. You can also change what pronouns your character uses... as long as you choose she, her and he, him. So, already there's an issue. Why there couldn't  have been the option to use they them pronouns is a bit beyond me considering that it'd be a small addition to their already pretty ambitious undertaking but then again, it probably didn't occur to them because even when trying to break the gender binary, Maxis had to do it in a binary way. It's just a little bit amazing the ways that games decide to ignore portions of the population. Even when they aren't trying to.

In Persona 4, the character Naoto Shirogane is presented first as a man but later it's revealed that she is dressing as a man because of societal pressures regarding her profession as a detective. Moreover that she actually isn't gender queer and longs to be able to present as a fem, even going so far as to change the pitch she speaks at because the protagonist asks her to. If you, you know, date her. So, there are a lot of issues here but, the one I want to pay attention to right now is the fact that there was a character who was written as gender Queer and then, as you get to know her, tells you that she isn't. Now, here's a important distinction I have to make. If Naoto was a real person, no I wouldn't be sitting around saying what came out of her mouth seems wrong. But, she's not real. She's a character who was written. The way she was written suggested that she was Queer and then, even though it made little sense, that Queerness was stripped of her for the sake of making her a more palatable romantic option for straight cis boys. And again, the question really is why? Naoto is fine the way she is and fighting against the characterization that the writers crafted for her, was just a odd, odd thing to do. And yet, not surprising. It happens routinely in games. This ugliness is standard and it's unacceptable.

The discussion of inclusion in games is incredibly exclusive, it often, ignores large swaths of the population for no reason. For those who concern themselves with the lack of diversity in video games and wish to change it, this is particularly shameful. When we call for inclusion we must make positive that we aren't only asking for inclusion of ourselves.