Splatoon 2 is a game which takes normative video game tropes and turns them on their head. It takes the shooter genre and exposes it to a diverse and vibrant color pallet, and replaces guns and bullets with an assortment of tools and super soakers doused in ink. Splatoon knows how to prioritize fun in a way that maybe the AAA industry has forgotten somewhat. It remembers that at the heart of video games, the point is to have fun. But, that doesn't mean that Splatoon is vapid, in fact, Splatoon thinks about certain things in ways that perhaps more games should, and, arguably, at the top of the list is how Splatoon approaches identity.
Everything in Splatoon is linked to self-expression. From the moment you turn the game on the first time, players are asked to create a player character they identify with. You get the choice to play as a "Boy" or "Girl" then, you're a choice of seven different skin colors ranging from lily white to dark skinned and, sadly, depending on gender, three different hairstyles, and finally eye color. This is a pretty basic character creation but, it does have a notable variation of available skin colors. The entirety of Splatoon is based around further customizing your inkling (squid-child hybrid) with any number of shoes, shirts, and head gear you can buy in the store, using the money you make from actually playing the game. In this way, Splatoon invites players to explore self-expression through the act of creating an aesthetic for their avatar throughout the game. But, this is by no means unique to Splatoon, many games boil down to an exploration of player aesthetics, but Splatoon goes further in the way it approaches identity more widely.
You see, in Splatoon players can actually re-evaluate their mode of self-expression through identity more fluidly than in other games. At any time, players are allowed to switch from a male inkling to a female inkling, changing the look of the character, the hair styles available, and the pronouns applied to that character. For example, my inkling, in these last few days, has fluctuated between he/him pronouns, and she/her pronouns back and forth about 4 times. I will admit, Splatoon continues the unhealthy attachment to the gender binary but, it also releases the player from the expectation to stay fixed within that binary. Instead, Splatoon opts to allow fluctuation. Put simply, in Splatoon, gender is fluid and players are able to explore that fluidity without limitations.
When I think about the role that video games were able to play for me in my childhood, I think about how they allowed me to explore identity. I could create characters that reflected who I connected to. I could explore what I liked to wear, how I wanted to move, and how I wanted to speak on one side. But, on the other there was a lot of turmoil in this exploration, any exploration of hair I conducted in video games only included white hairstyles and I had difficulty with the way gender was handled just being a cis, masc of center, Queer Girl. I can only imagine what these restrictive gender norms meant for people who identify outside that binary. So it's really exciting to see a game address that, whether intentional or not. Though Splatoon still has work to do, the ability to flip flop between genders seems to inch closer to the goal. Splatoon allows players to actually explore self-expression with regards to gender presentation with a bit of sorely need nuance and we need more of these options in other games.
More than two sets of damn pronouns would be dope as well.