After a long exciting wait, here is the paper proposal, which may or may not be altered when my professor reads it! Wooooo-
The difficulty, in the past, with trying to write about comparative identification in videogames between player and avatar, has been in the lack of multi-racial and multi-gendered characters with different sexualities. Much of the market has been dominated by the societal identification as a cysgendered, straight, white male, and for a long time video-games fed into nothing but that type of aesthetic, calling for characters to be nothing more than a mirroring, not of the individual players, but of the patriarchal identity. Although this trait is still the domineering force behind videogames, one battle that is starting to be won with the help of videogame developers is the choice between choosing a playable female and playable male protagonist, or even being given a solely female avatar, such as in Tomb Raider, or Beyond: Two Souls. Some games offer malleable forms, such as in Mass Effect and Skyrim, which offer almost full player control as to the identity, both gender wise and sexuality wise. Others offer less choice, with a selection of prefab characters of several genders, such as Borderlands – four male and two female characters—or Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 which offers an extremely wide range of identity. Others, such as the Bioshock Series, offer limited play as a female character.
The discussion as to how players relate to gendered characters is not a simple one. Based upon the games available on the market today, it seems as though the developers and gamers have differing opinions on how to best create games. The most vocal portion of the market insists that creating multiple identities to satisfy all consumers is a waste, yet fail to realize how their games have already been effected by more gender neutral gaming styles. My essay will not argue what type of game design is best; it will seek to sort out how gender effects gameplay and why many characters, as well as the worlds they inhabit, are identifiable to both men and women. I will talk about several specific topics, and their pros and cons:
I. Why many male gamers believe they cannot identify with female protagonists of games, through the lens of an eras-old gendered play space, and how this misconception is based more in perceived gender-space roles, rather than actual changes in game play. In particular, this will look at the already pervasive function of the female space within the male game action genre, particularly in widely acclaimed games such as the Bioshock Series, which contains all of its perceivable action in an under-water biosphere that is both city and mall all in one, and affords its players the values of the stereotypically male genre (action, violence and exploration) with those of the stereotypically female genre (character depth, motivations, secrets and interior world building).
II. How women identify with male characters. This includes ways in which contemporary games have used the traditionally feminized component of secrets, domestic spaces, and character motivations to create well-rounded characters that do not just create action but create a story, as well as the bimodal function of the “stunting bodies” characters who are designed with both men and women in mind. This second part, in particular, will be a focus on how girl gamers identify with such female avatars that have been designed, at least in part, to appeal to a voyeuristic male audience.
III. How men identify with the female characters already on the market in a continued discussion on cross-gender avatar functionality. In this section, I will bring up the topic of the Final Girl and how many female avatars in gaming have been masculinized to fit, simultaneously, with the love-interest sexualized and objectified body, while also having the character’s own sexuality denatured to prevent the objectification of the male body presented to a player. This will include games such as Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lollipop Chainsaw, which both render their female protagonists sterile through the absence of a male body to objectify, Final Fantasy XIII and Tomb Raider, which code their female characters as either lesbians or asexual and use the game as a way of attaining manhood through the process of gaining a symbolic phallus, and finally games that defy the normal gaming function to give a full and complete world of what it is like to be a feminine character in a male dominated world (Bioshock Infinite and Beyond: Two Souls). This final section will conclude with an analysis of the game Beyond: Two Souls – both its controversy as a slower, passive style game, and its success of eliding the world of combat action gaming with accurate representations of a straight female character.
In the end I suppose my thesis could be boiled down to this: The avatar is a representation of both self and other; The more that avatar is placed in a world that gives equal distribution to male and female game-space, while not ignoring the realities of how the world reacts to these character distinctions, the more likely it will be that the game will resonate with the highest number of players. Even if the player cannot relate to the gender, they can relate to the qualities that make up humanity, which is not just gender neutral, but both feminine and masculine in quality.