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Oh, Come On

Written By mista sense on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 | 2:57 PM

One of the reasons I dislike writing about gender -- even when I think my gender might provide useful perspective -- is that someone will always use it as an excuse to point out self-victimization. You cannot make any observation about gender without someone demanding that the perfect reverse be also true, and you're a misogynist/misandrist if not. According to commenters I am either of these at any given time.

When I first started writing professionally, having a gender-neutral name as I do, I wouldn't even disclose that I was female unless asked directly, not just because I feared backlash, but because I didn't want to make it relevant. I think I've done only a handful of articles that are specifically oriented around a female perspective, and usually only when asked directly by an editor -- nonetheless, I think the most vocal commentary I receive about my work has to do with whether I am sexist. That, or the fact that I can't even bring it up without being accused of 'using' it for something. To hear forumgoers and commenters say it, when I am not setting back the women's movement a hundred years, I am emasculating and victimizing men.

I'm bummed that many commenters on Kotaku have distilled my recent feature down to: "I play as a jerk as a man because men are dicks, but I have a deeper experience when I'm a woman." That's not it at all -- whenever I play video games that let me create my own character, I develop a "concept" of what kind of person I want to play that is gender-independent; usually this concept has nothing to do with who I am, but more to do with what kind of character I think makes for an interesting story, something I said plainly in the article.

I liked the concept of an aloof, manipulative person as the Persona 3 protagonist. This was easy to execute when I played as a male, but hard to execute when I played as a female -- because I am a female, and only then did I notice how much social ideas about how women should behave were weighing on me. If I'd played the game as a woman first, I might have had the same revelations regarding what I unconsciously think men should "be like", and then it'd be a different article to a similar end.

That I played as a jerk the first time had nothing to do with the fact the original protagonist is male (as far as I'm consciously aware). What I'm saying here is I didn't think about gender at all, until this second playthrough of the game -- where only the gender had been changed, for the most part -- made me realize my idea of the kind of character I wanted to play was coming into conflict with preconceptions of how women are taught they should act, things I would have never expected would influence me.

This seemed to be obvious to most of the commenters -- many players, their own gender aside, shared experiences of feeling more sympathetic toward Yukari's jealous insecurities when they played as a woman, or feeling more annoyed or threatened by Junpei's questioning their authority (two stand-out differences for me as well).

It was an article about how a player's reactions to characters and situations can change based on your character's gender, and how those are being informed by social lessons you may have been unconsciously taught. I think that's an interesting self-exploration experience that only video games can offer, so I shared it. Many commenters pointed this out, but anyone is making it into "men are this and women are that, huh?" is disappointing, so I figured I'd be absolutely clear.

Most of the comments in the thread are on point, but I didn't want to see the conversation derailed into misandry complaints without stating my firm objection.

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