Basically I want to address the video game Mass Effect 3 and its scripting of heteronormativity, including heteronormative biases and hermeneutic phenomenology and I will use Butler's performativity and Foucault's concept of power/discourse to show how hegemonically masculine stereotypes could be creating a generation of 'virtual skinheads' and the critical role pedagogy can play.
Okay, this isn't about that at all. I mean, it could be, someone in the humanities somewhere followed along with those opening paragraphs and felt like something real was in there, but mostly this article got written because I was bored and wanted to play a video game, so I started one over and decided this time I would play a girl.
What I did find was that I acted a little differently, partly because I set out to play the game exactly the opposite of how I played the first time, right down to every bit of role-playing choices I had the option of making, and partly because it felt different to get a response when I looked like a woman instead of a man.
In doing some basic research for this - and I didn't do much, those opening paragraphs took longer to write than the rest of this article - I discovered an interesting factoid; most people played a Soldier in Mass Effect 2 and 80% of the game played as males. Now, 80% male does not surprise me. A game like this 'looks' like an action shooter to me and women, for one reason or another, don't like those as much as men do and most men probably play as men. But the game also has role-playing aspects so maybe by including females as choices they hoped to break into the female market.
I never played Mass Effect 2 while others might have. Judging by the cover of Mass Effect 3 it didn't look to be my kind of game (it looks somewhat like a Doom-style shooter and this is not 1993) but I rented it and then liked it enough to buy it. But when I bought it, I did not start over so I had never noticed there were choices other than male soldier. In the beginning of a new game you are learning the interface and aliens in this case had wrecked the planet so I was in 'get something done' mode rather than thinking about how to play or who to be.
So the second time through, rather than be a male soldier with a full-auto BFG I decided to play a woman with a brief invisibility cloak and a very slow-loading sniper rifle. When I first played the game I needed to build a coalition among alien races, many of whom had warred many times, so my responses were always diplomatic. This time, as a woman, I was blunt and abrasive and direct. Far more like the archetype of a soldier. What was interesting was that the same looks and responses from other soldiers I remember getting as a man were filtered differently when I was portraying a woman.
My wife thinks this is some sort of enlightenment on my part; as if in middle age I am suddenly stepping outside myself to understand what it's like to be a woman. I disagree; since character customization is built in, I made myself blazing hot to look at, so while I am playing I get to note how beautiful I am. Nothing transformative about that.
In Mass Effect 3, my heteronormative, gender-insensitive. white-male-privileged, Victorian era puritanical sexual repression made me want to look as I think all women should look; like a sexy skeleton zombie.
After playing this game with gender roles reversed, I have a new appreciation for women. It is hard running around saving the universe in jewelry, a leather skirt and heels. While I remain a big fan of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers now wins that argument.
Being a woman biotic also allowed me to notice things or get involved in things I don't remember bothering with as a male soldier.
Here I am navigating an interspecies lesbian love triangle. You think gay marriage is complicated now? The guy she is cheating on is a soldier off fighting to save the galaxy. That's the most taboo part of the whole thing. Even in 2157, or whenever this takes place, you can't win culturally by dissing a soldier.
Bonus: you can see I am too lazy to cut a hole in the wall behind the TV and then drill through a 2X4 to send the cables down to the receiver in the stand below. Between those two small speakers is a turntable. Double Bonus if you can deduce from this picture what 1980s album is on top of it.
Actually, when it comes to heteronormativity, the Bioware people debunk it pretty well, at least regarding what I would have perceived about video games. There is both a gay guy and a lesbian on the ship you control. The pilot is having a romance with an AI. The gay guy is even a macho Latino soldier, so they cover a lot of bases there.
Did I get anything meaningful from my experience playing the game as a woman? Not really, just the surprise that I perceived some things differently even though it was the exact same role, mannerisms and ability - I simply now had boobs.
Bonus: I can see down my own shirt.
That's not to say there isn't value in stepping outside yourself once in a while, there certainly is. It is just hard to make anything meaningful from it, regardless of how I try to pretty those opening paragraphs into a deeper symbolism.
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