I came across this interview with the director for an upcoming platformer called Puppeteer yesterday while reading through my newsfeed (I have a newsfeed; I feel so professional!), and I was struck by what this guy Gavin Moore had to say about his decision to make the protagonist of his game a boy.
He says it very poorly (I’d honestly say that he comes across as an arrogant jerk), but I think his point that the protagonist should fit the story is a fine one. I generally don’t mind not having a choice in who I play as. If this game really requires a male protagonist in order for the story to work, then go for it.
Except I don’t think it does.
From what I’ve seen of Puppeteer (which is the gameplay trailer embedded in the article I posted), it’s a story that takes place in a puppet world where strange things are going on and the protagonist keeps losing his head (literally). It’s a whimsical game. The protagonist is male, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t really have any sort of personality, which means he’s a proxy for the player. Moore even says as much towards the interview’s end.
If the protagonist is supposed to be the player’s proxy, then the player is the one who imbues the protagonist with personality. If the sex of the protagonist matters to the player (to a lot of people it does) and the protagonist is already a blank slate, then what is the issue, creatively speaking, with allowing the player to choose the sex? If there are resource issues, then I understand not being able to add sex selection as a feature, but then I have to ask, why is the default for a blank slate protagonist always male (Rachael wrote a great post a while back about how female is the actual biological default for humans; check it out)?
Moore makes the point in the interview that lots of girls play male protagonists, so he doesn’t see the problem with forcing someone to play a character whose sex they don’t share. I honestly don’t have a problem with that either, because I believe in making the best story possible, and if a particular kind of protagonist is needed then go right ahead. The problem here is that Moore’s failing to recognize that it’s just women who are forced to play male characters, because of the dearth of female protagonists in games. The situation is not equal.
Essentially, what I’m saying about Moore’s reasoning is that it’s sexist misdirection. He works in Japan, which I’ve pointed out before is a pretty sexist culture, and he admits at the end of the interview that questions of sex selection aren’t discussed because Japanese developers don’t think it’s important.
That is not an artistic justification for making a protagonist male. It’s creative laziness and appeal to male privilege.