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Female portrayal in video games
March 4, 2014 8:12 AM   Subscribe


 
And it wasn’t good enough for us to simply react with deliberate ugliness or typically masculine factors – the idea was for Desktop Dungeons to remove the gender binary entirely instead of just making everyone a man. In de-emphasising sex as much as possible, we hoped that players would be able to enjoy a more gender agnostic environment in general. Some of our proudest mechanical tweaks involved removing notices and choices in particular areas. Male / female adventurer rolls were deliberately made random. Gender-neutral character names were popularised in places.

This is fascinating. It wasn't always that they had to add specificity to achieve gender neutrality - it involved deducting the expectation of male gender.

This is a really thoughtful look at this - it's worth reading.
posted by winna at 8:46 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


We also messed up pretty badly by whitewashing our cast (with the occasional blue-skinned Bloodmage, but that doesn’t really count).

I like that they acknowledge the mistakes they made -- it makes their conclusion a lot more believable:

If there’s one thing that we hope, it’s that our next game project will be more observant and inclusive from the very beginning, encompassing intersectional representation where possible and showing players that there’s always one more way to represent a complex group of people!

I think I need to play this game. (Previous roguelikes I've played have sidestepped this issue by representing the player with an @.)
posted by asperity at 8:55 AM on March 4 [9 favorites]


Previous roguelikes I've played have sidestepped this issue by representing the player with an @.

Leaving out those of us whose hair just doesn't do that.
posted by straight at 8:57 AM on March 4 [12 favorites]


I really, really don't like Desktop Dungeons, but it sounds like the people who made it are pretty great.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:57 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I think I need to play this game.

I've only played the freeware version, but it's pretty fun. It's what they call a "coffee break roguelike"—each game only takes about 10 minutes. It sort of straddles the line between "roguelike lite" and "puzzle game".
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:04 AM on March 4


What don't you like about it? It always felt like a puzzle game in disguise to me.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:04 AM on March 4


Leaving out those of us whose hair just doesn't do that.

I finally understand it! The reason MeFi loves roguelikes so much is because rogue starred Janelle Monae.
posted by The Bellman at 9:04 AM on March 4 [8 favorites]


What don't you like about it? It always felt like a puzzle game in disguise to me.

That, and that it is a puzzle game where you don't get to see the puzzle until you play it, and you don't have any way to know what the correct move was until after you took it. Some people find that engaging and exciting, but I find it frustrating and infuriating.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:07 AM on March 4


Our second issue was that despite being strongly opinionated on these matters with a firm, feminism-friendly stance, the challenges we encountered in representing our women fairly and respectfully were numerous and rooted in some really deep-seated bias.
I like them acknowledging that the struggle goes deeper than just making female versions out of everything because of a greater, deeper cultural background. Even with good intentions, this is no easy task.

(on a sidenote, this is why I generally dislike genderswapping. Not because of the artistic challenge per se, which can be daunting, but because it simplifies a lot of problems and solutions in an easy one-size-fits-all pseudoresponse to gender imbalance)
posted by andycyca at 9:08 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Note: at the more advanced levels of the non-freeware version, Desktop Dungeons takes more more like 40 minutes per session. Not because the levels are larger, but because you spend so much more time contemplating the ramifications of each and every move.
posted by baf at 9:10 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Now, on to righting the unfair and derogatory portrayal of the Shambling Mound.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:21 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Well, I would be interested in trying this game out, but the free Mac version keeps coming up as a damaged file.
posted by cmoj at 9:25 AM on March 4


DD is a GREAT game. I like the puzzle factor and the figuring strategy part. The variety in races and occupations is astounding.
posted by Renoroc at 9:26 AM on March 4


Desktop Dungeons was my game of the year 2013. There's just *so much* content once you sink your teeth into it, even more so than the excellent freeware "alpha" edition. The interface in particular is a massive improvement allowing you to plan many moves in advance with surprising ease. Contra Pope Guilty, I'd argue that signalling the clear consequences of each move you make is one of the game's greatest strengths.

I followed the development of the commercial version on their weekly blog posts, I remember them adding the female portraits and being both pleased that they put in the effort and annoyed that it seemed like an afterthought. It's heartening to see the devs feel pretty much the same way. I'm still a bit astonished that a South African development studio didn't think to put in some characters of colour though, although that's not exactly uncommon in fantasy art.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 9:28 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. Maybe we can skip a binary-gender/PC police derail?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:16 AM on March 4


And often in fantasy art, when there are people of colour, it gets bundled with other things so they are the most primitive characters, or the most exotic.

Similarly, what QCF was trying to do here was allow the option of male and female characters with the least other stuff getting bundled in with that. Some people would bundle "feminine" together with you can't be a tinker because "girls aren't good at that stuff." More frequently in fantasy art, "feminine" gets bundled with being heavily sexualized and wearing impractical armour.
posted by RobotHero at 10:30 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Am I alone in liking the free version better? I'm glad I sent them money because I played the original to death but I can't get past how the new one looks. Are there different tile sets available for it?
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:32 AM on March 4


PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DESKTOP DUNGEONS FOR IPAD PLEASE PLEASE
posted by Legomancer at 10:57 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


they should have gone the whole way, they should have just made all the characters and monsters etc. robot/squishy things from a distant alien civilization with no intersectionality or colors comprehensible to human-level intelligence or dimensional cognition.
posted by Bwithh at 11:18 AM on March 4


Previous roguelikes I've played have sidestepped this issue by representing the player with an @.

Leaving out those of us whose hair just doesn't do that.
posted by straight at 10:57 on March 4 [8 favorites +] [!]


Eponysterical.

seriously. I laughed loud enough to get looks
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:58 AM on March 4


they should have gone the whole way, they should have just made all the characters and monsters etc. robot/squishy things from a distant alien civilization with no intersectionality or colors comprehensible to human-level intelligence or dimensional cognition.

Because failing to conform with popular stereotypes about gender is totally the first step towards being inhuman?
posted by RobotHero at 12:20 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Yeah, even though QCF clearly put some serious thought into it, DD's gender balance isn't some joyless exercise in political correctness gone amok.

In practice, QCF's implementation of gender-neutrality in DD mostly comes down to your avatar being randomly male or female every time you enter a new dungeon. Since your player-characters don't persist dungeon-to-dungeon (mostly they die horribly, or retire in ignominy after coming THISCLOSE to killing the level boss but coming up one life potion short), you're constantly seeing new faces in the form of different combinations of species and occupations anyway. Mainly, it just adds a bit of variety to a game that might start to seem a bit drab in its 16-bit retro styling.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:38 PM on March 4


I'm a little confused about what they tried to do. They specifically mention adding portraits of women into the game, but they also say they de-emphasized stereotypical male and female traits. When I look at some of the portraits, since traits are de-emphasized it makes them look very androgynous. So did they actually add women into the game, or just lessened sexual traits on all portraits so that whichever gender of player ended up looking at the portrait would be able to find something to identify with?

And, I think the whole enterprise is a bit hard to unpack, since some fantasy races have stereotypical male and female features built in (like elves and dwarves), while others really don't have a concept of gender (usually bad guys like Orcs).
posted by FJT at 12:50 PM on March 4


Seems like one alternative they found to the usual hyper-sexualized, uber-dimorphic fantasy character designs was to age the characters' faces, for a result that's arguably less asexual than post-sexual. The future of gaming?
posted by ducky l'orange at 12:56 PM on March 4


Good on them for addressing gender issues. I like seeing devs grapple with the subject.

Regarding the game itself: I unlocked everything in the original freeware version and was really looking forward to the remake, but I thought they seriously dropped the ball. The freeware alpha version was wonderful in its simplicity. Everything the remake added needlessly detracted from the core game experience, and the art was garish and ugly.
posted by painquale at 1:32 PM on March 4


FJT: The game contains distinct male and female versions of each portrait. But yes, some of the portraits are very androgynous, especially for the monster races. I'm pretty sure that all of the portraits accompanying the article are the female versions -- there are a few that I would not assume to be female if I saw them in the game (due to face-concealing armor), but it would be weird for them to slip just a few male portraits in.

I kind of suspect that you'd more easily recognize the female portraits as female if you had some of the male portraits to compare them to, though.
posted by baf at 2:55 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]




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