I think many people can relate when I say that playing video games—most especially RPGs (role-playing games)—is a form of escapism that allows us to explore different sides of ourselves, given the multitude of choices we can make in-game. I remember playing my first-ever RPG in the PS1—Final Fantasy VII—and being so mind-blown by the fact that I can change Cloud’s name to my own, and so with the other characters as well. Many purists find this feature useless, but for gamers like me who enjoy immersing ourselves in this level of role-playing, it is a form of inclusion afforded to us by its makers.
For the longest time, we have been so used to seeing the archetypal “white male dude” take the lead in many RPG titles. Sure, you could change the color of his hair, give him a tragic back story, give him a Japanese name, and even make him as unlikeable as possible. But in the end, it is still the same Caucasian male wielding the game’s most badass weapons and dealing the deathblow on the final boss.
But giving credit to which it is due, we have seen instances when a female lead takes the spotlight, such as in Final Fantasy VI (1994) with Terra Branford becoming arguably one of the most well-written characters in the series (this is entirely my opinion, FF6 is my favorite in the series). But on the other hand, many female leads have been obviously created for the male audience. Take, for example, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider (1996), whose body has been subject to sexualization since the game’s release. The game has since made changes in modeling its iconic lead, with the latest iteration of Ms. Croft given realistic body proportions.
While race and gender have been sensitive subjects since as far as I can remember, what’s more controversial in the history of gaming is the concept of gender fluidity. The introduction of romancing options was a breath of fresh air for many gamers One of the most prominent game developers that was successful in creating complex characters whose sexualities are integral to the story, is BioWare. From Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) to the Mass Effect Trilogy, to the Dragon Age series, BioWare has encouraged many players to attempt courting characters of the same gender, and in some cases, different races as well. Critics adored Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition for the incredible cast of characters, breaking the walls of gender stereotyping and displaying depth in these characters’ back stories aside from the intensive customization settings that allow players to choose their own race, sex, and body type, among others.
Continuing a Legacy of Inclsuvity
The release of 2017’s Divinity: Original Sin 2 was also highly praised for its robust dialogue options, allowing players to customize not only their character’s features but also their romance options as well. Aside from its incredibly impressive gameplay, developer Larian Studios proved that they were successful in updating this specific genre of video games. And considering the highly successful legacy of its Dungeons and Dragons-based predecessors (Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, and others), they were able to create more avenues to be more inclusive. And considering D&D’s pioneering efforts in gender and race inclusivity since its inception, Larian Studios’ efforts paid off. And the team was eventually granted by Wizards of the Coast (proprietors of the D&D franchise) the rights to produce the recently released Baldur’s Gate 3. So far, the game has impressed audiences, applauded for the improved gameplay, and the well-written dialogue.
A More Personalized Future For All
While character customization and romance options have been powerful innovations in the history of gender inclusivity in gaming, there are still more ways to give each part of the gender spectrum its voice in the gaming industry. CD Projekt’s multi-award winning project, Cyberpunk 2077, made a decision to make feminine and masculine traits cosmetic options instead of common practice where players can choose a specific gender during customization (this includes the choice of voice and even sex organs). This enables players to create a gender-fluid character, free from being boxed in labels, and lets them explore a wider set of romance options as well. Whether this becomes an integral part of the story or a mere aesthetic afterthought is yet to be seen.
With the rise of technology and its advancements in recent decades, we witness a more personalized and more customized set of options, from characters to stories, to the open worlds they belong to. What else does the future hold for underrepresented gamers? With the giant leaps the billion-dollar industry has shown, we remain positive that it continues to please a wider set of audience and encourage the gaming community to learn from these practices. The future of gaming should be for all.
With journalistic experience spanning just about three years, Pipo has been working in the communications industry for nearly a decade with tenure in various sectors such as global communications, retail, advertising, events, and marketing. He has served as Copy Chief and Newsroom Head for One Mega Group, and for the last couple of years, has been Lifestyle Asia's Managing Editor for its print publication.
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