Monday, 14 May 2012

Gender in Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Writing about gender in video games seems like an easy target. This post is inspired partly by Pornokitsch’s round up of Hookers, Victims and Doormats that occur in their Monster and Mullets feature (if you’ve not read any of these then shape up, you’ll not regret it).

Machina
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for those of you not in the know, is a near future tech thriller seething with conspiracy and international corporate espionage. It fuses Mass Effect-style role playing elements with infiltration and puzzle solving more commonly found in Metal Gear Solid. It’s available on the Xbox 360 and PC and is well worth the purchase if you’ve got the time to play it. And you will need plenty of time. 

Future Noir
There’s a lot about Deus Ex: Human Revolution that feels like a movie; from the superb opening credits to the lens flare during the cut scenes. This a Future Noir in the best tradition of Blade Runner, Altered Carbon and the grandaddy of all Cyberpunk, Neuromancer.

There Ain’t Nothing Like A...
So what about the dames? What of the femme fatales and other ladies inhabiting the world of 2027? (I should preface this by saying I’ve yet to complete the game, but here goes).

'Having read all the files I can only conclude that I am, indeed, a badass.'
Adam Jensen. He’s definitely not a woman. Not with that gunslinger cool and Eastwood gravel in the vocal chords. So why mention him? In Mass Effect players are given the option to create their own version of Commander Shepard. You can go with the game’s standard Commander (based on Dutch model Mark Vanderloo), or make you’re own. Due to the game’s conceit of only referring to Shepard by his last name in the dialogue, he (or she) is effectively gender neutral – which means you can create a female protagonist.

And lo! There was much rejoicing from female console players across the land.

What a shame then, that Deus Ex couldn’t get in on the gender parity action and make Jensen gender neutral. This is a small gripe, Adam Jensen is great character, but the option to make him Alice Jenson would have shown real foresight.

So, let’s get to the ‘real’ ladies:

The vinyl, Neo-Victorian look had really taken off in Detroit.
Dr. Megan Reed. Ex-girlfriend of one Adam Jensen and scientific mind bar none. She manages to be fairly simpering in the opening sequence. I can't say more for fear of spoiling the game. Label under Victim (at least in this play through).

'And our boss wrote his name on my flight suit, just in case I forget it.'
Faridah Malik. refreshingly non-sexualised pilot of Sarif Industries' ‘chopper’ (effectively Adam’s chauffeur). With her strictly unrevealing flight suit, short, boyish hair and laissez-faire attitude, she’s a nice representation of a competent, confident woman. Not hooker, or doormat then. There is a possibility she becomes a victim of corporate violence later in the game...

'Have you seen Pris anywhere? I need to borrow her airbrush to apply my make up.'
Eliza Cassan. World famous news anchor and persistent thorn in Adam’s side. Label under... tricky. Not a hooker, not a victim but perhaps a doormat in as much as she answers to other, more powerful individuals.

'I've never felt like this before... I think it must be a software glitch.'
Zhao Yun Ru. President of Tai Yong Medical, the main competitor of Sarif industries, whom  Adam works for. Zhao Yun Ru is often depicted as a hard-nosed and heartless business woman, but is she really as bad as she seems? Not a victim, hooker or doormat. Label under femme fatale instead.

Hookers. Yes, one of the side quests is based in a brothel. Noir of any hybrid is always mixed up in the seedier side of life, so I suppose it’s inevitable really. Label under... yeah, you guessed it.

The reason I write about this at all is because I was pleasantly surprised by the anticipation of Mass Effect 3 by some women gamers on my Twitter feed. It makes me wonder if games designers are doing enough to appeal to women gamers in a traditionally male dominated are of entertainment. It stands to reason a relatable protagonist of the same gender is a strong start. Even Halo Reach, a game saturated with machismo,  offered the chance to play as a female Spartan, so when are other games designers going to improve their game? 

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