This post is inspired by an hour long conversation with Cap’n Perkins (this was among one of many topics broached, one of which will hopefully see a dual-front post from the both of us within the next month), recently having finished Ursula K Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, picking up yet another bell hooks book, and playing Spore.
The two pictures above are my creature halfway through the Creature phase, and then again after Civilization was reached. You can see my steampunkish leanings through what I’ve decided the creature is wearing (tux front, frills in the groin region, wheels on the knee above bowties on the shins, a curly wig, and a tophat). Here’s the problem, I was almost going to type a pronoun in that last sentence, except I could not decide whether or not I was going to use he or she.
Ursula K Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness follows the plot of an emissary from the Ekumen, a confederation of over eighty planets, contacting another race to join. This race has no knowledge of space travel, and as we find out through the course of the novel, these different humanoid species seem to be an experiment landed on different planet environments with different abilities by a progenitor race. So, what is these Gethens’ ability which sets them apart? They’re androgynes, switching from one cycle to the next whether he, the novel assumes this as the neutral pronoun, becomes male or female, and therefore can be father and mother in one lifetime. Sex becomes a tool in bearing children, but otherwise gender plays no role in this society.
For those who’ve played Spore, I think you see where this is going. What sex are my creatures? Do they have a sex? After being frustrated by civil partnerships in the place of marriages in Sims 2, I was rather taken aback when I realized that there is no real assigned sex to my creatures. Only assumptions.
Which is not to say there is not implied gender. Most of the clothing options, for instance, are pretty asexual, in that I could see either gendered perception wearing them with ease, with a few exceptions. Tophats and curled wigs are typically masculine fare–in our world. Which is where implied gender comes into play, based on those viewing the creature as it interacts with one’s own world and the person playing the creature.
For myself, this creates an interesting choice. It may well have been a choice of not wanting to be bothered with different character models and behaviors. We have a few allusions to more feminine fare in having an eye option with long, lustrous eyelashes. However, I can tell you from personal life experience that my eye lashes in no way make me more feminine, though they can be an asset when taking on those qualities in this society. They can help me play a ‘role,’ which is one thing I do not feel myself doing with my Terimes. I’m not playing the role of a Terime, I am merely seeing them through their life stages.
Whatever the conscious choice of going into the game with this, the implications are even more astounding. I am even more curious as to how male and female players will differ in how they perceive their created races. Being somewhat non-cisgendered, I assumed my creature an androgyne. For all I know, the Terimes are a race where homosexuality is the only existence, because heterosexuality is a moot point. Now there’s an interesting thought.
Since I am also writing my civilization’s history as I play, it creates an interesting model for me to try and understand how such a society would function. Of course, it falls purely into theory land, and won’t let me get to the deeper details, but it became an epiphany moment when I was describing the game to Cap’n Perkins and realized how this gender confusion lent itself to a novel I just recently read and the book I just picked up concerning feminism’s role in breaking down the oppression of one sex over another.
This means that as a base, Spore allows us to create ambisexual (androgynous being somewhat misleading, because what if there are more sexes?) beings. It is only our own projection on to their character, appearance, and behavior that modifies its gendered leanings, which will naturally be limited by what we perceive and enforce based on our own understanding. It also clearly points out that a game makes no real distinction between sex and gender of its inhabitants–to create the option of sex and gender is to be given more work. It is something designers put into a game. What really is the difference between my female and male Sim beyond a skin paint and certain boundaries on who wears what and who can marry whom (instead of a civil partnership)?
I hope this isn’t too far out there to grok. Either way, it has me very excited.