Spam Spam Spam Humbug: Episode 18 – And Art Thou Male or Female?

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So this is kind of a big deal, as episodes go, because this is the first episode for which the topic has been determined via an outside suggestion. You’ll recall, back in Episode 14, before we got to talking about New Project Britannia, we gave a shout-out to Juliet (a friend of Linguistic Dragon), who sent in a great suggestion: she asked if we’d consider doing an episode on how the Ultima series handled the subject(s?) of masculinity and femininity, and how these are explored in different characters and/or the Virtues.

At least at first glance, it would seem that the Eight Virtues of the Ultima series could be divided along these lines. On the side of the masculine/active/outward-directed, we could probably array such virtues as Valor, Honor, Justice, and Sacrifice. Meanwhile, on the feminine/passive/inward-directed side, we could line up Compassion, Honesty, Spirituality, and Humility. Again, this is just an at first glance thing; the Virtues do split evenly into these framing categories, and then easily; we really don’t have to think about it that much.

But of course it’s not that simple, is it? Looking at the Companions, especially, we see that there’s a good representation of the Virtues among both genders, including e.g. a male companion being the embodiment of Compassion, and a female companion being the embodiment of Justice. But are there differences there, too? Does, say, sacrifice as demonstrated by a man manifest in different ways than it does as demonstrated by a woman, in the series?

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Home Forums Spam Spam Spam Humbug: Episode 18 – And Art Thou Male or Female?

This topic contains 4 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by WtF Dragon WtF Dragon 2 years ago.

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  • #39319
    WtF Dragon
    WtF Dragon
    Participant

    Spam Spam Spam Humbug: Episode 18 – And Art Thou Male or Female?

    How does the Ultima series handle masculinity and femininity? How are certain characters — or even the Virtues — portrayed as masculine/feminine?

    Read more…

  • #39349

    Juliet

    I am completely impressed by how the two of you handled the topic. You gave me what I was considering and more. It also makes me think of some of the Renaissance tropes surrounding virtues. I’m teaching Shakespeare this semester…what’s in a name, after all? We’re reading Macbeth, and we’ve already talked about how Fortune–because Fortune is fickle and changes with no provocation–is portrayed as female (sometimes bald, with one lock of hair in the front that someone can grab hold of). On the other hand Bellona, the Roman goddess of warfare, is typically feminine as well. Don’t even get me started on the Renaissance view of gender, because we’ll be here a while.

    It seems like I gave you plenty of fodder for thought, and I appreciate how thoroughly you handled the topic. It does seem like the series looks at Sacrifice in particular from different angles that we might say are engendered (male characters v. female characters, for instance). Also, I’ve already heard several comments on Katrina as a party member (often less highly valued because she’s not a “fighter”).

    There’s plenty to think through here, particularly as cultural views of gender shift. Gaming itself is sometimes polarized around gender, with games often marketed to either a masculine or feminine audience. Thanks again for the great, thought-provoking podcast.

    • #39379
      WtF Dragon
      WtF Dragon
      Participant

      I am completely impressed by how the two of you handled the topic. You gave me what I was considering and more.

      Well, that’s good news!

      It also makes me think of some of the Renaissance tropes surrounding virtues. I’m teaching Shakespeare this semester…what’s in a name, after all? We’re reading Macbeth, and we’ve already talked about how Fortune–because Fortune is fickle and changes with no provocation–is portrayed as female (sometimes bald, with one lock of hair in the front that someone can grab hold of). On the other hand Bellona, the Roman goddess of warfare, is typically feminine as well. Don’t even get me started on the Renaissance view of gender, because we’ll be here a while.

      Indeed.

      When I think of virtue, my thoughts run first to the set of virtues enumerated by the Catholic Church, and as such I tend to think first of the saints when it comes to exemplars of virtue. The canon of female saints is an interesting collection, to say the least, comprised as it is of mothers, nuns, teachers, warriors, caregivers, scientists, martyrs, and theologians. And then from a fairly diverse range of cultures.

      This too is a subject for discussion that could run to great length…but it is, I suppose, to say in brief that I’ve been fortunate to have had a more complex and nuanced understanding of women as exemplars and agents of virtue than one might find in the pages of Shakespeare (whose prose, I’ll admit, I’ve only ever enjoyed in sparing quantities).

      It seems like I gave you plenty of fodder for thought, and I appreciate how thoroughly you handled the topic. It does seem like the series looks at Sacrifice in particular from different angles that we might say are engendered (male characters v. female characters, for instance).

      Sacrifice might be a bit more gendered in its presentation, but it’s also very rarely a plot device. Really only in two places, Serpent Isle and Ultima 9, and in both cases it’s a male character (Dupre and the Avatar, respectively) that commits an act of self-sacrifice resulting in his demise. Though to be fair, had Origin been able to implement female Avatars in U9, that example would not really apply…and it’s worth noting that the way it is presented in U9 (even in the absence of a female Avatar option) is one that really has nothing to do with the Avatar’s maleness, but with his Avatarhood.

      Also, I’ve already heard several comments on Katrina as a party member (often less highly valued because she’s not a “fighter”).

      My experience of the Companions is mostly shaped by Ultima 6, where character class was really just a cosmetic thing, which in turn meant that Katrina was as valuable a Companion as any other. (In the earlier games, where class mattered more, this may not have been the case. But I suspect that even if the Companion for Humility had been male, a similar bias against recruiting the shepherd would have existed…it’s not exactly a character class that is well-suited to a combat-heavy game such as Ultima 4.)

      That isn’t to say that there isn’t some bias against Katrina because of her gender, though. Indeed, there seems to be a bias toward male characters in RPGs even today, at least if the numbers for Mass Effect 3 are anything to go by. Over 80% of players went with Male Shepard, and the companions with the highest survival rates across all players’ experiences of the game were Garrus (77%) and Vega (62%); both are male. Mind you, the companion with the lowest overall survival rate, Kaidan (17%), is also male; the survival rates for the female companions fall somewhere in the middle, with Liara and Ashley having the highest survival rates of that group (54% and 53%, respectively). The numbers get even more interesting if you look at companion popularity, in which contest Liara wins overall (24.1%), followed by Garrus and Vega (23.8% and 16.8%, respectively). Kaidan is again the loser here, at a mere 1.5%.

      Which is kind of funny; Kaidan seems to have died in a disproportionately high number of playthroughts relative to how often he was selected as a companion; I suspect a not insignificant minority of players were going out of their way to kill him off.

      For the record, I tend to play as a female character where the option exists…less for ideological motives than for more practical reasons, though. Like as not, the games I play don’t tend to be short; if I’m going to spend 50+ hours of my life staring at my character’s rear profile, I would rather not spend that time staring at man-butt. But evidently, that’s just me…or very nearly so.

      There’s plenty to think through here, particularly as cultural views of gender shift. Gaming itself is sometimes polarized around gender, with games often marketed to either a masculine or feminine audience.

      This does certainly happen.

      What’s been interesting to observe in recent years — since the gaming space has exploded and become pervasive, with popular titles commanding the attention of millions even on the more basic phones and media players — is the breakdown in gender representation among the player bases of different genres. Women dominate the mobile market, for example, whereas men tend to be the majority in the desktop and console MMORPG and FPS markets.

      Which probably explains some of the advertising that has taken place in each space. I mean, think of some of the Call of Duty ads that came out a couple years ago, in which we see women in office attire shotgunning enemy combatants across a bombed-out cityscape. Contrast this with the ads for mobile titles like Boom Beach (which have a comedic, military air) or Game of War: Fire Age (which feature Kate Upton naked in a Romanesque bath). The console shooter is trying to appeal to women, and the mobile games are trying to appeal to men…I suppose because console shooters don’t really need to try that hard to attract a male audience, and mobile games don’t really need to try that hard to attract a female audience.

      What’s good about the size and scope of the gaming market these days is that there’s a lot of selection, for just about every type of player, on just about every platform, across just about every type of genre. It isn’t particularly difficult for anyone to find a game — or set of games — that they really enjoy, on whatever platform they feel most at home with.

      Thanks again for the great, thought-provoking podcast.

      Thanks for the great topic suggestion!

  • #39500

    Stirring Dragon

    Yep after listening to this podcast I have decided that having a male/female distinction is and was pretty much nothing more than an accessory in the Ultimas as well as most RPG games. There is no real gameplay mechanic or story line that it really changes usually, and if it does it’s something like class or strength.

    I wish you guys touched on this and offered some suggestions or ideas how you think this may be improved in future RPG’s. Should picking the sex in an RPG be nothing more than picking what type of armor you wear, or should it go deeper, etc?

    • #39614
      WtF Dragon
      WtF Dragon
      Participant

      We can certainly revisit the topic at a later date, and that would be interesting fodder for further discussion. I mean, if we go back to D&D, choosing a female character did — at least in some incarnations — cause you to lose strength but gain charisma, and I think a few PC games (some of which I may have even played) implemented a similar mechanic. Not that I can think of titles just off the top of my head, but I know I’ve seen it.

      It would be interesting if choosing one sex or another both opened up and closed off storylines, perhaps, although how that could be handled in a way that wouldn’t incur the ire of Polygon and Ms. Sarkeesian would be rather a trick, I suspect.

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