The Changing Role of Gender in Interactive Media – October 2008
The video game has become the modern day film, the play, the novel. It incorporates all of these conventions. It incorporates music, and it does all of these thing while allowing for a level of interaction that none of these other mediums do. The video game software giant, Gamestop, virtually alone among its retail peers, posted profit earning for the holiday 2008 season in the middle of worldwide recession. In recent years, the only entertainment industry to surpass the game market has been adult entertainment. Gender plays as much of a role in video games, as does ambiguity. Whether a result of the sexual openness of recent decades or a fountain of cause, video games have progressed from traditional gender roles over the past two decades to increasingly complex and androgynous character portrayals.
In 1981, a struggling company known as Nintendo releases a unique little game called Donkey Kong (Panel 2). A landmark title of multiple proportions, Donkey Kong is the first game to introduce a full narrative. The player sees Jump Man kiss his girlfriend Pauline only to have her snatched away by Donkey Kong who carries her off to the top of a series of construction girders. Jump Man must then jump across obstacles and climb to the top to rescue her. (We take something so simple for granted, but even this little amount of story was as huge deal back then. It had never happened before in a game.) It’s the clichéd, yet classic and effective story, the mono myth. Jump Man is the mythic hero and Pauline is stereotypical damsel in distress, mother-goddess, etc. By 1985, Jump Man has evolved into Mario (Panel 3), and Pauline has become Princess Peach (Panel 4). Donkey Kong and his girders get traded for the lizard like King Bowser and the enslaved Mushroom Kingdom, but the essential narrative stays the same.
In 1987, Nintendo releases another landmark title, “The Legend of Zelda.” The game...