Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pokemon X? More Like Pokemon ANGST: Gender Edition

Gender, bros.

So, I've been playing a decent amount of Pokemon X of late, having received it this was Wednesday (fantastic late birthday present). My copy of Pokemon Blue was a birthday present for my eleventh birthday, so it only seems right and proper that Black 2 and X have been birthday presents (I got LeafGreen and HeartGold for myself, while Gold was shared with my brother and was a Christmas present; I dropped out for a while after that).I've been playing it on my commute to and from work, as well to and from the Boston Book Festival, and a little bit when I can squeeze in some play time in the evenings after work. As with previous games, I'm really quite enjoying it, although I think the group of friends is hyper-irritating and I think the story isn't nearly as strong as Black 2 s was. Seems like a bit of a step backwards in that manner, although the games certainly have been trending toward more and more hand-holding, unfortunately. Having watched my brother play Red when he was eight years old, I will admit skepticism that the hand-holding is necessary at all for younger players.

Anyway, I still like it, even if I do wish it didn't baby the player so heavily.

However, Pokemon X right off the bat inspired much, much more angst in me than any previous iteration of the game ever has, somewhat disturbingly so. As I started up the game for the first time, I automatically opted for the female player character. The gameplay began as she woke up in her pinktastic room. I was dismayed by how much pink there was, honestly - I find the growth in pinkwashing across the board for anything targeted to girls unfortunate, partly since blue has always been my favorite color, but also since making options so limited inevitably leaves a lot of people out in the cold when it comes to anything.* But, hey, onwards and upwards, I kept playing. But there was just something off about it.

I suddenly realized that I wanted to play the male character. And it was at this point that the guilt set in.

If you weren't a girl or woman playing the original Pokemon games back when they were released, I think its difficult for me to convey how earth-shattering it was when Crystal was announced with the big selling point being that you could opt to play as a female character. Although I already co-owned Gold and had played it about half-way through, and even though a rental would only let me play it for three days or so, I nevertheless dashed out and rented Crystal from Blockbuster. I could be a girl! I was so thrilled. I somehow managed to squash in something like twenty-five hours of play despite having school, homework, and swim practice.

I admit that I dropped out of Pokemon for a good while after that game, largely because I myself did not own a Nintendo DS (my brother did), and since I was a girl I had misguided relatives still buying me Barbies for my birthdays, so no one was out to give me a DS, and I wasn't yet old enough to have a part-time job. So I drifted away from it for a rather large chunk of time, finally picking the habit back up when I permanently borrowed brother's DS a few years back since I really wanted to play LeafGreen. But with LeafGreen, HeartGold, and Black2, I simply automatically went for the female character. I also played a bit of White on loan from my boyfriend, and even though I strongly dislike the sexed-out design for the female player character there, I still went for her over the male character (I honestly couldn't get much into White, though).

I'm not a huge fan of Serena's design. It isn't obviously sexed-out like with Hilda, but she doesn't look like a ten year old at all. (I'm not a fan of May's design either, by the way - wicked tight clothes on a ten year old skeeves me out hardcore, folks.) She looks like she's fifteen or sixteen. Her appearance as the rival character works better, honestly - something about the change in the hairstyle and the lack of hat with sunglasses makes her look more like a kid would.

But I mentioned not taking such issue with playing Hilda despite her design, so that would seem to rule out design as a reason for me to wish to opt for the boy character over the girl character.

Honestly, though, it isn'twell, this is a bit hard to explain. The notion of wanting to play a male character from a removed perspective, i.e. not one grounded in past history or social context or whatever, doesn't bother me. I will admit to wishing I were like Ranma from Ranma half, in that I wish I could swap between female and male on occasion. I don't want to be a guy - I'm just terribly curious about how it is to experience life as a guy. Think of me like Chitanda from Hyouka, except instead of being curious about locked doors for clubrooms or kimonos left in windows, I am curious about what it is like to be a guy. So opting to play as a male character, even in an environment where that doesn't really make a difference to gameplay, well, that doesn't faze me at all.

However, I feel guilty about opting for a male character in this context. As I said before, it was HUGE to be able to play as a female character in Pokemon games. I loooooved Pokemon as a child, and I was so, so, so happy to be able to be a girl Pokemon trainer and not just a girl playing a boy Pokemon trainer. So it feels like a betrayal for me to opt for the male character.

Yet, I did pull the trigger - I re-started the game and now I'm a cute boy in the Pokemon world. I'm also platinum blonde and have blue eyes, so I guess I'm just going for the problematic lottery. But I wanted to play the boy, and I'm happy playing the boy, even if I still feel a bit guilty over it. I haven't regretted my choice.

Of course, I haven't touched at all on the fact that having a gender binary in the game is itself problematic, although I suppose I alluded to it somewhat when speaking of how pink everything was in Serena's room and how limiting that is. I noticed that even though you can change your character's clothes, you can't put your boy trainer in a dress. But this is also about as surprising as the fact that the final season of Sailor Moon still remains never-licensed in North America, and it honestly isn't something I feel much like addressing in this post as I feel it lies beyond the scope of it given that I wanted to talk about my personal angst-fest over the game. Blogging is for navel-gazers, remember?
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