Saturday, June 5, 2021

Say It Loud

In what now appears to be an annual tradition and an unofficial Norrathian holiday, this week saw the return of the Pride bunnies to the store. For a convenient payment of nothing whatsoever you can adopt three new technicolor rabbits:

  • Erollisi's Flawless Heart Hare
  • Erollisi's Boldheart Hare
  • Erollisi's Sisterheart Hare

There's no rush. They're available for a few weeks from June 4 to July 8.  

As usual I was unsure which particular groupings the individual bunnies represented but Zhevally on the forums kindly identified them: "Going left to right in the photo, the colors match some of the flags for genderqueer, intersex, and lesbian."

These bunnies, from their very existence in the game to begin with to the way they're given away free as a signal of support and recognition of Pride Month, speak volumes to the way both the wider culture in general and the mmorpg genre in particular has changed and grown in the two decades since I first began playing EverQuest

Back then it was disturbingly common to see homophobic slurs in general chat. In play, issues of gender made many players so uncomfortable they found it difficult to react appropriately when a character turned out not to match the exact gender of the person at the keyboard. It's something that seems doubly unfortunate given the opportunities roleplaying games provide for exploring gender identity. 

As I believe I've mentioned before, one of the first friends I made in EQ became so unsettled when he discovered I wasn't, like my character, a woman, he made his excuses and left. He was very polite about it but we never hung out together again.

I'm sure such things still happen but I'm also sure they happen less often and, when they do, responses are more nuanced. These days there's a large guild in Guild Wars 2 by the name of Our Sanctuary whose tag is [LGBT]. They explain their name in their recruitment messages and hang their banner on keeps in WvW and I cannot remember the last time any of that triggered even a passing negative comment from anyone. That was not the case when they first started.

As I say, times have changed. This week I was playing through the third chapter of Living World Season Two, which originally debuted seven years ago. One of the talking points in the first and second season of Living World was the relationship between Marjorie and Kasmeer but at the time no-one was asking any questions about either the sexual preferences or gender identities of the Elder Dragons. On the contrary, as I was surprised to be reminded, all the dragons at that time were addressed with a neutral pronoun: all of them were "it".

A little more than half a decade later, during the Icebrood Saga, we learned Jormag is non-binary. In all conversations between NPCs, everyone uses Jormag's pronoun of choice: "they". I'm not actually convinced that Elder Dragons even conform sufficiently to our understanding of biological entities for this to be meaningful in terms of the lore but as a position statement by ArenaNet it's awesome.

Gender identity is something games developers are going to need to think about in the years to come, whether they like it or not. It's nice to see some have already started. I mentioned somewhat cryptically in yesterday's post that none of Crowfall's races are gendered. That depends on how you look at it. 

Outside of races assumed to be non-gendered, like robots or elementals, and excluding those games that controversially employ gender-locking, usually poorly-localized imports, the longstanding genre tradition has been for players to be given a choice between "male" and "female" for the characters they're going to play.

These days that's becoming an increasingly difficult tradition to maintain, far less justify. Why make it a choice of just two? As new games come on stream, artists and developers are going to have to think differentl. It seems ArtCraft already are.

In Crowfall you don't get to pick a gender. For  most of the races you get to pick a "body type". For the rest you get no choice at all. Once you've made your selection - or not - whatever gender you assign your character is up to you.

It's a neat solution although I can see how some people might see it as a cop-out. It does at least show someone's thinking about it, which at this transitional stage in the culture is perhaps as much as we can expect, if not hope. 

Mmorpgs are hardly the front line in the ongoing battle for gender equality and recognition but it's nice to see some progress all the same. 

And it goes without saying you can never have too many bunnies.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the timely reminder! At least I have plenty of time to get those bunnies collected.


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