August 22nd, 2005

When you play as a female character, who’s really got the power? It’s an ongoing girl gamer debate. Sure, games with strong female protagonists should be a constructive thing, but keep in mind that the ones pushing the buttons are mostly guys. So, do female avatars really represent the growing potential for gender equality in the games industry, or is their presence (and the opportunity to watch their well-shaped behinds) just, well, sadistic?

Sadomasochism, first of all, is a hugely important (and misunderstood) element of the human condition, the philosophical ramifications of which have gone largely unexplored (excepting Hegel’s Lordship and Bondage) due to society’s unwillingness to confront the implications of its own inherent love of power and of pain. The ideals and expectations of sadomasochism subvert the ingrained logic and hierarchy of the established system. Power play affects every interaction and decision we make, in regards to other people and ourselves. More importantly, true S&M, whether emotional or physical, marks a committed choice, a moment of self-realization, a claiming of the body through willing abuse.

But this is a site about video games. I’m getting there, I promise…

In most S&M communities, it’s rare to be simply sadomasochistic. You’re either a dom, a sub, or, if you want the best of both worlds, a switch. It’s a bit like being straight, gay, or bi – in that, within the S&M community, switches are looked down upon as inferior, as people who are fooling themselves. “Can’t you just make up your mind?” is a common posed to both switches and bisexuals. Slowly, people are beginning to stand up for bis (because, duh, can you really doubt that bisexuality exists?), but the same can’t be said for switches. The world seems to think, if they bother to think about it at all, you either have to be a sadist or a masochist.

Which, of course, isn’t true. The fascinating thing about sadomasochism is that is requires both halves, whether represented by two people or contained within one individual. All together, sadomasochism creates a dialectic, a continuous flow between the love of giving pain and of receiving it.

It’s this dialectic that resurfaces in the question of video game character interactivity and power. You, as the player, exert power (play the role of the dom) over the on-screen avatar. Simultaneously, you are acting as the submissive, handing over your power into the hands of the character. In the case of female avatars, you, as a male player and an outsider to their gender, control them in an innately sadistic way. Yet they literally represent you, and the hurt they feel is directed back at you much more so than at a fictional electronic creation which, really, can neither experience pain nor pleasure.

And you didn’t think you were into the kinky stuff :-).

Tags: Blog

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