Competition and curses: a parents’ responsibility

Video games have been a positive force during the COVID-19 lockdown here in the UK. As well as being entertainment during additional free hours, they’ve given me the chance to keep in touch with friends and hang out with them online.

Because of this, any negative aspects hadn’t crossed my mind and so receiving an email with the subject THESE Gamers Are The Most Antagonistic recently was something of a comedown. Commissioned by a resource for fans of online slot machines (I have absolutely no idea how I ended up on that random distribution list), the report tried to discover which gamers were the most aggressive and unfriendly according to their platform of choice and preferred multiplayer title.

I’m going to point out here that I’m not entirely comfortable with this company’s business or how they collected their data and so I’ve chosen not to link to them. They utilised Google search volume tools to find the number of people looking to report users in connection with the 42 most popular online games over the past 12 months, before asking almost 2,000 gamers around the world a series of somewhat leading questions: for example, ‘Have you had your day ruined by other online gamers?’

Despite my reservations and the fact the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt, they’re interesting. It appears Xbox users are more hostile than PlayStation owners as there are 1,080 more searches annually from them looking to report others for bad behaviour. To quote the report: “There are hundreds of online complaints about users who seek to anger others through Xbox Live chats. On average, each year there are 166,920 searches from players looking to complain or report other Xbox Live accounts.”

The thing that caught my attention though was the list of top-ten titles with the most antagonistic players. Somewhat unsurprisingly thanks to it being free and attracting huge fan-base, in first place was Fortnite: “There are countless stories from innocent users who claim that fellow Fortnite players ruin the game by citing abusive and toxic language. Each month there are 3,750 searches from players looking to report one another for hostile behaviour – that’s equivalent to 45,000 each year!”

Other releases that made the list included Roblox, Overwatch, Minecraft and Rocket League. These are all games either previously or currently played by my teenaged stepson and, according to Ethan, most of the boys in his year at school spend their free time hanging out with each other in them online. Regardless of whether these kids are the ones doing the reporting or contributing to the vitriol, I wonder how involved the parents are in their gaming lives and to what extent they’re aware of what’s going on.

We had a recent experience ourselves, which some people may already know about after we shared the story during a stream. Ethan doesn’t realise how loud he gets when he’s on his Xbox but the bonus of this is that Pete and I can hear everything going on without having to snoop on him. One evening while playing Overwatch with his friends, we caught him using the term ‘slut’ to refer to who he believed to be a female player on the opposite team – and he was busted for it over dinner.

He mentioned their handle when we asked why he thought this other player was female, so we explained to him that judging someone on their name was wrong and could lead to discrimination. Ethan’s excuse for his conduct was that he ‘only said it so his team could hear’ and ‘everyone else was saying it’ but we told him this wasn’t any sort of justification. Saying derogatory things like that wouldn’t only cause others to look at him in a certain light but could also encourage them to adopt or continue the same inappropriate behaviour.

It was when I asked him how he’d feel if someone online called me a slut that the point really hit home and he apologised. We then went on to discuss how trash-talking is often a part of online gaming, but you can be competitive and still be respective of the people you’re playing with. Personal attacks are just a nasty reflection of your own poor skills and, if you see a player struggling with the game, isn’t it better to offer them some friendly advice to help them improve?

Duane from Bar Harikuya published a great post last month which, while being about a different subject, contains a point which is very relevant here. He said: “It only becomes a problem because of poor education, and by that, I don’t mean at school (though there’s still room for improvement there), I mean the education that they receive from the environment they live in… You might say kids will be kids, but if I’d have ever heard any of my kids use homophonic, sexist or racist slurs I would be sure to educate them on why that’s not acceptable.”

If you have young children and decide to let them play video games, it’s your responsibility to educate them on how to use them responsibly. This includes teaching your kids that games don’t always have to be about violence and explosions; that it isn’t necessary to be a ‘perfect gamer’ in terms of skill if you’re having fun; and why inclusivity in gaming can only be a good thing. And it most certainly covers how to behave respectfully towards others in online multiplayer games.

I can’t in good conscience say that the findings of the report above are accurate, but they do show that an awful lot of people have tried to find out how to report others for toxic behaviour over the past year. Whether that’s because they’ve been the subject of hostility themselves or they’re considering making a fake report out of aggression, it doesn’t really matter: what’s important here is that none of us need that kind of negativity in our lives right now.

We’ve been in and out of lockdown for almost nine months in the UK, and our nerves are frayed due to how tired we are with the situation. We’re all looking for ways to pick ourselves back up by bringing positive moments into our lives and for many of us, that involves gaming. Video games should always be a source of entertainment, relaxation, joy and friendship – not an online world someone is afraid to enter because they’re worried about the sort of treatment they’ll find there.

The next time you or your kid pick up the controller for a match, remind them and yourself that it’s within your power to put a smile on the face of someone else online through your behaviour. And if we can all achieve that, then these current times will be a little bit easier for everyone.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
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Metal Gear Solid 2: cutscenes and craziness

Back in March, Luke from Hundstrasse and I took part in a game-swap. Our objective was to find the most bizarre retro titles and, in return for my gift of Realm of the Dead, he sent me Whiplash – a platformer that caused come controversy when it was released in 2004.

It was a fun experience so, when Athena from AmbiGaming asked if I wanted to do another game-swap, I agreed straight away. This time the requirement would be different though: instead of searching for titles the other had never played before, we instead challenged each other to try one of our favourite releases. This explains why she completed Fable on stream recently, something I can only apologise to her for; I might love this game but the controls and camera do feel awfully clunky nowadays.

She nominated me to play Metal Gear Solid in return but it didn’t quite work out as planned. Thanks to the original being rather expensive to purchase and a code donated by Ellen from Ace Asunder not working due to regional lockout, I didn’t get the chance. Athena agreed I could play Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty instead, so a copy was ordered for my PlayStation 2; but ultimately I installed it on our Xbox One after realising it was available via Game Pass as it would enable the use of a modern controller.

This would be the first Hideo Kojima title I’d ever tried so I felt a little apprehensive for a couple of reasons. Although I can enjoy action releases, poor coordination means I’m not that great at them and I wondered how long it would take me to complete the game. In addition, my opinion of Kojima had been influenced by articles I’d read in the past – about the way he viewed women, his eccentricity, his sense of ego – so I wasn’t sure whether I’d feel comfortable with what I was about to see.

I usually give a story overview of the game at this point in posts but I’ve struggled to write one for MGS2. There are so many plot-twists thrown at the player, particularly within the last couple of hours, that I’m not entirely sure I fully understand what happened. There was something about virtual-reality (VR) simulations, several terrorist organisations, a president being taken hostage, huge metal machines which behave like animals and artificial intelligence (AI) – and this is only a start.

And there are cutscenes. Lots and lots of cutscenes, some so lengthy that our Xbox decided to put itself on standby while we were watching. I found this infographic online which shows they averaged 05:30 minutes each, with the longest being 20:15 minutes. I’m not adverse to such moments in video games because I usually play them for the narrative, but at times it was excessive: it felt like the control was taken away from us each time we were starting to get into the gameplay.

Metal Gear Solid 2, MGS2, Sons of Liberty, video game, man, Solid Snake, face, gun

Luke was watching while Pete and I streamed the game on Twitch, and kindly sent me an email last week to try and explain it all. I can’t deny that I’m still confused though. There are so many plot elements, not all of which seem completely relevant or necessary, and there are far too many names for someone who struggles to remember the characters are like I do. There was the impact of streaming too: sometimes it was hard to follow what was happening in-game at the same time as trying to keep up with chat.

Luke also told me about the controversy surrounding MGS2 at the time of its release. The tanker section, where you play as Solid Snake, was released as a prologue so fans were understandably annoyed when they got their hands on the full release and realised they’d be spending a lot of time with Raiden. I’ve also read that Kojima came up with the idea of this new protagonist to appeal to female players, after hearing female debuggers working on the original Metal Gear Solid say that it wasn’t appealing to them. More about this later.

I agreed with Athena before starting that I could attempt the title on the easiest mode and I’m glad I took this option. I had to pass the controller to Pete on several occasions because there were sections I struggled to get to grips with. My main issue was the way the camera angle changed whenever you entered a new scene so I never knew which direction I’d be moving in (the main reason I’ve never felt totally comfortable with classic point-and-click series that make the transition from 2D to 3D).

The thing is though, for all the things I found confusing or frustrating about MGS2, there’s a part of me that enjoyed playing it. After our stream of the last section of the game, my other-half and I both admitted to each other that we’d actually had quite a lot of fun. Maybe it was the fact that we could finally say we’d experienced a Metal Gear title, or that we’d played while discussing it with friends over Twitch, or that we just never knew what the plot was going to throw at us next. It’s difficult to put my finger on it.

I can see why the series is one of Athena’s favourites. Certain elements might come across over-the-top or not aging well, but it must have been pretty amazing to experience a release that like that on the PlayStation 2 when it was originally released back in 2001. As Nathan from Gaming Omnivore and Phil explained to us, there was nothing on the market 19 years ago which was as cinematic or ambitious in what it was trying to deliver, so I can imagine it was something truly spectacular for players at the time.

I’m afraid I can’t end this post without saying something about the game’s depiction of women though, and I’m not sure what it is that annoyed me the most. Maybe it was that Emma both looks and behaves like a 12-year old girl despite being 18, and Raiden has a good long look at her butt as she climbs down a ladder above him. Or perhaps it was that girlfriend Rose feels the need to call him regularly and constantly brings up their relationship every time he wants to save, even though he’s on an important mission.

As Kevin from The Lawful Geek said in chat: Kojima can’t write a female character to save his life. But my annoyance could also come from the designer creating the protagonist for female players, as if a hunky blonde hero is the only thing we’re interested in when it comes to playing video games. It almost feels like he treats a person’s view of the opposite sex as something that’s purely sexual; his characters’ interactions are very voyeuristic and it’s as if people are measured in terms of their sexual worth.

I might not like all the characters. I might think the cutscenes are excessive. I might feel that MGS2 is incredibly self-indulgent and as Brandon from That Green Dude said, could have benefited from an editor going through it and telling Kojima ‘No’. But playing this game has definitely been an experience and one I’m glad I’ve had. In the very least, it gave me the opportunity to play something I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise and be more open to the idea of further game-swaps in the future.

Metal Gear Solid 2, MGS2, Sons of Liberty, video game, man, Raiden

Speaking of which, my next collaboration is lined up already. I’ve shared before that I really dislike turn-based combat because I just don’t have the patience for it, so Ellen is going to try and convince me otherwise with her gift of Final Fantasy XIII. In return I’ve gifted her both Her Story and The Madness of Doctor Dekker, to help cure her of her aversion to full-motion video (FMV) after she watched us play Dark Nights with Poe and Munro in May (perhaps not the greatest example of the genre).

Thanks so much to Athena from slogging through Fable and for giving me the chance to experience my first Metal Gear game. Here’s to more game-swaps!

Off-topic: child-free by choice

For anyone visiting Later Levels today and expecting a new post about video games, please accept my apologies. This one is off-topic and more personal than my usual ramblings. If you’d prefer to read about gaming, please come back on Monday when normal service will resume.

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An article appeared on my news feed in mid-July which stood out among all headlines declaring COVID-19 doom. Written by Emma Gannon and published on the Grazia website, I’m Child-Free By Choice – And Not Everyone Accepts That was her account of the reactions towards her decision.

The anecdotes shared in her post sounded all too familiar. In one paragraph, she wrote: “I’ve known from a young age that I don’t see myself having children, at least not as a biological mother. And yet, even in 2020, I have felt pushback from society and acquaintances about this. Comments describing child-free women as ‘selfish’; telling me I’ll ‘have regrets’ and ‘never experience true love’. I’ve even been told, ‘You’ll be miserable when you’re old and grey’.”

Similar things have come my way. Some people are unable to wrap their heads around the fact I don’t want my own children and reactions have ranged from disbelief to mild anger whenever the subject has come up in conversation. We might be told we’re free to be who we want to be and that we can live our lives however we choose, but society as a whole still seems largely unsure what to make of women who don’t feel the need or desire to be mothers.

This is something I’ve known about myself for a long time. I distinctly remember walking home from secondary school one afternoon after a discussion in a Personal & Social Education class and realising that being a mother would never be for me. That feeling has barely wavered in all the 30-plus years since and I don’t expect it to ever change. The only thing that’s different now is that I’ve got a better vocabulary to explain my reasons and a higher probability of being offended when told my choice is wrong.

Trust me, I’ve heard all the counter-arguments before and none of them come as a shock any longer. Apparently, not wanting children and depriving my partner of the joy of them is selfish; one day I’ll wake up and realise I do actually want to be a mother; the reason for me not wanting kids must be because I can’t have them. If I’m to believe what I’ve been told in the past, my life will ultimately feel unfulfilling without children in it and I’ll never know what it’s like to love a child the way a mother does.

It’s that last comment which stung the most because it related to my stepson and was said by two so-called friends who have seen how I behave towards Ethan (I rarely speak to them nowadays for obvious reasons). I’ve always refused to believe you can only develop a bond with a child if you’ve given birth to them. Science has shown that maternal instincts are caused by spikes in oxytocin and anyone – including grandparents, men and adoptive parents – can experience those feelings when they’re around children.

It still surprises me how many people think all stepmothers secretly wish they were the kid’s biological parent though. This isn’t true: I’ve never asked Ethan to call me ‘Mum’ and he has never expressed a desire to do so. I chose to take him into my life and be the best role-model I can be, to teach him all those annoying life skills like how to swim and tie shoelaces, to spend my Saturday mornings going over algebra at the dining-room table. I don’t want to be his mother and I don’t just take on those responsibilities because he popped out of my womb.

That’s not an easy concept for everyone to grasp though. Although things are slowly changing, society on the whole still casts women in the role of the family-orientated carer and many individuals believe you must want children ‘because you’re female and that’s what you do’. When you try to explain to them that you don’t feel this need, they immediately assume there must be something wrong with you either mentally or physically.

For the record: there’s nothing wrong with me (if you ignore the insane amount of ice-cream I’ve eaten during lockdown and my strange love for Eurovision). I’ve simply made the decision to not have my own children, for personal reasons I don’t require anyone else to live by but myself. The world is so overpopulated and messed up that I don’t feel it’s right for me to bring another child into it, and I don’t believe I have to be a mother in order to live my life in a way which is happy and fulfilling.

It doesn’t mean I’m incapable of caring for others. Pete and Ethan have my heart and a family isn’t formed by blood or sharing the same names – it’s a group who choose to love each other, even on the days when it’s a struggle to like each other. And just like other families, I’ve thought about the kind of legacy I’ll be leaving behind after I’m gone. It might not take the form of my own biological children but I can make a mark on the world by supporting the causes I feel passionate about.

wedding, Kim, Pete, Ethan

I’ll continue volunteering and raising awareness for SpecialEffect, showing people the positive effect of video games and helping everyone to play them regardless of their physical ability. I’ll continue encouraging everyone to talk about their mental wellbeing for Mind and take on the responsibilities of being a mental-health first-aider. I’ll continue being the best role-model I can be for my stepson and, if I manage to do all these things, I’ll know that my decision to be child-free by choice was the right one for me.

As Gannon wrote in her article: “If there’s one thing lockdown has given us, it’s the space to confirm a lot of the things we want or don’t want. No path is better or worse – it’s just ours.”

Not turned on: sexual content on Steam

Last month, I admitted I had a problem. The situation was getting to the point where it was becoming unbearable and I couldn’t keep sticking my head in the sand any longer. It was finally time to admit to myself that I needed to seek help from the professionals.

I’m talking about my Steam wishlist. A few weeks ago it contained over 100 games and, instead of being somewhere useful to keep track of upcoming releases I was interested in checking out, it had become a place which was almost unmanageable. I was adding titles to my catalogue more quickly than they were being removed so its size had expanded at a steady rate in recent years, and I was worried that this increase was just going to keep continuing.

Steam, recommendations, video games

So I took control of the matter – and asked the experts within the community for their advice. After publishing a post sharing the contents of my wishlist, I received lots of comments from blogger-friends with their tips on the games that should be removed and the ones which were definitely worth playing. Alongside this I decided to start tackling some of the shorter titles I’d shortlisted once I realised that several of them were free and could be completed in around an hour.

One such release was Burning Daylight, a game which had been added to my wishlist on 20 April 2019 after my other-half had seen an article about it and thought it would be something I’d enjoy. And even though it was only 40-minutes long, I was impressed; it contained a lot of potential for a student project and I loved the way the atmosphere made the player feel as though something was incredibly wrong. Its story about society’s obsession with technology and not wanting to see the world for what it truly is was also very timely.

Fast-forward to the following week and I found myself sitting in front of my PC, confused. For some reason, whenever I’d opened Steam to check my discovery queue in the days previous, every other suggestion was one which contained plenty of scantily-clad women with bad hair, poor shoe choices and gravity-defying breasts. I couldn’t work out what was going on; why had the platform decided that I might be interested in this poorly-made digital soft-pornography all of a sudden?

Then I saw the information on the right-hand side of the screen which explained why these recommendations were relevant to me: ‘Similar to games you’ve played: Burning Daylight.’ The game had been tagged with the ‘sexual content’ and ‘nudity’ categories thanks to one short scene. You must guide your character through the red-light district in town where the outline of strippers can be seen in windows, and you pass a couple who are being rather friendly up against a large waste bin in the background.

Burning Daylight, video game, headset, virtual reality, club, strippers, windows

I’m not fond of sexual content in video games. This was something we’d discussed during a Save Point stream a while back and I was surprised to hear that many of the friends who joined is in chat felt the same. I’m struggling to formulate my reason into words but I think it’s something to do with such content being mostly unnecessary; I’ve been gaming for over 30 years now and in that time have seen a lot of releases where women are depicted as prizes and sex is used as a reward.

That’s not to say it can’t be done well when the developers put in the effort. Some titles have managed to effectively incorporate a sex scene so it’s an integral part of their story and shows the connection between two characters, rather than something that’s thrown in to titillate. Poor animation can make such sections feel incredibly awkward though and it seems nobody is a fan of sexy quick-time events (QTEs), so the whole thing needs to be very tastefully managed.

But cheap soft-porn games like those I was now being suggested by Steam? No, thank you. If they’re the sort of releases which float your boat then more power to you. But personally I can think of few things less of a turn-on than completely ridiculous story set-ups, impossibly-proportioned women dressed in nasty PVC outfits, robotic sexual movements and creepy dudes with raised eyebrows. And a note for anyone who hasn’t yet realised: the female nipple doesn’t really do that in real life.

They did give my other-half and I a good giggle for an hour or so though. After commenting to Pete about all the mature recommendations popping up in my discovery queue (and him wondering what the hell I’d been up to), we ended up falling down a rabbit hole and laughing hysterically at the Steam pages we came across. There were also a few games which made us feel very uncomfortable however, such as a 2020 release with a female protagonist where you have to ‘get her home unmolested’ when she’s left alone in the middle of nowhere with strangers.

All this because I’d spent less than an hour with Burning Daylight, a cyberpunk walking simulator that features a very brief background sex scene in which the main character isn’t even involved. Although the ‘Adult Only Sexual Content’ option was already deselected on my Steam account, soft-porn games were still able to make it into my discovery queue recommendations. It seems difficult to be able to fully block them without it having a negative effect on other titles you’d legitimately be interested in.

For example, tell the platform you want to exclude releases with the ‘sexual content’ or ‘nudity’ tags and you wouldn’t see Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Cyberpunk 2077 and Vampyr. These are large RPGs with detailed narratives, and are far removed from the titles which all seem to have names that are a variation of Hot Virtual Reality Girls along with flimsy storylines which must have been written in less than five minutes. Another note for those unaware: you can’t cure a terminal disease by having sex.

In a post published in May 2018, I mentioned how the recommendations given to me by Steam were very hit-and-miss. Things have improved in the past two years and the suggestions are more aligned to the sort of games I want to play – hence the reason why my wishlist was getting so large. But there still seems to be a problem with categorisation. Is it that additional tags are needed to identify different types of sexual content? Or is it that the way the existing ones are being assigned to releases isn’t working?

I’m not sure what the answer is. But what I do know is that I won’t be buying My Cute Roommate or Being a DIK anytime soon.

Sexualised characters: holding up a mirror to culture

It’s long been thought that the portrayals of people we see in the media have an impact on how we feel about our own bodies. Stick-thin models in magazines, beautiful actors in the movies and pretty people all over the internet are assumed to have a negative effect – but there has recently been some good news when it comes video games.

According to a study by Stetson University and Fairleigh Dickinson University, games featuring sexualised protagonists may not have as much impact on us as once thought. Female participants were asked to play Tomb Raider Underworld or Tomb Raider (2013) at random before reporting on their self-objectification and body dissatisfaction. The results indicated that the former’s sexualised version of Lara Croft didn’t make players feel body shame – or at least as not as much as other types of objectification (more about that later).

Tomb Raider, Underworld, woman, Lara Croft, ruins

These findings don’t entirely surprise me. Female characters who are inappropriately dressed for the task at hand and whose boobs seem to defy all laws of nature may make me roll my eyes in exasperation. But I don’t feel they cause me to have any internal negative thoughts, because I’m aware they’re fictional: they exist only inside a video game and therefore don’t send a realistic message about women’s bodies. Why should I bother comparing myself?

I wonder if the study’s participants feel the same way and whether the titles chosen had any effect on the results. There are other protagonists who are far more sexualised than Lara and most gamers are aware of her move towards a more realistic design over the years, so we tend to view her earlier days as a relic. In addition, the archaeologist was never simply about her looks; they’re not her only contribution to the Tomb Raider games and she can kick some serious butt, in either tiny shorts or cargo-pants.

Regardless, some will look at the findings and surmise that we no longer need to concern ourselves with sexualised characters because they don’t negatively affect players. Other forms of objectification are more damaging, with the study citing ‘catcalling’ as an example – and again I’m not surprised by this. Feeling objectified as a result of something you’ve seen in the media is a thought you’ve arrived at independently. But catcalling is a real person confirming that notion in real time, and that’s far more hurtful.

It’s not really that simple though, is it? Just because sexy protagonists don’t make us feel bad about ourselves doesn’t mean we should put up with seeing them in all of our games. Not everyone can be blond-haired, tan-skinned, big-boobed and tiny-waisted, and constantly seeing characters who embody that tired representation of beauty quickly gets boring. Games have come a long way in recent years but there’s still plenty of room for further diversity and giving us a whole range of heroes to spend time with.

Tomb Raider, 2013, Lara Croft, woman, bow and arrow, deer

It’s not about censoring, or feminism, or being offended by the sight of bouncing bosoms and pert butt-cheeks. If that’s what you want to see in your video games then knock yourself out – there are more than enough titles out there to interest you. It’s just good to be aware that being surrounded by a culture which constantly perpetuates a certain body-type as being perfect can impact how positively we feel about ourselves, and having access to media that only reflects that culture could reassert those values.

As said by professor of psychology Chris Ferguson in an interview with Kotaku: “Media holds a mirror up to culture. And sometimes we don’t like the mirror. It must be dirty or smudged for it to look this way. But it really is more of a mirror.”

Choosing sides: playing characters of the opposite sex

Following Kim’s post on wonderful women in video games, I came to realise that I’m always more likely to choose a female character. I put this down to male leads being more typical and, in my opinion, the boring option when it comes to creating compelling protagonists.

Thinking back to when they announced the box art for BioShock Infinite, there was a backlash about the generic ‘good guy’ cover-art because Elizabeth was the more interesting character. This is a good example of what’s on my mind.

For me it started with Lara Croft in Tomb Raider when I got my PlayStation back in 1997 – and I promise it wasn’t about her pointy physique. Regardless of how good the design of any game is, I struggle to make that attachment between myself and the onscreen protagonist. I always feel like I’m controlling somebody else’s actions and it’s more prevalent when they’re able to speak. I think this is why it’s even more important that they’re interesting, not just in their backstory but also in their motivations and actions.

The closest I’ve probably come to actually feeling like the character I’m playing as was with Gordon Freeman in Half-Life, because that’s exactly how it was crafted to be in the form of a silent hero. The title was groundbreaking at the time of release in 1998 for mixing first-person shooting mechanics with story and game design that made it so immersive. The unspeaking protagonist is quite common today – perhaps because it’s cheaper than employing voice-acting – but back to the subject of women in video games.

There are sometimes clear benefits when it comes to picking the female character. Let’s take the Fallout series as an example. As most enemies here were male, it made sense to pick a protagonist who was a woman due to the Black Widow perk as it gave you a ten-percent damage bonus against the opposite sex. It also provided unique dialogue options outside of combat and you could talk non-player characters into giving up information quicker or helping with alternative ways to complete quests.

More recently in Apex Legends, some female characters had smaller hit-boxes due to their physical character design and this arguably made them more difficult to shoot when they’re not standing still. Not all the small characters were women of course but it does remind me of the same perceived issue with PlanetSide 2. Many players selected to play as a female protagonist as they were visibly leaner in size, with the theory being that they were therefore harder to target.

With the Assassin’s Creed series, we were given us a choice in character during the Odyssey instalment. I felt it would be more interesting to select the female character and see Kassandra after having played as Bayek for so many hours in Origins. Looking back at Syndicate, we were able to freely switch between twins Evie and Jacob with the former having stealth skills and the latter being a hot-headed brawler. This was more of a situational play-style choice, but again I found myself stepping more frequently into the shoes of Evie.

I recently returned to The Elder Scrolls Online after a three-year break from the game and found my main character was a female High Elf named Esamira. I remember making this decision simply to be different. Being a multiplayer title, my protagonist choice led to assumptions by others; many expected me to be a female player. It did make me wonder how many of us stick to selecting characters who are the same sex as ourselves, and what stereotypes we place on those who choose the opposite.

There’s nothing wrong with picking a protagonist who’s completing different from your real self. Choice is important – but is this a conscious decision or something we do automatically? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.