Pokemon X? More Like Pokemon ANGST: Gender Edition

serena calem pokemon xy

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’t… well, 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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9 Responses to Pokemon X? More Like Pokemon ANGST: Gender Edition

  1. Something about this post makes me think there needs to be a part 2 to this.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Hmm, on the angle of gender, I presume? Such as what? I do plan to do another installment of “Pokemon Angst”, but just as regards becoming creepily emotionally-attached to the Pokemon due to the Amie feature. I am curious if you had any particular idea about what may additionally need to be said, though.

      • I wasn’t pointing to anything in particular. I just thought that you might end up coming back to this subject again once you finished X & Y (if you even plan to get to get both). I just barely missed the Pokemon craze, it was actually something my sister’s generation got into much more (she’s seven years my junior). So I don’t really have any reference except if I were to use fighting games as an example.

        What I mean is that people often ask why a guy will play or even get attached to a female character in those when they’re a guy. And there are many answers to that. Sometimes you like the fighting style (female characters are often more nimble than male characters), or you like the sex appeal of your character, maybe they’re the same nationality or race, or maybe they’re just good. Latching onto a character that’s similar to you in some aspect makes the game deeper and easier to get personally invested towards. So I can feel your pain when you’re disappointed in a character that in some way is supposed to represent you. I don’t get to see many Puerto Rican characters, and I don’t love all the Black ones I see in games either (Dee Jay – *shudders*). Though they still have personalities, they’re not mute or lack personality like an RPG protagonist often would.

        So don’t take it the wrong way. I just saw more potential there from the gender angle when it came to gaming and avatars.

        • A Day Without Me says:

          I myself don’t game very much, so I’m hesitant to speak to a wider experience in gaming regarding avatars. I will say I was happy to see that, too, in Pokemon X they branched out the options for the appearance of the player character a bit (although of three options apiece, two are still “white”… which is, granted, made even more curiously complicated by the fact that their appearance is Caucasoid, but they are meant to be Japanese… feel like this one is more than a can of worms I feel like opening, though). I’m hoping in future games that we’ll see an even wider variety of potential racial appearances for characters.

  2. supervamp78t says:

    So you don’t have a problem with anything you just feel weirded out that you actually want to play from the guy’s side for once?

  3. Kathryn says:

    I picked the “guy” character and gave her a girl’s name and nickname. Her pokémon don’t get to evolve because they need to be adorable, and her Pokémon-amie screen is all pink all the time. People call her “him,” but really her gender his none of anyone’s business, because she’ll beat up your pokémon and take your money and not even stop to chat with you afterwards.

    I think there’s a lot more in-game potential for gender-based resistant reading if you choose the guy character. I have the exact same haircut as the guy character, and I wear boots and skinny jeans and jackets with stripes down the sleeves, so who is Nintendo to tell me that the character is male just because hir room isn’t covered in pink? (It makes me sad that my avatar can’t wear a dress over her skinny jeans, but whatevs, Nintendo has already gotten in enough trouble with conservative groups in Europe and North America, so if I need to sacrifice fashion for little religious kids getting to play a game that teaches them that women can be photographers or martial artists or, uh, psychics, then I guess that’s sort of okay. Also my male Braixen is totally wearing a skirt, so that’s okay too I guess.)

    Meanwhile, the girl character definitely feels like a representation of fourth wave “postfeminism” in the sense that she can love pink and wear whatever she likes into creature-infested tall grass and still kick your butt – but I still don’t know how I feel about her walking around in a miniskirt and zettai ryōki leggings (whose benefit is that for, anyway?). I almost want to buy another copy of the game so that I can trade pokémon with myself so I can play as the girl character and see how her wardrobe choices expand and if there’s anything else in the game that specifically codes her as “female.”

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I toyed a bit with whether I wanted to pick the boy character and identify that character as ‘her’, but realized that I actually wanted to play the boy character as a boy (…which kind of made me feel guilty, too, honestly!). I myself did run up against the matter of the dress – I was checking out the changing room and noticed that the dress option was greyed out, and while not surprising (hell, we aren’t even allowed to have slot machines in the N. American versions of the games anymore, can you imagine the throwing of temper tantrums and stones if Nintendo allowed its “male” characters to put on skirts and dresses?), I felt a twinge of disappointment.

      Actually, in discussing the character design for Hilda, I used those exact words – “whose benefit is that for, really?”. As I said before, Serena’s design wouldn’t bother me as much if she were, say, fifteen or sixteen, because her sartorial choices wouldn’t seem such an ill-fit. I look at Serena and I just cannot see a ten year old. I think its the hair, too – it looks like its been styled, and outside of Toddlers and Tiaras, I can’t see most ten year olds – and especially not ten year olds who are trekking across the Pokemon world spending most nights outdoors! – taking the time and effort to do their hair like that. Serena as an NPC, of course, just wears a ponytail, and that small detail changed makes me less uneasy about the design, honestly. I like Leaf, and Lyra’s designs because they actually look like they are wearing outfits a ten year old would wear.

  4. Seasons says:

    I always look forward to AND dread reading posts like this. Because I’m very interested in the topic and I feel like exploring it helps me to understand myself better, but then I see how second-nature this kind of examination is for some people and it makes me feel really small-minded, ignorant, and set into my gender-binary ways by comparison.

    This is not the first time I’ve sat down to read a gender-related blog entry, only to get about halfway through it and feel like I don’t know how to feel about anything that’s being said at all. Because, apparently, I need to know the sex and the sexual orientation of the author before I can try to understand what they’re saying, even though the whole point is that sex and sexual orientation are constructs that shouldn’t define a person’s identity. It’s like I need to put people into boxes so that I can THEN try to understand where they’re coming from and what kind of perspective they might have that’s brought them to the conclusions that they’re blogging about.

    I don’t know if this is something that’s being discussed a lot more than it used to be, or if it’s always been like this on the blogosphere and I never noticed until recently. I do notice the topic of gender being discussed online a LOT these days. This makes me feel like it’s “trendy” while in reality I know that it isn’t like that at all. I actually do think that I’m just really jealous of people who’re able to think about this and talk about it sensibly, and the freedom that they have. Maybe because I went through a lot of gender-related shit a while back and no one was there to break it all down for me like this, so there was a really long period of struggling with my identity and feeling guilty and depressed all the time, and I don’t know if any of that’s ever really ended for me. I’m glad that we’re able to talk about this openly now, especially in regards to so much of the media that we all love, because I think that people need to to be told that they can be comfortable with themselves, even if they don’t fit into stereotypes that define so much of what people are told is most important about themselves. I just wish I’d come to understand this a lot sooner than I did… assuming that I REALLY understand any of it now, and I’m not sure about that at all, really.

    I read your blog a lot but I’m not sure I’ve ever commented here. I felt like I needed to do so today, although I honestly don’t know if you’ll know what to make of any of this, in which case thanks for giving me a few minutes to spill my guts about something I’m still grappling with in really personal ways.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I had gender issues of my own years and years back when I was a kid, but in my case it was specifically related to social and cultural ideas about gender and what it connotes, not about my own internal feeling of “I’m a girl!” versus “I’m a boy!”. As a little kid, I was persistently sent the message by my wider culture that being male meant being strong and capable, while being female meant being weak and ineffectual. Even in a fairly progressive household where I listened to hours of the local NPR affiliate per day, where my dad did the vast majority of the cooking, where my mum worked full-time, I still absorbed these toxic ideas from the larger culture. So I wanted to be a boy – not because I personally felt I was a boy, but because I felt I had to be one if I wanted to possess the qualities I judged were positive ones.

      It was watching the first arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena that made me finally feel comfortable with gender as it related to me on a personal level; I had always felt I was a girl, so the tension had been to do with that versus what I was told were girl qualities and what were boy qualities by society. Utena demonstrated to me that you could be a girl and remain a girl but aspire to those qualities that had been coded as male. Granted, when I finally saw the entire show, I saw that I was even more like Utena than I’d initially realized (and I’m hesitant to say exactly how since I don’t want to spoil that show if you haven’t seen it all yet). Of course, you did say you read my blog a good bit, so I might just be repeating myself here, although it has been years since I did a post about this particular matter.

      For my part, I am a cisgender bisexual woman. I don’t know if that helps illuminate how I got from point A to point B in my post (if there was, really, any point A to point B-type arc in my post at all), but, well, there it is. I had a friend accuse me of being a third gender because she was taking an anthropology course at the time and they were doing a unit about conceptions of gender in various cultures, but I was irritated with that; I am a fair bit masculine in my behavior, but I do identify as a woman.

      I’m glad you like my blog enough to read it regularly. Thank you for de-lurking, its always nice to hear from a regular reader.

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