Girl in the Machine
Monday, August 20, 2007
Oh Mii, Oh My.

As much as I enjoy plot-heavy games with concrete characters and fixed events, I adore customization. MMORPGs and games similar to The Sims 2 let me inject a little bit of myself into the game, making it a much more personal experience. Much to my delight, the Mii channel of my newly-acquired Nintendo Wii has allowed me to do just this, and more.

Not only can the Miis you create resemble you and your friends to a T, the Mii channel's customization options let you create a representation of almost anyone you want, even a poor sap with an upside-down head. The amount of freedom the player has allows for some great diversity amongst your Miis.

I was particularly pleased to see that none of the options -- such as beauty marks or short hair -- are closed off once the player chooses her Mii's sex. In The Sims 2, it was disappointing for me to discover that I couldn't give any of my male sims long, flowing locks or full makeup without resorting to third party downloads. On my Wii, I can slap a kick-ass handlebar mustache on any female Mii or some ruby lipstick on their male counterparts.

Race is given the same free-for-all treatment with all hair colors, skin colors, and facial features open to your imagination. I only wish there was something beyond the natural shades such as ice blue hair or slimy green alien skin.

What the Mii channel doesn't deliver is an option beyond the binary gender system. Of course, it's not unusual to be given only two choices when it comes to picking the sex of your avatar; the concept of gender fluidity hasn't exactly penetrated popular opinion just yet. However, I find it interesting that male Miis have basic, cylinder-shaped bodies and female Miis have itty bitty skirts curling from their middles.

Now, this wasn't a problem with my Mii of Lulu from Final Fantasy X. However, it looked a little off on Zero-suit Samus. It bothers me to see that, once again, despite so many vastly differing customizations, the male sex is presented as "Default" and the female sex as "Other," with zero choice for anything otherwise. Just as with your generic restroom signs, the unadorned stick figure represents Men, Male, Humanity itself. Slap a skirt on it, and you have Woman, Female, Different.

It's an oversight that affects all games that offer customization, and in truth cuts off a significant number of players. While those of us who identify strongly as one sex or the other can make an avatar twin of our very own, the genderqueer, transsexual, cross-dressing, and even tomboyish gamers are left high and dry. From World of Warcraft to the little guys running around in our Mii parades, only some of us have the opportunity to truly represent ourselves while others end up compensating, negotiating, and, in a way, passing.

While I don't feel that this was done on purpose, I do see it as a clear result of heteronormative social conditioning. It may be just a game, but it's also another way, no matter how small, to alienate real, actual people in our society. The subconscious nature of these things only exacerbates such a heteronormative attitude, and even the tiniest example of more progressive thinking -- such as, say, the ability to make a Kate Bornstein Mii -- can only do a world of good.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:28 AM + Link to this post

Girl in the Machine

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