I'm currently 51 and frankly, when I hit 50... shit happened. I stopped dying my hair only to find out that I no longer had dark brown hair, but instead when the sun hits my locks, you could be blinded from the silver reflection! Weight started clinging on and not disappear with the normal diet and exercise. Wrinkles... OMG... Shar Pei City (wear your sun block kids!!) Stuff sags... I can understand the allure of face lifts now. Hot flashes, deteriorating eyesight, some varicose veins, sore back, sore everything... and hands that feel arthritic, cramped and painful after long gaming sessions.
Still, it's not all bad news. There's the contentment that comes from having lived a bit of life and a certain acceptance of life, death and people that outweighs the emotional angst of the earlier years. While it takes some adjustment that people now tend to look "through you" and see you more as background, rather than as the vibrant, more noticeable woman of your youth, there is also a certain freedom in that anonymity. I can wear what I want and not have to worry about being age-appropriate. I can be that "odd old lady wearing leggings" instead of "that young woman who doesn't look good in leggings". With my newfound invisibility I can go out without make-up on, I can wear my slippers to Walmart... in fact I could probably wear leather leggings and a rhinestone bustier to Walmart and I'd still be mostly invisible.. because gray hair is like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak and while people might look, it's not at the person... but rather simply at what they're wearing. When was the last time you really noticed an older person... really looked into their eyes, noticed their facial structure, hair cut, body shape... the same things you would notice and look at in a younger person?
Oddly, it's in the world of video games that I find myself no longer invisible. It bothers me that in the constant controversy over the lack of female protagonists in video games, games with gender swappable or customizable protagonists seem to be dismissed out of hand and regarded as irrelevant. The entire concept of the customizable protagonists is actually one of the most unique aspects to the medium of gaming. Instead of pushing for more female protagonists or better male protagonists or ugly female protagonists or unconventional male protagonists, why aren't gamers pushing for more customizable protagonists? Mass Effect is now a last generation game that managed quite easily to tell a wonderful story from both a male and female perspective. In the campaign of Call of Duty, would it make a huge amount of difference if I played as an old white women with a gun instead of the usual 30-something white guy with a gun? Would it honestly make any difference if I was Black or Asian? Bayonetta is well known as a sexy, female protagonist, but honestly would it make any difference if she was a skinny, sexually aware male that got partially naked and posed when he battled bad guys? If I want to break the immersion of Assassin's Creed 3 and have Connor as Connie, would it really have made any difference to the plot at all? Why can't Lara Croft be Lorne? I haven't played the game yet, but in the recent iteration, even with the "almost rape" scene... is there really any reason she couldn't be a young male? Why can't the choice of who the protagonist is be placed more often in the hands of gamers?
In particular I find the dismissal of "gender swappable protagonists" by feminists to be particularly reprehensible. Video games are the only media that skipped right past feminist-based "women's studies" all the way to the more currently relevant "gender studies". A large segment of gaming has had non-gendered protagonists (games like Zork where your gender was never specified) all the way to the customizable protagonist where you can be a burly halbert wielding woman or a slender, long haired effeminate male mage in a dress casting buffing spells from a safe distance. Gaming is the only media to offer choice, not just in terms of gender... but also the gender role. Rather than dismissing this aspect of gaming as irrelevant, we should be celebrating gaming as being far ahead of it's time in allowing such incredible flexibility regarding gender roles. Games like Ultima, Phantasy Star, RuneQuest and others allowed for independent, powerful female characters long before Xena or Buffy became feminist icons. Even today, video games continue to expand on gender roles far more than most other forms of media.
Now I realize that the technology isn't quite there yet to allow us the option of gender-swappable protagonists in all games. It still costs a fair bit of money to integrate the option of a customizable character and developers may still be resistant to this concept because it does have an impact on the story... but one of the primary differences between interactive media like video games and movies or books is that gamers CAN have an impact on the story, and in my belief, they should. Video games are our stories, and don't have to be the developer's story. Developers (and gamers) need to let go of the mindset that games should tell stories like books or movies, they're not. Why would we even want video games to simply emulate another form of existing media? Why wouldn't we want games to be truly something different and special? The stories told in video games simply need to be more innovative and address the special needs of gaming. Great stories can still be told, but maybe in gaming we need to tell those great stories about the secondary characters, rather than from the point of view of the protagonist. Maybe developers have to trust that we can create our own great stories and give more control over to gamers. Maybe all of us need to look at gaming differently.
I'm not advocating that all games need customizable protagonists, but what I am advocating is for gamers themselves to quit dismissing the concept of customizable characters as "irrelevant" in discussions regarding gaming protagonists and great gaming characters. I'm sorry... but Elsa, my gray haired, older female protagonist who uses her daggers in Dragon's Dogma, and who has a young female Duchess fall in love with her (and move in to her house) and has an older, gray haired male mage companion who heals her during battles... this non-invisible, heroic old white-haired lady is far more interesting than any generic Booker or Connor or Cloud. My gray haired older lady wandering the post-apocalyptic world of New Vegas with the lovelorn Boone and a dog as my only companions created a story based on friendship instead of romance... a story many devs might not think of telling. In the world of video games, my gray hair and age doesn't hold me back... it makes me wise and battle hardened. We live in a society where it's ok for men to become old. Snake, Sam Fisher, Ezio, Max Payne... they all got older with a few gray hairs... but Lara Croft - she got younger. In video games, I'm NOT always invisible and I also realize that for many other people... they too have the opportunity to suddenly be heroes or heroines and be visible in at least a virtual world. We don't often see racially diverse protagonists, or fat protagonists or non-gender defined protagonists, or trans-protagonists, or mixed race protagonists or handicapped or scarred protagonists... but this IS possible in video games with protagonists we can create ourselves.
The stories to be told can be more personal and can actually make us think in different ways about reality. My current reality is dealing with a situation where an elderly man is being physically, emotionally and financially abused by his elderly girlfriend, but almost ALL of the partner abuse information available is specific to women who are abused by men. It's extremely frustrating to be dealing with a issue where a woman is physically stronger than her aged and ill boyfriend and is able to actually physically and emotionally abuse and control him. I won't go into details, but this is an exhausting, emotional issue that has evolved into a medical and legal issue. My point of this brief tale is that video games are the one unique medium where these individual stories can be told. Abuse is abuse and yet our society almost always sees it as a gender issue of male violence against female victims. The story is really the same, it's about control. Physical abuse include hitting, slapping, throwing objects that injure, strangling, restraining, etc. Emotional abuse includes using fear tactics of suicide or murder, of isolation from family and friends, of making people think it's their fault if they are hit or verbally abused. Financial abuse includes living off of someone else's income while your own income is used only for yourself. It includes using their credit cards or selling their stuff without their permission and it involves making them think it's their fault when there is no money. The stories are the same... but the never-acknowledged reality is that women abuse men, men abuse their same-sex partners and lesbian couples can be quite capable of having an abusive relationship. Video games have the ability to tell these stories with gender swappable characters, with minor script changes... because regardless of gender, or age or race... the stories are the same. Maybe after playing such a game, we won't laugh when we see the oft-used movie trope of the wife taking the husband's paycheck and running down to Macy's to buy new clothes. Maybe we'll be more inclined to look more closely at our gay friend who is involved in a relationship and never sees any of his old friends anymore... and seems fearful and has bruises that he says are from playing sports. Maybe we'll even look differently at our own actions after playing such a game from varying viewpoints.
Video games have the potential to be more... because of gender swappable characters, not in spite of them. They have the potential to make the invisible, more visible. While women are usually the victims of rape or abuse by men, they are not the only victims, but these other victims remain invisible. Race, gender, age, weight, sexual orientation... the customizable protagonist opens a world of opportunities for marginalized people to become heroes and for very different types of stories to be told and I think that both gamers and developers need to allow us, the gamers, to be able to tell those stories. I want to be a gray haired older female protagonist wearing age-inappropriate sexy armour in my heroic stories, even if the reality is that I could probably barely lift a two handed hammer, and that chainmail bikini top couldn't really hold my saggy boobs... because video games don't have to tell stories based in reality, but instead can tell the incredibly unique stories of who we want to be and they can reflect different visions of how our culture and society could be more open. Customizable protagonists or characters are not irrelevant to video game stories, plots or issues... and gamers themselves need to quit pretending that they are. As I've said before, it would be wonderful to live in a world where "choice of gender does not affect gameplay". Video games are so far ahead of the curve that it's just now that our popular culture is even considering the concept that gender can in fact be a "choice". The random sex we are born with shouldn't determine our gender nor our pre-determined roles in society. Again, not all games need to have customizable protagonists or characters... but maybe more should, and maybe we gamers need to quit dismissing this wonderfully unique aspect of video games and instead celebrate it.