Summon Night: A Swordcraft Story was released for gameboy advance in 2006 (originally 2003 in Japan). The game is a spin-off the Summon Night series, a little-known RPG franchise from Japan. Although A Swordcraft Story is also a fantasy RPG just like the rest of the series, it puts a unique spin on the plot by placing you in the shoes of a young weapons smith with the aspiring goal to make a legendary sword instead of saving the world from evil. The gameplay is pretty straight forward and generic: forge weapons to fight monsters in the labyrinth to be rewarded with rare materials to make stronger weapons with.
The interesting part about this game is the emergent storytelling that results from choosing your character’s gender. At the beginning of the game, you pick a gender for your character and a familiar to summon (one of 4, each with their own distinct personality and back story). Although the plot and most of the dialogue stays relatively the same, it’s amazing how the implications of gender on character interactions shape the story so much. “Values are everywhere, embedded in every aspect of our culture and lurking in the very natures of our media and our technology” (Laurel 28).
The first major example lies with Sugar, one of the possible spirits you can summon. She refers to you as ‘master’ regardless of gender, and is constantly offering you ‘sexual favors’ (in the rated-E-for-Everyone sort of way) claiming that she is your future wife (again, regardless of gender). In both cases, your main character will openly reject this behavior, but obviously the resulting implications differ in each version of the dialogue. “Today’s hegemonic game industry has infused both individuals’ and societies’ experiences of games with values and norms” (Fron).
Another important example happens in a plot event about half-way through the game. To get past a guard you must ‘seduce’ him by dressing up as a ‘sexy lady’ (I put this in quotes because the game does not have a very serious tone to it at all). This scene plays out the same way with both genders, your character borrowing a skimpy red dress, high heels, and some make-up from a friend. But obviously the implications of cross-dressing only appear if you have a male protagonist. I guess the feminists would complain that this scene is a product of the “third gender” (Fullerton) using over-sexualization to appeal to the gamer, but the fact that the scene plays out the same way with both genders, in my opinion, makes this a moot point.
Jenkins, H. (2004). Complete Freedom of Movement. The Game Design Reader, 330-363.
Laurel, B. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). The Hegemony of Play. In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan. 1-10.
Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space. In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia. 1-11.