It may be a mistake to try to do any serious analysis of Overlord II (2009), a game that aims to be a caricature of role-playing games and of the whole epic-fantasy genre, a game that is self-conscious parody from start to finish. It makes not the slightest effort to take itself seriously, and is completely unapologetic in its crassness, which is part of why it’s so much fun. Nevertheless, it’s not what one would call “socially progressive” in terms of its game mechanic and representation of gender!
O2 takes place in a magical fantasy realm full of elves, gnomes, halflings and all the usual trappings of epic fantasy in the Tolkien tradition. And of course there is a massive epic battle for power going on, but the difference is that you play as the evil Dark Lord seeking to cover all the lands in darkness. To help you are hordes of psychotic pintsized minions who rather closely resemble Gremlins in appearance and manner(s). With this army of oddly endearing creeps following you around, you journey across the land, slaughtering whiny elves, dominating human simpletons, clubbing gooey-eyed baby seals and collecting all manner of shiny treasure.
O2 takes place in a male-dominated world, by which I mean not that male characters outnumber female ones (although they do), but that those doing the domination are male. The Overlord and all his minions are unambiguously male. When women make an appearance, they are usually in passive roles, or they are enemies who get destroyed.
One symptom of what Fron et. al. (2007) call the “hegemony of play,” and one common complaint about role-playing games, is that the available avatar choices are ridiculously hypergendered, even hypersexualized bodies dressed in what Pearce refers to as “kombat lingerie” (Fullerton et. al. 2007: 3). The Overlord – the only type of “avatar” available in O2 – is not really hypersexualized, but is arguably hypergendered as an imposing figure who takes up a lot of space, but who remains hidden and mysterious. He’s certainly big, strong dude, but he has no visible muscularity. He’s clad from head to toe in big, heavy, spiky amour that reveals only his glowing yellow eyes peering out underneath his helmet from a blackness that might be some kind of deep shadow, or might actually be the colour of his face. He doesn’t really seem quite human (maybe he’s more like a big humanoid gremlin in amour). He also has no expression and no dialogue. Despite being the game’s namesake and main character, the Overlord seems to have no real identity of his own. Yet, while it would be possible to cast such an identity-less Overlord as either gender, since we never really see the body underneath, the game narrative is quite clear on this point: the Overlord is male. Perhaps the designers could not imagine what a female Overlord would look like, swinging a giant axe in the heat of battle to cleave unicorns in half. Perhaps they felt that a female ought to have more form-fitting, less fully-covering amour than their male counterparts, as is the convention for avatar design in MMOGs like EverQuest. While male characters can be big, ugly and hidden under layers of metal, designers seem to feel that females need to be properly proportioned, attractive and visible. It’s also possible that the designers just didn’t think women would enjoy going around smiting stuff very much.
The most active women in the game are the Overlord’s three
mistresses, whom he picks up over the course of the game and brings back with
him to the
Space is strongly gendered in the O2 universe. On the one hand, there are the ugly, chaotic
spaces that are the domain of the male Overlord. One such space is the
To briefly address mechanics, this is a combat game that, as
In any case, I’m inclined to defend the game, because I enjoyed it so thoroughly. When it comes down to it, I find that smashing and destroying things is plain old good fun.
But maybe that’s just because I’m a man.
Fron, J et. al. (aka Ludica). "The Hegemony of Play." In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital
Games Research Association 2007 Conference.
Jenkins, Henry. 1998. “Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as
Gendered Play Spaces.” In K. Salen and
E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The Game Design
Brenda. 2001. Utopian Entrepreneur.