In the year of our lord 1993, Manchester based rock band James released the song Laid, featuring these lyrics:
Dressed me up in womens clothes,
messed around with gender roles,
dye my eyes and call me pretty (EEEEeeeeeeee eeeee… )
If you haven't heard it, give it a go - it's a nice little tune. Here's a link, stick it on in the background while you read the rest of this.
Anyway, I brought it up because that song popped into my head this morning, then came back to me during a conversation about Skyrim.
We've got some advance code in the office, and so I've just started out on my journey through Skyrim as the Dragonborn. This naturally led to a conversation about what races different people in the GameSpot UK office were picking, and what gender they picked.
Personally, after a prolonged period of deliberation, I decided to go for a male imperial. I initially thought I'd play as a wood elf, but they looked a bit much like popular children's character Oaky Doke, and that freaked me out a bit.
I was also extremely tempted to play through as a woman, as that's what I'd done with Bethesda's Fallout: New Vegas (to which I will return shortly). Ultimately though I opted for a man - a decision I think was predominantly made for me by the ad campaign.
Let me explain - as a video producer, it's pretty much guaranteed you'll edit more than a couple of videos about each AAA title in the run up to its release. Generally this means you'll end up editing with the same trailer(s) over and over again. With Dragon Age II for instance, it was this one
The result of which being when I got my hands on the game and started playing, I didn't alter my Hawke. At all. With the exception of changing my class to rogue, I didn't touch any of the customisation features, because I already had him fixed as the protagonist in my head.
With Fallout New Vegas on the other hand, the ad campaign was more about, well, headshots than anything else, so I felt a lot more free to toy with the character customisation. Knowing it would alter how NPCs behaved toward me, I decided to try the game out as a woman, and ended up really enjoying myself. I liked the different character interactions, and Benny seemed like more of a tragic figure than I think he would have had I played as some super macho guy.
Playing through New Vegas I felt like I was in control of a strong, feminine character, and crucially didn't find the experience seedy. I felt it was pitched extremely well, and allowed me to enjoy the experience free from any pre-conceived ideas of how I 'should' have been playing the game.
Yet somehow as I sat there in Skyrim's customisation menu, flicking the slider from male to female and back again, I found myself with a growing feeling I couldn't really pick a female character - and I think that's largely down to the adverts.
In all the trailers released so far for Skyrim, the main character has been a male one - indeed if one were approaching the franchise entirely cold, it wouldn't be at all obvious that one could play as a woman. Granted it also doesn't show off any of the races on offer, but thanks to the big horned helmet, the exact race of the trailers' Dragonborn is relatively ambiguous.
What isn't ambiguous is that it's a man. The beard, the voice, even the booming choral soundtrack (which is awesome, by the way) all scream MANLY TIMES at the viewer - the end result being when I was designing my character, I ultimately went 'nah, Dragonborn is a MAN.'
Some Publishers of course do take steps to try and accommodate the female contingent in their advertising campaigns. However, as was the case with the Mass Effect 3's Femshep voting, this can often just come off as tasteless more than anything else. Phwoaar, Femshep et cetera.
Now, it's entirely possible I'm just spineless. Maybe I'm just highly susceptible to adverts. I think working in games journalism we get sometimes get exposed more consistently to advertising campaigns than most, but then they are designed to influence our opinions on the product in question.
Anyone else feel like ad campaigns can sometimes limit the way we approach a title, as much as they get us excited for them?
Ahh you think you're so pretteeeeeEEEEEEEEEeeeeeee...
EDIT: Perception of Dragonborn as giant manly man further enforced since publication by appearance of Dragonborn as giant manly man in office.