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NieR's Gender Confusion

NierReplicantKaine.jpg

One territory very few games have explored is that of gender identity or fluidity. Welcome Kainé of Square Enix's NieR Replicant (at this point, there remains confusion over the fact that there appear to be two titles, and this one would be a PS3 exclusive). The game's protagonist, NieR, will have an AI-controlled partner in the form of a futunari, a female-bodied character with a penis. According to the game's mythology, demons are in the practice of growing a penis during possession, as that's how Kainé was presented with such.

It's a bit too early to tell where this character is headed, though sources such as Kotaku have posted magazine scans (one to the right) and stated:

Her, his, its Kaine's attitude and manner of speech are manly -- but she/he/it emphasizes her female qualities through her racy fashion style.

While we are facing a character that may question the status quo along the lines of sex, it does seem that any difference in gender is still along essentialist binary terms (guys, you can't be interested in fashion; girls, don't be gruff or assertive in speech). At the same time, it's nice to see a character present who doesn't conform to only one set of personality traits, especially in contrast to how NieR himself appears.

Proceed past the jump for more.

Unfortunately, but as is to be expected, in many of the comments I've read on various sites concerning this character, the automatic assumption is that we're dealing with a hermaphrodite and it seems pronouns are something with which everyone is wrestling. Your interpretation may vary, but until Kainé tells me what Kainé prefers to be called, I won't be making any assumptions.

Considering games' lack of intersex (including hermaphrodites) or trans people, this could be a step in the direction of more diversity in games. Then again, Kainé, based on these initial scans, is very sexualized, and we may be dealing with a fetishized representation, a stereotype many trans and intersexed people seek to eschew.

What of yourselves? Concerns? How would you address Kainé based on the sparse information given thus far? Does this strike you as more trans or intersex? Perhaps you have a more appropriate term for this particular person? Please, share your thoughts.

21 Comments

Hey Vorpal (I'll have to remember not to use your proper name here)! Really excited that you're publishing here now, because you need to be writing constantly :)

I think this is problematic because it equates androgyn-insensitivity and transgendered individuals with possession by demons. That's a problem, right? It's a literal manifestation of the idea that the impulse toward sex change or mixing comes from a dark, evil place. Is the futunari meaningful in Japanese mythology, or is it just from hentai?

Nexus said:

Hah! This has about 5% chance of being brought over.

Pace Smith said:

I would not dare to presume any pronoun for Kainé; if there is demon possession involved, I'm going to play it as safely as possible!

I like your take on the issues this brings up, though.

Austen said:

Good first post! I think this is only a good first step if gamers are ready to accept the idea of an intersex person in their videogames. Seeing as most gamers get squeamish at inklings of same-sex attraction in videogames, I don't think the game format is ready for these concepts.

But believe me, if a game had a well-done, not-a-cookie-cutter trans/intersex person somewhere in the lines, I'd be all over it. :)

mixvio said:

There does seem to be a lot of confusion about whether or not this character is supposed to be physically a hermaphrodite or simply a female who'd been possessed by a male demon. There was a Japanese-speaking commenter on the Koatku article who said that from the translation it was meant to be the former, IE, the possession had "added" male sex organs, so she was meant to be a female changed into a hermaphrodite.

As you point out though the representation seems extremely sexualized, so I don't know if it's positive or not.

I did really find it troublesome how often the writer on Kotaku referred to the character as "he/she/it." It really made me groan.

Welcome to GayGamer though from another new writer. :)

Zeta said:

"I think this is problematic because it equates androgyn-insensitivity and transgendered individuals with possession by demons. That's a problem, right? It's a literal manifestation of the idea that the impulse toward sex change or mixing comes from a dark, evil place. Is the futunari meaningful in Japanese mythology, or is it just from hentai?"

Demons aren't necessarily negative in Japanese culture, and can be good or neutral. They're treated more like Western depictions faeries (can be friendly and cute, alien or dangerous, or manifestations of nature) than anything.

High Off Pixels said:

I think, ultimately, there will be a group (probably a large minority) that will mindlessly sexualize the character, however sensitively S-E attempts to treat NieR.

Ideally, we hope that NieR is presented as a strong person, independent of gender portrayals. Of course, with the character design what it is, one can only hope so much.

At the least, it can't possibly be as terrible as Anne McCaffrey portrayal of and homosexuality and dragons.

Atma said:

Personally, I think it's a neato idea. We don't really see this stuff outside of porn games. We'll have to wait and see with how the character is dealt with as to whether it's a positive or negative influence, and with someone as big as S-E a lot of people are gonna see this, but we gotta start somewhere.

Resurgam said:

I don't think there is any question about how this character is being represented. I don't see this as intersex or transgender awareness on the part of the creators. Futanari are sexual objects. That's all.

girloftomorrow said:

hey VorpalBunny, thank you so much for taking a stand on this game. I think it's horrible that Kotaku doesn't have better bedside manner when it comes to these types of things.

I really hope this game makes it to North America, because it is the first of it's kind (that I know of) and we need more visibility of trans people very badly.

Tzivya said:

As I posted there, I think one pronoun we SHOULD rule out is 'it'.

I read the Kotaku article before reading this one, and commented on it. I'll probably get flamed, but oh well. I'm sensative to the whole thing at the moment, being trans myself, and with the whole Caster Semenya travesty going on.

I hope the game does good things and treats the characters respectfully, though probably it won't. But more, it would be nice to see the gaming community do so. That, sadly, is even less likely.

Drakey said:

Were I to dare to presume for the sake of answering the question and just placing on the table what my mind is speaking, I would begin with the Feminin. From what I see in the image above, which is all I am going on as this character is completely new to me, she appears to be comfortable with her female aspects.

However; were I to meet her face to face at a bar, and I were to sense a more prodominant masculine spirit (and I mean my spidy senses are tingling stuff) where my eyes are seeing a perhaps more feminin presentation, I might just ask her outright if I am being rude by presuming the feminin in my speech. Its a tough chunk of ice to crack, but better sure than frozen.

And that is how I think I would handle the situation. I wonder if I would have gaul to ask, or would it matter? no idea. lost on that one...

:)

faePuck said:

Ohh yes - it's always fun to watch the trans-illiterate flail while coming up with pronouns for a transgendered character. The horribly dehumanizing "it" comes up way too often, since it's a quick coping mechanism for someone reacting to the personal limbo of realizing it's possible to feel/be/do more than one gender.

In a perfect world, I'd love to see a whole mess of characters in this world be transformed, from the protagonist to the bit players, such that a lot of the character dialogue becomes an examination of how it feels to touch the other side of the coin, or--even the space in between.

But it really does seem (considering only its origin) that it'll be a sexualized lone character, with some interesting relationships built but ultimately only using intersexuality as a source of humor and a macguffin. Still, there's something to be said for taking a stand (or a motorcycle) for simply bringing the idea of intersex bodies into the public consciousness, since there are generations of medical mutilation trying to suppress the very idea that they exist.

Also: excellent article, Vorpal! :3

angelus errare said:

I'm not sure what to think yet as there is so little information about Kaine. I mean, I like the idea of having a (well-portrayed) transsexual/transgendered or hermaphrodite character in a game, but Kaine's situation is a bit different from most. It makes me wonder if Kaine has a split-personality since she's demon-possessed. Does she embrace all aspects of her personality? Or just grudgingly puts up with it? Or maybe I'm just asking too many questions and Kaine's just a futanari? I guess we'll all find out when SE is ready.

Platy said:

I see this as a lost case ... i doubt that it will have any importance to the plot and will only work as some kind of over sexualization of the character ...

We need more "birdos" and even "bridgets" .. not "praticaly nude girl n367" who happens to have more futanari fanart =P

and yes, poison i'm looking at you ¬¬

jizzy6879 said:

dude kotaku didnt even say anything bad. just looking for a reason to bitch. in the game woman grow dicks when taken over by a demon and have the demons voice and you take it out of context i love fashion laugh at it mostly those shows are sad at times and i know like 4 women with a real deep voice just calm down ha

VorpalBunny said:

Yeah, Simon, as Zeta states, demons in Japan do have more of a spirits attitude to attach to them; so until we learn if it was a malicious possession (which has not been indicated even in tone), it's hard to tell.

I agree with many of you that I have hopes, though they aren't high. I saw futunari mentioned in various comments and message boards, though nothing officially using that term. If that's the design Squeenix is aiming toward, then we have every reason to believe that we're dealing with a sexualized form of person, not really anything astoundingly groundbreaking (though it brings up the question Mixvio brought up in an earlier post, whether or not any representation is a step in the right direction, or if it's just a slap in the face).

Jizzy, the insult I perceived as done by Kotaku, and the one that had me banging my head on the desk was the use of the pronoun its. While gender confusion is to be expected for people never having dealt with trans issues, using a form of pronoun that is reserved for objects can be very demeaning and objectifying to people who live their lives in either a trans or intersexed body; it's not a gender neutral pronoun, something we lack. While this is something to which we can likely not relate, but it is something of which we can be conscious.

Nexus said:

Even if they were evil demons, so what?
Part of wanting equality in GLBT characters is that they aren't all going to be heroes.
And why should they? I've always found villains infinitely more interesting.

Also, I doubt most people will think about it that deeply. And those that do think about these thing will hopefully be smart enough not to make such ridiculous connections.

mixvio said:

Nexus,

I guess it really matters the context in which Kaine is transgendered or a hermaphrodite; if it's the way Kotaku reports and she's simply a female who was possessed by a male demon, that's hardly any translatable representation of transgenderism I can think of. If the possession has given her male physical characteristics, as said by one poster on Kotaku, that might make her physically transgendered, but it ignores most if not all of the very real psychological issues that transgendered people deal with on a consistent basis.

Also Kaine isn't a villain, I believe she's a main character/sidekick to the game's protagonist.

Somehow I don't see a female possessed by a male demon as a great beacon of identity for the LGBT community, but that's me.

Thanks Nexus, I always seem to be lacking in anonymous trolls calling me ridiculous on the Internet.

@Vorpal @Zeta Thank you for clearing up the cultural difference re: demons for me!

cheshyre said:

It seems as if there is currently a lexical gap in pronouns for being able to describe someone who identifies as having a fluid gender or is not currently defining themselves as either end of the binary she/he.

However for reporting and writing purposes it doesn't seem to be a solution to ask the individual how they want to be referred to, since often writing about a situation doesn't necessarily indicate interaction with the individual. Or, as in this case, it is a fictional character who would not have a response.

Morrison used the word "hir," in describing a character that possessed traits of both genders which was interesting and seemed fairly effective at conveying the information of a pronoun without assigning a binary gender trait.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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cheshyre on NieR's Gender Confusion: It seems as if there is currently a lexical gap in pronouns for being able to describe someone who identifies...

Simon Ferrari on NieR's Gender Confusion: Thanks Nexus, I always seem to be lacking in anonymous trolls calling me ridiculous on the Internet. @Vorpal @Zeta Thank...

mixvio on NieR's Gender Confusion: Nexus, I guess it really matters the context in which Kaine is transgendered or a hermaphrodite; if it's the way...

Nexus on NieR's Gender Confusion: Even if they were evil demons, so what? Part of wanting equality in GLBT characters is that they aren't all...

VorpalBunny on NieR's Gender Confusion: Yeah, Simon, as Zeta states, demons in Japan do have more of a spirits attitude to attach to them; so...

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