Parkour and Gender
I’m still playing Mirror’s Edge. Free time has not been so readily available. Another reason for my slow progress is that I’m masochistically attempting to complete the game without firing a weapon. I also really suck at platformers, and a first-person platformer is even more difficult for me. Mirror’s Edge is not nearly as frustrating a platformer as Castlevania: The Adventure for the GameBoy, which is one of the most difficult, frustrating, and unforgiving platformers I have ever played, but Mirror’s Edge at times skirts the same level of frustration. I’m sticking with it because I really like the game.
The design team of Mirror’s Edge drew a lot of inspiration from practitioners of parkour, an activity which stresses practicality and efficiency, and challenges traceuses (women) and traceurs (men) to get from one point to another in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Today, I read an article called, “Parkour: Issues of Gender” which discusses gender issues in parkour culture. The article begins by stating that parkour culture, which is a gender-neutral activity and espouses a philosophy of universality, is male-dominated and has become masculinised:
…the image of Parkour has heavily coincided with conceptions of Western masculine heteronormative behaviour. While the media is largely at fault for this, the Parkour community has also played a role.
…it is important to note that almost all male bodies portrayed in the mass media of Parkour have been spectacularized.
It is often said that competition is a natural and inherent trait to the human species, and one can find intense competitiveness when looking at anything from football to dance to placement in a symphony. While this is true, direct competition is culturally engendered as masculine, despite the sex of the parties involved.
The article then goes on to discuss participation in parkour by women, in a section that echoes many an industry article regarding how many women work in the videogame industry:
It goes without saying that because few women get involved in the discipline, even fewer step up to play a leadership role. Yes, there are a few scattered here and there, who work largely under the radar for whatever reason. Ultimately, without female representation, less women will be inclined to become involved.
It discusses the differences between male and female bodies and how this may affect interest in parkour by women. Many women interested in parkour erroneously believe that they will build up muscle mass equivalent to men if they get involved in the activity; they are concerned about looking too masculine. Objectification of women in parkour culture, also something that we experience in the games industry (and everywhere else, really) was also touched upon:
Traceuse or not, women are rendered cultural spectacles. So much of “femininity” is derived in appearance, in making up what is “femininity.” It is when we see this that we understand that gender is a cultural fiction, because a woman must assert her femininity on the outside.
Quite simply, when it is spectacularized, the value of Parkour as a whole is diminished. All we do and all we have worked for, in a single instant, is trivialized into obscurity and meaningless cultural babble.
The concern for traceuses is that they will be initially and immediately spectacularized, and in a completely different manner than traceurs. This is often, in popular culture, referred to as “objectification.”
The author states that parkour is an activity for both sexes, all genders, all people, and for it to have such a masculine culture and to be so male-dominated goes against those principles, therefore practitioners should have more awareness of gender issues gender equality within the discipline. I thought the article was quite interesting and a good read. It’s interesting that DICE decided to go with a female protagonist in Mirror’s Edge, given that parkour culture is so male-dominated, but not so surprising considering their goal:
We’ve spent time in developing Faith. And the important thing for us was that she was human, that she was more real.
We really wanted to get away from the typical portrayal of women in games, that they’re all just kind of tits and ass in a steel bikini. We wanted her to look athletic and fit and strong [enough] that she could do the things that she’s doing.
I for one am glad that DICE chose to have a female lead in the game, and made the decision to depict Faith in a more realistic and far less sexualised and objectified way as compared to other female videogame protagonists. Hurrah for DICE!