Tackling the gender question is always tricky. Most companies ignore the issue (as in Call of Duty) or enforce blanket equality (BioWare’s RPGs), but Nival is going full steam ahead and tying your real-life gender to gameplay. We spoke with Epic Games producer Tanya Jessen to get a hardcore female gamer’s perspective on the issue.
“I love the idea that people are thinking outside of the box as far as getting men and women playing together,” Jessen says. “I’m battling with that every day. It’s so funny. In my household, both me and my boyfriend are gamers and we always want to play games together, and there are so few cooperative games that we can play in the same space.”
At the same time, the claims of sexism that come up any time you don’t have 100 percent parity between men and women is a concern. “At its core, I don’t agree with the idea of, because I’ve signed up as a female, now I’m pigeonholed into playing a type you think I should play,” she explains.
Outside of the obvious concern about being shunted off into a secondary role, Jessen is largely positive about the ideas behind Prime World. She likens Prime World’s approach to class-based MMOs, which have traditionally held broad appeal for female gamers. The explicit references to gender in Prime World’s design may have a hidden benefit for non-gamers, though according to Jessen: “It could be a real boon for a woman who’s never gamed before. The recognition that, ‘Oh, this is for me.’ But it’s kind of hard to say because nobody’s done it before, so it’ll definitely be interesting.”
Nival is taking a huge gamble on the idea of tying players’ real-life gender into their game experience. On the social side, your sex determines which activities are available during a visit. For instance, where a guy visiting a guy may launch a hunting activity, a couple of girls visiting might go shopping together. In the multiplayer sessions, male and female players have different heroes available to them at the beginning of the game, with female heroes skewing more toward support roles and male heroes tending to be front-line fighters.