Female figures routinely appear in popular fiction as ostensibly critical correctives to masculinity who can inadvertently retrench problematic divisions between “Woman” and “Man.” In video games, these figures are often aural rather than visual; whether they are off-screen narrators, nonplayer characters, framing devices, or divinities, players regularly hear voices without seeing their source. While many games leave voices off-screen for reasons of technical and economic constraint, developers may restrict voices in this manner for other reasons as well—or at least with other consequences. The voice is a particularly potent site for the production of sexual difference, and the restriction of the female voice to relatively narrow protocols can result in the reduction of female characters to mere agential functions. This article offers brief critical readings of the acousmatic female voice in five recent games—BioShock (2007), Gone Home (2013), The Stanley Parable (2013), The Talos Principle (2014), and Firewatch (2016)—that illustrate the complicated connections between gender, games, technology, and the political. It then turns to the work of Super-giant Games, a small developer responsible for four critical and popular successes. Rather than reducing women’s voices to agential player functions, Supergiant’s first two games, Bastion (2011) and Transistor (2014), pose these voices as an affirmation of the characters’ agency. Moreover, because of the distressing character of this affirmation for certain players, Supergiant at first represses these characters’ speech. Although they are rendered voiceless, they are anything but powerless.
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Liam Mitchell; Damsels Who Distress: Gender and the Acousmatic Voice in Video Games. Camera Obscura 1 September 2020; 35 (2 (104)): 63–93. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-8359518
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