[this post contains very small spoilers for Part II of Neverwinter Nights 2]
Thinking about gendered space in game worlds is fiddly because each player brings their own gender with them. I'll do the gamer drag thing later, I guess, but for now I can only hazard guesses about how much more welcoming the NWN2 gameworld would look to a male PC.
I am, as I am getting tired of being when it comes to gender, more vigilant than I'd like; I know that in games like this male is the default, for NPCs as well as PCs; women like Kana, Brelaina and Torio feel hopelessly token because the public spaces in the game are overwhelmingly gendered 'male'. I'd love to not be distracted by this point, but it's there. There's very little female visibility in the gameworld.
I'm just into Part III (of III) of this game, and how many female temple officiaries have I met? None. The only two female religious types around are playable characters; no other druids or clerics we've seen are women. How about the smiths and other merchants you rely on to keep your inventory turning over? Offhand I can think of only one woman among them, Nya in Port Llast, who is also a sweet soft plot hook due to her rustic paranoia over necromancers. Watchmen? This is where Brelaina looks really token; she's their leader, apparently, and she's also the only one with boobs except for my player character. Yes, having named female NPCs in important plot roles is an improvement on where we were in BG1, maybe, with just evil priestesses and the odd crazy wizardess/diviner. It also just makes it look even more weird that the rest of the world is overwhelmingly male. Where are all the missing women? Is there some genetic quirk of this world that makes 75% of useful, interactable characters male, or what?
(Oh, and Kana? Slanted-eyed person who talks about 'the Way' and says you couldn't understand because it's so totally Other? Not even slightly Orientalist, is it? Fuckssake.)
Then there's the Neverwinter Nine, Nasher's very favourite hired killers. The only female one we've met so far, Melia, has this SEKRIT IDENTITY because for some reason that's better than her just being one of the Nine poncing about in the cute blue outfit in the same way Callum and Nevalle are, owning the same public space as they do. You will never, ever, guess what her sekrit identity is. Ever. It's something that has never been worked into the story of a prominent female sci-fi character ever, ever, ever before.
Above and beyond wondering what it is about guys who write sci-fi and their obsession with collectives of whores - and why (with few exceptions; Galvena in BG2 was one) in sci-fi, male pimps/leaders of whores are evil and female ones are good, as if somehow happy hookers are more easily defensible as happy hookers if their pimp/leader (Ann-Hari, Nandi, Mrs Palm, Ophala, Gail) is a woman rather than a man, when in reality all this crud is authored by men anyway - why do so many prominent tough-women-in-sci-fi have sex work as part of their personal journey? Men never do. But we've got Ann-Hari, Molly Millions (and Mona), Mitsuko Souma...
Here, Torio makes the unsurprising admission that she was once a bar performer - singing and dancing, something which is given distinct gendered overtones, not least because there is totally not a rampantly gendered cliché about women fucking themselves into positions of political power (and other jobs, see Kaylee freaking Frye).
One thing I find quite positive is a change they've made in the voiceovers; previous AD&D RPGs have often had some voiced dialogue, some not, and have formerly gone into great linguistic contortions to keep those voiced lines gender-neutral. NWN2 instead frequently makes such lines gender-specific, so clearly they've gone to the minuscule data expense of recording two versions of each such line. And seeing as they've gone to the trouble, I'm going to be ruining their day by looking for slip-ups. Thus far I've hit only one - Daerred called me 'he' this one time. I'll be doing another playthrough sometime, not least because part I has two different routes and I want to see both; it'll be interesting to see if there are any slips in the opposite direction. (There was one such error in BG2, made by Jaheira in the Galverey estate; I swear blind she says 'she' in place of a 'they' that appears in the text, even if you're fronting as a guy).
Thus far into the game (unlike the last one), there has been little romance. Just Casavir and Bishop taking turns to sulk at me. But I know what NWN1 was like and I keep wondering if Shandra's really hitting on me or if that was just my dykey imagination; is any of her dialogue (particularly during the vigil) different if you're playing a man, or differently charged, or leading to different moments later? I guess I'll find out if I come back here in a few months time, but my guess is that the dialogue is the same but the male version gets more romantically charged later - as if (within eternally heteronormative gamespace) you can address men and women as being exactly the same and yet only really mean it if you're fronting male. (If anyone out there's played this game with a male PC, please let me know about this).
I do rather like Shandra, but, that twee little speech she gave later about HOW VERY AWFUL it must be to suffer maternal bereavement when you're young? Urgh. As if I've not heard enough of that sick fetishisation IRL.
It's a fun game, even a fun story once you're out of the dire tutorial and part I, but I could wish I didn't have to put up with this crap to get my fun stories.
[also, hello to a certain red person who has been reading my blog from her workplace lately. *beams*]