SOMA vs Hirdmans Gender Theory

Playing science fiction horror games through

a swedish gender theorist’s eyes

Hirdmans Gender Theory

Yvonne Hirdmans gender theory is the first official Swedish theory regarding gender and the first stated theory on gender as a concept. And by that I mean the first to mention gender as a social thing rather than biological. It’s the difference between gender and sex. Her theory has two parts: (1) The separation of gender: Men and women are split up in society by jobs or status, consciously or unconsciously men and women are put apart, it might be the way we think of jobs and hobbies or occupations as “for females” or “for males”- such as nurse as a job for women and sport as a thing mostly practiced by men. Then there is (2) The male dominance: The theory that in situations where men and women are not split up, men are still dominant – given more attention, listened to, relied upon or put in a higher position than women because one believes men handle situations better. Examples of this could be literally speaking : A movie where the main character is a man and female characters are not as important to the story. Or it could be in a broader sense where men are seen as more important in society because they contribute more or differently from women.

SOMA

SOMA is a Science Fiction survival horror game. It is about a man who wakes up years in the future (y2104) after a brain scan in 2015. He is faced wtumblr_nvmssxoWue1r1n44mo1_1280ith the end of the world, the question of what the definition of a human is, rogue Artificial Intelligence and the task to save the ARK – the last remains of humanity. He constantly asks himself where the line between human and inhuman lies and to what extent a human can survive without it’s humanity. He travels through an underwater facility where he meets robots who think they’re humans, humans who’d rather be robots (or dead) and a cute little helper robot that helps him through struggles without words. The game was made with consciousness as a theme and is developed to explore the nature of free will and the self.

 

Motive and Hypothesis

I want to see if Hirdmans gender theory could apply to SOMA – a game that shows different sides of humanity and has many characters with close to an equal number of men and women. It shows humans at the end of their time and under stressful situations that in reality would bring out the true nature of them. I’ll go through the two parts of the theory and view the applicable parts of the game to see if they sync. Because of the reasons stated above I don’t think it’ll be a clear line between men and women and an obvious difference between gender. I feel it could be a case of a well planned game – gender wise. But on the other hand, since it’s a constructed scenario, it’s all up to the writers of the story if the theory would apply or not.

Separation of gender

In SOMA’s future there’s only a few specific people still alive and these people live underwater. The surface has been wiped out by a comet and only the people in the underwater facility survived. We learn the story of their fate through recordings and emails as we play a man who comes to this world when it’s already on the brink of total destruction. Since the surface was wiped out there are mostly scientists and doctors left because the underwater establishment – PATHOS II – was a research facility. The scientists were stationed at PATHOS II since before the comet. Of the scientists we get to know, most of them seem to be women, including the scientist whose work shows to be most important to the plot – Catherine Chun. She is introduced to the story some time into the game and then becomes a companion – a brainchip in a door opener – but till we meet her we are basically alone and male. Aside from the scientists there are security people – in charge of the facility – and one or two technicians. These are all pretty much divided equally by gender. Though the highest security officer is a man – Strohmeier, there is not anything overly separate about the ranks given to males or females. They weigh up. Having almost all humans wiped out shifted the gender equality slightly and as a result the remaining men and women are at least respected equally. There is no mention of “You can’t do that since you’re a woman” or “You should be fine, since you’re a man, this should be easy for you”. Everyone respects each other’s ranks and work.

Men in focus

It’s not obvious in a way that disturbs the game but there is a small case of “men in focus” in the game. Not only because we play as a man and watch the world with his thoughts and through his eyes. But also in the way characters are introduced. As mentioned earlier there is a relatively equal amount of male and female characters, but some seem to bear more weight to the story than others. It’s mostly in the details:

A long way into the game we only hear the female characters. We listen to them through recordings left in the facility, but we never meet and actually talk to one of them. Until we encounter Catherine there are very few characters we meet that we can interact with. But when we do meet someone it’s a man. A man trapped in a robot but still a man.

And then when we finally find a woman, she’s hooked up to a life respiration machine that drains the system of power. The only thing to do to move forward is to detach her from the machine and kill her.maxresdefault

It may not mean much but it’s symbolism – the woman is just in the way. It may not be what the game developers thought of when they created the game. Just playing the game we may not even notice it, but looking at it through Hirdman’s theory makes it obvious.

Also: The monsters. As this is a horror game you can’t avoid mentioning the monsters and just as an observation – all of the monsters are men. A few of them get backstories – how they ended up being deformed beings on two legs trying to kill everything they see – and some are just obvious by the character design. A hint: Not all of them wear proper clothes.

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This may also not be anything that the game makers made a throughout decision about but it puts men in focus of the story. And as Hirdman’s theory is about the views of gender as an unconscious thing we do in social situations, the fact that it was thought of or not doesn’t really matter. Even if it’s the act of running away from someone, you’re now actively thinking of that character and so that character is important to the game. Many of the monsters carry information that move the story forward. Some of them are necessary to defeat to continue. They are important to the game. The fact that they are men just adds to the fact.

Aside from Catherine who becomes a somewhat constant companion after her introduction, there are very few female character that are necessary for the movement in the game.

The game is created so that you could either get the full experience: action, monster chasing, story and adventure. But you could just as well chose to run through it all, guns blazing and not collect a single piece of backstory to anything. If you play the game this way there will only be three women in the whole game that really matter. Four if you count the girlfriend of a male staff that you need to use against him to get a necessary code, but we can can play the game without her. The three are: the girl you need to kill to get back power to a part of the facility, Catherine and the last pure human on earth: Sarah Lindwall. She is the one who has the ARK- the drive with the brain scans of the last people on earth in it. She dies after a conversation that leads up to her begging you to kill her, but really, everyone dies in the end.

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Still, except for these three women the key characters are all men. The doctor that scans your brain in 2015, the robot who introduces the problem with minds inside inanimate objects, the man who holds a certain code you need to proceed and also introduces you to what a copy of a person’s brain can mean on a more emotional level. The creatures that hinder and chase you through the underwater facility, the “ghost” of a man that helps you on the right track towards the end and you. You are the last human on earth when the ARK is shot out in space and the door opener’s batteries die and take Catherine down with them.

There is no hint of “men being more important” or them being “superior to women”. But it is certainly a story that puts male characters in focus.

Conclusion

Hirdman’s gender theory is applicable only on one part of the two. The separation of the genders in the game is not obvious or troubling. I would even say it’s better than most situations in reality. There are women of higher status. As mentioned before: most of the scientists are women, and those are the people who matter in this apocalyptic world. All characters are presented with names and most of them with titles. That itself is a way of putting men and women together and not separating them based on gender but rather on actual capability. Based on characters, there are also not many female characters who are not “smart”. A common thing in movies and games is to have an emotionally oriented female character who makes “stupid” decisions based on her feelings rather than logic. We thankfully do not meet such a character in this game and so there is no division between men and women based on knowledge either. They’re all humans – they think and behave like humans, and with the first part of the theory in mind, this works to make them equal.

As for the second theory: The male hierarchy, I would say it’s properly applicable. As a story that revolves around male characters and that even if the female characters build onto the story, puts men in focus. In that way maybe the separate theory would apply too: the male and female characters have importance in two different parts of the game. The female in the story part and the male in the visual, the action part. As said earlier, you could play the game without the story and so the “female part” is not as important. It’s not necessary in the same way. You can have the action without the story but not really the story without the action that wouldn’t be a game.

And thus the theory is applicable, but only to some extent.

As an afterthought: if all roles had been switched, would the reaction to the game as gender neutral or not still be the same? If you played as a woman and looked at the world through her eyes, would the game still be the same? Would you still enjoy it in the same way? Even as a female gamer, does this way of building a story contribute to the experience of the game?

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I need you- together

Darkness fell, stars lit and Senai drove in circles around the dock. Sam leaned out the window and screamed joyously as the wind blew his hair slick back and made his eyes teary. Amen was heard too- his screams borderline panic and as Senai drove past them they saw him in the backseat, holding on to Sam´s chair for his dear life. Saul and Jasper stood in the very back out on the loading platform. 

Saul´s hair was lit pink, swirling around his ears and Jasper´s eyes sparkled in the evening darkness. He opened his mouth in a silent exited scream and as he let go of the car´s roof to spread his arms to feel the speed of the car and the wind underneath them, almost as if he was preparing to fly. Saul stopped smiling for a brief second as he grabbed Jaspers back to push him back and force him to hold on to the roof again. The car made another turn and they shifted, Jasper leaned with a happy smile plastered on his face on Saul and wrapped his arms around him instead of holding on to the car. Saul couldn’t hold back his smile and he supported Jasper and they yelled in unison. 

Nicola’s eyes followed Senai in the driver’s seat. He was smiling at the other’s commotion. Taylor ran weakly after the car as it drove away and when it turned around to come back he matched Sam’s exhortations and yelled back at him as the car chased him back to Nicholas. They all laughed. Then Senai turned the car one last time and parked decimeters from Nicholas. Sam reached out the window and grabbed Nicholas’s hand. Senai rolled down the window and told him, and Taylor catching up to them, to get in. He opened the door and Nicholas and Sam switched. Saul jumped down from the loading station and went to sit in the back with Amen. Sam and Taylor jumped up with Jasper and they yelled at Senai to” Start driving!!!”

Sam wrapped his arm around Taylor as the car drove from the dock and up on the main road. It was pulling towards late hours and when Taylor leaned back into Sam’s arm he could look up at the stars passing by over them. Jasper pointed at something and him and Sam talked loudly about it. Taylor looked at them and then joined in as they seemed to be done already. They explained and a knock on the back window made them look around. Saul waved from inside, he was not wearing a seatbelt and Amen grabbed his arm and it looked like he told him to put it on. Saul laughed and waved it off. Jasper sighed and rolled his eyes. Sam pushed him lightly and pulled Taylor closer. 

They were still laughing. 

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I need you- to tell me what I can do! 

Jasper would never get over the feeling of being a little to young, a little too tall or a little too childish. A little too bright or a little too dark. A little too loud and taking up a little too much space. Taylor would pull back when they talked and Saul always kept things from him; they didn’t tell him everything, always left something out. Sam was always so nice, almost a little too nice. There was never anything wrong. Senai and Nicholas doted on him (or looked down on him). He would never get close to Amen. Clara was the only one who told him no or asked him for favors. She was the only one who dared to move him to get the space she needed. Jasper would sometimes think, he could never have found a more fitting person to spend the rest of his life with. 

But nothing lasts forever, right? Things changed and Jasper was pushed away. Not directly. Not permanently. It was not that they didn’t want to be with him or have his help it was just… 

” I don’t want you to get involved, you shouldn’t have to bother with my problems”

“You wouldn’t understand and… that’s good I don’t… I don’t think I want you to understand”

“You can’t do anything”

“You’re moving away, you should leave without any reason to come back”

“Don’t leave anything behind that you would regret”

He didn’t understand- because no one told him or explained it to him. They wanted him to “stay innocent” and always smile. 

The party they threw in his honor of changing schools, because his parents had finally come to pick him up and take him with them, was much like every party they ever threw. The only difference was: no alcohol. And no alcohol meant a shy Sam and an easily bored Taylor. Jasper went home early. Saul followed in an hour. He said Senai had gotten a weird fit and Nicholas and Taylor was taking him to the hospital. Jasper could barely muster a “will he be alright” because he knew the answer: “I don’t know”. 

With Amen they knew, the answer to the question was “yes”. Yes, he wouldn’t dare to wreck himself to that extent so: yes, he’ll be alright. The answer to Taylor was “No”. No because, yes, he do dare to wreck himself to that extent and there is no one, not even Sam, that knows how to stop him. No, he will not be alright, but who will ever? 

Senai just was. He didn’t wreck or build he just sat and starred at the building blocks. 

Jasper wanted them to talk to him. Tell him why. Answer what. Tell him how. But they leaned closer to each other and closed him out, consciously or unconsciously. He was outside. Even Clara started to look at him like he would fall apart if she even touched him. She never asked but he knew she wanted to. 

“Will you take me with you?”

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I need you- to smile

Nicholas was already standing by the large iron pillars by the water when Taylor reached the peak of the hill at the beginning of the dock. Nicholas was carrying a bag over his shoulders and his hair laid flat on top of his head- he looked tired, his shoulders were dropped and he was leaning on one leg to rest the other. Taylor jogged down the hill. The sound of his boots sweeping through the wet grass like wind in his ears. Nicholas turned around when Taylor reached the concrete part of the dock and his shoes stomped against it’s surface. They looked at each other for a few seconds before Nicholas smiled and held out a hand to grasp his. Taylor moved forward and they caught each other’s hands briefly.Nicholas reached around Taylors back with his free arm. Taylor didn’t return the favor and Nicholas only patted him slightly on the back before they pulled apart. Silence followed. Taylor didn’t know what to say, if he was in the right- or if he had a responsibility- to say something. Nicholas as the trusted older brother he was broke the silence before it got too overbearing.

“The others should be here any minute” he smiled at Taylor and turned to see if there was a dry spot on the dock where he could sit down. There probably wasn’t. He took off his bag and sat down on it. 

Taylor nodded slowly and looked out over the water. 

The dock´s edge was just a few decimeters above the surface of the water and from where he was standing it kind of looked like it was all laid out in one movement. The ground simply growing out into the water and continuing on to the others side. The others side, which was only ten or eleven meters away from them, it could have been even closer. Sometimes it felt like they could as well be standing over there, that it was so close they could just walk over whenever they wanted. But Taylor had never been on that side. The dock itself, the water surrounding it and the port on the other side was a floodgate. The dark water in-between was a canal, it never moved and never wavered. Taylor looked out over the water and on the factories and docking stations on the other side. They were all covered in a dim, grey light and rising between the constructions were deep shadows. Nicholas followed Taylor´s gaze. He was just about to say something when they both heard a car approaching. Taylor turned around and Nicholas stood up. A familiar black pickup truck came around the dock´s parking space and drove steadily towards them. They could see Jasper and Sam wave through closed windows from the back seat and as it took a turn to stop they got a glimpse of Saul leaning to look out from in-between the two. The car stopped and they jumped out followed by a sleepy Amen from the front seat. Taylor smiled as Jasper and Sam called his name and came to wrap their arms around his shoulders. Saul greeted Nicholas like they were old sophisticated men and Jasper looked back at them and laughed. Sam smiled widely and held on to Taylors back as Saul came to say hello.

“You should have called yourself” they said as they joked about Taylor not wanting to be with them anymore and them “getting tired of Taylor´s shenanigans”. Nicholas walked up to the driver’s seat and opened the door. Senai stepped out, checking twice if he had the car keys and closed the door after him. Taylor saw how they looked at each other and noted that they opened their mouths to talk, but he could not hear them and decided, as Sam and Jasper pulled him to the dock’s edge, that it was none of his business. Saul went back but only to pull Amen away from the car, grabbing his sleeve and leading him towards the younger ones. Amen yawned and smiled at them. Sam let go of Taylor to grab Amen´s arm and they chatted loudly about nothing in particular as they leaned over the edge too look down in the dark water. Jasper squatted down and reached out to touch the water. Amen looked over to the other side and noted that the shadows looked like people. Saul laughed sharply and sat down on the iron pillar´s edge. Sam held Taylor and Amen around their shoulders and smiled. Suddenly, Senai appeared behind Jasper and pulled him back just before he was about to reach the water. Jasper whined and the others laughed. Nicholas joined them and 

Taylor caught himself smiling happily.

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Lonely wind

lonely wind in the desert

03

Tal was a lot easier to deal with, he believed the second I showed up and he greeted me with a smile every time I came to visit. He was a fast learner and after only three visits he had mastered his powers to the point that we considered moving him back into the city. I said I would help in the ways I could, even if they weren’t many, but he told me I had helped just by getting him this far.

“After a month in the desert a little company is all you need to feel grateful” he said jokingly but I saw he actually meant it and that it hurt talking about it. He hadn’t met his family or friends since the accident, not even a call, and he was indeed lonely. Forty miles from the city´s border. He told me, still with a voice that indicated that he was joking, that he had matured during the last month, that “solitude teaches man a lot” I smiled and nodded. Talking with Tal was like breathing and never did we not know what to say. When I came home from visits with him I always felt at ease and I could go for weeks without thinking about neither Chaymi nor Erian.

The fourth time was the last unconscious visit to Tal. He stood on his bike, driving down to his parent´s house and almost hit me, who appeared on the street in front of him. He laughed in shock and said he was happy to meet again. We walked and I asked about the bike and the place in question. He said he had decided he was in such control of his powers that he could come back home. He had been home for two days and he said his parents were happy to see him. I knew he had been worried that they would blame him for what happened, but it seemed a month was enough to turn their hurt to guilt and longing for their only son. I was happy to hear about it all working out for him.

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Strength of the Body

strength of the body

Urh… I can´t make this one work as it should…

02

 

He breaks the glass and shards fly all over the kitchen. He sighs and leans down to start cleaning it up. Lucky it was empty, he thinks and cuts himself on a glass shard without noticing it. Then suddenly Kelcey is standing in the living room, facing away. He stands up and throw the shards in the sink before drying his hands on his apron to walk out to Kelcey looking through his bookshelf.

“You said you like the dark kinds of stories” he says without looking at him “those were people die and you are forced to think while reading, not only receive…” He pulls out a book from the shelf and turns it to read the back. Erian cross his arms over his chest and feel the almost familiar sting in his nape as he look at Kelcey´s eyes running down the book´s side.

“I never told you that” he says and it made Kelcey turn to finally look at him. He smile. “Right” he says and put the book back in it´s place. He looked mellow but better than before; his eyes weren’t as dark and he was standing straighter.

“I have missed you” he says. Erian didn’t feel the same and so he turned to walk back out into the kitchen. He picks up the last few glass shards and turns around to ask Kelcey if he was going to sit down. The apartment is empty and he is alone. He sighs and continue washing the dishes.

He remember, the first time he meet Kelcey he had appeared with a smile on his face but tears in his eyes and he looked tired. He slumped down by his side. Erian moved away and looked at Kelcey with wide eyes and hands clenched to fists. Kelcey had asked with a weak voice “Just one last time” and he forced Erian´s hands into his and he held them uncomfortably tight as he looked down on the ground when he talked. “Twelve” he said “That means this is the last time” he sighed deeply and it was as if he sunk into himself when he did. “I won´t lie, I did get attached, even though you told me not to” Erian pulled lightly to get his hands back but Kelcey held them still. He looked down at him. Erian looked up to meet his eyes filled to the brim with tears that refused to fall. He was confused. Kelcey told him many things during a very short period of time and so he wasn’t sure he had understood all of them. About his , Kelcey´s, powers somehow also effecting time and that he wished it could have been normal with him as it had been with the others. About what person Erian would be and that he, even if he was a year younger, was proud to see how he had matured during such a short span of time. Erian back then barely listened and when Kelcey disappeared in a puff of light and smoke he did his best not to remember. But he was reminded; Kelcey came back. He always came back…

The fourth time they spent almost two hours just sitting quietly. And now, he visited for barely two minutes and he only came to say he missed him. Erian did not understand what was going on and he didn’t like not understanding. He placed a plate strongly on it´s shelf and he heard it crack. He cursed loudly and brought it back down to throw it away.

Introduction to Distorted Story 

It’s year 2xxx in a world not very different from ours.

Our story follows a martyr. The one who died in flames. An unwilling savior. And what she did to save the already doomed.
The antagonist. Climbing towards an impossible goal and wrecking everything in his way. The force working against the antagonist. A man who rose so high only to fall- smash his head into the concrete and die. The two lovers story is decorated with blood and tears of joy but also times of absolute quiet.

The protagonist is a little girl but her story is told through others.

It’s a distorted story about love and hate and a need to live but living with the knowledge that you have to die. chiyuuu sketch

We play with our fates and wish for the best as we stumble deeper and deeper into thick white fog of oblivion.