Shakespeare’s Gamer Girls
Playable Female Characters
Keywords:Gaming, Gender, Gamergate, Shakespeare
When Matthew Harrison and Michael Lutz gave a comprehensive survey of Hamlet videogames, they subtitled their essay “Actions that a Man Might Play” (2017, 23). The borrowed Hamlet quote inadvertently demonstrates an implicit gender bias—the assumption that the players (and therefore the playable characters) of these games are more likely to be male. While female characters have been the focus of hundreds of Shakespeare adaptations across different media (novels, plays, films, music, etc.), particularly since the rise of feminist theory and girlhood studies, this trend did not initially include video or tabletop gaming adaptations. Shakespeare games with playable female characters remained rare until 2014, the year of the GamerGate scandal, when five new games were announced: two videogame Hamlets with playable Ophelias, two card games featuring Juliet, and a board game with Juliet and Viola as playable character options. Using theories of procedural rhetoric to examine the gendered implications of mapping Shakespeare’s narratives onto rules-based games, this essay explores games that break the pattern established by previous games that automatically placed the player in the position of titular male characters such as Hamlet and Romeo. By allowing (or even requiring) players to take on the goals and perspectives of Shakespeare’s female characters, these new games channel the rhetorical potential of gameplay to challenge preconceived notions of agency in both Shakespeare and gaming.