While Markus “Notch” Persson is pretty vocal about his opinions, especially regarding people or companies who dismay him, his most recent tumblr post is controversial in a most pleasing way. Titled “Gender in Minecraft,” Notch writes that: “If it wasn’t for the fact that the default Minecraft character is referred to as ‘Minecraft Guy’ and that I once jokingly answered ‘Steve?’ when asked what his* name was, Minecraft would be a game where gender isn’t a gameplay element.” The asterisk after “his” leads to a clarification where he writes: “I do regret using masculine terms to talk about the default character. These days I try to use the up-and-coming use of ‘they’ as a genderless pronoun.”
He explains that the human in the game is, “Not a male Human Being or a female Human Being, but simply a Human Being.” He notes that while it might have a traditional masculine look, adding a separate female mesh would, “force players to make a decisions about gender in a game where gender doesn’t even exist.” It did, however, always seem to me that the “Minecraft Guy” had a Van Dyke.
It’s not just the people—all of the animals are genderless as well, and Notch made a point to model them with the most prominent traits of both genders:
“Cows have horns and udders (even if I’ve later learned that there are some cows where the females do have horns), and the chicken/duck/whatevers have heads that look like roosters, but still lay eggs. For breeding, any animal can breed with any other animal of the same species.”
He adds that this creative decision, “means every character and animal in Minecraft is homosexual because there’s only one gender to choose from. Take THAT, homophobes!”
I think what he means, though, is that there is no gender to choose from. Saying, “there’s only one gender to choose from” contradicts his earlier statement that there wasn’t gender at all. Unless he’s exceptionally progressive and accepts “third gender” as a gender in its own right, making all the creatures at once third gender and synchronous hermaphrodites. And two third gender organisms mating would, technically, be a homosexual act, while using “heterosexual” body parts. Well, anyway, I’m rambling and Notch didn’t really go into the biology or sexology of the Minecraft creatures.
Notch acknowledges that the graphics in Minecraft lend themselves to making characters genderless, and states:
“I’m not saying this is a good way to deal with gender in all games, as the better your graphics are, and because of how quickly the human mind tries to identify the gender of other humans, you are going to have to make a decision as a developer about gender, but I felt we could get away with it in Minecraft.”
Gender and gender politics is a huge issue for gaming, especially recently, following the catastrophe that was the reaction to the Tropes vs Women kickstarter, the reaction to Aisha Tyler’s presence at E3, the Cross Assault sexual harassment incident, and the Tomb Raider trailer and its fallout. While Notch isn’t making an outright statement about how gender is portrayed in gaming, or how a loud portion of male gamers react to sexism in gaming, it’s nice to see that it’s being acknowledged in some way by a very prominent developer. Even if it is just to say, “We’re avoiding gender altogether.”