Bad Mothers and Fetuses from Other Dimensions: Phallic Mothers and the Representation of Pregnancy and Childbirth in Video Games (pp. 103-123)
David Muiños García
Universidade da Coruña
Video games are a recent medium compared to film or literature, but boast an immense cultural output. Their production values have escalated alongside their popularity. During this prolific history, most developers have ignored or misrepresented female characters and issues. However, the patriarchal perspectives that have given birth to certain ubiquitous tropes are not new, as they are rooted in earlier reactions to the presence of female literary production in Western culture (Francus, 2013).
Still, video games possess a unique device: player agency. It is defined as the ability of players to have effects and cause change in a virtual game world (Eng, 2020). It holds potential to create a powerful impression of the cultural perspectives it bears, in addition to engaging audiences in a more direct experience with them. When pregnancy, childbirth and parentcraft are at the core of a video game’s narrative or gameplay, they are still distorted by patriarchal misrepresentation.
This paper puts forward a typology of representation of pregnancy in video games based on Barbara Creed’s (1993) aspects of the “monstrous feminine”. Using the contrast between what she calls the pre-phallic “archaic mother” and what the Freudian imaginary considers the pre-Oedipal phallic mother, this article draws up a category of misrepresented pregnancy referred to as “the supernatural birth”. To illustrate, three case studies will be analyzed, interpreting their symbolic systems according to their use of horror themes and and their grotesque portrayals of female fertility, sexuality, and reproduction. These are: Bloodborne (FromSoftware, 2015), Dante’s Inferno (Electronic Arts, 2010), and F.E.A.R. 3 (Warner Bros. Games, 2011).
Thus, I expect to contribute to ludology studies focusing on gender, and to invite academic discussion into the matter of female-specific issues being shunned by cultural representations in video games.
Keywords: Cultural studies; gender studies; pregnancy; motherhood; video games
David Muiños García obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English Philology from Universidade da Coruña, where he also earned a Master’s Degree in Advanced English Studies. He also switches between his research interests and his passion for teaching thanks to a Master’s Degree in Teaching for Secondary Education. Currently, he is writing his PhD thesis, in which he looks into the representation of pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, and fatherhood in video games.
e-mail address: email@example.com
Agrogianis, Theodore. 2018. “The Roles, Mechanics, and Evolution of Boss Battles in Video Games”. Undergraduate Honors College Theses 2016. 45. Long Island University.
Creed, Barbara. 1993. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
Eng, Dave. 2020. What is Player Agency? University XP. Web. <https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2020/8/20/what-is-player-agency> [Accessed on January 29, 2023].
Hawreliak, Jason. 2020. “Experiential Rhetoric: Game Design as Persuasion”. What Is a Game? Essays on the Nature of Videogames. Ed. Gaines S. Hubbell. Jefferson: McFarland & Company. 19-34.
Henley, Stacey. 2020. Being pregnant changes everything: The game industry awkwardly grapples with maternity. The Washington Post. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2020/04/27/being-pregnant-changes-everything-game-industry-awkwardly-grapples-with-maternity/> [Accessed on January 29, 2023].
Holloway, Alexandra, Zachary Rubin, and Sri Kurniawan. 2012. “What video games have to teach us about childbirth and childbirth support”. Proceedings of the First Workshop on Design Patterns in Games – DPG ’12 (May 2012). 4:1-8. Web. <https://doi.org/10.1145/2427116.2427120> [Accessed on January 29, 2023].
Isbister, Katherine. 2017. How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.
ISFE. 2022. “Key Facts from 2021: Video games – a force for good”. Interactive Software Federation of Europe. Web. <https://www.isfe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/FINAL-ISFE-EGDFKey-Facts-from-2021-about-Europe-video-games-sector-web.pdf> [Accessed on January 29, 2023].
Lozano Estivalis, María. 2006. La maternidad en escena: mujeres, reproducción y representación cultural. Zaragoza: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza.
Seoane, Antía, and Maite Sanmartín. 2019. As mulheres que amavam os videojogos. Santiago de Compostela: AGAL.
Statista. 2023. “Distribution of video gamers in the United States from 2006 to 2022, by gender”. Statista. Web. <https://www.statista.com/statistics/232383/gender-split-of-us-computer-and-video-gamers/> [Accessed on January 29, 2023].Tyler, Imogen. 2009. “Against Abjection.” Feminist Theory 10. 1 (April 2009): 77–98. Web. <https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700108100393> [Accessed on January 29, 2023].
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.