It’s a game that famously includes anything you could ever imagine – chicken men, zombie pigs, scale models of people’s bedrooms, even a complete (and awe-inspiring) replica of King’s Landing from Game of Thrones. Minecraft is known as a “sandbox” game, because you can build and find and roam around in/as anything people can create. Except you can’t, by default, be a woman. Well, that’s about to change.
Ever since Minecraft was officially released in 2011, the player initially takes on the role of “Steve,” an average Joe looking for blocks to harvest. He wears a turquoise-colored shirt and what may or may not be jeans, and he is, in most respects, quite a lovable character. Of course, you can download skin packs that change the appearance of your character, or even make your own skins, but when you boot up the game for the first time, you’re only given the now-famous mug of Steve. According to Minecraft‘s creator, Notch (a.k.a. Markus Persson), this is because the world of the game lacks any concept of gender: “The human model is intended to represent a Human Being. Not a male Human Being or a female Human Being, but simply a Human Being.” Notch sees adding a female model as limiting the conception of gender – one model would stand for the universal male, and one for the universal female, leaving little to the imagination and putting a lot of pressure on developers to define exactly what a male or female “should” look like.
Notch’s idea is great in theory – in an ideal world, it would cause us to question the idea of “gender” as it exists in our society, and the roles that it often forces us into, perhaps even helping people to realize that gender exists on more of a continuum than as a binary system. The problem is that whatever Notch’s intention, the default character is known as Steve, he has stubble, and he’s officially known as a “he” by the Minecraft team. So instead of the “human model” representing a “human being,” it’s representing a “male Human Being,” and implicitly suggesting – as many forms of entertainment often do – that the male experience is a universal one.
So, the news that Minecraftwould be adding “Alex” to the mix was understandably exciting. The announcement for the addition of the default Alex skin included this revealing quote: “Steve doesn’t really represent the diversity of [Minecraft’s] playerbase.” Minecraft is one of the best-selling video games of all time, and not a small portion of those sales are due to women: female players make up anywhere from 25-30% of Minecraft’s audience, and as the number of female gamers increases in general, that percentage can only go up.
What’s perhaps more important is that a large portion of Minecraft players are under the age of 15, and it doesn’t take you long to realize why – this is the video game form of being a kid. Thinking up worlds, creating characters, playing around in the dirt, watching wolves devour pigs. Well, maybe not the last part, but you get my point. This is a game that’s amazingly accessible to younger players, and serves as a great gateway for a larger interest in and passion for gaming in general. For the young girl who got Minecraft as a birthday present, or plays it with friends, or bought it with her own money as her first game, who has maybe been told – by adults, siblings, friends – that video games aren’t really for girls, but who loves to play anyway, who doesn’t know about paid skins or mods – having Alex, seeing herself in a space where anything, even a female default character, is possible, could mean the world.
Alex is available now on Xbox and PlayStation, and will be available this summer for Pocket Edition.