Due to admittedly justified console favoritism on the part of Naughty Dog, I have yet to play The Last of Us—a state of affairs I lament, give its stellar reception. I get most of my information about the game from a close friend, who has told me “Winter” is her favorite section because she gets to play as Ellie. I understand that feeling, since I just about backflipped off my couch when I learned Elizabeth was going to be the player character in Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Part 2.
What these two games have in common, among other things, is the prevalence of a male and female duo as main protagonists. Playing as such dual-gender pairs where both characters contribute to the success of the mission—either by player controlling both characters, or playing one while the other acts as a critical AI partner—is a dynamic that’s has been picking up steam in western gaming; examples as early as Ice Climber have led to more complex and intricate relationships in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Half-Life 2, Halo and the aforementioned Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. While criticisms have been leveled at some of these depictions—some claiming, for instance, that Elizabeth is little more than a vending machine and Ellie is “weaker” than Joel—they are nonetheless an interesting evolution in western gaming, and a positive step in regard to gender equity.
However, in examining this dynamic, attention must be paid to one particular game that often isn’t included in discussions of gender in gaming—a game that utilized a dual-gender pair so equitably and so seamlessly that it rarely draws attention for the effort, because it seems so effortless. Naturally, I am talking about Banjo-Kazooie. Of course.