Do Cyborgs Dream of the Perfect Pump?

During November 2014, Digital Extremes (DE) ran a charity promotion through their popular free-to-play game Warframe (2012) supporting the Movember Foundation. The Movember Foundation has gained some notoriety recently for asking supporters to grow a moustache during the month of November–hence Mo(ustache)-vember–in order to raise awareness for men’s health issues. For DE’s “Moframe,” as they called it, players could adorn their in-game avatars with moustaches, with new and more elaborate versions unlocked as the promotion reached donation goals. To announce the event, publicize received donations, and showcase the unlockable moustaches, DE created a Moframe website featuring two playable avatars donning ‘staches: Excalibur and Mag. While there is no surprise that Excalibur, the first warframe and posterchild of the game, appears on the site, Mag’s presence is somewhat unexpected. The Mag avatar is assigned female, and yet the site shows her trying on an assortment of facial hair (see Figure 1).

Warframe's Movember site
Figure 1. Moframe website featuring Mag

During the Moframe promotion, DE allowed female-assigned warframes as well as the male-assigned to put on the Movember moustaches. Of course, DE would not want to suggest that only frames marked as male could participate in Movember or that men’s health is only a male issue. In fact, putting a moustache on Mag and other female-assigned frames highlights the obvious and awkward bias of Movember itself. I point it out here because Warframe’s Movember promotion exemplifies the complexity and slipperiness of gender in Warframe’s posthuman environment.

The discussion of gender in videogames has tended to focus on representation (Sarkeesian, 2014; Cassell and Jenkins, 2000). Though there is plenty to say about gendered tropes in Warframe, representational signifiers circulate through the game in unexpected ways. The game’s customization options and narrative setting offer the possibility and flexibility for hybrid configurations that undermine established tropes. And yet, these configurations are articulated through a persistent gender binary. What I want to suggest is that playing Warframe thus reflects back on or, rather, enacts the condition of its players, whose participation in digital culture allows play with and between gendered signifiers though never without the residual binary structure.

***For more, please check out Well-Played, vol.5, iss. 1.***