Nier: Automata’s Refreshing Take on Gender How Yoko Taro's new masterpiece handles gender in the dystopian future

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Sci-fi and fantasy have long explored topics related to the borders of consciousness, of technological beings that almost breach the threshold of humanity. These genres beg of us to ask: what makes us human? What is the purpose of life? These are the riveting philosophical questions at the heart of Nier: Automata. These aren’t the questions I want to talk about though.

What I want to talk about is the assignment of gender roles on these human-like robots, and how Nier manages to subtly subvert the traditional notion of gender as applied to these non-humans. When we speak about gender, we usually explain it in terms of evolutionary needs. We say that men had to hunt because women were at home with the children, that, decades later, men have to work in the office because women need to take care of the home. Nowadays, with such vast technological expansions, the need (if there ever was a need) for such strict, gendered lines is vanishing.

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Future Gender

Nevertheless, in the genres of sci-fi and fantasy, although robotic characters have no reproductive need for gender, they are still frequently assigned one anyway. To my pleasant surprise, as I was playing through Nier: Automata this weekend, I noticed that the game, while gendering some parts of the androids’ identities, still did its part to subvert your expectations.

Logically, androids in Nier have no gender―sure, they may have a concept of it, based off the teachings of  their human creators―but they have no practical use for it, biologically. Gratefully, then, Nier: Automata does not gender the relationships between these droids in ways beyond looks and pronouns. In a conversation between the main character, 2B, and her operator (think secretary) 6O, 6O asks 2B for some love advice. While 6O presents (and identifies) as a woman, the romantic relationship in question is with another female android. Refreshingly, this is not presented as a weird, nor is it presented as a central part of the operator’s character. In fact, it’s not really mentioned again directly. In some emails sent to 2B, 6O mentions her romantic aspirations, but never goes into detail. Like any other minor character in Nier: Automata, it was a one-off, a moment of comedic filler in a larger, darker universe.

Subversion

Outside of 6O, the game’s central characters also do their part to subvert your gendered expectations. 2B, to her own credit, is a strong, no-nonsense android, a real Jerk With A Heart of Gold. Conversely, 9S, her male sidekick, frequently needs to be saved, and is seen as equally capable to 2B, if not a little less capable.

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One criticism of the game is, quite obviously, 2B’s revealing clothing. Is it blatant fanservice? Sure. However, unlike games like Lollipop Chainsaw, I found 2B’s sexualization significantly less intrusive. Outside of her clothing, nothing about her personality, dialogue or combat moveset is made with the intention to sexualize or objectify her. No long, arduous camera pans from bottom to top. Is it ever answered why the human race decided to make their android warriors a bunch of scantily-clad action girls? No, of course not. But really, with such good story, fantastic combat, and a surprisingly progressive take on gender, I can’t find the time to care.


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Celia Lewis

Staff Writer at New Normative
Celia is a games and entertainment writer with a love of media that gives a voice to unheard perspectives. She has a strong belief that fictional worlds should reflect the diversity of reality. Besides that, she just really likes dragons and swords and aliens and stuff.

  • 大王 アレクサンダー

    “Is it ever answered why the human race
    decided to make their android warriors a bunch of scantily-clad action
    girls? No, of course not.”
    Yoko Taro answered that long ago.

    • I took it as her referring to an in-game explanation. Not every player is able to track down random developer interviews for explanations of strange in-game issues.

      Feel free to post a link.

      • 大王 アレクサンダー

        Took 5 seconds to google it but here you go:
        “To a question asking why a combat android wears high heels, Yoko Taro
        answered that the game is set 10,000 years in the future, so when he
        tried to imagine what it would be like, he thought about how it was
        10,000 years ago, and people back then probably would not have been able
        to imagine what it would be like nowadays. That’s why he decided to
        think freely and willfully about it. Since a lot of western games
        feature space marines and that kind of concept, he let his ideas flow
        freely and came up with a girl wearing heels in the future. Yet, the
        biggest reason is simply that he just really likes girls.”

        http://www.dualshockers.com/2017/03/12/yoko-taro-nier-automata-protagonist-2b-wears-high-heels-just-really-like-girls/

        • Celia Lewis

          I actually had read this previous to writing. As Greg said, it’s just something that’s never addressed at all in game. Which is totally fine, as he says, it’s all about his creative vision, regardless if I agree with it.

          • 大王 アレクサンダー

            (Spoilers ahead) They might not addressed it in the game for one reason: the Yorha battle models, especially the latest verions, were developed and created by the androids themselves not humans since humanity went extinct way before the events of Automata.

            They’ve said in the game that androids were based on their creators, the humans, plus since their body is made of god knows what type of metal, they don’t really need extra armour as protection, they are still getting destroyed by the machines with Battle Armor on .(C story line).

            Since humans designed the first batch of androids based on themselves they tried to create as perfect androids as possible, sadly sometimes after creating the androids humanity went extinct. Androids kept developing and uprading themselves still based on humans. Meanwhile from the game we learn that androids AND machines are pretty much interested in humans, how they lived, how they had fun, how they dressed etc… and they are trying to imitate us, humans, as much as possible. There are countless of examples for this in the game like Eve asking Adam why they needed to wear underwear. The answer is simple. Because humans did so as well.

            I guess at this point you see where this is going, even though the game might not address your question directly, it still gives small hints and its up to us and our imagination to create an answer.

          • Celia Lewis

            I’m not done with all the endings, so I’m not going to read this until later, but thank you for the info!

  • Ricardo Calero

    “9S, her male sidekick, frequently needs to be saved, and is seen as equally capable to 2B, if not a little less capable” This is actually really inaccurate. But it might be a spoiler if i go too deep into it, and it seems you weren’t very far into the story by the time of posting the article. However, it is stated early on that 9S is a more advanced android model. 2B, 9S and A2 are great characters regardless of gender, but 9S is both in plot and gameplay functions, much more advanced, and the one actually saving the day. I agree with most of the article, there is just no need to take credit away from another good character.

    • Celia Lewis

      Good points. To be fair, I was using the lense of ending A in this article, although I should have been more clear in that. To your other point, I was talking more about how the game frames their adequacy, as 2b is very by the books and exhibits traditionally masculine, take charge-ness, while 9S is a bit more goofy and spontaneous. I didn’t intend to say that 9S was less inept, and I totally love him as a character, only that he’s framed as having a less traditional yorha mindset.

      • Ricardo Calero

        yes this is true, also that 2B is more physically strong while 9S is more sophisticated in his abilities. This is a game that breaks the mold in many aspects after all. And that makes it one of the most memorable experiences in the medium in the last years.

        • Celia Lewis

          Completely agree!