The dictionary defines the word ‘androgynous’ in several different ways: Being both male and female, having both male and female qualities, having an ambiguous sexual identity, or having staminate and pistillate flowers in the same inflorescence. For the purposes of this list, I think we can ignore that last definition.
But the point remains that video games (RPGs in particular) have a habit of introducing characters who, at first glance, can’t really be identified as male or female, and in some cases are both or neither. These are characters who leave us scratching our head when they first appear, wondering to ourselves whether they’re a him or her, or even manage to trick us into calling them the complete opposite. Hell, some very noteworthy or famous characters have actually switched genders during their tenure in the gaming world.
Androgynous characters aren’t just limited to Japanese RPGs either. During this list, I’m going to try my best not to use too many Final Fantasy characters because god knows that’s the first place that everyone’s head is going to turn when you think about androgynous characters. Now, as always with my lists, only one character per game. So let’s get started and take a look at the characters that just make us wonder if the word ‘gender’ has any meaning anymore.
Yes, it’s pretty predictable to put Birdo on a list like this, which one of the reasons why she’s at the top of this list. The other reason is that I’m pretty sure that almost every Mario fan is aware of Birdo’s origins as one of the first characters to actually change gender. The original booklet for Super Mario Bros. 2 described birdo as a guy who thought he was a girl.
That being said, though, any and all official descriptions of the character nowadays lists Birdo as a female in an attempt to retcon this little fact. But any old-school gamer will tell you the truth about Birdo. She used to be a he. It’s a confusing situation, but leaves Birdo cemented in the minds of gamers as the world of gaming’s first ever subject of sex change.
Even in her current depiction, you have to admit that she looks fairly butch. And much like our dear friend Yoshi, Birdo has the ability to lay eggs… through her mouth… or is that a mouth at all? Alright, I’m clearly thinking too much about this, and it doesn’t really matter that much, but still, I can’t help but wonder about Birdo’s physiology when the topic of her… its gender is brought up!
The Tales series is almost on par with the Final Fantasy series in terms of androgynous characters, and while there are plenty of characters I could have chosen from, many of the characters are easy to guess upon hearing their voices, even if you have a hard time accepting some of the slender, long, red-headed, wide eyed characters as being male.
So I decided on a bit of a curveball. Genis here has the distinction of being the only child on the list. Of course, ‘child’ is open for interpretation since he is a half-elf and consequently lives much longer than standard humans, but that’s rather superfluous to the fact that he looks and sounds like a girl. The fact that he looks so similar to his older sister doesn’t help him much either.
What I find extremely laughable is the fact that he’s the game’s black mage. That’s right, people, the kid with silver hair and crystal blue and white matching shorts and shirt is the one who casts the spells that makes the people fall down.
Speaking from personal experience, I could immediately guess that Zelos in this game was actually a guy, but I went through the first part of this game thinking that Genis was actually a little girl! But one of the reasons that he is so far up this list is because he is in fact a child, and therefore his age is more to blame for his ambiguity.
Faris is a pirate captain that starts off as an antagonist to the main heroes, but soon enough switches sides and becomes one of the main party members for the entire game, and even loans the pirate ship out to the other characters to help get them from port to port. However, when we first meet Faris, we’re lead to believe that, like all pirate captains, she’s a man.
Of course, after a rather hilarious scene where two of the other characters sneak into her bedroom, we learn that Faris is, in fact, a woman posing as a man. This one ends up lower on the list mostly because it actually makes sense in terms of history, with women posing as male pirates, but it remains hilarious because Faris is described as having a very gravelly voice and a traditional pirate accent that persists through the entire game.
However, she loses some points because, well, unlike other androgynous characters, for her, it’s rather intentional, and done due to the circumstances she finds herself in, unlike other characters who just naturally look like gender benders. Thus, she scores lower than characters who are, for all intents and purposes, unintentionally trying to confuse us.