Gender Wars, The Game Where Men And Women Declare War On Each Other
Strategy and tactics games were having a moment in the '90s. StarCraft, Commandos, Homeworld, X-COM, Command & Conquer, Cannon Fodder—all stone cold classics. But when people reminisce about the genre's glory days, 1996's Gender Wars rarely gets a mention. Yes, that's right: someone really made a game called Gender Wars, which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a tactics game that imagines a dark future where men and women are at war. Not a metaphorical war, but an actual violent conflict.
"Back in the 1990s, men and women were bound by a 'politically correct' society to treat each other as equals," reads the ridiculous blurb on the back of the box. "But it couldn't last. Living without the harmonising influence of their natural opposites, each faction reverted back to their stereotypical ways. Small arguments eventually provoked separation on a global scale and the struggle for sexual domination erupted into the bitter and bloody Gender Wars." As far as premises go, it's certainly imaginative.
It's also really stupid. For some reason, gender equality has driven the citizens of this sci-fi future to regress into old-fashioned (even for a '90s video game) male and female stereotypes. The women are obsessed with shopping and bad at driving. The men are beer-swilling oafs who always leave the toilet seat up. It's the laziest kind of 1970s stand-up humour. The stuff you see printed in birthday cards for middle-aged men. Yet someone decided to base an entire game around it—and it's about as funny as you'd expect.
It's also a bad game, being a brazen rip-off of Bullfrog's classic cyberpunk tactics game Syndicate—but with none of that game's style, atmosphere, or polish. The maps are overly big and confusingly laid out, the tactical combat is about as deep as a particularly shallow puddle, the AI is laughable, and despite marketing itself as a comedy game, it's really just a series of tedious, drawn-out firefights. For a game with such a potentially provocative setup, it really is stunningly, disappointingly dull in execution.
If the idea of wiping out an entire sex sounds somewhat self-defeating in the long term, well, Gender Wars makes a point to address this in its story. In the male campaign, in a mission called Scrambled Eggs, your objective is raiding an 'egg shed' in the female capital city and stealing reproductive material. "Grab the ovum storage tubes and kill any women you see," the briefing says. "Remember, body count up, female population down." The women get their own version of this mission too, stealing frozen sperm.
To its credit, Gender Wars' rampant, gleeful sexism is not limited to one faction. It's misogynist and misandrist in equal measure. That's a weird thing to praise a video game for, but here we are. It also feels oddly quaint playing it in 2022, when the traditional ideas of gender are becoming increasingly outdated. In imagining what being a certain sex might mean in the far future, the best Gender Wars could come up with was: they might starting fighting each other in a war. In hindsight, that's pretty funny.
The developer could have leaned a lot harder into the humour, and maybe it would have ended up so bad it was good. But the vast majority of its 'jokes' are relegated to briefings and cutscenes, leaving the minute-to-minute gameplay bereft of any kind of personality. So it's perhaps unsurprising that Gender Wars rarely makes lists of the best strategy games of the '90s. But here I am writing about it almost 30 years later, because it's so absurd that I couldn't help myself. But hey, maybe that's the point.
Gender Wars' gimmicky premise would have been enough to shift a few copies, regardless of the quality of the actual game. Most strategy games of the era were about familiar wars between rival military factions or humans versus aliens. But here was a battle of the sexes. On paper, it sounds vaguely clever. Or at least unusual. But I feel bad for anyone who excitedly brought this thing home, installed it, and found themselves playing a crappy Syndicate knock-off with jokes their grandpa would consider dated.
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