Runner 5 is not a “she”. Runner 5 is a “you” and “I”.

I can guess fan art and fanfic are bound to flesh out details of character appearance etc., like hair and skin, that the canon may never tell us.  Sometimes rich detail makes it more interesting, even if, like a movie made from a favorite book, it doesn’t jibe with how we’d always pictured them.  I’ve even seen signs of some emerging consensus, maybe it’s called “fan canon”, sort of like Sulu’s first name, which was not part of the Star Trek canon until the last movie.  I guess that’s okay as long as it doesn’t limit the imagination of other fan writers by pressure to conform.

But there’s one thing I find jarring.  A good portion of the fannish works I’ve seen (just started to get into them last month) seem to have quietly decided — or for all I know it was debated a year ago somewhere in the uncharted depths of Tumblr — that Runner 5 is female.  That one bugs me, because Naomi obviously did script-writing acrobatics to avoid personal pronouns that would reveal Runner 5’s sex.  She even cleverly eased us into it:  at first Sam and Maxine couldn’t see or hear Runner 5 and naturally used the indefinite pronoun “they”.  Then they saw a grainy image, and finally Sam greeted Runner 5 in person, and everyone stopped using pronouns altogether.  No other person is referred to in so carefully ambiguous a manner, except once in the Radio Abel segment “B.O.” when discussing an “ex”.  And it’s obvious why:  As players, we’re not only playing the character, but we’re actually doing with our bodies the primary thing Runner 5 does, which is to run — we’re not faking the running, or at least walking or some form of exercise.  Naomi et al obviously understood that many of us would feel more comfortable identifying so physically with the character if the character resembled us, and gender is a very central part to many people’s identities, especially when focusing on their bodies.

So it just seems sloppy somehow for fan writers not to take up the challenge of keeping Runner 5’s sex ambiguous.  I certainly had fun with that in my “Got Your Back!” story, especially in the early dialog where my protagonist teases Sam with his fixation on the new Runner 5.  I tried to write it so that the reader could believe whatever they chose:  that Runner 5 was female, or that Runner 5 was male; my protagonist could be teasing Sam whether or not he really believes Sam is bi.

Since I apparently missed the memo, can anyone explain why so many fans depict Runner 5 as female?  I’ve got some made-up speculations on what’s going through fan writers’ minds:

  1. They’re female and decided to think of the character they identified as being female (a deliberate extrapolation of canon).  In that case, same response.  And ask yourself if you’d find it a little weird if other fans started doing fiction or art that depicted Runner 5 as male.  Anyway, why not use another runner or invent your own, not the one whose body some of us who are guys are running around in?
  2. They’re female and they always just assumed Runner 5 was too.  Did anyone actually miss the careful ambiguity in all those missions?  Did I just catch it because I’m male and after hearing that the old Runner 5 had been female, I was listening closely for Sam to either express surprise when he got a visual or for him to start using a female pronoun, so that I noticed when neither ever happened?
  3. They want to “ship” Sam and Runner 5, and Sam is known to be interested in women and has never mentioned any interest in men.  I mean, in real life when a guy mentions multiple ex-girlfriends I usually take that as prima facie evidence that he’s hopelessly straight.  Then again, if I lived in a township where the adult male population was probably about two dozen and few of them could be as nice as Sam, I might not give up so easily.  Again, why not use another runner?  Sam might fret over their safety just as much when we can’t hear him.
  4. The trailers show a female Runner 5.  Does anyone actually believe that, or am I just attacking a straw man I’ve set up?  Because obviously the woman in either the trailer is not playing Runner 5.  She’s playing a typical player playing Runner 5, one who happens to be female, but we come in both varieties.  You know how I can tell she’s not Runner 5?  No zombies.  Also, no backpack stuffed with canned food, clothing, fuel cans and live chickens, and her own clothing and equipment look more like what a player might have.

Those are all just my conjectures.  What’s are the real reasons?  Or have I just stumbled across an unrepresentative sample of fan works?

  1. fatalrepercussionslove reblogged this from webuiltthisnicky
  2. leafguards reblogged this from mylittlevombucorn
  3. text-onlynopromises reblogged this from walkverybriskly and added:
    If it bothers you so, write some where he’s male. Or ambiguous. Frankly speaking, ambiguous fics are by far one of the...
  4. tumblyorro reblogged this from mylittlevombucorn
  5. stopongreen reblogged this from selphish
  6. animoctopode reblogged this from mylittlevombucorn and added:
    There are so many things in this that make me grin like an idiot.
  7. wearerunnerfive reblogged this from galacticdrift and added:
    yes good all the claps
  8. mylittlevombucorn reblogged this from galacticdrift and added:
    I stood up and cheered in my living room and I tried to read this out loud to my folks but my voice keeps cracking...
  9. handwritingofgod reblogged this from walkverybriskly and added:
    Yeah, assuming the writers just want to ship Five with Sam or are too dumb to notice the ambiguity tends to be somewhat...
  10. galacticdrift reblogged this from walkverybriskly and added:
    Let me lay it out for you in super basic terms: because we can. Because why not? Because that’s what fanfic is all...
  11. walkverybriskly reblogged this from galacticdrift and added:
    Yes, I’ve admitted I did make the title deliberately provocative to grab attention enough that people would read a post...
  12. elegantpi reblogged this from galacticdrift and added:
    *applause for galacticdrift & co.* "I’m suggesting that I’d find fanfic more approachable if it either didn’t use Runner...
  13. that-misery-chick reblogged this from pawlikethebear
  14. dorkery reblogged this from walkverybriskly and added:
    …AND? SO? Do you know how rare it is to have a cast made up of more men than women? And these women are written, not to...
  15. pearwaldorf reblogged this from picapicae
  16. pawlikethebear reblogged this from crazedteensie and added:
    ^ This.
  17. crazedteensie reblogged this from pawlikethebear and added:
    As a lot of people do, I think OP is confusing ‘I have a right to be annoyed about this’ with ‘everyone should stop...
  18. aretheregingersincardiff reblogged this from galacticdrift
  19. facingthenorthwind reblogged this from thehappyexistentialist and added:
    you said it much better than I did, thank you.
  20. webuiltthisnicky reblogged this from walkverybriskly and added:
    Sorry that you don’t find the idea of female protagonist accessible. It must be so hard to play action games / read...
  21. picapicae reblogged this from facingthenorthwind and added:
    Reblogging for fantastic responses all round, but I can’t believe we’re having to discuss this again after Mass Effect’s...
  22. thehappyexistentialist reblogged this from walkverybriskly and added:
    wow, do you realize that you just implied that it’s not okay for a narrative to have more than one empowered female...
  23. thuglifepuglife reblogged this from that-misery-chick and added:
    Just a Reminder that Zombies don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl, they’re going to bite you no matter what. So run. But...
  24. zombieswilleatme reblogged this from facingthenorthwind and added:
    Oh yes this. I love Naomi’s responses.
  25. stelladea reblogged this from facingthenorthwind and added:
    This fandom is the best. Your responses are worded flawlessly.
  26. trelan reblogged this from galacticdrift and added:
    Have I mentioned lately that this is the best fandom ever, or…?
  27. sciencemyfiction reblogged this from selphish and added:
    I haven’t played this game, not being a fan of zombies generally, but the final post commentary is just very accurate to...
  28. straydog733 reblogged this from walkverybriskly and added:
    Wait, so just because you’ve noticed that a lot of people use female pronouns for Runner 5, you assumed that no one else...