I thought it might be interesting to take a stab at analyzing a non-digital game for once. Look, guys! Actual tangible media to play with! Isn’t this cool? I’m taking a look at a board game called The Last Night on Earth, a game in which you need to eradicate a small town of its zombie population before time runs out.
I’m going to skip over the mechanics of the game because it’s honestly a bit complicated, and I wanted to focus on the character design rather than the gameplay. For the sake of explaining some of the character abilities, players use dice to move their characters around the board and to determine the outcome of a fight between the characters and the zombies. There are also weapons and perks that can be picked up during the course of the game.
There are eight characters to choose from: two male and two female teenagers (the high-school quarterback Johnny, the Sheriff’s whiny trouble-seeking son Billy, the high-school sweetheart Sally, and the farmer’s daughter Jenny), and one female and three male adults (sexy Nurse Becky, Jake the Drifter, Sheriff Anderson, and the local priest Father Joseph). The distinction between teenager and adult is only really relevant in terms of how many hits it takes before the character will die; teenagers take two hits, while adults take three. Players draw their character at random, which is handy in a way; they don’t get to choose whether they’re playing the booty-shorts-clad farmer’s daughter or the scruffy-looking drifter. Choosing characters based on appearances in this game wouldn’t really do you any favours in the long run.
Both genders have a Youth perk, just for the teenagers: they can sacrifice moving for a turn in order to fully heal themselves.
The male characters have the following traits:
Tough: wins fight on a tie (Johnny)
Blitz!: fights a zombie immediately after moving onto a space, and keeps moving (Johnny)
Track Star: May add +1 to his Movement Dice roll. (Billy)
Sheriff: Starts the game with a Revolver. (Sheriff Anderson)
Man of Action: Instead of searching, may take a Revolver from Discard pile. (Sheriff Anderson)
Resourceful: When drawing a Hero Card, may take two cards and choose which one to keep (discard the other) (Jake the Drifter)
Holy Man: May not use Guns and may not be the target of This Could Be Our Last Night on Earth (Father Joseph)
Strength of Spirit: May take a wound to cancel any Zombie Card on the roll of 3+. (Father Joseph)
(Note: The “last night on earth” card requires a male and a female character to be on the same space. They don’t move or fight any zombies ... they just ... I don’t know, bang? No sexy-times for the good Father, and no same-sex sexy-times for anybody.)
The female characters, on the other hand:
First Aid: At the end of the Hero Turn, may Heal one wound from another Hero in the same space. (Nurse Becky)
Handy: May add or subtract one to any roll when testing to see if a Hand Weapon breaks. (Jenny)
Farm Girl: While in the Cornfield or Barn, may roll an extra Fight Dice. (Jenny) (Having a hard time not thinking that this was viewed by the creators as a ‘roll in the hay’ play.)
Lightweight: May not use Guns except the Revolver. (Sally)
Lucky: Once per fight, may force a zombie to re-roll any number of its Fight Dice against her (Sally)
So let’s see: male characters can potentially move faster, have more health, win more fights, have better access to weapons, have the options for which bonus cards they get, and can ‘play the hero’ and take a hit to cancel out the move of a zombie ... and female characters can possibly heal someone else, maybe fix a weapon, pitch a zombie into a haystack, have limited access to the available guns, and gamble at doing better in a fight.
There are also NPCs in this game, including a shop teacher, a mechanic, the school principal, a deputy, and a county doctor. All of them are male, except for — get this — the farm dog named Old Betsy, who is left on the board somewhere to slow down a zombie. Isn’t that nice.
A few of the cards are decidedly feminist-unfriendly. One depicts quarterback Johnny shielding farm-girl Jenny from some unseen harm; in another, he is holding a flare and looking very much in charge while she follows him, appearing to be at least a head shorter than he is; in yet another, called ‘Unnecessary Self-Sacrifice’ (excuse me while I gag), he is fighting off two zombies while she yet again stands in the background, not getting involved. I don’t know about you, but of the three women in the game, I would think that she would need to be protected the least. Her player token wields a chainsaw and farm girls are stereotypically rough and tough and capable of holding their own. Couldn't they at least keep that part of the trope?
To make up for that lack of character strength, though, there is a card with sweetheart Sally kicking the crap out of a couple of zombies and not looking the least bit frightened, and two cards with Jenny similarly kicking ass and taking names. (Begs the question why she needed Johnny Biceps to look out for her in the first place.) The rest of the cards depicting female characters, though, have the character looking defenseless and afraid, while the cards with male characters have them all looking like confident action heroes. Poor Nurse Becky doesn’t get to look tough at all.
For another dose of masculinity, there is a card called ‘Just a Scratch’ with a male character looking down nonchalantly at deep gouges in his arm. To counter it, however, there is the ‘Overconfident’ card, depicting Johnny with his fists up, surrounded by shambling zombies.
As a final note, the players’ pieces are made to visually represent each character. Know what I noticed once I started trying to identify who was who? The quickest way to sort the men from the women was to look at their legs. The women’s legs are all bare, as well as Becky’s and Jenny’s arms (and Jenny’s stomach; I think she must be a Calgary cowgirl, in that she really isn't one at all), and all of the men are completely covered in clothing. I think we have the male gaze to thank for that. It’s cool, ladies don’t need our limbs. Let’s leave ‘em all nice and exposed for zombies to chew on. Now that I think of it, the zombie markers all appear to be male. Maybe it’s all right to leave our lady-flesh our for them to snack on after all — doesn’t look like we’re in any danger of joining the shufflers!
All in all, as fun as the game is, if you pay attention to the character design, it’s a bit insulting. There’s a smaller margin of playable success for female characters and that’s never enjoyable, at least not for me. I want to go toe-to-toe with the guys. Like G.I. Jane, only without actually going into the SEALs, ‘cause that’d be ridiculous.
Oh, and did I mention that all of the characters are white?