What ‘AMY’ Says about Gender Roles in Survival-Horror Games

I’ve already written at length about the mechanics of AMY. While the narrative isn’t worth writing about, the game still has a few fascinating quirks worth exploring. Specifically, its use of gender.

Featuring women and children in a horror story is nothing new. Lana and Amy’s relationship is interesting on a mechanical level, but it’s too shallow on a character or narrative level to act as any kind of commentary on gender in horror. In fact, AMY doesn’t do anything new with gender roles, but it’s interesting because it offers such an obvious example of how both genders are portrayed in survival-horror games.

Women are portrayed in one of two ways in such games, and it mostly depends on whether they’re a supporting character or a main character. The protagonists are always portrayed as capable people, able to overcome the horror around them: Jill from Resident Evil: Nemesis, Claire from Resident Evil 2: Code Veronica, Heather from Silent Hill 3, Aya from Parasite Eve, Alexandra from Eternal Darkness, Regina from Dino Crisis, or the various girls from the Fatal Frame series.

On the other hand, supporting characters are always victimized “damsels in distress”: Ashley from Resident Evil 4, Maria from Silent Hill 2, Eileen from Silent Hill 4, or Mayu from Fatal Frame II. This trend even stays consistent when the same character changes roles. For example, Rebecca is scared and helpless in Resident Evil, spending most of the game hiding in a small room while relying on Chris to save her, but she’s much more capable and self-sufficient in the prequel Resident Evil 0, in which she’s the main character. (There are always exceptions of course, like Ada from Resident Evil 2 and 4.).

Men, whether they’re supporting or central characters in survival-horror games, are always portrayed as capable. There are the leading men of Resident Evil, Leon and Chris, James from Silent Hill 2, Henry from Silent Hill 4, or Edward from Alone in the Dark. But then we have supporting characters like Carlos from Resident Evil 3 (an actual soldier), Douglas from Silent Hill 3 (a detective who follows Heather throughout the game), Rick from Dino Crisis (another trained soldier), Steve from Resident Evil: Code Veronica (who is cocky and brash and exudes a naive confidence), and even Marcello from AMY (who sacrifices himself to save the women). All of these men are able to take care of themselves, and those in a supporting role usually try to protect the female protagonist, whether she accepts their help or not. When it inevitably comes time for the pair to split up, the men are never hesitant or scared. They know they can survive on their own.

With that background in mind, AMY becomes much more interesting once you realize that in a game with two female leads, every enemy or antagonist is a man: the soldiers, the zombies, the doctor who wants Amy back, and the malevolent-looking priest who shows up at the end dual-wielding assault rifles.

Whether done on purpose or accidentally, it adds a strange but scary level of gender warfare to the game. If you play enough survival-horror games, these gender roles become our expectation, and AMY uses the implicit assumptions of gender roles in horror to elicit tension. After all, if men are always capable and every enemy is a man, doesn’t that stack the odds even further against you?

This is most likely the result of working with a small budget (make one enemy type and repeat it multiple times), but regardless of the reasoning behind AMY’s use of gender roles, the results bring a focus on how all horror games use gender. It would be interesting to see if these roles stay defined in a sequel, in which minor characters might get a bigger role. For now, though, AMY remains a story of two women surviving against a bunch of men.