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Thoughts and Things - Gospel of Exodus
January 20th, 2010
12:13 am

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Thoughts and Things
No, this is not another review already. I mean, there are new games out there that I am interested in, but I'm not about to go out and buy another game right away when there are still things I can do with the ones I have. No, this is actually a serious post about some thoughts I've been having lately.

It all started with the article I read on Bayonetta that I linked at the start of that review. It's a very well-written article, so go read it if you haven't already, but after I beat the game and kept playing longer I began to think about it more and more. There were a number of comments the author made that might have seemed trivial to her, but to me they sparked a series of thoughts that made me curious. Since most of the few people who still read this are female and gamers, I thought that this would be a good place to put these thoughts out and see what kind of responses I get.

It's hard to say that these days, women are treated equally to men. Sure, over the last century or so, we have had a lot of progress in women's rights and how they are viewed in our society, but for certain we have a long way to go. Change happens slowly, and after however many centuries of women being treated as being worse than men, it's not going to just turn right back around and be love and flowers in just a few decades. This change will take time, but I feel we are at least pointing in the right direction. Still, there are a lot of stereotypes on women that have prevailed over time, and I think hurt the role of women in main stream, especially movies and video games.

One of these stereotypes is the 'sexual woman'. We all know this type, its the attractive woman who speaks in a lusty tone, makes suggestive overtures, and generally tries to sleep with at least two people. I bring this one up because its a very interesting stereotype in that it has both positive and negative qualities associated with it, simultaneously, and by both genders (I'd like to note here that, when I use the terms 'men' and women', I am generalizing, not speaking for all parties).

The positive qualities are the woman's desirability. Men have long since accepted that the 'most' desirable woman is one who is not only attractive, but knows it and acts it. She flaunts her appearance, through her actions, clothing, makeup, and general appearance, and makes herself known to be both attractive and available. Men, of course, see this as a positive thing, and women do as well; women know that men are attracted to this, and by being the most desirable woman, you are able to pick and choose the most desirable man without any competition. A form of natural selection, if you will. But there are negative qualities as well; obviously, not all women find this stereotype to be flattering. Quite a number find it offensive and degrading. After all, this is the type of persona that one will find in porn, which is objectifying women at its finest, and no one wants to be seen as little more than a sexual output device. But at the same time, men dislike it as well, though it is a much more subtle thing. Of course men like to see sexy women, but when confronted by one, there is a tension about them. Men find them desirable, but at the same time they find them dangerous. By being aroused, they are less likely to make more rational decisions, giving the woman the opportunity to take control. Subconsciously knowing this and fearing it, men seek to dominate the sexy woman by objectifying her and putting her in negative lights, calling her a slut, whore, skank, etc, thus lowering her in the eyes of others. This is why so many times, you see this persona being an antagonist in media; men want to keep this persona as a negative thing so that it is degrading rather than empowering.

So now Bayonetta steps in. As I mentioned, Bayonetta is a very empowering figure in the game. She is clearly overtly sexual, knows it, flaunts it, and loves it, but she uses it in a way that makes her a strong and likable character. She is an anti-hero much in the same way Dante is, clearly motivated by her self-interests, and yet willing to help others when the fancy takes her. Her sexiness is her weapon, and she wields it powerfully. With every pose she strikes, every fluid dance motion she makes, even her near-nudity with some of her more powerful attacks, she should be striking fear into the hearts of the men who see her. She is powerful, sexy, and unable to be dominated by a man, and I, for one, found this to be a great new view.

I've not liked the choices of women especially in games. When you play a male character, women are invariably going to be tomboyish or sexual towards you, but all of them are going to be attracted to you in some way or another, and you can be almost certain that you're going to have to rescue them at some point. This, of course, makes you the 'strong man', more desirable to that woman, and also puts her in your debt - after all, you just risked your life to save her. Why shouldn't she be willing to put out for that? (/sarcasm) Meanwhile, there are very few games with female main protagonists. I'm looking at my game collection now, and seeing very few. Those that I do see, the main female character is usually weak. Almost all of them are always the same type: physically weak, but mentally strong, able to endure hardship. Probably the only main female character I've seen in games recently that I've found to be a positive character is FFX's Yuna (and also in X-2, but that's another discussion). But still, Yuna, while strong, was still weak in other areas and needed the support of her mostly male companions to get by. And finally, when there is the choice of being able to choose your gender, it is meaningless. Any time in any game where you are able to pick male or female, there is always this little message in the toolbar that goes something like this: 'Despite their differences, men and women of ____ are the same'.

Okay, sorry if this sounds sexist, but men and women are not the same. We know this, and there's not escaping from the truth. Men have been bred for longer to be physically stronger, and while a woman is capable of matching up to a man in physical strength, it's going to take her a lot more effort in order to. Now, I realize that games are set generally in unrealistic settings, and its fair to let the developers say 'there was none of that sexism back in the day', it's a little pretentious and idealistic, don't you think? I realize that, as a man, saying this probably sounds rude, but it's irking to me to see that the developers want to just ignore sexism. It's even more odd when they are perfectly willing to address issues of racism and classism, but not the notion of sex. The only game I can remember where there was a distinction between genders was FF Tactics. It was subtle, and never mentioned anywhere in the game itself, but your male characters got slightly more HP and Strength as they leveled, and females got slightly more MP and Magic as they leveled. It was small, usually little more than 2-5 H/MP and 1-2 Str/Mag, but it was there, and was there to take advantage of. You could not only make more powerful warriors out of men and mages out of women, but it also let you know where you needed to supplement for the cross-class jobs that used all of those stats.

I've gotten a bit off track here, so now I'll get back to the main subject at hand, and the question I wanted to pose. For you female gamers out there, have you been satisfied ever with a female role in games? Not just a likable character, but a character whom you find empowering as a female figure? I suppose not even just in games, but in any other form of media. I don't see enough of them, but maybe I'm just missing them. I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.

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From:killercherrypie
Date:January 20th, 2010 10:33 am (UTC)
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HOLY SHIT what I said here got so long I had to split it in two XD I just hope I bring up some good views or topics in my rambling. If I don't, I apologize in advance XD

Have I been satisfied with a female role in a game? I'll stick to lead roles, and for that my answer is "Rarely". Consider that there are very few female protagonists to begin with, then there are only a handful of female protagonists that I thought were good from those. Jade from Beyond Good & Evil is one. I'm also liking the 3 female party members in Final Fantasy XIII a lot right now- I think you will understand why when you play it. The male party members of FFXIII kind of suck, but, that aside, I really like Lightning and Yun Fang in particular. Heather from Silent Hill 3 and April from The Longest Journey and Dreamfall are also two more of my favorite female protagonists.

Do I find them empowering? I think so for several reasons.

1) I fucking hate the arbitrary "well, if she's a lady, she probably wants to date/bone/love this one dude(usually the hero)..." shit in games. You know, so many plots are ruined because writers decide that the ladies need to all be in love somehow or have some love-angst/longing crap going on. This made Eternal Sonata really fucking annoying at some points. Let's have a cut scene where we just talk about how this one character, in addition to two other characters, FUCKING LOVES JAZZ. He ain't all that! Also, though I love FFVII and FFX to death, Tifa & Aeris both love Cloud and both Yuna and Lulu end up with dudes. And WHY CLOUD? that emo snot rag...Also, the random love shit between two of the main characters in Indigo Prophecy really made me upset with that game. I'm sure I could come up with others, but just look at, well, MOST RPGs that exist. You are usually a male character and tend to have one or two lady interests who, of course, totally love you back.

2)The whole dominate/subordinate thing. There's a big dichotomy in female characters. They are either pure/kind/gentle/quiet/modestly dressed magic users in need of protection or they are hard-ass, scantily clad temptresses who will kick your ass. You will even note that there is often a difference in breast size/figure between the two! Are the gene for "not taking any crap" and the gene for "36-24-36" linked together? I do agree with you that a woman's power tends to be negated through sexual objectification, which is why a woman who won't bend to a man's will is often called a bitch/whore/etc to "put her in her place", as it were. There's even a part in The Longest Journey where April is dealing with one of her neighbors- he's an asshole who keeps coming onto April and calling her "babe" and then gets all fucking moody and insulting if you don't reciprocate. It's quite sad how realistic that actually is. Women will get called some foul things just walking down the street if they ignore men who demand their attention.
From:killercherrypie
Date:January 20th, 2010 10:34 am (UTC)
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3) The characters I listed could have easily been made men. Now, for some plot purposes (particularly Heather), they might have /had/ to be women. What I mean by "they could have easily been men" is that they aren't made to act all womanly in dress, thought, action, or whatever to make someone feel more comfortable about their masculinity in opposition. There's a famous quote about all women being female impersonators, which I think is really important to note here. Think about it: ladies put on makeup, wear styles of clothes and colors that men don't, they cross their legs differently, they tend to not spit in public...and why? Because they've been socialized to. Women are taught to be women to oppose themselves from men, particularly because we are constantly told through media, example, etc. that we have to be that way for the patriarch's favorite men to like us. These are characters who all appear out side of the need to appeal to men, and I appreciate that. I don't want to keep looking at a female protagonist and think "FUCK, this is exactly what society is telling me about myself on a daily fucking basis- don't be strong mentally or physically or even MAGICALLY without somehow appeasing masculine egos" etc. I was made fun of as a kid/teenager for not being girly enough and I know that women are punished for being strong or independent or leaders or whatever. Those ladies need to shut up and make some babies/dinner for a man, AMIRITE? The characters I listed will let me mostly forget that shit for the duration I play and indulge in a fantasy where women aren't punished for stepping outside the narrow "feminine" box, just as I'm sure men can appreciate the occasional male characters who aren't giant, musclebound, violent, unemotional (by this I mean that they aren't allowed to cry, THOSE SISSIES) dudes who are possibly misogynists.
On your note about men and women being the same- as a feminist, I would say that is true: men and women are not the same. However, I believe they are equal- they have equal capacity for skills, intelligence, compassion, leadership, rationality, etc. and any inherent strength that comes from having more of one male/female hormone than the other is balanced by a weakness. I'm sure you would agree with that, too, based on what you subsequently said. Sameness and Equality are different concepts, ones that people are still having trouble grasping.

"This, of course, makes you the 'strong man', more desirable to that woman, and also puts her in your debt - after all, you just risked your life to save her. Why shouldn't she be willing to put out for that? (/sarcasm)"

It's really fucking scary how many men think they deserve something if they are nice to you XD. There are even just average dudes who think that if they pay for something or listen to your problems or whatever that you should repay them with something, usually with emotions of the romantic or sexual nature. Women have desires and preferences of their own and some things, even life-saving, ain't gonna make them fuck some dude XD This is why watching James Bond flicks would aggravate me sometimes. Where is the woman who says "sorry, you just aren't my type"? Now, I love me some accents, but James Bond as he was depicted until several years ago is a character who I not be interested in at all, even if he saved me from communist terrorists who planned to launch a nuclear warhead into THE MOON or whatever bullshit they came up with.
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From:hoshizuke
Date:January 20th, 2010 01:34 pm (UTC)
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Yay, you're here!
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From:heathsama
Date:January 20th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
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Wow, this did get long. XD Still, It's good to hear a feminine point of view!

I wish I could agree with your choices of characters, but since I haven't PLAYED most of those games (except for SH3), I can't make an opinion. Which is upsetting, but at least I know I'll be playing XIII in about a month and a half. And I've not heard of The Longest Journey, but it sounds interesting. I'll be looking that one up later.

I completely agree with the stupid arbitrary love story requirement. A love story works when it is worked into the story well, is reasonable, and has some measure of meaning to the story overall. I hate to death when it's shoved in there - Silent Hill Homecoming's "love story" comes to mind as being thrust in there without any shame or meaning or subtly. I agree with you on VII's love triangle being annoying as shit, though I personally thought they at least did a good job of making the love story in X fitting. Plus, Lulu ending up with Wakka was more like an afterthought, something you mention briefly in the epilogue, no real impact anywhere. But necessary? Not so sure there.

The dichotomy between the two female stereotypes is the reason I've been irritated in the first place. I don't like the hard-ass women because they are ALWAYS being hard-asses to compensate for some weakness of theirs, which of course some male figure comes in and shows them it's okay to be a woman. >< This is so fucking annoying! Can we not have a strong woman who is simply STRONG and doesn't NEED a man to complete her life? On the note of dress, though, this is another reason I like Yuna so much, in that she doesn't follow this stereotype. Maybe it's just me being male, but I always found her to be rather exposed, given her role. :x

Now, #3 is where I find this most interesting. You're saying that the female characters you like the MOST are the ones whose gender has no impact on the story? I hadn't really thought about it like that. With how things have been skewed, its hard to really say what exactly constitutes a good female character, and I hadn't really considered the androgynous one. (On a side note relating to that...there is a Swedish book/film called 'Let the Right One In' where the love interest is an androgynous castrated boy, and I've been told the film is excellent. I intend to watch it soon.) Looking over my games, I'm still seeing nothing where the female character is interchangeable with a male one...wait, dammit, there is one!

I wish I'd noticed this sooner, but it blended in too well with my other games. Folklore's main protagonist, Ellen, is not only a strong character, but also one whose gender does not play a role in the game. While being female I feel does make her a stronger character, they could have easily made her male without doing any damage to the impact of the story.

I realized even as I wrote the sarcasm line just how tragic of a line it really was. The thing that makes it even sadder is that thinking is exactly how most love stories start, with the guy saving the girl from something or other. Not only is this annoying, but it once again objectifies women and places them as 'weaker than men'. I do agree with you in that I don't think women are weaker than men, I just think its harder for a woman to be seen as strong without it being a negative thing.
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From:akaneko
Date:January 20th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
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Here's a bit of an oldie, but - what are people's feelings on Perfect Dark?
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From:akaneko
Date:January 20th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
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(Also, hi! I just realized today when J mentioned this post that I had never friended you on LJ somehow.) :O
From:killercherrypie
Date:January 21st, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)
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I'm not entirely sure I'm comfortable saying "androgynous" when all the characters I'm talking about are easily identified as women. Calling them androgynous would signify to me that their appearances have masculine characteristics making them difficult to categorize as women on first impression and I would disagree with that assessment. I'm sure 'androgynous' applies well to a castrated boy who probably looks more feminine, but all the ladies I listed all look like ladies. But yes, I think I like female characters whose gender is not a big deal in the story line. Men are so often depicted as the norm and women as the other (see the reaction to Samus being a woman so many years ago!). I like it that characters can be who they are and just happen to be woman, too, and the woman-ness isn't constantly taken advantage of for costume, plot, relationship purposes in the game. I don't know, there just isn't a way I can think of to give an example of how that would work with a male character, especially because masculinity (which people equate with rationality, even-temper, capability, knowledge, or whatever) is so valued in America over femininity and also because men don't have breasts (or rather visible secondary sexual parts that are as easily and readily scrutinized as breasts are in our culture) to be re-sized and exposed in creative ways for objectification to negate their strengths.
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From:heathsama
Date:January 22nd, 2010 04:54 am (UTC)
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When I used the word 'androgynous', I didn't mean it in appearance, though I realize that that is how the term is applied. So I apologize for the confusion there, I meant to go into more detail but I was really tired when reading your reply. :x
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From:hoshizuke
Date:January 20th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
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I just woke up and this entry doesn't make much sense. I'll be happy to clarify later, when I wake up more.

This is sort of sad, but one of the most empowering female characters I've played was Amaterasu in Okami. Sure, she doesn't have any speaking lines and was basically (literally?) Japan's bitch but she never displayed the fretting over attracting men's attentions (she's a wolf; why would she care?) or any of the "delicate"ness we expect of Japanese femininity.

Like Stef, I also really liked Heather in SH3. When she finds her dad murdered in their apartment, she mourns him but doesn't get overly weepy or go crazy with grief. Instead, she steels herself to bring her enemies to justice, and maybe find out what's up with the scary weirdo on the roof. At the end, she is completely ready to confront her foe, even if it means fighting a part of herself (ha!).

Also, this sounds kind of weird but I find myself liking Morrigan from Dragon Age the more I think about her. She's that 'sexual' type you describe in your post, but she sets clear boundaries and doesn't make really any demands of you, except at the end, where the demand is 'leave me the hell alone forever.' I admire how much she knows herself (Leliana is like the opposite of her in that respect) and that she doesn't need a MAN in her life to feel complete. She's comfortable in her power. It's my thinking that she dresses the way she does because she knows what effect it has on men.
In the stories you hear about how she and her mother lure templars to Flemeth's hut to do away with them, perhaps she wishes deep down that someone would overlook her clothes and sultry glances and instead see her as a person (and therefore save himself from whatever fate awaits him at their hands.)
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From:heathsama
Date:January 22nd, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
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In my run of Dragon Age, Morrigan played a minuscule role, only really stepping in at the very end of the game. It's probably because I replaced her with Wynn so early on, I would have liked to see more done with her and was disappointed in the little I did see. I didn't get any of the positive aspects you listed, she just seemed like a standard evil character. The only thing remarkable about her was how little she seemed to care when you made choices that went against her suggestions.

But on my next play through, I want to deal more with her, so hopefully I'll get to see all that.
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From:akaneko
Date:January 21st, 2010 03:07 am (UTC)

Some initial thoughts

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H'okay, so, you have hit upon a topic I could discuss at any length, so here's a selection of particular thoughts I have on it at the moment.

You mention that depictions of women in video games are often extremely stereotypical. I would agree with this, and, quite aside from whatever ill effects crappy depictions of women in media may or may not have on the well-being of real people in the real world, it's just plain disappointing for me as a gamer when I play a game and its characters suck, and it's especially dreadful when they suck in ways that have been repeated again, and again, and again in many games, and really could have been fixed at any point along the way. All too often, when it comes to female characters, writers and artists are still rehashing the same crappy tropes for more stale caricatures rather than taking the time to write convincing, compelling characters. On my part, as a gamer who is female, I don't particularly get mad at this stuff - I just get bored. Which is a pretty big fail on video game makers' part, since games are supposed to be, y'know, interesting and fun.

I'd agree with killercherrypie that I tend to prefer androgynous characters. I'll add that on my part, its definitely a preference across genders; I get bored with manly-man characters of various sorts at least as quickly as I get bored with female characters who are just another cardboard cut-out of (a 30-something Japanese guy's idea of) femininity. I think the gaming industry already provides a wide variety of visions of what a male hero can be like. What I want to see for female characters is not an elimination of giggly schoolgirls, princesses in a tower, sexy Amazons, pure virginal priestess figures, et cetera, but a more widespread recognition that there are so many other things you can do with a female character as well, realized in a greater number of female protagonists and supporting characters who have motives other than, say, obsessions with men, or, uh, sitting around feeling helpless and needy.

Offhand, I'd say one of my favorite female video game characters of all time (uhuhuhuhu!) would be Lucca from Chrono Trigger. She's a nerd-girl who's driven primarily by her values of intellectual curiosity, friendship, and adventure; she is capable of expressing compassion for others without degenerating into a trite self-sacrificing proto-mother figure within the game's time frame. (Quite regardless of what they may have done with her later as set-up for Chrono Cross, yech.) She's able to crack jokes and express her own ideas without being treated as a nag or a loudmouth - she's a bit awkward and goofy, yet she is never portrayed negatively as failing at social life, girlhood, womanhood, or daughterhood. (Heck, she has a great relationship with her parents, and when you meet a couple of her ancestors-to-be in 600 AD, they say pretty much that their ideal daughter would be just like her.) She is visually identifiable as female, and is reasonably attractive, but isn't overly concerned with her appearance, or presented as a mere sex object at all. She's far more conspicuously in the role of saving others rather than being saved (busting Crono out of jail, repairing Robo, saving the world, et cetera). She freely expresses physical attraction to a male in one of the endings, without romance ever having to be one of her driving motives in life; she is perfectly capable of being friends with guys without being zomg so secretly in love!!!1! with any of them. She gets roaring drunk and enjoys herself at a party without being singled out for some special humiliation for it. Sure, she gets stuck with the usual Squeenix association of femininity with weak physical skills and strong magic, but as far as magic goes, she's an effin' tank in offensive magic, not a healer, and the presence of Ayla in the same game helps balance things out on that count as well. She may be girlishly squeamish about frogs, but it isn't a crippling disability, and she gets over it to the extent that it matters. I think they did a great job with Lucca of neither making her overly feminized, nor simply a male character with boobs pasted on.
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From:heathsama
Date:January 22nd, 2010 05:40 am (UTC)

Re: Some initial thoughts

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I and a number of people I know could talk for hours about how uninteresting characters/story/whatever have become by the fact of endless repetition, which is why I wanted to avoid that topic. :x Let's just say it's annoying, but hard to avoid, just by the given sheer volume of media out there. Doing something new is hard, and even when you do do something new most people still tend to say 'Oh, it's like ___'. But enough on that for now.

Since all of my games pre-PS2 are still in boxes, I had forgotten to think about most of those other games. On Lucca, I actually never liked her much because she never made much of an impression on me. When I think about her actual characteristics, she certainly is interesting - but in the course of the game itself, she rather quickly fell to the side lines compared to others. The only time she really came back as an interesting character was when you had the chance to go back in time and save her mother from the accident. Saving her mother was good and all, but NOT saving her was a really traumatic scene, and really changed the view of the game: you can change major history just by being there, but you can't change little events even knowing how they'll happen. But I digress again. It's been so long since I last played CT that my impressions of the characters has faded, so this might influence my opinions at the moment.

I agree that I would love to see more female protagonists, especially ones that break the mold. And not like how you mentioned all female characters try to 'break the mold', but in a way that is actually a truly interesting and different way. I'd love to see a game where there is a female character and NO male love interest - and not because the woman is 'too good for men' or in fact any reason at all. Parasite Eve is the only game I can think of where this is the case, the only male characters were your police partner and the crazy Japanese scientist, neither of whom were sexually interested in Aya. I suppose having your date get turned into goop in the opening cinematic will probably keep you from having a relationship in the middle of a crisis. PE2, however, introduced a male love interest, which brought the game down for me. Holy crap, I want to play PE again.
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From:akaneko
Date:January 22nd, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Some initial thoughts

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I'd love to see a game where there is a female character and NO male love interest - and not because the woman is 'too good for men' or in fact any reason at all.

Well, there's the Metroid series. I don't think Samus has much of anything against men, there just aren't any in most of the places she goes on missions to. She's driven primarily by profit and revenge.
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From:akaneko
Date:January 22nd, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Some initial thoughts

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And not like how you mentioned all female characters try to 'break the mold', but in a way that is actually a truly interesting and different way...

I am not sure what you mean here that would contrast with what I was saying. I think most female characters don't break any molds; I know there are some who do, and would like there to be more of them in the future. I would like them to do this in truly interesting and different ways. I don't mind - and sometimes like - the occasional romance plot, I just don't want it to be rolled out for every female protagonist and major supporting character just because they are female, just as it isn't automatically assumed that every male hero HAS to be motivated by courting/rescuing a love interest, even though some are. Some girls are genuinely significantly motivated by romance, some just ain't, and I too would like to see more narratives reflecting the latter category, as we're already getting more than enough of the former.
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