Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lollipop Chainsaw or Why Buffy Did It Better

Before I even started to talk about this game, I thought it might be nice to open with the video that plays as you start the game. This is our first introduction to Juliet Starling. She's the typical ditzy blonde head cheerleader who just also happens to fight monsters. Wait.... I'm pretty sure I've heard this story before. As a geek girl, the Whedonverse is pretty much unavoidable. I've been a fan of the movie since I was probably too young to understand a lot of its implications and I remember being scandalized in middle school when I found out they were making a television show out of it. The television show (full disclosure here and something I am completely ashamed to admit... I haven't ACTUALLY finished it despite owning every season on dvd... bad geek, i know) did a pretty good job of portraying her as a well rounded and flawed human being once you got past the ditzy candy shell. In Lollipop Chainsaw, they never manage to crack that shell. 

From minute one, Juliet is portrayed as hypersexualized and pretty much clueless. She does very flexible and suggestive yoga on her bed, takes a steamy silhouetted shower, talks about how she eats lollipops to keep her energy up (or constantly keep the gamer in mind of her oral fixation... or OMG blowjobs!), and also manages to - despite being the ideally built girl for most men - show off her insecurity about her "great big fat butt". They made it the morning of her eighteenth birthday, though most of the game she comes off sounding like a fifteen year old girl. I guess it's easier to masturbate to a scantily clad cheerleader when she's legal... even if she is just a virtual fantasy.

The most fully developed character in the game is her boyfriend Nick. I'll throw in a spoiler alert here just for courtesy sake, but it's ironic that he is one of the better characters in the game because he is actually a disembodied head. Sure, he doesn't start the game off that way, but in the prologue poor letterman Nick gets bit by a zombie while waiting for ditzy Juliet. She then does what any well-adjusted and not psychotically attached person would do and cuts off his head then performs a magical ritual to keep him alive. Nick spends much of the game attached to Juliet's belt like some sort of horrifying keychain. He gets some of the best lines in the game, but still manages to insult Juliet's "driving" (chainsaw dash is one of the skills she acquires) and objectify her as she changes between any of her barely there costumes by saying "Man, I wish I had a penis". I will give them credit as not all of her costumes are super revealing. There are two that I have unlocked so far (one a bonus for preordering with Gamestop) that actually give her a little bit of coverage. One is Ash from Evil Dead or Army of Darkness fame and the other is a version of that stuffed bunny she is hugging in the opening video. Mind you, that's two among about fifteen or so costumes.

I'm a big advocate of putting your money where your heart is and I'm not really a huge fan of the way that women in video games are treated. I could tell from minute one that this was going to be a lot of scantily clad, yet somehow virginal (she has a line about having lots of experience keeping guys out of her body), idiotic portrayals of women. That mother who causes Juliet and her sisters to "wear their vaginas proudly" is completely oblivious to the fact that her daughters and husband are monster hunters, despite the fact that her father calls it "the family business". And yet, here I am, playing this game. Why? In short, games with female main characters seems to generally do poorly. I'd rather support games with female main characters in the hopes that developers continue to make them and eventually get it right. It's a lot more complex than that, but I'm sure I'll get around to writing about that later.

It has sucked up the better part of my gaming time for the last two weeks or so because, like Shadows of the Damned, it is just fun to play. It's goofy and it's got a great sense of humor. It references George Romero (Juliet cheers for the San Romero Knights) and James Gunn's Troma days. It's not a stupid game, but it is a game clearly written with the male gamer in mind. I knew this going in because I'm familiar with the movies James Gunn has written and directed and I've played at least two Suda51 (now three) games. I adore the movie Slither and find Super to be a good though incredibly disturbing movie, but the women in them are not well-developed characters. In either movie, the female characters are reduced to little more than pedestal inhabiting virginal angels (Elizabeth Banks in Slither or Liv Tyler in Super) or hypersexualized manic pixies (Ellen Page in Super).

Quick rundown of the ways in which Juliet is poorly treated. 

1) The pole dancing combat sequences which pop up a couple of times in the game.... It's just a button mashing sequence where you get to see a cheerleader swing around a pole. At one point, she even exclaims that she could do this better in her clear lucite heels. Yeah, I'm sure Daddy was teaching Juliet pole dancing to fight monsters (or maybe it was her pervy old Japanese sensei who manages to fall face first into Juliet's breasts before !spoiler alert! dying pretty early in the game). This comes from a girl who actually did pole dancing for fitness reasons, but just playing those sequences made me feel squirmy and like I needed a shower. Not the sexy, steamed up shower door kind, but the scrub the skin off my body to get the dirt off because I'll never feel clean again kind of shower. 

2) There is actually an achievement for looking up her skirt called "I Swear! I Did It By Mistake!"... and I actually did. She generally covers up her girl parts when in a standing position, but then goes flipping around with her legs at angles I'm pretty sure can only be reached by a contortionist. The hints section makes comments about "Hey! Please don't look up my skirt!" or "Fighting in that outfit is pretty scandalous! Perv!". It's kind of ridiculous. 

3) Through the game, Juliet is supposed to rescue survivors. Most of these survivors are male and most of them manage to say pretty horrifying things. Things to which I personally would respond "You realize that I just saved your life and I'm carrying a chainsaw, right?" For instance, "I'm totally masturbating to you later" and "I never thought I'd be saved by someone with such sweet tits". Yes, this is apparently where I live now.

4) The worst offender is during one of the early boss fights with their punk rock character. This mohawked "My Chemical Romance wannabe" calls her a number of pretty horrifying things. I made a list while one of my guy friends played through the boss fight..... "stupid cooze", "whore", "sleaze", "slag", "fucking bitch", "cocksucker", "vanilla slut", "dirty slut", "barbie-looking slut", and "zombie-hunting slag" were among the ones that I caught. Would I have as much of a problem if they didn't generally pertain to her sexuality? Probably not. But that's how you go for the throat when you're a misogynist zombie punk, I guess. I mean, aside from literally lunging for the throat. Sure, Buffy was punished in the series for her sexuality quite a few times - I swear, y'all, I'll get around to finishing it and see if that trend extends past the first five seasons - but I really don't remember her often being called a whore or a slut. Generally, the vampires were pretty much just terrified of her. Or got some sort of weird undead erection over trying to kill her.

(Ending spoiler type stuff here... Just skip this next paragraph if you actually care)
5) I think the worst thing about this game for me was the fact that despite Juliet being the main character and the supposed heroine of the game, she doesn't even actually get to be the one to save the day. It is through sacrifices made by the two men in her life that the emo goth kid who orchestrated this whole zombie apocalypse is defeated. The final boss fight is a giant late in life Elvis lookalike called "Killabilly". Juliet's father makes it possible for her to reach the monster's core by jumping his motorcycle (with an absurd amount of dynamite attached to it) into Killabilly's chest. Then Juliet runs into the hole, finds a headless zombie body, and has to attached Nick's head as a "Nick bomb" to send a detonate message to the giant zombie's body. Yeah, it's a ridiculous game, but it's fun. And all is well that ends well because dear old Daddy is safe (though he thinks he lost a teste and repaired "the ol' scrote" with a staple gun) and Nick gets to return though his head ends up stuck in Juliet's sensei's body. The sensei also makes a last request of Nick... he asks that he make Juliet do lots of cartwheels in "those little white panties with the teddy bears on them".

The interesting thing is the way that Nick is an object in the game. It's the first time I've ever seen a guy's choice and agency removed in a video game. He protests early on about how he isn't sure if he can do this whole "just being a head thing", but Juliet is kind of emotionally abusive in the way that she laughs off his concerns. Her reasoning? It's like totally awesome to have a decapitated head for a boyfriend (I guess despite her oral fixation, she doesn't like giving blowjobs?) because she can sneak him into movies and he's super immune to carpal tunnel. Nick even tries to get her to leave him behind and she yells at him and tells him that he doesn't really get a choice in the matter. He points out that she has taken away his choice and made him no better than the zombies they have been fighting. They definitely aren't a picture of healthy relationship conflict resolution. It's an absolutely fascinating dynamic though, since I am so used to watching guys be the dominant decision makers in video game relationships. They get to save the girl, run off into danger without a thought for anyone else, and generally act like insensitive dicks. Juliet (despite all the aforementioned objectification and "OMG, she's a hot chick who fights zombies with a chainsaw.... let's look up her skirt or try to hang out with her after school 'cuz maybe she'll sleep with the pathetic sniveling dude she saved from zombies despite her boyfriend's head being attached to her ass like a keychain") acts like most dudes in video games.

Again, it's not a perfect game when you analyze it from a social or gender perspective, but very few things come even remotely close. Remind me to play through Heavy Rain again sometime soon and think the role of women in that one through thoroughly. I will say it is a fun game with a fair amount of replay value. I mean, she does fight zombies with a chainsaw that shoots rainbows (when asked where the rainbows come from, she just says "from awesome"... which is basically true). The controls are solid and the camera doesn't provide the same sort of frustration I've experienced in similar games. The script is pretty funny in a lot of places. James Gunn did a great job of fleshing out the concepts and characters he was provided. I will say that the soundtrack is pretty fantastic and you can customize it during replays when you find a few tracks that make you happy. It even got me to listen to a Skrillex song and (oh, man, I can't believe I am admitting this in a public forum) enjoy it. I tend to play with a four song playlist of Skrillex, Sleigh Bells' "Rhythm Riot", Toni Basil's "Hey, Mickey", and "Lollipop"... I can not remember the artist on that and I'm too lazy to look it up right now.

To finish this up (since I'm starting to rearrange my letters... apparently I get a bit dyslexic when I'm sleepy), it did bring up an interesting conversation with my fiance. He asked me at what age I would be okay with our imaginary future daughter playing a game like this... considering all of the fantastic things said to her by the males in the game. I told him that would really depend on her maturity level, but with me as a mother I doubt she would look at the behavior of the males in the game and think that their behavior was okay in any sort of way. Despite Juliet's ridiculous body image issues, she's still pretty kick ass. He didn't ask at what age I would be okay with an imaginary future son playing the same video game. Hmmm... That should be an interesting conversation.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Prototype 2

I bought The Witcher 2 and Prototype 2 on the same day. I have played through the first story based achievement in The Witcher 2 and am about 100 gamer points away from completing Prototype 2 (and have already beat the game... about halfway through my second playthrough). For someone who got to somewhere around the last boss fight and gave up on the original game, this says something about the improvements that were made to this game's mechanics.

I liked the original Prototype. It wasn't necessarily a deep story motivated by a fantastic main character. In fact, Alex Mercer is sort of a dick. He's not even close to a hero, though I think early on he is guided by the same sort of "what just happened" motivation as the main character in the game Infamous. It is, however, the sort of game where you can karate kick a helicopter out of the sky and turn your limbs into a multitude of weapons. It's just mindless slaughterhouse fun (sort of like my as of yet undeclared love for House of the Dead:Overkill on the Wii). 

I think, as yet another ethnic main character (I note this merely because the last game I recently played through was Shadows of the Damned which featured a Hispanic main character), they treated James Heller incredibly well. He has very textbook revenge motives and there is very little real development to him, but again karate kicking helicopters out of the sky. We aren't looking at deep character story here. Eventually, Heller is going to figure into a post I'd like to write about fathers in gaming. There seems to be a special place in the hearts of game developers for fathers - and for the most part damned good ones. Square Enix (or Squaresoft as I still think of them in my heads) loves to throw in a great ethnic single father into their mix of characters.

And I digress, the point of this post is simply to say that Prototype 2 is a game I began playing again immediately on finishing it. This is a very rare occurrence for me. I have games unopened - sequels and trilogies waiting to be finished. There are other things for me to be doing, but in a time when my personal life is in upheaval and my plans for the future uncertain Prototype 2 provides that perfect diversion. The controls have been vastly improved upon, so I found combat to be a fun and almost intuitive experience. When contrasted with the frustration of the original Prototype - which did manage to capture a breathtaking version of New York City - it's an incredible change. They focus less on a hundred (literally) random collectibles and give you more focused goals. The addition of Radnet is fun, but mostly because I am competitive in a very roundabout way. I like being able to check in and realize "Oh, hey, so and so beat my score in this challenge... it's on." I'm not so much of a fan of direct multiplayer where I just don't have the drive to invest in memorizing maps and controls for a single game to the point where a win feels rewarding instead of like the spirit sucking death slog of games of things like Dark Souls. 

The graphics are good, but nothing to write home about. It's just a really fantastic open world sandbox game full of infected goodness and monsters (both human and... not). If you have the chance, rent it, or pick it up. If you're thinking "But I didn't play Prototype, so I'll have no idea what is going on", they do include a convenient recap. And honestly (I feel like this bears repeating yet again), you can karate kick a helicopter out of the sky... or pounce on it and rip off any number of pieces that keep it airborne.

What can you expect from me in the future? A post about why I'm incredibly excited about the Suda51 directed and James Gunn (of Slither and Super fame) written Lollipop Chainsaw and yet also prepared for a fair amount of disappointment. I feel like it will be a hell of a lot of fun to play and I'm excited to see how they treat a female main character. Scared and excited. And that aforementioned piece about fathers and father figures in video games, probably peppered with a little commentary on how few mothers you see in them. If anyone can think of some games, I should research when writing this piece I'd be appreciative. Right now, I'm looking at a handful of Final Fantasy games, the Uncharted series, Heavy Rain, and Prototype 2.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Loners and the Push Toward a Multiplayer World

I'm a loner by nature. Despite having several siblings, I grew up an only child. I preferred the company of an imaginary friend or a book to most people. I never enjoyed sports - partly because I am not coordinated enough to be athletic and partly because most of them involve a team of some sort - and can only remember one or two close friends growing up. My best friend when I was six years old was a woman my mother used to babysit for as a teenager who was well into her fifties. Children my age made me uncomfortable and as I got older, the politics and group dynamics were complicated and completely uninteresting to me. I was the victim of some vicious rumors during my sophomore or junior year of high school and at that point, I simply excused myself from the company of the silly people who were participating in propagating the rumors.

My early introduction to video games were things that I could play with my siblings, but as I got older (and lived as my mother's only child) I got more and more into single player games. This was a place where I could immerse myself in a world that told an interesting story or let me interact with people that could only respond in certain ways. It took the unknown out of the equation when it came to dealing with other people. I also never seemed to feel the need to have others experience what I was going through in order for it to be real to me. Watching my peer group that seemed to be so much of what they were doing in high school. No one was having fun if someone wasn't watching. Nothing was real if no one else was acknowledging their existence. My reality never needed anyone else's attention to be real. (Wow, that sentence kind of makes me sound crazy.)

Lately I have seen a massive movement toward multiplayer gaming. My first real experience with it was finding out that there had been a story written into the game Left 4 Dead, but was taken out in favor of multiplayer functionality. Players would have had to unanimously vote to skip cut scenes and for some reason that didn't seem to mesh with replay value, so they nixed them. Prior to the release of many major games, I've seen people on forums posting about how they need to make the game multiplayer or they won't buy it. The DLC released for most shooters are map packs for multiplayer gaming as opposed to new pieces of the story or new missions.

This push by both consumers and game makers toward an increasingly multiplayer world distresses me. I feel like story telling suffers when games become focused on how we can experience a game as a community instead of on an individual level. There are a few exceptions to this. For instance, the Gears of War series manages to combine a cooperative multiplayer experience with excellent storytelling. I will admit that despite attending the midnight release, I still have the third installment in that series sitting here... unfinished. And yet, any DLC released for that series (as for many others) is purely geared toward the multiplayer experience.

We can make the argument that a never-ending multiplayer experience gives the gamer more game play for his or her money, except most rpg's take around 45-60 hours to complete making them cheaper as far as time investment goes than a trip to the movies. We can say that it gets people together, except most games have made it so that no more than two players can play on the same console with the same disc. I'm curious what the draw is for people who spend most of their time consumed in multiplayer gaming? What is it about the single player experience that makes it of diminished importance to today's gamers?

As someone who prefers to be alone than surrounded by people, I'm always going to look forward to games with rich single player story lines. I'm going to look forward to the games like Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, and Bioshock - which did make a paltry effort at multiplayer in Bioshock 2. There are no uncontrolled variables in a game where it is just you. I don't have to worry about people acting like jerks and exploiting glitches in the game to win an undeserved victory (like with blocking the elevator in the No Mercy campaign of Left 4 Dead). I don't have to feel like I have to explain to a bunch of guys why throwing the words "raped" and "gay" around in appropriately is offensive. I don't have to point out that it's kind of odd that they will call someone a "pussy" when they spend much of their life in pursuit of that particular piece of female anatomy - no offense meant to gay male gamers, but they don't tend to be the offenders when it comes to this sort of behavior.

Maybe to really write about this in depth I am going to have to immerse myself in some multiplayer modes on the games I already own. That piece will be a long time coming because I know I will drag my feet and find everything else in the world to do instead. I may even finish unpacking the boxes I haven't unpacked from the move - even though I have to pack them again in a few weeks. I really hate large scale multiplayer gaming, especially competitive game. I even hated the game Brink - despite how very promising it looked - because it essentially attempted to mimic the multiplayer experience while playing single player. Well, for that and the fact that it was a complete and utter disaster that failed on so many levels. Either way, my loathing of multiplayer gaming means I'll be doing a whole lot of laundry once I run out of legitimate gaming excuses to avoid it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Young Benicio Del Toro Goes To Hell With the Skull from the Dresden Files - Or Shadows of the Damned

It's taken me so long to get around to playing this game for one major reason. It seemed to be marketed and reviewed as a sort of Devil May Cry/Bayonetta type game. When I saw Shadows of the Damned suggested to me on my Xbox dashboard next to Alice: Madness Returns, I finally gave in to the little nagging voice at the back of my head. I'm really glad that I did.

First, my sole experience with Suda51 - who at first I thought was kind of a douche simply for his name, but then found out his first name is "Goichi" which translates to 5 and 1 in Japanese - had been playing the sophomoric, but very enjoyable No More Heroes. If these two games are anything to make a judgment from, Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 have a great sense of humor and make interesting games.

The story starts with Garcia Hotspur - a more balls than brain demon hunter who resembles a young scarred Benicio Del Toro - standing over a nearly defeated demon in a dark alley. They banter and the demon gives him the typical villainous "It's not over" blah blah blah speech before G, as his gun/sidekick is fond of calling him, blows the demon's brains all over everything. He returns home expecting to find his loving girlfriend Paula and he does find her, but he finds her hanging from a ceiling fan. And then a demon bursts out of her back and all Hell literally breaks loose. The Lord of Hell, a guy with the very unmenacing name of Fleming, shows up with Paula tucked inside his coat (leaving me with the question of where does he keep his body?) and basically tells Garcia that this is revenge for all the demons he has killed. The exchange between the two of them is a lot of creepy sexual innuendo with Fleming saying, "Admit my... endowment is larger than yours and I'll let her go." Either a sense of stereotypical Latin American machismo or a need to drive the plot further causes G to basically tell him to shove it. Fleming threatens her with all sorts of rape, torture, and repeated murders because it is hell and that's the sort of thing they are into before he jumps out the window taking Paula with him and Garcia follows into the vortex to Hell. And that's the start of the game. It's your typical damsel in distress story where the hero has to fight his way through Hell to get his girl, more often referred to as "Angel" pronounced for authenticity with the g as an h.

Before I touch on some of the problematic social issues with the game, I will tell you this was fun as hell to play. And here I apologize for the unintended pun. It's full of immature dick jokes... his transforming weapon/sidekick is named Johnson, but the primary pistol is called the Boner - eventually becoming the Big Boner and the Hot Boner. His method of transformation is basically calling a phone sex line to become a cannon like weapon that the main character fires while shouting things like "Taste my Big Boner!" There are some really cool 2d levels that look like they were made out of paper and are reminiscent of old style arcade games. Level design is beautiful, there are some simple puzzle elements, and the music is amazing. I would actually listen to the Spanish guitar style track that starts the game because I really enjoy it. There is fantastic world building here and each of the major bosses in the game gets a back story that makes them sympathetic. I actually kind of felt bad for killing some of them because their human lives were so depressingly sad. 

And here, where I talk about the gender and ethnicity problems of the game, I'm going to get a little spoiler riddled. Just a warning, not that there is any great twist.

The first thing that struck me was the main character. Hurray, an ethnic main character in a video game and one that is Hispanic! That's pretty uncommon and I love seeing diversity in video games. And then you start to listen to him talk. He's a ridiculous stereotype. A swaggering, tequila (to be fair hot sake and absinthe as well) swilling, cowboy boot wearing stereotype. He swears in Spanish, throwing out "puta", "cabron", and "pendejo" frequently. I lived in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and don't think I ever saw anything as ridiculously stereotypical of this. It's also offensive that he comes off as nearly illiterate. Those books I mentioned earlier giving the back story for each demon boss are read alternately by Johnson and Garcia. Johnson zips through in his sophisticated British accent making witty quips, while Garcia struggles like a second grader. He sometimes even has to sound out words. It was painful to experience.

And yet our hero's treatment is nowhere near as bad as the way they treat women in this game. First thing is first, but holy unhealthy relationships and objectification of women, Batman! Paula is your typical blond, alabaster skinned, perfectly built video game girl. After the initial scene where she is found hanging in a nightgown, she spends the rest of the game running around in white lingerie. There is very much something of the virgin archetype in her treatment. She is a possession caught in a tug of war between Garcia and Fleming. I'm not even sure if we ever see her as a real person. Garcia eventually tells Johnson as they are traveling through Hell that he found Paula in a dumpster. Johnson says, "Hey, I thought you met at a supermarket." Garcia admits it was a dumpster behind a supermarket. The closest this game gets to remarking on Paula's treatment as a possession is Johnson's response of "And you just brought her home and kept her?" Like she was a puppy that you found whimpering in the rain. You don't do that with people! Their "love story" evolves further as the game progresses and Garcia tells Johnson of how she didn't speak for weeks until the phone rang and she screamed at him not to answer. When he went for the phone, she tore it out of the wall. This all makes sense later when you find out - I told you spoilers were coming - that Paula is essentially the Lord of Hell's mistress and Fleming likes to harass people over the phone. There is a dynamic of Paula being highly jealous and slightly unhinged; Garcia reminisces fondly over telling her he was married (as a joke) and laughing when she came at him with a knife. The end speech even solidifies Paula's place as an object in Garcia's eyes. "I fell in love with the Lord of the Underworld's mistress and I will keep fighting until she is mine alone... because I still see love in her eyes and I love killing fucking demons." He doesn't fight for her because he loves her, but because she is a possession to him. Her adoration - which may or may not exist because I'm still not sure we ever see her when she isn't possessed in some way - is certain, but his feelings are just that he loves killing demons.

The objectification of women goes further as there are sequences where a giant topless dancing stripper - very reminiscent of Paula, but probably a result of Garcia's psyche - moans orgasmically and then bends and becomes part of the walkway that you must traverse. Paula is frequently disassembled or beheaded, literally reduced to objects and pieces. Or turned into a vessel for a demon to inhabit and as our hot-blooded Latin American stereotype main character can't keep his hands off her, he is surprised when yet another demon pops out of her. Or she goes crazy and starts chasing him, leaping to wrap her legs around him and kill with a simple kiss. Dude never learns. There is also a lot of creepy rape-y overtones to the game. An opening scene with "dead" Paula on the bed and demons crawling over her running their hands over her body. Fleming saying, "Hey, she came onto me" and referring to her as a "peach".

There is a strong female character that you never see, but is referenced in Johnson's favorite story. A story called "The Unbreakable Huntress" that he tells as you find a series of pieces of art depicting scenes from it. Basically, she is the only woman who ever made it to challenge Fleming. He makes pretty short work of her and then there is an implication of rape, where she says something along the lines of "You may have me, but you'll never own me." Fleming is impressed and she's punished for being strong by being made Queen of the Underworld so Fleming can brutally murder her over and over again. Like I said, women are NOT well treated in this game.

I will give it to the game that they give you a lot of female bosses, though all of them are or were prized for their beauty at some point. The Sisters Grim are terrifying and some of the toughest bosses in the game. Justine is easily defeated as she is fought in one of those artistically styled 2d levels, but she basically runs around in combat lingerie singing a sort of siren song and dancing in most of the cut scenes. Even Paula becomes a sort of boss at the end - though your goal is not to kill her but take off the six wings she has sprouted from her back. When she goes from damsel in distress to crazy codependent "Why didn't you save me? Why didn't you die with me if you love me? Why did you let them kill me over and over again?" shrieking angel, her hair turns red and her lingerie black. 

When Garcia ultimately saves the girl, she wakes up in their bed, surprised and grateful. They are sitting at a table where she has prepared the caprese salad he enthused about earlier in the game and some hamburgers. She says they are a "special recipe" and continues to giggle mindlessly and talk about planning a trip to Mexico to see if they'd like to settle down there. Once again, for authenticity points, Garcia says Mexico where the x is an h. The phone rings. It's Fleming, clearly, joking about how you can tell a lot about a man by what kind of meat he likes between his buns. Like I said, it's sophomoric humor and dick jokes, but it somehow works. The demons come, Fleming kidnaps what he considers his girl, Garcia goes after her, wash, rinse, and repeat I assume. 

One of these days I'm really going to have to analyze why I continue to play games where females are marginalized and treated the way they are in games like this. I even enjoyed this game and feel a sort of shame about that. More so, I'm looking forward to Suda51's next venture with director James Gunn - who did the movies Slither and Super - called Lollipop Chainsaw. It's got a female main character who is a blond pig-tailed zombie-murdering cheerleader. I guess I'm just going to have to balance out my desire to see "real" or at least real adjacent female characters with the fun experience of playing games from Grasshopper Manufacture.

And I really need to hook up my Wii and go play No More Heroes again. It was sophomoric, but I can't remember if the women were treated anything like this.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Catherine and Sexism - It's Not What You Think

I've been reading a lot of articles lately about sexism and gaming or feminist characters in young adult novels. These are things that have been on my mind a lot lately. I suppose in order to finally the argument with my fiance about whether Bella or Katniss is a better character or even a good feminist role model for young women, I'll have to finish dragging myself through Twilight - for the record I made it through two books and would rather drag myself through a field of salt and broken glass after having all my skin flayed from my body. I've linked to a lot of these articles on my Facebook page or you can always follow me on Twitter at girlvszombie. I also recommend following the fantastic femmissgeek as she was the source I found most of the articles through.

In particular, there was this article about gamers as a community working to remove sexism from games. As with most things, I have points where I agree and disagree, but it got me to thinking about the game Catherine. 

Yes, Catherine is absolutely guilty of putting women in sexually provocative positions and turning them into objects. In the booklet that came with the game there is even a picture of Catherine eating pizza that looks like something else entirely when first viewed because of the way the booklet opens.

For those of you not familiar with Catherine, it is a game that follows a guy at the crossroads of a relationship. He's been sort of happily plodding along for a few years in this relationship with his girlfriend Katherine. On the day that she starts to pressure him - because her parents are bothering her about it and because of what her friends are doing - about finally getting married, he gets drunk at the bar he goes to every night (for drinks with his buddies) and meets a bubbly, young blond named Catherine whom he wakes up next to in the morning with no recall of what happened the night before. Katherine and Catherine are both blondes and conventionally attractive. Catherine is definitely a male sexual fantasy and she is very much meant to be and you can definitely see this as all very sexist.

The real problem comes from the fact that this game had a really great chance to explore relationships. It took the opportunity to make a game that would be interesting to both sexes and completely attempted to alienate women. Katherine is reduced to a shrill harridan most of the time, pressuring the main character about getting married and having children. She nags and sends passive aggressive text messages. She's the stereotype of what an adult relationship is to most adolescent males. She's the reason that a bachelor party is this sort of funeral dirge for the freedom of the groom. It's supposed to be the choice to grow up, the choice to be a mature adult and yet there is nothing really mature about the relationship.

Catherine is reduced to a male fantasy - with one exception. She's the 22 year old that a guy takes home from the bar with no honorable intentions and finds clinging to him and expecting a relationship. Some of her first lines in the game are about how relationships and marriage are almost unnatural and like prison. That it is better to be free. In both situations, the main character finds himself trapped between two women who both want to trap him in a relationship. Catherine couldn't have just been telling the truth about not taking anything seriously. She couldn't have just slipped out quietly in the morning and left it at that. Instead we are repeatedly subjected to scenes where she either shows up at the bar at the end of the night or wakes up purring about last night and how she's never let anyone do THAT with her before.

Without getting all spoiler riddled on you, I'll say that the game gets a lot more complicated than all that. It's a choice between chaos and order. It has multiple endings and to some degree, it explores relationships and fidelity and the choices that MEN make. I enjoyed it a lot, but the portrayal of women was insanely offensive and I'd even say that the portrayal of men is offensive as well.

Sure, this ordinary guy bumbling through life manages to nail a barely legal centerfold and she acts like she wants to be unattached and just blow his mind with the sort of sex men imagine happens with gymnasts or yoga instructors. Sounds great, right? I mean, aside from the fact that it removes all agency from the main character. He's basically helplessly lead around by his penis. He's riddled by guilt, he resolves not to do it again, and every morning there she is again. I mean, it is possible that women are supernatural succubi that men are helpless to resist, but I'd like to think that men are a little stronger than a tempting pair of breasts and legs. Shouldn't men be just as offended by their portrayal as weak and spineless walking erections as women are when they are portrayed as little more than tits and ass? Shouldn't they be offended by being reduced to the corruptors and betrayers of women?

Despite its rampant sexism, primarily reducing men and women to relationship stereotypes, this game is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the puzzle solving aspect and watching the peripheral relationships that surround the central story line are interesting. Men reflecting on the women they have wronged, their relationships with their mothers, and the one that got away. The regret and resolve and maturity of these peripheral characters is really and truly interesting. The "boss" characters that chase the main character up the steps at the end of each night are often pretty horrifying, but again generally they are just the things that are supposed to scare men about women, relationships, and commitment.

And to think, this isn't even the post I had planned for you. I've still got a lengthy piece on Suda51 and Grasshopper Studios' Shadows of the Damned and its portrayal of both ethnicity, relationships, and gender roles.