Girl in the Machine
Monday, October 22, 2007
Monster Mashup

Boo!

There's nothing like getting into the spirit of the season with some heart-exploding frights in a Clive Barker game. Monster design is a huge part of a Survival Horror game's terror parameter, and when you're wandering through the pus-strewn landscape of Al-Khali and alluva sudden this thing starts coming after you -- well, don't feel bad about squealing just a little bit.

Survival Horror is, obviously, my favorite genre, and this is mostly due to the state of mind in which it puts you. I'm happiest when I've found a game that proves to be a truly engrossing experience, and, when it comes to excellent monster design, I find that I'm squealing more out of delight than out of fear. The uglier and more brutal, the better in my book.

But, as with seemingly everything in this world, I have noticed some unfortunate disparities in my wonderfully gory encounters. When you think of a truly scary monster, what's the first thing that pops in your head? Perhaps it's a putrid, rotting zombie, or a hellspawn demon spattered with blood and roped with muscle. Imagine the ugly, twisting leers on their faces as they lumber toward you! Maybe something a bit like this?

Rotting flesh . . . check. Ugly leer . . . check. Clearly a dude . . . double check.

Oh, yes. That's almost a requirement, is it? Just as with the differences between male and female protagonists in this genre, it doesn't take much to see those within the baddies as well. Male stereotypically means tougher, stronger, and thus far scarier, while female must be lighter, weaker, and totally hot. Right? Right, Eve?

I mean, come on. Even in the Clive Barker picture I linked above, Decaying Nazi Chick still has a slim hourglass figure. The hammer-wielding maniac from Clock Tower 3 is practically 'roid raging while the only female boss of the game, Scissorwoman, flights about pretty as a butterfly. The Resident Evil games are swarming with a disproportionately male coterie of walking dead.

Is there already some fear there, perhaps? Frightening monsters hold some measure of power over those that they scare, especially if they're distorted, unrecognizable, difficult to understand. As I found with the depiction of women in power in video games, female monsters are so often kept much more recognizably human than male, and even sometimes keep their sex appeal of all things (succubi or sexy nurses anyone?), which leaves this measure of power in the hands of those who would control them (men). Instead of frightening us with their bodies -- as all good monsters should -- many are simply alluring, or even comical in their femaleness.

Wouldn't it be amazing to see a truly disgusting, scary-as-hell monster that was actually female in some way? Nothing about a woman's body is resistant to grotesque amounts of muscle or fetid, dead flesh.

Another popular way of presenting female monsters is the good ol' Creepy Little Girl staple, which is still problematic. From the knockoff of the Ringu girl in FEAR or the Little Sisters of Bioshock, Creepy Little Girls are good and eerie but still weak and remote. They don't exude nearly the same kind of threat as, say, the Creatures of Darkness. As amazing as Bioshock is, pairing the Little Sisters up with the hulking Big Daddies is a more than direct example of the differences between the sexes in these games.

Fortunately, there are some games that deviate from this norm. Many of Fatal Frame's skin-crawlingly eerie ghosts are female, and they aren't afraid to tread into the grotesque with spooks such as the disturbing Long-Armed Woman or the Blind Demon that wanders about wailing, "My eyes! My eeeeyes!" with her eye sockets spewing blood. Just as pleasing to me are the eccentric, ambiguous designs of the Silent Hill creatures, who, particularly in Silent Hill 2, often stagger around on what would normally be considered very attractive legs . . . if they weren't attached to Saran-wrapped burn victims that disgorge corrosive black acid from their gaping wounds.

I understand that in many games it's a matter of context, but I would really love to see more female monsters get the Scary As Hell Treatment and fewer appear as Ew But Somehow Still Sexy or Graagh What A(nother) Creepy Little Girl. All body types are fair game as far as some delightful terror is concerned, and it would definitely be a great way for women to feel even more like we're actually a part of this world rather than standing on the outside looking in.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 9:24 AM + Link to this post
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