Super Mario Bros. 2 introduced a lot of new and strange creatures to the Super Mario universe. Baddies like Snifit and Shy Guy are now firmly rooted in the melting pot of the Mario franchise, fairly unchanged; some have evolved into new characters, while others have just fallen by the wayside. Birdo was a baddie who appeared several times in SMB 2 as a mini boss who would spit huge white eggs at our brave hero. Looking like some strange powder-pink Yoshi with a huge tubular mouth and big red bow, Birdo is certainly an interesting sight to behold--and has physically remained unchanged over the years. However, Nintendo has given Birdo a change all right. Here's a description of the baddie in the original SMB 2 instruction manual:
In other words, Birdo is a big, pink tranny. He seems to be the first transgendered character in video game history, and isn't he just lovely? It's something that makes Birdo just a little more unique--as if he needed it, really. However, it seems that he caused a bit of a stir over at Nintendo (at least in America), and Birdo received a sex change as the years went by.
Why would they change Birdo female? There are a few possibilities. One may be that Birdo's colorful back story may have just been overlooked. Maybe he decided to go ahead and make the full change from man to woman himself, which would make sense. It's also just as likely that Nintendo felt there would be a problem with the gender-bending baddie. Nintendo is notorious for their "For the children!" attitude, so it is not surprising that Birdo would ultimately have to switch teams. But why should it even be a problem in the first place? He's not hurting anyone--well, with his lifestyle, anyway. Those eggs can be a real bitch sometimes.
Now that Birdo is becoming more of a well-known character in the Mario world (such as being playable in Super Mario Tennis), it's too bad that he couldn't retain his origins. He could have added a little diversity into the cast, and who knows? Maybe he would have made some little boy trying on his sister's dress out there feel a little less alone. So here's to you, Birdo; even though Nintendo may be trying to cover up your lifestyle, you'll always be a tranny to me. Keep on parading around with your beauty mark and perfectly-mascaraed lashes, girl!
Final Fantasy VI's Terra Branford is a pretty special gal. Introduced to American audiences in the golden year of 1994, she became -- and remains -- the only female lead in the Final Fantasy series. (I refuse to include FFX-2 for two reasons: it was a spin-off and I try to forget that atrocity ever happened in the first place. But that's a whole 'nother post.)
But that's not the only reason she's so special. She's not simply the only female protagonist of the series, she's also one of the most nuanced, deeply moving characters of all RPG-dom. Lemme tell you a little bit about her.
FFVI's story is a massive one, and, with a grand total of fourteen playable characters, it's understandably difficult for any one to truly stand out. However, Terra acts as the centerpiece of the entire plot, without which the story could never have even begun.
Half-human and half-esper, she is the sole reason that the once-extinct art of magic returns to the human dimension -- by being raised in the Empire and fueling Emperor Gestahl's Magitek Knight project. Because of the early stages of this project, Kefka's mind began to deteriorate, turning him into the mad clown antagonist that we all know and love. Terra also serves as the conduit between the esper and human dimensions, an impossible feat for any full-blooded human to achieve. And besides her pivotal impact on the plot, Terra's personality and character truly sets her apart as well. She's no princess, she doesn't have a love interest, and, best of all, she doesn't exhibit any stereotypically feminine traits.
Truly, FFVI is about Terra's struggle to cope with herself. She awakens from the control of the Empire's Slave Crown and doesn't know a thing about herself, where she came from, or even what's going on. She has to deal with being the only person in the world who can naturally utilize magic. It's this very quality that has people bombarding her left and right for aid: the Empire needs her to retrieve magicite, the Returners need her to fight the Empire, and she's also the only one who can communicate with espers. What Terra finds herself lacking is real human connection, emotions, or attachment to anyone in a genuine way.
This is what's primarily so interesting about Terra. It's not even that she isn't stereotypically over-emotional or hypersensitive like how female characters (sadly) tend to be portrayed; she's practically a stoic, with an inability to feel authentic emotion whatsoever.
What's even better is that she doesn't find emotional connection in the most obvious place, that being the love interest. After the apocalyptic cataclysm brought around by Kefka, Terra, separated from the rest of the party, wanders to Mobliz and helps a young teenage couple (Duane and Katarin) care for some orphans. In a particularly poignant scene, she convinces Duane not to abandon Katarin, who has recently become pregnant. In the year since the cataclysm, Terra has taken time off from doing what everyone else needed her for and submerged herself in self-reflection and anonymity. Once a weapon, once a tool, Terra finally establishes herself as a person at last.
I would love to see this kind of depth and personality in future Final Fantasy women, even if they continue not to occupy the "protagonist" role. FFVI distinguishes itself from the rest of the series with an insurmountable plot, unique setting, and memorable moments, all of which are due to a truly unforgettable character.
When the original Star Fox came out for the Super Nintendo in 1993, I was but a wee six-year-old, as well as a novice at video games. I wasn't too good at this already difficult game, but I loved to watch my older brother navigate through each planet and ultimately defeat the incorrigible Emperor Andross, saving the Lylat system from certain doom. Watching the silver polygons flying around was exciting indeed, but what I really loved about the game was the large cast of characters. Each had their own personality and would react differently to Fox McCloud's actions and commands. Unfortunately, Star Fox, while bountiful with interactive persons, is also, undeniably, one big sausage fest.
So when Star Fox 64 arrived four years later, I was delighted to discover that progress had been made, and a grand total of one female character had been included. Now old (and coordinated) enough to pilot an Arwing myself, Fox and I set off on our grand adventure through Lylat, eventually happening across the polluted planet of Zoness. In the thick of enemy craft and sludge-covered sea monsters, I was saved by a lone ship piloted by one Katt Monroe.
At first, Katt's basic character history sounds very promising for the series's first official female character: a rogue pilot, she flies a Venom Invader ship she stole after the Venomian army destroyed her own ship. She fights on whatever side is against her enemies.
Unfortunately, Katt's less inspiring characteristics far outweigh her good ones. She steals a Venom Invader all right . . . but paints it a mind-numbing shade of pink (to match her equally pink fur, no less). She also has a well-known history with Falco Lombardi, a hard-headed member of the Star Fox team, which she never seems to let him or the player forget. These things may be easy to forgive by themselves, but it's what Katt says in the game that damns her character as embarrisingly misogynist:
“Starting without me? Boys, I’m crushed!”
Oh Katt, you little minx.
“Beautiful! I could kiss you for that!”
Seriously though, quit it.
“Is that any way to greet a girl?"
Oh, for God's sake . . .
“You trying to damage my pretty face?”
Huurk--I think I just threw up in my mouth a little . . .
It doesn't end there, either. Along with calling the Star Fox members "boys," Katt uses several pet names when talking to them, such as "hon," "little man," and of course, "Tiger." Her cringe-worthy voice only rubs salt into the wounds. It also doesn't help that whenever our plucky female pilot swoops in to save the team, a bouncy little ditty that I can best describe as Malibu Barbie-esque plays. Katt oozes girliness to the point of nausea, and it's unsettling. While all the male characters had personalities not directly related to their gender, SF 64 Katt seems to be nothing but "The Girl" of the game.
Even ten years ago, I was never a big fan of the really girly characters in video games. And yet, I really liked Katt. But why? I've recently come to realize that I gravitated toward her because she was female, and I could better relate to her in that respect. I loved all the cool aspects of her and let all the embarrassing declarations slide. Being the only female character in the game, I tolerated her flaws. This is what happens when a female character exists in a game merely as The Girl and not as a persona.
Star Fox Adventures came along, and Katt disappeared from the series. Star Fox Assault followed in 2005 with no sign of the feline pilot; the role of The Girl in the series seemed to be filled by Krystal, a character I had no interest in. In spite of Katt's sugary-sweet girlishness, I missed the skilled rogue pilot who didn't fit the damsel in distress role that Krystal sprung from.
In mid-2006, the first Star Fox game for a handheld system was released in the form of Star Fox Command. The game featured a winding choose-your-own-adventure style story that allowed for the introduction of a plethora of new characters. All of a sudden, there was no longer only one female character in the series; Krystal had to make room for Lucy Hare and Amanda. Along with these new female characters, it was in this game that Katt Monroe made her glorious return, completely revamped.
Instead of the cotton candy fur of SF 64, Katt now sports a coat of dark grey. She is garbed in bold yellow, red and orange with only pink trimmings; her ship has also been repainted with a fine shade of dark red. If that's not great enough, her personality has gotten a complete face lift as well; gone are the pet names and sexist double-standard exclamations. During Falco's storyline, Katt swoops in to save him not only once but twice. She never flirts with Falco in the game, and her relationship with him is mentioned only once. And when, at the end of the game, Falco feels jilted by the Star Fox team for defeating the Anglar forces without him, it is Katt who tells him to act:
Falco is consumed with rage. If all had gone to plan, he, Fox, and all the rest would be heroes writ upon a galactic stage, reveling in endless retellings of their victory, Instead, fate has seen fit to ostracize Falco from the Star Fox squadron.And then, just when things were bleakest, Falco got a message from Katt Monroe. "Forget those losers! Grab a couple of friends and form a new squad!" Falco was usually too stubborn to heed advice, but this message came at the right time.Falco took Katt up on her offer, and they hunted for a third pilot, eventually finding their man--an elite Cornerian pilot named Dash! Together the three of them formed Star Falco, a unit that rivaled even Star Fox!
It's refreshing to see that Katt's personality finally matches her history of an independent renegade. She retains her femininity without succumbing to the confectionary dregs of The Girl. With the introduction of several new female characters, Katt is allowed to deviate from the suffocating label and have a mind of her own. While not perfect, she has grown quite significantly from her static heydays on the Nintendo 64. I applaud Nintendo for their decision to update Katt into a more unique persona that rises above merely being defined by her gender, and I hope to see more of her in the next major game in the series.
Rule of Rose is a Survival Horror game with admittedly unfortunate gameplay and a truly engrossing story. Its gritty plot invites gamers to step into the eerie Rose Garden Orphanage and meet the unusual girls of the Aristocrat Club. The (refreshingly female-dominated) cast deviates from the Survival Horror "creepy little girl" staple by providing beautifully nuanced interactions that video game characters rarely see.
The attention to detail paid to this social interaction among the girls emblemizes the psychological competition that society conditions, and has always conditioned, into young girls everywhere. From truly bizarre rituals to their complex relationships with one another, the Aristocrats act as an extended metaphor for the social development of young girls.
The Aristocrat Club is divided into classes and ranks. The highest class includes the leader, the Princess of the Red Rose, as well as the Duchess (Diana), Countess (Meg), and Baroness (Eleanor). The lower class includes Miserable (Amanda) and then Beggar, when protagonist Jennifer arrives. Such a structure already invites competition among the ranks: the hierarchy is fluid, and, depending on the social status of each girl, ranks can be and are exchanged.
In her article, "Little Girls in Women's Bodies," Erika Summers-Effler defines social position as "the status (inclusion vs. exclusion) and power (order-taker vs. order-giver) outcomes of social interaction." The Artistocrats' relationships with one another hinge entirely on the exchange of power. Throughout the game, the upper-class girls constantly double-cross one another at the expense of Jennifer and Amanda. For example, in the chapter "The Goat Sisters," Diana rips up a love letter left to her by Meg and complains to Eleanor how pathetic it is that Meg follows her around like a lost puppy. Diana then frames Jennifer for the destruction of the letter and comforts a sobbing and vengeful Meg.
This same scenario -- Jennifer taking the fall for the other girls' tricks -- occurs over and over, making it obvious that the Aristocrats are all aware of their own culpability while reveling in the elevation of their own social status (inclusion) through the suppression of Jennifer's (exclusion).
Furthering this point, the Artistocrats employ various humiliation rituals which they inflict on the lower class girls. When Jennifer first arrives at the orphanage, the Artistocrats submit their power over her by dousing her with water and locking her in a crate:
Amanda was, presumably, subjected to these rituals regularly until Jennifer boosts her status by occupying the rank lower than hers. Amanda then gains solidarity with the upper-class Aristocrats through administration of a ritual -- namely, by menacing Jennifer with a live rat tied to a pole. Jennifer herself falls for the lure of inclusion after being promoted. The Aristocrats goad her into imposing the same ritual on Amanda, even though her own experience with the rat was so bad that she passed out. These instances, while understandably exorbitant, echo the real-life pressures encountered by young girls who discover that peer acceptance makes for a far easier social experience than ridicule and exclusion, even at sometimes high costs.
While Amanda, overweight and far less conventionally pretty than the others, is the weakest of the club, Diana is the strongest. Consistently referred to by the in-game text as "strong-willed," Diana is slender, beautiful, and appears to lead the other Aristocrats as the high-ranking Duchess.
Interestingly enough, Diana also appears to have begun developing breasts, which none of the other young girls possess (excepting nineteen-year-old Jennifer). Summers-Effler writes that, to early-maturing girls, breasts are an exceptionally public sign of their changes, set them aside from their peers, and harbor an unavoidable context: "As these girls develop women's bodies, they begin to be seen as sex objects." A strange scene between her and headmaster Mr. Hoffman, one out of only two male characters in the game, suggests past sexual abuse.
Diana, so strong-willed among her peers, suffers a severe reversal in the order-giver vs. order-taker dynamic within her supposed sexual history with Hoffman. Therefore, she overcompensates for this imbalance by exerting her will over her fellow Aristocrats. Similar details about the other girls, though not quite as disturbing, provide for the same overcompensation in their behavior as well.
Overall, the Aristocrats of the Red Crayon are a fascinating and vivid cast of characters not often seen in video games. The sheer level of detail devoted to their individual personalities, actions, and backgrounds imbibes a deep understanding of the social struggles of young girls. By filtering these struggles through a Survival Horror lens, Rule of Rose chillingly satirizes the cultural tendency to condition competition among adolescent girls.
I am incredibly excited about Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It's one of two games I'm waiting to buy a Wii for (the other one being Animal Crossing, if you want to know). I can hardly wait to see all the beautiful new battle arenas and additional characters Nintendo's designing. While I do try out every fighter, I always go back to my tried and true characters: Fox and Samus. So when I found this clip from E3 last year, I watched it with great anticipation. Like I expected, I saw some of my favorite fighters in action, but something else I noticed makes me a little . . . worried.
Did you catch it? I'll give you a hint: it has something to do with Samus. Yes, she can now be decked out in her so-called "Zero Suit"--good eye there. It's nice that she gets a costume change for once. But, it's not the suit itself I have a problem with. Go ahead, give it another watch. I'll wait.
See it now? Okay, I'll give you a hint.
Here's everyone's favorite bounty hunter as we normally see her. Along with her signature orange suit, Samus stands strong, like a formidable warrior. Her left hand is balled into a fist. She's crouched into a battle stance--look at how much space she's taking up. Like her face, she's got her arm canon pointed straight at you, ready for the kill. Just looking at this image, you get a sense of tension and power. Girl looks dangerous.
Now, here's Samus in her Zero Suit:
Her body is now in a straight, graceful line, taking up as little space as possible. Instead of a fiery orange and yellow, Samus is garbed in a soft sky blue. She appears to be in mid-jump, rather than in any extreme position, such as the beginning or end of the jump. One leg is bent to show off her round ass. Her back is arched to look over one shoulder. Her body itself is angled away from the viewer, and the fingers on her left hand are softly splayed out in a feminine manner.
I call total bullshit here. Can you honestly see Samus in her power suit posing like this? Instead of the intimidating figure she cut in the first image, she now looks almost harmless. There is absolutely no reason why she would change her body language just because she's not in full armor. One of my favorite things about Samus has been that she is a badass bounty hunter first--and she hardly ever found herself in cheesecakey poses (if at all). Now that she's out of the suit, she's been forced into the infamous tits-and-ass pose.
At the very least, the suit itself has no strange cutouts like some of her past suits have had (as seen in various Metroid game endings). Her boots are flat and functional, and her hair is sensibly tied back into a ponytail. I do wonder how she gets all that hair into her helmet, though--it's not quite that long in Metroid Prime (although it was in Fusion), but I'm nitpicking here.
From what I've heard, Zero Suit Samus's blaster can also turn into a laser whip; if the designers aren't careful, Samus could be treading dangerously close into Sexy Sexy Danger territory. It really disappoints me (although doesn't surprise me) that my favorite character is being turned into a sex object just because you can actually tell she's a woman now--like this greenlights the ogling of fanboys everywhere. I don't like the fact that Samus has to cover up her body in order to act badass as per her real personality. I want to see Zero Suit Samus in the same in-your-face poses she's always been in.
My point is, it's just not Samus's personality to be in these cheesecake poses. Why can't she be depicted in fierce battle stances like she'salwaysbeen? I don't like the fact that her unique character has to come second to the fact that she has teh boobies. Unlike Lara Croft, Samus is famous for her tough-as-nails exterior and her drive to clear out both metroids and space pirates, not for her sexiness. So, I'm awaiting SSB Brawl with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. I'll hold my breath and hope that Nintendo won't turn my favorite video game icon into just another girly show for rabid fanboys--and that she'll remain the tough and intimidating fighter I know and love.
And if I see a single hip pop from her, there's going to be hell to pay.
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that Vincent would be starring in his own game for the PS2. I’ve been a rabid fan since I dragged him out from the Shinra Manor basement in Niblheim. It’s all of his internalized angst that makes him so much fun!
Anyway, as you’d expect with a spin-off, we met all kinds of never-before-seen female characters in the Final Fantasy VII world: Shelke, Shalua, and Rosso. They’re a strange bunch. I feel like they should have come from different games.
Shelke is an interesting character—she begins the game as a villain, transitions into neutral, and then finally begins to directly support Vincent at the end of the game. At first, I had some problems with her—she was too shota with her “I’m nineteen in a nine-year-old’s body” thing going on, and while her outfit was nothing compared to the dangerously sexy Rosso, it was still creepy on a nine-year-old girl. Her small size can be excused by her physical age, but she practically disappears when placed next to the hypermasculine brute Azul. I worried about her potential when I saw her faint without explanation at the beginning of the game. Her invisibility magic made me worry that she couldn’t actually fight.
Shelke surprised me, though. I grew to like her; within the Tsviets, she’s a hacker who uses the worldwide network (internet?) to obtain information on her enemies. Her sabers are pretty bad-ass, and that coupled with her shield material make her a competent fighter. She manages to avoid being trapped by the sentimentality of most female supporting roles (in fact, she’s rather unfeeling). Perhaps most importantly, Shelke is not a sexual character; maybe she lacks the emotional capacity for that kind of thing, or perhaps the producers realized the horrifying repercussions of having a physically nine-year-old girl trying to sex someone up.
Shalua blows my mind. She’s definitely cool—I mean, how many women have you seen in video games that have one eye, one arm, and a body full of reconstructed organs? She’s tough, too. Even at a one-arm disadvantage, she holds her own in hand-to-hand combat and can wield a gun. That’s not all, though; she’s also caring and compassionate. She sacrifices herself to save her sister early in the game, demonstrating far more humanity that any of the other females. She operates based on her own objectives and is a successful scientist for the World Regenensis Organization.
So then why does her miniskirt have a crotch window? Combined with the sky blue high heels and long white lab coat… I mean, a professional would never wear such a boobtastic top. It’s just such a confusing visual! She’s basically a scientist in stripper’s clothing; it’s a shame that her awesome character concept conflicts with her ridiculous getup. Thinking of her as a real scientist is like trying to have a serious conversation with someone who has a pigeon on her head.
And then there’s Rosso. Where Shelke and Shalua demonstrate areas in which the game succeeds, Rosso represents a nearly complete failure. Besides her appalling outfit (What is that hideous Lion Brand Yarns “Fun Fur” train!?), Rosso has fallen victim to the Oversexed Female Villain complex. In one of her first cutscenes, she looks longingly into the sky and says, “This is the first time I’ve felt the rain on my skin.” What should have been a touching moment that generated sympathy for Rosso becomes warped by her “come hither” voice. I’m also bothered by the way she always calls Vincent by pets names like “love” and “darling.” In your final battle with her, Rosso actually says, "Pain is a pleasure.”
I would argue that we should overlook Rosso’s sexy speech patterns and dismiss them as errors on the part of the producers and the voice actor. It seems to me that her voice actor tries to turn everything sexy when the script doesn't call for it; in some scenes, Rosso appears to be turned on by violence, but that impression comes from the way her lines are read. This does not excuse the fact that she was written and directed this way—the voice directors should have been open to voice options besides “sexy.”
So what did they do right? Well, I admire the fact that although she acts according to the will of Tsviet leader Weiss, she does not do so for his affection. Her determination to serve him comes from a recognition of his strength (a reasonable response from someone so strong and violent herself), not blind lovey-dovey devotion. Also, while her voice actor and costume make her sexual, the majority of her words and actions are aggressive; midway through the game, she rips a hole through Vincent’s chest and wrecks tremendous havoc at all other times. Of all the Tsviets, she plays the most active role in hunting for Vincent. In fact, when other Tsviets encounter Vincent, it is usually through coincidence rather than a deliberate attempt to kill him.
So then, what are we left with at the end of the day? In a way, Square Enix was on the right track with its character development. Sure, Shelke is as cold as ice, Rosso has a serious dominatrix edge to her, and Shalua is a martyr, but I’d argue that for the most part their characters depart from the stereotypical women for their roles. I mean, as a supporting character, Shelke didn’t merely fawn over Vincent and act cute. Shalua is far from helpless despite her disadvantages. Rosso plays a strangely active role for a female villain in a game with so many male antagonists. Square Enix deserves some credit for diversifying the pool of female characters... but damn. I don’t want to worry about seeing any parts hangin’ out.
PlasmaRit here with a little note: Calabar is currently out of town, so Wednesday updates may be a little sporadic for the next few weeks. But don't lose heart, dear readers! Updates will continue to be posted every Monday and Friday, so feel free to stop by.
I would like to thank Peach for showing off her best Blow-Up Doll Impression for us this evening!
Super Princess Peach was the first game I bought for my Nintendo DS. Of course, my line of thinking was, Kick ass! Peach finally gets her own game, and she's not baking cakes or hitting people with frying pans or anything! Admittedly, Peach has always been my favorite Mario Bros. character, though in more recent years that's been getting harder and harder to stand by.
I wish I could say that SPP was any help at all, but alas. Alas.
First of all, SPP succeeds in deviating from the typical Super Mario format with sometimes huge, multi-tiered levels, various puzzles (including a literal jigsaw), a shop for buying power-ups, mini games, and tons of unlockable levels. Unfortunately, that's where the good things stop.
The premise? Mario and Luigi get plumbernapped and taken to Bowser's summer home on Vibe Island -- yes, you heard me right -- where the Koopa King has acquired the all powerful -- here it comes -- Vibe Sceptre. So, it's up to Peach to travel to Vibe Island and rescue the boys before Bowser . . . Vibes them to death (I'm so, so sorry).
All completely gratuitous sexual innuendo aside, I'd like to get to the real kicker for this game.
In his adventures, Mario gets to utilize Fireballs and Invincibility Stars to help him get the job done.
In SPP, Peach uses mood swings.
Yes, you heard me correctly. The boys get winged caps and the like and the girls fight evil with their unstable emotions. Who needs Fire Flowers when your premenstrual rage causes you to burst into flames? And Beanstalks? Peach and her can't-take-the-pressure bouts of wild sobbing cause plants to burst from the ground! I was half-expecting Toad to bring her a bucket of ice cream and a Midol, just to keep the stereotypes rolling.
My beef with the game isn't that it's slathered in pink or decorated with hearts and flowers. No, the concept of "girliness" doesn't offend me just by itself; Peach has always been saccharine and overly-femme, and this has its charms. However, it's the blatant female stereotypes incorporated into the game that do the job. The obvious parallels between SPP and Mario's adventures underscore how SPP is (misguidedly) marketed to female gamers, making it a "Gurlz Game" wherein the girly heroine does girly things. The Damsel Rescues the Hero concept becomes a gimmick instead of something cool and new and empowering.
SPP reflects Nintendo's superb talent in severely underestimating its female customers. The laughable difficulty level, the marketing, and the horrible execution of what could have been a fresh concept for the Mario franchise attempts to separate girl gamers from the rest of the crowd as uninitiated, unskilled, and lacking in any taste. It simply oozes the sexism that gaming companies wield when attempting to market towards the wimmins.
In the end, all I can say is that at least she wasn't baking anyone a cake.
Like most people over the years, I've played my share of Tomb Raider games. While the controls weren't really the best, I enjoyed solving puzzles and kicking some ass along the way. The crapfest that was TR: Angel of Darkness put me off from the series, and I moved on to more interesting games. I hadn't given Lara Croft much thought until I saw a rather irritating commercial advertising Gametap's Tomb Raider Ten-Year Anniversary bonanza thing. So, I decided to check out the weekly documentary discussing the franchise's history; what I saw didn't make me very happy.
I admit, I was naive. I went into the documentary with the tiny hope that perhaps we've made some progress in the past ten years--that maybe, just maybe, we could see Lara Croft as the smart, strong heroine that she is. Yes, as the doc stated over and over, Lara is a video game icon. Is it for the groundbreaking gameplay in Tomb Raider I? No. I believe a quote from the Gametap commercial pretty much sums it up:
"What would [gamers] rather look at: a hedgehog, a plumber, or Lara Croft's fair bum?"
For chrissake, people. It doesn't help that Lara's original design called for insanely unrealistic proportions that rival a Barbie doll. According to the doc, her measurements started out as 35" hips, 24" waist, and a 36" bust--and, in my opinion, a really freaky bobblehead. It's anyone's guess how she managed to raid any tombs without snapping in half from that tiny waist. From all the ads, the commentary, and the Lara Croft model search, the sad truth is that Lara's claim to fame rests only on her body.
At the very least, Lara has gone through a bit of a makeover; instead of the lollipop-headed hourglass freak show she once was, she's now more or less been appropriately equipped with a human-sized head and a torso that allows for a ribcage and the proper muscles to hold up her enormous endowments. Yes, she still has that bust, but I don't have a problem with that. Thousands of women all over the world have large breasts, and there's no reason to discriminate; I'm sure they'd like an icon to look up to as well.
But. When a woman has large breasts in our society, they become her identity. She automatically becomes free game for exploitation, and she as a person fades into the background. It's frustrating, and we as a society don't seem to be growing up any. It's as if these people have never seen breasts before, for crying out loud.
It was a nice try, but no cigar for me. Lara Croft is still known for her mams and has received the dubious honor of being a video game icon because of them. Perhaps one day the gaming industry will learn to grow up and see that large-busted women were not put on this earth to be boobs with people attached to them.
Ah, Shadow Hearts, my beloved series. You had me enthralled since your beginnings in Koudelka, and I’ve followed you ever since. I can look past your flaws--embracing inaccurate histories and bastardized religions, all the while reinforcingstereotypes across the board. I mean, it’s not your job to keep a perfect record of the past or explain religion to me. It’s the crazy settings, darkly humorous stories, and disturbing monsters that attract me to you. Most of all, it’s the harmonixers (humans that fuse their souls with those of demons) that keep me coming back again and again.
Thus far, we have met five harmonixers in the three Shadow Hearts games: Yuri Hyuga and his father Ben, Kurando Inugami and his mother Saki, and Shania. As the games progress, the fusion monsters become less “scary” and more “cool,” ultimately falling into the “sexy” category with Shania in Shadow Hearts: From the New World. Let's take a closer look at Yuri's evolution first.
When Yuri uses his “Fusion” skill, the results are often frightening. The first Shadow Hearts in particular contained some intimidating fusion monsters, ranging from the horrible Lobo to the grotesque Czernobog. When we see him again Shadow Hearts: Covenant, however, he has left the “scary” realm and transitioned into “cool.” That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing--Veneficium can still kick just as much ass as Egil!--but the aesthetics of the monsters are worth noting. Where Sandalphon is a frightening bug-like creature, Miserati is purely deific.
Over time, I feel that the Shadow Hearts games have become progressively more and more openly sexual (but let’s not fool ourselves--the first thing Yuri thinks about when he rescues Alice is essentially rape). When the game designers realized Yuri's fanbase, the already gorgeous pscyho got a slight makeover for the sake of Shadow Hearts: Covenant. I’m not complaining! It’s perfectly fine for characters in games to be attractive. It’s part of many games' escapist appeal; however, it does become a problem when the character’s representation is exploitative.
As is often the case, however, when a video game designer decides to create a female character, we end up with women like Shania. She's easily the strongest character in your party, and her active pursuit for revenge at any cost makes her an aggressive go-getter. But damn, those shorts would make Yuna from Final Fantasy X-2 blush. And that skimpy top? Woo!
Impractical wardrobe decisions aside, Shania is subjected to one of the most awkward transformations scenes I've ever seen. Nothing on the subject is more divergent than the manner in which Yuri and Shania transform. Until Yuri gains confidence in himself late in the game, he begins his fusions by clutching his head, stumbling and screaming in pain and fear. Shania, on the other hand… well… her clothes fall off.
Now, what the hell was that? Were those sparkly shoujo lights and colors? Did I have to see her boobs separate as her top falls off? Why did I get so dangerously close to her nether regions? ... More importantly, why doesn’t Yuri transform by floating around in barely-underwear after dropping his pants!?
One thing the game designers did well was having Ta Tanka scream like a madwoman after the awkward strip tease. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be in her way! Her fighting style with this form isn’t exactly pretty, either. All of that is irrelevant, though, when comparing her to her analog in Yuri, Gaudion (and the same things can be said for Thunderbird and Libertis, as well as La Sirene and Venificium!). I mean, Yuri isn’t even recognizable as human in this form! From her exposed breasts to her high heeled shoes, Shania is not only humanoid, but also an alluring earth/bull goddess! Her pretty face remains virtually the same, as well. She should be fighting the forces of evil, not seducing the players. In terms of design, it's as though the need for her to be sexy supercedes the need for her to be strong and intimidating. At least she has bulky forearms.
Let's compare the "ultimate forms" of the two protagonists. Here they seem to be on equal footing.
One might argue that while Yuri's Dark Seraphim fusion is totally naked, Shania's Tirawa fusion is at least wearing armor. They're both definitely bad asses, but I'd say that Tirawa still suffers from more sexing-up than Dark Seraphim. Her armor, while preventing complete nakedness, is effectively useless (I guess she's safe as long as no one tries to kick her in the shins or stab her nipples.). The armor is an accessory to her body and exploits her nudity. One might argue that Dark Seraphim's tattoos serve a similar purpose, but the neuter character model has little to offer the viewer. Tirawa's perky breasts are pointed right at my eyes, though, and I don't even look for that kind of thing!
In the end, we face two problems because of these fusion monsters. With the exception of Yuri's androgynous Miserati and Kurando's feminine Tsukiyomi, all of the male fusions are hypermasculine, frightening beasts that are coming to beat you to a pulp, suggesting that their power is wild and something to be feared. The female fusions are still going to beat you to a pulp, but they’re going to do you first.
Again, there's no problem with being attractive. I wouldn't want to play a game where all the characters were ugly. I see enough ugly people in my everyday life. It's this notion that female characters must always remain pretty--whether they're dying or fighting--that needs to be changed. It's a shame that Shania's fusions didn't reflect her dark intentions and obsession with revenge. I hope to see another female harmonixer in future installments to the Shadow Hearts series--perhaps she'll possess fusions that actually embody the souls of demons instead of merely granting her a costume change.
Oh, and in the process of putting this article together, I stumbled across this lovely Shadow Hearts gem. No, it has nothing to do with anything, but it’s campy as hell.
Possible Silent Hill 4 spoilers! You've been warned.
So, I'm here today to talk about one of many long-time conventions of Survival Horror games: the alternate costume. Specifically, let's dive into those of the amazing Silent Hill series.
The first Silent Hill game to implement alternate costumes was Silent Hill 3 with Heather Mason's formidable slew of T-shirts, whose codes you could gather throughout subsequent play-throughs of the game as well as from different gaming magazines. Among them is my favorite, this kick-ass design from the now-defunct GMR magazine:
Silent Hill 4, the oft-referred "black sheep" of the series, features alternate costumes as well, although in a, erm, slightly different manner:
Why don't we talk about the difference here?
First of all, it's important to note that the SH4 costumes are only available for these two characters, Cynthia and Eileen respectively, and, as opposed to the twenty-eight choices you have in SH3, these are the only options you have: dominatrix for Cynthia and sexy nurse for Eileen.
Now, I have no problem with the sexy sexy nature of these costumes. In theory, it adds a touch of humor to the game that pervades the entire series (Exhibit A). However, in SH3 you were only able to dress up Heather, the single playable character, as opposed to, oh, gussying up creepy villainess Claudia in a rubber unitard and fishnet stockings. In SH4, protagonist Harry receives no alternate costumes at all, and the option to slap one of these on our lovable Walter Sullivan is absent as well.
So, our first problem is that only the female characters receive this extra treatment. And their meager options are what can only be deemed "stripper outfits." It transforms SH4 from a tense, psychological experience to a rendered polygon jiggle-fest in ways that not even Heather's Pretty Magical Girl outfit ever managed.
The game's Survival Horror tag obviously warrants buckets of blood and violence. Here's where things for our pals Cynthia and Eileen get even more problematic. Their sexy new costumes provide for scenes where they look exactly like Dead Hookerson Parade.
The sexualization of the poses, highlighted by the stripper duds, puts a titillating gloss on what should only be seen as alarming and horrifying. It's also important to note the striking difference between Walter's attacks on Cynthia and Eileen and those of their male counterparts. While all are similarly graphic, Cynthia and Eileen's are far less disfiguring (if at all), allowing them to, of course, stay nice and pretty (as they're blinking through all that blood). Compare Richard Braintree's huge bulging forehead veins to Eileen's ketchup-stained face. It looks like she'd be A-OK with a sheaf of napkins and a mirror.
The breakdown is, in all Survival Horror games, as with many horror films, every character is fair game for predators, but the "girls" must ALWAYS be sexy, even in their death throes. The treatment of these characters exudes a desperate attempt for male control over the female body. While I have no problem with characters in a Survival Horror game getting attacked or killed while just happening to be female, the tendency to twist the violence against them in a way that's never done to male characters is nothing less than misogynistic, particularly when it's given a sexual spin. Add a couple of hooker outfits to the mix and things get even more fun.
Interests: Writing, music (listening to it, really), web design Favorite Game Genre: Definite tie between RPGs and survival horror Favorite Game Series: Silent Hill, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Suikoden, Shin Megami Tensei, Bomber Man
Gaming History: I'm comfortable with saying that I've been playing games since before I can remember. When I was four, my parents blessed our family with an NES and the Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt combo, and I've been hooked ever since. I've always identified myself as a gamer -- particularly a console lover -- and fell in love with RPGs the moment I laid eyes on the US Final Fantasy II.
While I will always stick by the classics, a few more recent gems have moved up my favorites list. The title of Best RPG Of All Time rests with PS2's Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne in my book, only recently usurping Suikoden I on the original PSX.
And yes, the combination of writer/gamer has spawned a cornucopia of fan fiction in my past, the very first of which being set in the Super Mario RPG universe, swiftly followed by an epic two-notebook series of Star Fox and finished nicely with a massive volume of Final Fantasy VII. The notebooks, now, are retired, so rest easy.
Name: Hector Calabar Age: Twenty-two Sex: Male Orientation: Gay Contact: HectorCalabar [AT] gmail [DOT] com
Interests: cooking, crochet, Japan, knitting, sewing Favorite Game Genre: RPGs Favorite Game Series: Final Fantasy, Genso Suikoden, Silent Hill, Shadow Hearts, Valkyrie Profile, Wild ARMs, Xenogears Favorite Tabletop Games: 3.5 Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, Changeling: The Dreaming
Gaming History: I've been playing video games for as long as I can remember--my two earliest gaming memories are Final Fantasy and Crystalis for the NES. Not Super Mario? I know. I probably played it and failed miserably. I wasn't exactly the most coordinated youngster. Previous ineptitudes aside, video games have become one of my major pass times, and I plan to continue playing through my old age.
As exciting as the next new games can be, I tend to play the same classics over and over again. I've been through Valkyrie Profile so many times that I can quote Lenneth's speeches to the recently deceased Einherjar. I'm a living walkthrough to any Squaresoft / SquareEnix game. When it comes to gaining levels, I can tell you which monsters will appear where, plus what items they'll drop. When I'm listening to the original soundtrack for a game, I can describe to you the scenes in which the music first appeared, including who was there and what they were doing (and the track's name). It all comes from repetitive play, my friends. Some call it obsession. I call it dedication.
Name: PlasmaRit Age: Twenty-one Sex: Female Orientation: Bi Interests: Composing and listening to music, textile arts such as knitting and sewing, playing and watching soccer rabidly Favorite Game Genre: Survival/Horror, Action/Adventure Favorite Game Series: Metroid, Star Fox, Shadow Hearts, The Legend of Zelda
Gaming History: Ever since I was in preschool, I loved video games. Heroes such as Mario and Link guided me through enchanting worlds and introduced me to thousands of interesting characters and personalities. It was only a few years later when I was introduced to my favorite video game idol that I knew it was love: Samus Aran in Super Metroid. Since then, I've tried to get my hands on every Metroid game and follow the bounty hunter through her lifetime of ass-kickery.
I shamelessly love the Star Fox series in all it's cheesy fun. Who doesn't love bursting out with an exaggerated cry of "Faather?" in inapropriate situations? And my Survival/Horror love manifested with a little game called Parasite Eve--still one of my favorite Playstation games to date. I've played many different Survival/Horror games since, and I can't get enough of them. If the world were to be overrun with ghosts, zombies, space pirates, or crazy mitochondria bitches, I'd know exactly what to do. Now where is my arm canon?
We can remember the Days of the Arcade, tell you the original game on which Super Mario Bros. 2 was based (Doki Doki Panic!), and forcibly borrow all of your fingers and toes and those of your immediate family and your dog to help us count our respective game collections.
We are feminists.
Welcome to Girl in the Machine.
What do you do here? We talk about video games -- both classic and new, on any and all formats -- and we talk about feminism, and oftentimes add in a healthy does of queer theory as well.
How do you do it? With lots of pretty pictures of rampant sexism at which we point and laugh. And discussions of where Game Developers Get it Right, How They Get it Wrong, and How it Can Be Fixed. Don't worry, it's not all lip-tightening and arms-crossing and head-shaking. We all laugh and swear and have a great time.
But why?! Well, we love video games. And we've grown up with them all of our lives. We feel that gaming is an acceptable medium to which we can apply feminism, discuss women, and generally have a fun time doing it.