Girl in the Machine
Monday, July 30, 2007
Trembling in your schoolgirl uniform.

In the amazing and amazingly creepy Fatal Frame, protagonist Miku wanders the halls of the haunted Himuro mansion, searching for her brother. Armed with only a camera and a weak flashlight, she tiptoes down a hallway strung with dangling ropes. A flicker of light in the darkness ahead: the grainy visage of a ghost appears, and Miku raises her camera to her eyes, whimpering with fear.

God knows in that kind of situation, my knees would be knocking, too. But how about a little experiment? Close your eyes, kick back, and suspend your disbelief for a second.

Imagine the same scene, but replace petite little Miku with an image of beefy Torque from The Suffering.

. . . okay, so maybe that example is a little extreme. But it does make you think, doesn't it?

A Survival Horror game's protagonist is a crucial element to the gamer's experience. The protagonist acts as an extension of the player herself, submersed in a world of fantasy and fear. A wide variety of Survival Horror games offers many different and unique experiences, but there is a trend in the games' protagonists that I haven't helped noticing.

Sex. Specifically, the different "effects" that game producers attempt to achieve based on their protagonists' sex. With a few very wonderful exceptions, I've found that things typically go like this.

A Surivival Horror game that features a female protagonist tends to be slower-paced with more thriller-esque elements and environmental scares. The main character is typically young (teens to early twenties), poorly equipped for the task at hand, and very clearly exhibits her (rather realistic) fear in cutscenes and in her actions. All these factors intertwine to paint a portrait of helplessness and impart a sense of discomfort and vulnerability in the player.

Take Miku from our first example. Our intrepid hero must have rushed off to rescue her brother so quickly that she forgot to change out of her school uniform and didn't pack anything besides that dinky little flashlight. I can't fault her for excessively whimpering through every single cutscene because, frankly, who wouldn't? And while her main weapon, the Camera Obscura, proves formidable in context, it doesn't exactly ring the same bell as Leon's magnum Handcannon in Resident Evil 4.

In a similar vein, we have Jennifer from Rule of Rose. She faces down Horrible Imps and other nightmares while dressed perfectly for a tea party, is stuck with a perpetually terrified expression on her face, and combat proves . . . interesting. Armed with a dessert fork as her first weapon, she hides her face with one arm and blindly jabs random targets before her with all the accuracy of a kid with a clubfoot playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

The list goes on and on.

Male protagonists are a different story. You never see schoolboys or guys in short-shorts wandering timorously through haunted houses. Survival Horror games proffering male protagonists tend to feature more graphic violence, fast-paced gameplay, and incorporate elements of shooters. The character himself is probably older (late-twenties and up), buffer, and packing heat. He is usually a hardened stoic, utterly professional, and herein the vulnerability is absent, replaced with gun-blazing machismo.

Let's take another look at Torque. First of all, his name is Torque. Just roll that around on your tongue for a minute; I'll wait.

Torque is a brawny, stubbly prisoner on death row, armed to the teeth with firearms, an eternal scowl, and blood-stained white wifebeater. He doesn't even blink an eye at the hideous creatures that invade Abbott State Penitentiary, blowing them away with merciless shotgun blasts and a rock-hard demeanor. The player derives horror from the grotesque creature design, frenetic cutscenes, and shocking AI animation, but not once does Torque's cold personality allow for an element of vulnerability to creep in.

Alongside Torque are countless others. We have the rugged professionalism of Alone in the Dark's Edward Carnby and cool-and-collected Leon Scott Kennedy from the aforementioned Resident Evil 4. Even Silent Hill's male protags Harry, James, and Henry fall into step with their collective age and limited emotional display, among other factors.

Thankfully, as always, there are exceptions. Alex Roivas of the celebrated Eternal Darkness exudes far more woman than girl, battling ambulatory skeletons and other nasties with swords, shotguns, and a fresh, sharp wit. Silent Hill 3's Heather Mason does her father proud by avoiding excessive vulnerability and when she does take a moment to break down, it's heartbreaking without being exploitative or weak. The Resident Evil series's sorely-missed female lead Jill Valentine also kicks tons of zombie ass.

While I appreciate the variety that all of these factors offer, plus the opportunity to feel frightened because of a character's vulnerability or empowered by his badassery, the consistent disparity between sexes proves disturbing. The concept of vulnerability is not strictly limited to the female sex, and by doing so in these games again and again suggests an inherent weakness that afflicts only women. Miku's petrified whimpering is neither weak nor unrealistic, but I would love to see game producers put dudes in her position for once.

(Thanks to IGN.com for the piccies.)

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:05 AM + Link to this post
  11 comments

 
Friday, July 27, 2007
Jubilations for Metroid Prime 3: Corruption


Plasma's a very happy girl. You see, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is coming out in less than a month, and I can hardly contain myself. MP 2: Echoes slated my thirst for more Metroid but left me wanting a little more, and Corruption looks like it will take up the slack--and then some. I've been browsing around the internet for previews, pictures, and other little gems about the game, and what I've seen has justified my jubilations.

The story, while not the most unique of stories, leaves the game wide open for very cool happenings. Rumor has it that Space Pirates have harnessed some kind of deadly virus that must be stopped. Bounty hunters from near and far are gathered, Samus answering the call as well, to deliver vaccines to cities for restoring their Aurora Units and to stop the pirates before the virus spreads. I'm sure metroids factor into the equation somewhere as well, and a quick viewing of E3 trailors confirms the inclusion of the ever-revivable Ridley as one of our dastardly space pirates.

The graphics. This game is breathtakingly beautiful. Mp3: Corruption flaunts the capabilities of the Wii every chance it gets, from Samus's detailed ship to the gilded buildings of Skytown, Elysia. This is no Gamecube game that somehow found its way onto the Wii (I'm looking at you, Twilight Princess); Corruption is a sparkling jewel of lush environments and really, really cool suits.

The controls. Retro Studios fine tunes the Wiimote in a way that far outshines many of the Wii's current games. Players use the Wiimote to open doors, enter codes, type on keypads--and blast a few space pirates into oblivion, of course. Implementing this technology is realistic (ie, opening doors) rather than gimmicky, a complaint I've had about the Nintendo DS's touch screen for several games. While there is an auto-lock feature, Corruption doesn't spoon-feed combat strategies. There is a learning curve, and players can hone their skills early before facing more challenging monsters in the future.


The new suit. The cherry on top of every Metroid game, the new suit in Corruption is sleek, beautiful, and dangerous-looking. This PED suit (Phazon Enchancement Device) comes with a slew of cool new abilities, too: remember the first Metroid Prime? The PED suit allows Samus to harness her Phazon powers and throw the bounty hunter into a temporary hypercharged state, or the creatively-named "Hypermode." It's a sweet new addition to the library of suits.

The people. Most Metroid games are very isolated, with Samus as the only real character in a world of impersonal creatures and space pirates. Corruption takes a page from MP: Hunters by adding more bounty hunters to the mix. Samus gets to interact with other humans/humanoids (which, after so many years of limited human contact, I'm sure Samus herself is excited about), and--what is this? Another female character, perhaps? If I'm not mistaken, this is one of the first Metroid games to feature a female character other than the famous bounty hunter herself. And speaking of which . . .

Everyone's favorite bounty hunter. What kind of dangerous hijinks with Samus get into this time? How will she react to certain situations? Will players learn a little more about our intrepid hero? Inquiring minds want to know! I see this game as a great opportunity to expand on Samus's character, to let her grow and change. I enjoyed Metroid Fusion for allowing Samus a voice to express her thoughts and views throughout the game; it was something I missed in Metroid Prime. I want to see more of the bounty hunter as a person, which can be done in subtle but effective ways. Corruption's pristine graphics should allow more than enough room to fill Samus with life and expression, even while in her suit.

So enjoy this trailer from E3 2007, on me. What are your thoughts on Corruption? Is it living up to your expectations, or do you want more? I'd be more than happy to discuss.

Special thanks to IGN.com for images.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 2:11 AM + Link to this post
  3 comments

 
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Apologies, again

Please forgive my absence as of yesterday. I was out of town and didn't have access to a computer. Stop by later this week for more content by PlasmaRit -- and perhaps Calabar's grand return as well!

 Posted by BomberGirl
 8:00 AM + Link to this post
  1 comments

 
Friday, July 20, 2007
Do I Hear ... Civil Union Bells?


Once upon a time, there were two men from very different worlds: a pompous, successful businessman named Mr. Money, and scrappy, street-smart Jack. The night they met was the start of the most unlikely of loves. Theirs was a turbulent relationship, full of ups and downs, downs and ups. There was passion:


Temptation:


Awkward dancing:


They managed to survive it all. And through all their trials and tribulations, Jack and Mr. Money discovered they couldn't live without each other. So, they decided to make it "official": they wanted to get married.


Thus, the pair made plans for their special day. There was plenty to do: flowers, food, who to invite, what to wear--everything was carefully planned out, down to the tiniest detail. Finally, the big day arrived, and the happy couple exchanged rings and a kiss.


Only, according to The Sims 2, it wasn't a marriage. It was a civil union.

It strikes me as odd that, although every bit of Mr. Money and Jack's wedding was exactly the same as any heterosexual couples', from the setup to the ring exchange, the game has gone out of its way to call it something different. It disappoints me that even in this day and age, a game that unapologetically includes gay relationships draws the line at actual marriage. The franchise has made progress, however: in the original Sims, it was possible to create gay couples, but it was impossible for them to achieve any kind of union, save becoming roommates. The Sims 2 has stepped up, but only to a point.

Why is it, in a game where equality exists almost across the board (men can where makeup, women can look butch), gay marriage crosses the line? Wouldn't it have been easier to just call it marriage no matter what sexual preference the couple has? For family-minded sims, teens who's first kiss is with someone of their sex aspire to get a "civil union", not get "married"; gay gold-diggers wish to "union" with a rich sim, unlike their straight counterparts. The distinction is clear, obvious, and unsettling.

Gay rights have come across a rocky road in America; currently, Massachusetts is the only state to officially legalize gay marriage, and it's possible that this fact may be why gay marriage is not included in the Sims franchise. However, The Sims 2 is obviously not a conservative game, so it's sad that the idea of two men or women marrying each other is too over the top for them. Even through their many expansion packs, the separate labels continue to exist. I hope that one day in the future, couples like Mr. Money and Jack will be able to present their marriage license to the Sims government and know that they're recognized as equal as any hetero couple. Then, maybe the real world can take a hint as well.

Special thanks to BomberGirl for the images.

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 12:35 AM + Link to this post
  1 comments

 
Monday, July 16, 2007
Bra? What Bra?

In the vast and exciting paradigm of video games, fighters provide some of the most common examples of grossly exaggerated stereotypes in femininity and masculinity. Granted, what's important in a fighting game is the gameplay of the combat itself and not an engrossing story or deep characters. However, game developers far too often fall back on needlessly overused gender roles to delineate these characters. There are many familiar faces among the hulking and emotionless specimens of raw masculine power and slender, buxom portraits of smoldering feminine beauty. Why do we see these particular archetypes in fighting games again and again?

The age-old disparity between male strength and female strength burns brightly on in fighters: men must be physically strong while women must be alluring. However, these stereotypes are severely amped up in the fighting game context. Often enough, "masculinity" reaches levels of pure machismo (preposterous amounts of muscle, extreme aggression) and "femininity" approaches misogyny in its emphasis on sexual characteristics (comically large breasts, crotch-exhibiting moves). For example, in the Soul Calibur series, there are no female equivalents to the thundering heavyweights Astaroth, Rock, and Necrid, while pretty Sophitia and Seung Mi-na run around flashing their white panties with every kick and leap.

This disparity unsurprisingly reveals just what it always does: men dominate, women seduce. A particular trait of machismo attests to a superiority in fitness and strength. In the framework of a fighter (wherein all participants are obviously in combat), the exaggerated gender roles make the strangeness of female physical prowess more "acceptable." While there is a wealth of opportunity to see women beating the crap out of men, or even beating the crap out of each other without the tired "cat-fight" cliche, their frequent hypersexualization keeps the notion of female strength from being taken seriously. The gratuitous panty shots and exorbitant breasts lovingly rendered to move independently of their owners facilitate the idea of a physically superior female by transforming women fighters into strippers and porn stars. One need not look farther than Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball to find sufficient evidence of this manner.

As grim as it all appears, this isn't all true across the board. While fighting games certainly have their formulaic characters, we have more choices than just Impassive Over-Muscled Strong Guy and Hot Booby Ninja Chick Who Wears No Bra. Feminine men often make appearances, such as resident pretty boys Vega of Street Fighter or Alba from King of Fighters, and sometimes we get pleasant rarities like Guilty Gear's Bridget, a young yoyo-wielding boy dressed as a nun. Unfortunately, these exceptions are usually just as the above: all male. Even more unfortunate is the irregularity of women of color in the character rosters.

Fighters' hyperbolic gender roles present a conspicuously male bias. Simply reversing the roles reveals their absurdity: imagine playing a game full of robust female body builders and men performing spin-kicks around enormous, turgid erections. And honestly, as fun as that would be, I can't imagine it would get by very well in today's society.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:09 AM + Link to this post
  6 comments

 
Friday, July 13, 2007
Apologies!

Sorry, but there's no update from PlasmaRit today, due to Internet troubles! Friday the Thirteenth apparently rears its ugly head. Please drop by on Monday for the next post.

In the meantime, check out our links on the sidebar for some good reading to tide you over. Thanks!

 Posted by BomberGirl
 8:38 AM + Link to this post
  0 comments

 
Monday, July 9, 2007
The Grand Dominatrix Phenomenon

Welcome, friends! Buckle up your favorite studded collar, oil up your leathers, and lace those whalebone corsets tight -- it's time for us to talk about the timeless Dominatrix Phenomenon of Video Games!

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed this obvious trend in female villainy. From Maniac Mansion's sadistic Nurse Enda in the 1980s to the whip-tastically femdom antics of Soul Calibur's Ivy Valentine of today, women baddies have typically walked the fine line between sultry femme fatale and disciplining dominatrix. So what's the deal?

(Not that I'm here to knock on dominatrices in practice or in theory. I happen to know a couple, and they're quite the fun crowd. Rock on, dommes of dungeons dark, rock on.)

Let's consider our leather-clad villainesses from a gamer's perspective. Why is it every other female villain I run into a whip-wielding vixen who's turned on by pain? Why is it that for every self-titled "mistress" there is a voluptuous little minx of a mastermind who wants some screwin' to go with her kicking of ass? Wherefore the sexy danger, often completely devoid of relevance to the character herself?

Hmm. Dictionary time!

Dominatrix. Noun. 1. a woman who plays the dominant role in a sado-masochistic sexual relationship or encounter. 2. a woman who dominates. From the Latin "dominatrix," a female ruler or mistress.

Can't get much more cut and dried than that, folks.

A good starting point is the bare-bones etymological origin of our title. What more is a typical video game villain than a ruler, a holder of power? Oftentimes it's as simple as that. So, we have a woman -- our dominatrix -- who takes a dominant role -- that is, she poses as a powerful force for our hearty protagonists to overcome. That's not unusual by any means. Throwing in a nice handful of sadism doesn't change things much at all, either. It doesn't take much to recall a plethora of male villains who take joy in harming others, so what's so special about their female counterparts who do the same?

Here's where our roads diverge. Because it isn't the same. The female villain fashioned into a dominatrix is a completely fetishized view of a woman in power, done so in a way that rarely (at best!) occurs with her male counterpart. When was the last time you saw Ganondorf in a harness, anyway? As the dominatrix, the villainess obtains her power through sexualized male fantasy instead of through other means (that could, conceptually, involve actual character development instead of an age-old stereotype).

Game developers fashion their villainous dominatrices specifically for the target audience of video games: the young male demographic. The male gamer becomes the metaphorical "sub" to the villain's professional "domme," the client who purchases a sexual fantasy. If we are to consider the balance of power in a typical dominant/submissive interaction, the sub has theoretically more power over the domme (owing to the sub's ability to stop the action whenever she or he feels is necessary). In this way, the female villain as a dominatrix implies a superior power in the male player, who finds his sexual fantasy bought and paid for.

The conspicuousness of this stereotype varies, of course. The drow queen, or Valsharess, in the Neverwinter Nights expansion Hordes of the Underdark wields a whip and vaguely BDSM-style accouterments. Besides a rather unhealthy appetite for inflicting pain, there's little else to attest to her kinks (and at the very least, female drow are naturally dominant). However, Veronica from Shadow Hearts: Covenant leaves very little to the imagination. Not only does she strut around in the full leather get-up (complete with riding crop!), she also routinely tortures captives in a dungeon, femdom-style, complete with a fettered cross and extreme electrostimulation! Don't try that at home, kiddies.

In the end, I believe that it's fair to say that, while sexuality is cool and empowering and getting kinky with things is even better, defining a female villain solely by the stale stereotype of a whip-cracking nymphomaniac domme is definitely not cool. If this weren't such a frequent occurrence, I'd give it a pass, but the only trend I'm seeing here is the concept of a woman in power as a simple sexual fetish. And that really yanks my leash.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:01 AM + Link to this post
  6 comments

 
Friday, July 6, 2007
First Friday Drinking Game


It's the first Friday of the month, and you probably just got done paying the bills or working a tough week. It's your first real day to kick back and relax this month. What better way to spend your Friday than rounding up some friends for a couple drinks? I present to you: the First Friday Drinking Game! Whether you're nursing the vodka or planning on guzzling a whole lot of soda in one night, get the shot glasses out and fire up your favorite console, because it's FFDG: Survival Horror edition! The rules are simple: just take a drink for every redundant, annoying and/or sexist thing you find. Here are a few suggestions:

1 drink for every monster who looks suspiciously like a vagina
1 drink for every phallic monster
2 drinks if phallic monster impregnates someone
1 drink for every sexy female counterpart to an ugly male monster
1 drink for every character you have to drag with you
2 drinks if said character is slow
3 drinks if they're injured
1 drink for every character who intentionally goes to explore a haunted house/castle/cathedral/etc. in a short skirt (no drinks if setting is stumbled upon)
1 drink for every creepy child
2 drinks if child is a ghost
1 drink for every chase scenario
2 drinks if main character is injured/slowed down in any way during chase scenario
1 drink whenever main character seems unusually calm
1 drink for every "boo!" moment
2 drinks if said moment makes y ou jump
2 drinks for every random nude scene
3 drinks for every lingering camera ogle during random nude scene
1 drink for every main character with amnesia

And of course:
Finish your drink for every sexualized murder

Warning: Excessive drinking during game play may result in impaired judgement, drunken nonchalance during tense situations that can include inappropriate laughter and/or multiple game overs. Play with caution!

Think I forgot something? Suggest a rule in the comments section!

What drinking games do YOU want to play every month? If there is any genre or specific game you want featured in FFDG, drop me a line at PlasmaRit at gmail dot com.

Plasma out!

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 Posted by PlasmaRit
 12:53 AM + Link to this post
  3 comments

 
Monday, July 2, 2007
Power, Wisdom, and Courage


Ocarina of Time truly is a very female-oriented game. Not only have the seven wise men from A Link to the Past been turned into the seven sages -- five of whom are women -- we have the reintroduction of Nursemaid Turned Sheikah Warrior Impa, a more active role for the titular Princess Zelda, and the formal appearance of Hyrule's three creation goddesses.

Din, Nayru, and Farore: the three goddesses who not only formed Hyrule out of chaos but also fashioned the Triforce, a physical manifestation of their power. According to the Great Deku Tree, the goddesses descended upon the chaos that was Hyrule and reshaped it according to their specific strengths: Din, goddess of power, shaped and cultivated the terrain with "great flaming arms"; Farore, goddess of courage, created all life with her "rich soul"; and Nayru used her wisdom to grant the "spirit of law" upon the world.

The three goddesses of Hyrule are a particularly interesting part of the Legend of Zelda cosmology because of their very sex. It is (unfortunately) less common to see a religion, fictional or practiced, headed by women, and rarer still for female divinities to take on the world-creation process without the (usually sexual) aid of male counterparts. And while the ability of women to give birth, and the significance of such a thing, is most definitely nothing to be sneezed at, it's still quite refreshing to see female deities undergo the process of creation without their wombs being a sole requirement.

I salute the Zelda team for avoiding the obvious traps when characterizing Hyrule's creator-gods. Think of how easy it would have been for Nayru to take the form of a wise old grandmother, Farore a fertile young mother-figure, or Din a raging, fiery muscle man. Instead of these oft-seen stereotypes, we have the three golden goddesses whose personal strengths perfectly compliment one another in a universal trifecta of power, wisdom, and courage.


And the goddesses' personal realms are indeed universal. We have Din's domain over red earth and fire, Farore's of green forests and life, and Naryu's of blue oceans and time. While it is definitely legitimate to call the three goddesses mothers, their scope is not limited to creation itself: their influence percolates throughout everything, from the coveted Triforce in the Sacred Realm to the order of every living thing in Hyrule. In this way, instead of being potentially walled in by their sex, the goddesses draw power from breaking down the hard-and-fast "male is default" rule that we see so often in video games.

And this is something that Ocarina of Time does so well. Though our plucky hero and dastardly villain are both male, we need not forget the scores of other mostly-female characters, without which Link may never have succeeded. How far would he have gotten without Saria, Zelda, or the frighteningly enthusiastic Great Fairies, anyway?

(Thanks to the Zelda Wiki for the images.)

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 12:57 PM + Link to this post
  4 comments

 
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