So, did someone say Portal and feminism?
I’m neither intellectual enough to write this academically nor creative enough to relate this in a fic, so here is some semi-organized brainspawn.
For the purposes of this post, if I refer to men as group disparagingly I’m talking about them as extensions and symbolic representations of the patriarchy, not as individuals. I don’t hate men.
Also, I do not agree with the tenets of second wave feminism. While my history of feminism 101 course was a formative part of my youth, I’ve since learned much about feminism that I try to apply to my own politics and opinions. So, connecting Portal to second wave feminism is not a wholesale endorsement of it.
Caroline. She’s a white, probably middle-class woman who is in her youth in the 50’s and 60’s. She has a career that is typically gendered (secretary), and the little canon information we have about her seems to show us that she is accommodating and hardworking (“Yes, sir, Mr. Johnson!), as a woman in her position would be expected to be. But as people much more analytically inclined than I am have pointed out here, Caroline actually uses her situation to her advantage, and occupies one of Aperture Science’s most influential roles.
So she is the perfect person with which to begin this allegory for second wave feminism.
She is not a doting housewife, but she is doing “women’s work”, and she is using her “””submissive””” position to influence the world in significant ways.
But then, suddenly, she is given power when she is used to create GLaDOS.
In order to keep the
historically oppressed womenGLaDOS from starting a riotdispensing neurotoxin, the scientists (mostly represented by men in Lab Ratt and Doug’s art) hook her up to some cores.
The cores are supposed to suppress her personality by forcing her to adopt traits that are not native to her.
They ingrain these traits that are not hers into her in order to make her behave and submit. They try to shape and mold her personality into something it is not.
Let’s take a look at these cores.
There is morality core, because (white) women are supposed to be good and kind.
There is curiosity core, who is childlike because women are supposed to be childish (which feeds into paternal patriarchal feelings).
There is cake core, which literally just reads off recipes, because do I even have to explain?
And there is anger core, because women are irrational and overemotional.
The men in Caroline’s life perceive that she has power and have to stop her from using it by making her believe that she has to be these things she is not and forcing the traits on her.
Note that this power she has is now explicit overt power, rather than the power she managed to get by being close to Cave. That is the power that threatens men.
So Caroline goes from “knowing her place” as a woman to having power and threatening men, to being silenced by having a formulaic femininity thrust upon her with the cores.
And sexism cuts both ways! The cores that destroy Wheatley, that corrupt him, are traditionally “masculine” traits: macho bravado, factual rationale, and intrepid pioneerism. The expectations of masculinity destroy the “male” core.
It isn’t a perfect metaphor. It isn’t a perfect feminist narrative. But there are definitely traces of feminism in the story and characters that are important because media matters.
This is not a definitive essay post, it is the beginning of a conversation. I haven’t even mentioned the power of having a (possibly disabled) woman of color as the hero of a game, or what it could mean that she strips GLaDOS of the expectations that the men have put on her. I haven’t matched up the dates to feminist movements. I haven’t talked about how the narrative surrounding two fully fleshed out women is feminist. But Portal is undoubtedly a feminist game.
As I am about to do some writing on Portal 1/2, this is a relevant introduction.
(Let’s also mention just very briefly the absolutely incendiary Freudianism of a name like “Cave Johnson”)
Ten big-name games with nearly identical protagonists, collection 1 of 2.
Click to read captions.
Following up with my last post about Problems With Video Games, I chose these particular games because each of them is (or includes) a single-player campaign in which you cannot change the identity of your character, he (you) just is a white male and you have to deal with it. This is the first post of two, because tumblr has a ten image limit per photo post and the number of games with a white male brunette protagonist is “most of them”.
Note that I in no way am criticizing the design of these games (that’s for another post), and have played + enjoyed most of them. These rosters are purely to point out the near-uniformity of the finalized character designs.
EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT: Introducing the DoomGuy (DG), the new unit of measurement for rating how generic a video game character is! The scale goes from 1.0 doomguy (DoomGuy: darkish hair, caucasian, blue eyes, male) to 0.0 doomguys (RayMan, Alyx Vance, etc).
Most of the guys above are at 1.0dg or just below. Thank you for making doomguy your unit of choice.
(doomguy proposed by michael42k in #zumschwarzenferkel)
(RPS’ comment system is holding onto this comment without publishing it, probably because it contained links, so I’ll just post it here. This is in response to this article about game studio Deep Silver producing and marketing a severed female torso as a collectible toy for the game, claiming it is an homage to the Venus de Milo.)
1. The Venus de Milo is Greek, not Roman.
2. It has a head and a complete set of legs, and in no way represents sexual violence.
3. In 1981, Japanese exchange student Issei Sagawa murdered and cannibalized a Dutch woman named Renée Hartevelt while both were studying in France. He shot her point blank with a shotgun, then raped the corpse and set about dismantling it. I won’t link to Hartevelt’s autopsy photos, but they show a piecemeal torso and limbs in exactly the same condition as the above figure, with one difference: the breasts have been severed in order to be eaten. Sagawa escaped France with the help of his wealthy father, never standing trial. He made a hell of a good living on the interview circuit for a while, produced a crude comic book detailing the crime, and starred in an exploitative and violent porno. The happy ending is that since the death of his parents, he now lives in squalor and can’t get a job.
Why am I telling you this?
Because Sagawa was likewise fascinated by decapitated “de Milo” forms, as seen in one of his many, many paintings of the same.
Decapitation, the removal of limbs and particularly faces from actual bodies, or of photographs or depictions of bodies (primarily of women), is a theme prevalent in serial killings themselves, as well as art produced by sexual predators/the mentally ill, particularly those who fantasize about doing harm to the subject, generally for the purposes of revenge or domination. It is essentially raping a figure in effigy, and removing their personhood (represented by the face/head), and it this case literally “possessing” the remaining “desired” flesh.
edit: It’s interesting to note that the Deep Silver fig does not appear to be a zombie. It has living flesh tone, fresh blood, and no particular indicators of being undead at all, or even having been recently undead. It appears to be a regular human female torso, as seen in any serial killer’s refrigerator. So why is it being used to promote a zombie game? Surely an actual zombie would have been more interesting?
All art is a kind of objectification but you have to be pretty disingenuous to claim you don’t see any problem whatsoever with marketing, buying, owning, and enjoying what is essentially a sex toy covered in fake blood. Arguments of “well it’s my right to buy whatever I want” and “well it’s their right to market whatever they want” are strawmen, because that’s not what’s being challenged, here. Of course you have the right to buy or market any kind of loathsome garbage you feel like. God Bless America. What’s being challenged here is the attitude behind developing and producing an expressly misogynist toy. It’s in poor taste, yes, but it’s also extraordinarily, aggressively alienating to women and anyone with a scrap of human empathy.
If brevity is your thing: this is horseshit.
What struck me immediately about the Deep Silver figure is its similarity to silicon masturbation dolls coveted and treasured by men who don’t have any use for a sex partner with a head or limbs. It’s literally a sex doll on a stand. That’s how they want their toy, their game, and their brand to be seen: it’s FOR men, and it’s FOR male sexual gratification, full stop. No girls in the clubhouse. Because this is what we think of you, ladies.
We just removed all the parts of you that we didn’t need.
What if racists had a city in the sky? Ken Levine asks the hard questions!
The recent announcement that the Bioshock Infinite cover would be a tour de cliche featuring your average dark-haired caucasian protagonist, chin down, eyes up, rather than something like the (brilliant) fanart Rockwell/Leyendecker Saturday Morning Post pastiche (by Alex Garner) is symptomatic of the entire game development, at least as well as I can tell from the trailers and gameplay released so far.
Hey this game looks pretty g-
“THIS TIME IT’S PAYBACK,” SAID JOHN BIOSHOCK GRIMLY
The most striking difference is in the character of Elizabeth, who started out as a pageboy-bobbed hellraiser in copious eyeliner.
Notice the slight widening of the nasal bridge, the freckles, the nasolabial fold and the longer philtrum.
Notice also that the nose is slightly more convex, stronger and more mature here than in the later, infantilized Elizabeth, who has a more typical Malibu snub nose.
Her freckles are gone, her mouth is smaller (more baby-like), and her hair and makeup—previously strongly-styled, indicative of a woman’s agency over her own appearance (see: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc)—have been lightened and softened, brown instead of black, with the sideswept, childish bangs revealing a larger forehead (again, a physical sign of immaturity). Her nasolabial folds are softened and her skin appears to be more tan than her original gothic pallor.
And while it’s hard to tell if the voice actor has changed her reading style or if this is entirely dependent on the different emotional tones of the different scenes, Elizabeth’s voice sounds higher, more ingratiating, and not at all angry. In other words, she’s been defanged—the new Elizabeth is totally unchallenging, and appears to be about 13 years old.
The cleavage was absolutely gratuitous even at the beginning, but at least she sort of appeared to be a young woman (the character is supposed to be 20 years old), rather than a little girl with precocious tits.
Her original appearance in the first gameplay trailer to be released portrays her furiously acting, her brows lowered, her voice hoarse, low and powerful. In each following video release from the developers, she became more and more dilute, until she took on her final form of what appears to be a kewpie-head-on-a-barbie-doll bimbo. “Booker, Booker,” she simpers, holding up some shiny knickknack as they crash through some abandoned store, “gold!” Haha! Stupid girls!
Exciting realtime events!
That she has been removed entirely from the final cover design is telling, as her character also appears to have been slowly extracted from the actual game. My enthusiasm for the gameplay has waned with each new trailer.
To quote a friend,
RN: you’ve already experienced ken levine’s horrifying epic about what if objectivists had superpowers
RN: now sit back and enjoy as he takes on battered wife syndrome through the medium of robot birds and racial stereotypes
Adding to this awful morass is Levine’s revelation that Elizabeth is based on an abused woman he knew in real life:
“When you arrive in Columbia, Elizabeth has been trapped in this tower since she was a little girl – and you bust her out. That’s essentially the catalyst that heightens the conflict. You really turn the heat up in a way that it wasn’t before,”
Levine revealed that Elizabeth’s complicated relationship with her captor, the Songbird, was inspired by his personal experience with a victim of domestic abuse who inevitably returned to her abuser.
And just in case you weren’t tired of books, movies and games vilifying the notion of populist uprisings in oppressive capitalist citystates,
“The Vox Populi [editor’s note: these pseudo-soviets in the trailers appear to contain the only visibly non-white members] believe that the city is corrupt, so they want to demonstrate to the workers and the downtrodden of the world that this symbol of American imperialism has to fall. A prophecy says that if Elizabeth falls then the city falls with her. So they want her dead.”
So, just to be absolutely crystal clear here: Elizabeth is a mental child in a woman’s body, who has been freed from her tower-prison, and who is now being hunted by
the 99% Occupy populist rabble intent on senselessly smashing the state, as well as by her robot father-monster/ex boyfriend. Only one man can stop them.
There is absolutely no way this can go wrong.
CORRECTION: The SEP cover above was not official Irrational art, but fan work by Alex Garner. Kotaku says: “[The official cover is] nowhere near as imaginative or as evocative as what comic-book artist Alex Garner drew earlier this year(featured above), even if that followed a similar magazine-cover design published by Game Informer more than two years ago.” The text above has been corrected to reflect this.
I was hoping this was going to be asked! For those not in the know, the SCUM (one M) Manifesto is a famous radical feminist document written by Valerie Solanas. As per my Elaine Marley gif, it opens with a call to arms to women, to bring down the government, the patriarchy, etc. It is may be satire, or even a parody of the far far hyperbolic end of patriarchal culture. A few people believe the Manifesto is intended to be serious, a view which is supported by the fact that Solanas was the person who shot Andy Warhol.
Solanas was a friend of (or at least friendly with) Warhol prior to the shooting, and both artists were strongly obfuscatory in their performances—the why of what they did was usually a mystery and sometimes meaningless, so whether or not the SCUM Manifesto is intended to be taken seriously is up for debate. It may be absolutely sincere, it may be farce, or it may be meant as something in between: a ha-ha-only-serious, tongue-in-cheek, hyperbolic-yet-sincere sort of catharsis.
The other half of the pun is SCUMM, that is, Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, which is a scripting language developed at LucasArts (known at the time as Lucasfilm Games) to ease development of the graphical adventure game Maniac Mansion. It was used for every LucasArts game up until Grim Fandango, when they switched to the GrimE engine. This means the SCUMM engine was the arena for some of the greatest video games of all time (the Secret of Monkey Island, Sam and Max Hit the Road, et al), and was the foundation on which our modern ideas of ‘good games’ were built, and then expanded upon.
The SCUMM games, though primitive by modern standards, showed a unifying aesthetic comprised of all their parts: the music was exquisite, the art was excellent, the moods were meaningful even when the games were goofy. If you played the Secret of Monkey Island near the time that it came out, you likely remember the feeling of subdued excitement during the opening music and eerily beautiful title screen:
That LucasArts was able to wring so much from so little then, is very much like what a few select studios are doing now. They work within the confines of their technology and medium to make things that are greater than the sum of their parts.
So the purpose of this blog is to, as stated in our subtitle, Hold Games to a Higher Standard. It will not be exclusively focused on Valve games, nor will it always be feminist critique, nor will it always be serious. Primarily, this blog will focus on aesthetics, which encompasses everything about the experience of playing a game, and that will involve breaking down, minutely, what went wrong and what went right.
Just to be clear, “Why is this debate still going on? Pyro is voiced by an adult male and his muffled voice is too deep to be a girl’s.” was a quote from a forum poster who believed the sex of the voice actor automatically determined the sex of the character, which is ludicrous on its face, but also indicative of the constricted concepts of “gender” that many gamers have.
Wuollet brings up a very good point about the assumptions made about who a “gamer” is, assumptions that female gamers often have to use as a sort of nerd-shaped ghillie suit in order to avoid detection and harassment. Unless stated (and sometimes, proven) otherwise, everyone online is presupposed white, male, and between the ages of 15 and 25.
Rule 29 of the Internet clearly states “In the internet all girls are men, and all kids are undercover FBI agents”, and this is widely believed not only by denizens of /b/, but most unaffiliated persons, as well. It’s a double-edged stereotype, because while on the surface, it appears to be an anti-man generalization (“Only men are lame enough to spend hours online, wasting their time playing video games and trolling forums”), what it actually is, is a rehash of the position that women have no agency; that they do not enjoy playing games, posting online, etc. unless they’re doing it to impress men or “get attention”. The bald fact of a woman playing a video game online because she enjoys it is literally unbelievable.
On a personal note, I have been looking for a good, realistic voice-changing filter for my mic for a long time.
[continued from part 1: The Oasis of the Real]
The team lineup. From left to right: Pyro, Engineer, Spy, Heavy Weapons Guy, Sniper, Scout, Soldier, Demoman, and Medic.
The TF2 team members are, each of them, individual archetypes of “classical” masculinity.
The Heavy is the good-natured and huggable bear (protective; physically massive), the Medic is the aloof intellectual (professorial; teutonic), the Spy is the sleazy Eurotrash Lothario (seductive; manipulative), the Scout is the hyperactive teenager (shallow bravado masking youthful self-doubt), the Sniper is the easygoing outdoorsman (rugged; distant), the Demoman is the “damaged goods” drunkard (as symbolized by his eyepatch and slouching shape), Engineer is the cornfed and capable All-American Dad (friendly; mechanically-minded), and Soldier is the aging army man (strict; blustery).
The first time I found a Team Fortress 2 thread on 4chan’s yaoi board , I was amazed.
Spy and Sniper on a couch, by Kob.
As an online multiplayer-only, plotless, mindlessly-violent first-person-shooter, I had assumed that the female fanbase would be limited; confined mostly to diehard first-person-shooter (FPS) enthusiasts, a subset of games with few female devotees. Fewer in number than female WoW players, or Harry Potter readers, certainly. Despite this, the vast majority of the TF2 fanart posters—and artists—seemed to be women. Weirder still, not all of them even played the game, and very few of them played the game regularly. This was stunning. It was as if I had happened upon a cargo cult—imagine someone showing up to a Star Trek convention with exquisite Spock fan art and a beautiful costume, having never watched the show.