Posts Tagged Video Games
In 1999, the survival-horror genre was at its peak, although teetering very close to toppling. Games with solitary protagonists stuck in creepy, isolating situations struggling to fight creatures and solve puzzles were pretty much everywhere, and developers sought ways to take the then “not-quite-as-worn-out” formula and make it fresh, novel, and new. Fear Effect and its follow-up prequel Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix were two of those games, a positively-reviewed experience involving gangs, corporate corruption, and a hell of a lot of demons, curses, and other all-out weirdness. They were a pretty great set of games for its time, and novel too: not only was the protagonist, Hana Tsu Vaschel, a strong, capable woman; Retro Helix very strongly implied that she was gay.
Eidos Interactive, the publisher, has an interesting history with its female protagonists. The most notable would be Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series. It’s difficult to argue that, in its original context, Lara Croft was creating as a titillating experience, a female buxom beauty with all the right curves who could also kick ass, solve puzzles, and fight dinosaurs. It can’t be denied that Lara was made to be gawked at and mentally-pornified by its teenage demographic. To their credit, Eidos (and publisher Crystal Dynamics) spend several games developing her and her backstory, to mixed results, but ultimately making a character that was rather multidimensional. The result lead to her infamous reboot, a by-all-accounts excellent game with it’s own troubled PR history. Still, by modern standards, Lara Croft is considered one of the more successful and popular female protagonists in gaming history.
Eidos then published the first Fear Effect game by developer Kronos Digital Entertainment. In this game, Hana is, design-wise, just as voluptuous as Lara, but unlike Tomb Raider, which often referenced Lara’s sexuality in various, tongue-in-cheek ways, Fear Effect focuses less on Hana’s sex and more on her situation, which grew weirder and scarier with every pressing moment. The titillating aspect is still there, but not as strongly “in your face.”
But it’s in Retro Helix where things get interesting, both positively and negatively. We see Hana early in the game on a mission along side another female character, Rain Qin. As you progress through the first area, Hana and Rain talk, quibble and… flirt… with each other. It becomes more and more obvious that their relationship is beyond partnerships. It’s beyond platonic. Hana and Rain are lovers.
It’s a remarkable reveal if you think about it. The number of gay relationships in games is nil. In fact, the only ones that I can think of are the ones you can create in Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3, and that had its share of controversy. I also believe that the Persona series tackle questions of sexuality of its cast of complex teenagers. But Fear Effect was before the internet hit its stride and way before people talked about games in any intellectual context. That the developers at Kronos Digital decided to imbue Hana and Rain’s relationship with romantic feelings that sound and feel relatively genuine is a massive surprise. I’m shocked (and yet I’m not) that this hasn’t caught on.
There is a caveat though: I say relatively because, well, it’s impossible to deny that the relationship in itself was designed to be even MORE titillating anything from Lara Croft. Look at these covers. Retro Helix is egregiously more eye-candy than it’s predecessor. And then there’s this scene, a scene that seems to be the whole raison d’être of making a “hot lesbian” protagonist duo in the first place:
Yeah, it’s cheap masturbatory fantasy at its finest, and sleaziest. It’s really the only scene in the game that’s really like this, though (EDIT: There are a few more, as pointed out by Anthony John Agnello in this Gameological article here – which I don’t fully agree with, but concede to on many points), and they do it as part of the mission, in a desperate moment when things don’t quite as planned and they need a quick distraction. Not to justify it though, since there’s probably a million ways to avoid this – I’m simply just trying to contextualize it.
That all being said, the game, overall, doesn’t overplay the gay angle. It’s not a “GAY AND PROUD OF IT” game, it’s not a “HAHA THEY’RE GAY” game, and it’s not (fully) a “DAMN, THAT GAY STUFF IS HOT” game. Hana and Rain are fairly fleshed-out characters with their own personalities. Hana feels strongly for Rain and when the game puts Rain in danger, Hana fights for her. Hana is as strong and fierce as your Samuses, your Crofts, your and Jades; Fear Effect rarely, if ever, drives the homosexuality in your face. Being gay has nothing to do with how Hana functions or how the player perceives her, and in that way, it’s a godsend.
A third game, Fear Effect Inferno, was in the works, but due to financial troubles, Eidos had to cancel it. It’s a shame, too, as it might have been fascinating to see where it would have taken that relationship, but then again, developers recently haven’t been doing the feminine sphere all that well, to say nothing of the barely-existent LGBTQ sphere. Still, for one very interesting moment, you played a gay person, and no one gave a shit because it was fun as hell.
Apologies for the delays, again: last week, I went through a lockdown as I prepped an Archer spec to submit to various writing contests. And this coincided with a major move at work, so I’ve been extremely busy. I swear I have blog pieces ready to go. I just need the time to fine-tune them. (I also have a pitch to prep for an upcoming meeting, so weekly updates probably won’t be happening until July.)
That being said, I DID create a Tumblr account.
This account, for the most part, is for quick thoughts and observations on whatever I may be engaging in at the time, whether it’s a game or TV show or film. They tend to be 5-8 paragraphs of just musings, more (hopefully well-thought-out) opinions, as opposed to the more analytic pieces I write specifically for the blog. Follow along for a random piece of whatever!
Some examples are:
Fully fledged pieces will be coming soon!
Is IronE Singleton aware that the internet’s support for him is ironic in nature? Hell, is the internet aware? (SPOILERS for the TV show The Walking Dead, the movie Chronicle, and the video game Binary Domain.)
Perhaps the support is part comic, part pity, and part ironic. Perhaps there is legitimate respect in Singleton’s portrayal of T-Dog, the now-deceased African-American character on the hugely popular but extremely flawed The Walking Dead. Perhaps the internet – showing a surprising amount of critical savvy in the realm of developed characters – supported Singleton because he was working with so little of a character, with so little worth. T-Dog, metaphorically, was awesome because T-Dog, literally, was not, and Singleton did the best he could.
This is nothing new. African-American characters dying in horror films (and in all forms of entertainment nowadays) have been normalized to the point way past parody. I’m not even concerned about that, per se, as problematic as it is. The Walking Dead, however, seem to have codified it into something uncomfortably explicit – practically a rule of the show. To be specific, when another African-American male was introduced in an episode, they would kill off the previous one. They killed T-Dog when they introduced Oscar. They killed Oscar when they introduced Tyreese. They barely even let an entire episode pass by without two African-American males alive and well, and they never even spoken to each other at any length. (To be fair, there are two African-American females – Michonne and Sasha [and they have not talked to each other yet either]. I don’t have too much hope for Sasha, but as of right now, progress is progress.)
T-Dog’s death was particularly sloppy. A character whose development was as detailed as a sponge, T-Dog suddenly had a religious epiphany as he sacrificed himself to save Carol, which left Glenn alone with the wonderful, completely-out-of-nowhere exposition of detailing T-Dog’s background (he apparently drove old people to church). I’m willing to give a little benefit of the doubt though. The Walking Dead has had a number of issues behind the scenes, with creatives and executives alike. It has a number of issues with its female characters as well – a point that deserves its own essay and has been written about extensively. But being alive, they can redeem themselves – or at least redeem themselves in death, which Lori in some ways had done (lesser so with Angela, but writing isn’t the show’s strong point). The Walking Dead has made its black men disposable to the point that two black characters can’t even talk to each other, without a dramatic reason why. The Token Black Man Death has gotten so uncomfortably common that I can’t even laugh at it anymore.
I was watching Chronicle, a short but interesting film that takes on the emotional struggle of mentally unstable teens through the thematic use of burgeoning super powers. It was a taut, surprisingly thorough film that kept me quite interested… up until the point that they killed off Steve (Michael B. Jordan). I wish to god that didn’t effect me like it did, but my heart sank and I had to leave the room for a moment. Steve was nice, charming, and genuinely helpful towards the end of his life. He tried to really help the troubled teen Andrew as he grew more angry and antagonistic. The film clearly used that death to spur the impetus to get Andrew’s cousin, Matt, to deal with Andrew once and for all. But the “death as motivator” trope is already overdone. Adding that racial component only speaks to the systemic issues within the creative field.
How overused has this become? When reading a list of underrated video games of 2012, many people mentioned Binary Domain as one of them. And it was a surprisingly solid game, with tight mechanics, great graphics, and a delicious and deep sci-fi plot bolstered by very unique, personality-filled characters. It didn’t take itself seriously, and the VO was perfect for the tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Boss fights were tough and huge. Everything was running smoothly… until the end. The black character, Bo, sacrifices himself to save the love interest of Faye, in service to protagonist, Dan. There’s a dramatic, touching scene of Dan talking to Bo as he lay dying. It’s well done, especially in context with the series of big reveals that came before it. But of all the characters – and there are a lot of them – did it have to be Bo? And why only him? There’s five other perfect characters that could have been the lamb.
Here’s the kicker. Three completely different pieces of entertainment from three entirely different media all killed off their only black male characters solely in service to the white protagonist. This is ridiculous. And yes, people of all races, generally speaking, were killed (not so much in Binary Domain, but it’s a moot point since mostly everyone were robots). And I’m not claiming that creators should be forced to do something they do or do not what to do, creatively. The problem is that there are already so few black characters in our media, fewer of them developed beyond a single note. (Odd, since The Walking Dead is located in Atlanta with a high black population, and Binary Domain often deals with military groups, groups that often have large African-American numbers.) Why can’t they live happy lives? Why can’t they survive? Why are they seemingly always killed to ensure the happiness/survival of their white peers? Why did THREE totally different development teams all make this same decision?
Women in media are killed for white, male protagonist to go on revenge sprees (add in a little rape or refrigeration to make it “serious”). Black men, on the other hand, are killed in sacrifice to save their Caucasian others. Both are awful, but at least now there seems to be an attempt to really make it a point to bring the treatment of female characters in media to light. African-Americans and other minorities need to definitely speak up and campaign strongly against this, and demand better from writers and creators.