Thursday, 30 May 2013

My Boyfriend Died, It's Funny (Tropes vs Women Part 2 response 1)

So yeah, I watched the latest Tropes versus Women video. At first I was planning to wait until she wraps up the topic of Damsels in Distress and we got her full lecture on the topic, but frankly the waiting time between each video combined with the quickfire rate at which she spouts fallacies makes this impossible. So while we wait the obligatory 3 months before she wraps up this topic, let's start shoveling some of the bullshit out of the way before the pile gets bigger.

Disclaimer: I do not object to the concept of more and better written female characters in video games. In fact I'm a strong supporter of that. I also do not disagree with Anita Sarkeesian because she is a woman. What I object to is Feminist Frequency's propensity to use fallacies, one-sided arguments, lies (either outright or by omission) and her downright dishonest tactics which serve only to promote herself to be in the middle of this discussion to the detriment of outside voices and opinions, and potentially even to the detriment of solving the problem. (And to be clear, I also do not support the false flagging of her videos. She is allowed to speak her opinions and a fair few people actually did pay her to speak them.) 

You'll (maybe) notice that I'm considerably less gentle on this subject than I was earlier. This because it has become very clear to me that we aren't dealing with someone who wants to discuss this topic intelligently, but someone who wants to assert her opinions with only yes men / yes women surrounding her. She's perfectly fine with having us embed her video into our blogs as long as she can shield her own audience from our actual criticisms, thus gaining her attention without actually having to deal with criticism. If she wants to prove me wrong, gladly, maybe we'll get somewhere if she does. 

My Boyfriend Died, It's Funny
(Tropes vs Women Part 2, Rogue Ops)



Here's a quote from her latest video:

"It is interesting to note that the reverse scenario, games hinging on a woman vowing revenge for her murdered boyfriend or husband, are practically non-existent. The gender role reversal is so unusual that it borders on the absurd. Which is one of the reasons why this scene from Disney's Wreck-It Ralph is so humorous."
- Anita Sarkeesian

It is very interesting how instead of an actual instance of role reversal in video games, Anita settles for a similar situation from a comedy movie, a comedy movie suitable for kids. I myself thought the scene was heart-wrenching (aside from the huge-ass gun out of nowhere obviously), but okay.

I guess by Anita's logic 2003's Rogue Ops for the Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation 2 is one of the funniest games ever made, because essentially it is Splinter Cell with the roles reversed. It is in my opinion the most literal example she could have used yet she totally ignores it in favour of Wreck-It Ralph (Sergeant Calhoun herself was likely inspired by Samus Aran from Metroid or female Shepard from Mass Effect). It's also interesting how this is the second time she ignored this game when in an earlier video she accused Splinter Cell Conviction of running on the death of Sam Fisher's daughter Sarah and this being problematic.



"When the world's most brutal terrorist organization, Omega 19, killed Nikki Connors' husband and daughter, they didn't count on payback. Now the ex-Green Beret has joined Phoenix, a covert agency dedicated to counter-terrorism. With unsurpassed skills, weapons expertise, and tools for concealment, she's ready to use stealth, stamina, and deadly force to take her revenge."

So we have a game that literally starts from the premise of female ex-Green Beret Nikki Connors going on a rampage against the people who murdered her husband and daughter. On top of everything, there's nothing overly sexualised about her.

Rogue Ops Commercial
(Rated M for Matture?)

Interesting how with a budget of $160.000 her broadened scope doesn't reach beyond the Tvtropes pages relevant to the topics she wants to discuss and the movies she accidentally watched in cinema.  As of writing, the Tvtropes page for Rogue Ops itself lists tropes for 'Action Girl' and 'Roaring Rampage of Revenge' but the game isn't referenced on their respective pages. Maybe if she actually provided a way to, you know, discuss what she would be talking about before she released her 'academic' presentations we'd be able to compensate for her limited field of vision.

That or we have the more insidious explanation of her being aware of the game but ignoring it because it would lessen the gravitas of her argument, thus making Wreck-It Ralph seem enlightened by pointing it out and the straight up 'girl dies for the sake of men' examples being worse because there are no counter-examples. I'm fairly sure ignorance about the game is the likelier example, but since she made Dinosaur Planet out to be more progressive than it was (Krystal was there to save a princess and there was a male playable protagonist who looked like Fox McCloud) just to make the actually released Star Fox Adventures seem problematic, it's a tactic she does employ. Also no brownie points if it eventually does get mentioned because she missed 2 important opportunities already.

But I know, right? I found one obscure game that nobody ever played. Good job using Google, idiot.

Well actually no. I bought this game myself way back in 2004. I remember standing in the store with Rogue Ops in my left hand, and Kill.Switch in my right hand, only having the money to buy one. I was big into Metal Gear back then and was looking for similar stealth games and Splinter Cell wasn't doing it for me and so I went with Rogue Ops (this was before Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory). Sure, according to VGChartz the game only sold 0.41 million copies across all platforms but the point is that I'm not actively searching for the most obscure games in history to prove a point, I'm pointing out examples I'm aware of from my experience as someone into gaming. And perhaps if you want a better female representation in games, you might want to start by paying attention to and buying the games that actually fit your requirements rather than having them fail financially. 



I'd also like to point out from the top of my head that the second half of Tomb Raider Underworld also has Lara Croft seeking revenge for the murder of Alister Fletcher, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness starts with Lara being accused of the murder of Werner von Croy, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia has Shanoa's brother figure/love interest dying for her character development, Perfect Dark Zero ups the stakes by killing Joanna Dark's father, Alice: Madness Returns has Alice going on revenge for her dead parents and sister (which retroactively qualifies American McGee's Alice). Also, a lot of people would probably cry sexism about Metroid: Other M anyway, but Commander Adam Malkovich dies for Samus' character development (as shown in Metroid Fusion). This without using examples from games in which you are able to choose your gender (like the aforementioned Mass Effect).

Funny and absurd! Right?

Anyway, this has been going on for longer than I intended to spend on this nonsense so I'll wrap it up here. Cheers!

Links / References:

In Response to:

References:

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Ordeal of Queen Zelda

I have seen examinations of Link from The Legend of Zelda in regards to the monomyth before. While I think that's interesting, what bothers me is how we examine a fairly blank character while reducing the worth of the titular Princess Zelda to just a damsel in distress. As I see it, although not our focal point in the story, princess Zelda is in fact the true protagonist of several Legend of Zelda games, as their names imply. We merely hook into her story from the perspective of Link. Similar to how Hideo Kojima introduced Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2 to give us a perspective on Snake without having our own projections as a player cast upon him.

The idea of this examination was sparked because of a video by Dangerous Analysis on YouTube, which can be found here in which he discusses a similar idea.

The Ordeal of Queen Zelda
(The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)




One of the biggest mistakes in pop culture labeling Zelda as a "Damsel in Distress" is the characterization of it as her character archetype when in fact it is not. Damsel in Distress is not her role, it is a role she occasionally takes on during her story arch of a particular game. Other roles she takes on include mentor, messenger, and even hero.

In Majora's Mask for example, she still bestows Link with a magical gift that helps him on his quest without ever physically appearing and thus never being in danger. Furthermore games like Spirit Tracks blur the lines of "in distress" by having Zelda's body taken while her spirit takes on the role of guide (similar to Navi, Midna and the King of Red Lions) while also being playable through the ability to possess certain types of armor.

In this particular context, I shall be looking at princess Zelda's role in relation to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, although it is my belief that the same principles here apply to Wind Waker and Twilight Princess as well (although in Twilight Princess, Zelda takes a back-seat to Princess Midna).

Story situation

In Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, we catch up with the current incarnation of Link as he has been hidden by his mother and the mystical Great Deku Tree among the Kokiri of Kokiri Forrest to protect him from a war that raged years ago. After he vanquishes the curse cast upon the Great Deku Tree, he sets off to meet the princess of Hyrule, Zelda. He learns of a man from the desert who swears allegiance to the king, but Zelda's prophecy reveals him to be a traitor. Together they formulate a plan to keep the Triforce save from Ganondorf, who plans to use its power to take over Hyrule.

The plan fails when they accidentally provide Ganondorf with access to the Sacred Realm where the Triforce is hidden, Link is locked up for 7 years until he is physically mature enough to wield the Master Sword in order to become the Hero of Time, and Zelda goes into hiding while fighting back against Ganondorf under the guise of Sheik.

The Damsel in Distress

"A usually beautiful young woman is placed in a dire predicament by a villain or a monster and has to be rescued by a hero". By that definition, this certainly happens at one point in Ocarina of Time. Zelda, as the rightful heir to the throne of Hyrule and the keeper of the Triforce of Wisom, is certainly of value as a prisoner to Ganondorf. The problem is that this only happens at the very end of the game*. During the rest of the game Zelda's role could very well be seen as her being the hero of her own story. Of course the frequency with which she is kidnapped in the Zelda series as a whole does become annoying after a while but that still shouldn't mean "Damsel in Distress" is an accurate descriptor of her character.

There is also the issue of the final battle. During the first fight between Link and (Gerudo) Ganondorf, Zelda is locked up in a crystal. After the battle Zelda is freed and they escape Ganondorf's crumbling castle together. Ganondorf survived and reemerges to battle Link again in his pig form. Zelda herself is not very helpful during this time but it is important to note that when Ganon is weakened, she is the one to imprison him. This and considering Zelda is an active combatant in Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, one could speculate that her sitting back to watch the battle rather than be a participant has more to do with 1998's limits on technology rather than an attempt to portray her as a weak character. 

One argument that has been made is that Link, unlike Zelda, has the ability to escape being imprisoned by himself during his visit to Gerudo Fortress. What is left out in that argument is that Link's imprisonment is not necessarily a part of the narrative. The mission in Gerudo Fortress is to infiltrate without being seen to rescue the imprisoned carpenters. Link being imprisoned here is merely a failure on part of the player to do this effectively. In essence the player is transported to the beginning of the board as a sort of soft Game Over. What is in play here are gameplay mechanics, not story elements. 

* During my latest playthrough  I took 30 hours to complete the entire game, which included 100% completion. Out of these 30 hours,  Zelda is 'in distress' for 1 hour and 30 minutes at the absolute most.

Princess Zelda and the Monomyth

So let's take a look at the various step of the Hero's Journey as proposed by Joseph Campbell and how the several elements can apply to princess Zelda. An often strangely ignored aspect of the Legend of Zelda story structure is the reward for the hero. For Link's quest, Zelda is not the prize to be won (further evidenced in Majora's Mask). Link's reward is the restoration of the status quo.

But what is Zelda's reward? We know that there was a king during the time of Ocarina of Time. He wasn't mentioned again after Ganondorf's takeover so we can assume he was murdered. Therefore after the end of Ganondorf's reign of terror, it is Zelda who ascends the throne as queen of Hyrule. This also applies to Wind Waker, in which the King of Red Lions dies with the destruction of Hyrule, and Twilight Princess, in which Hyrule is taken over during Zelda's corronation.

Departure

  1. The Call to Adventure: Zelda's dream of dark stormy clouds warning her of Ganondorf's treachery.
  2. Refusal of the Call: Zelda doesn't take action against Ganondorf until Link comes along. (Humorously enough, Link's refusal of the call is him turning over in his bed while Navi nags him to get up)
  3. Supernatural Aid: Zelda's prophecy from her dream as well as her gifts by being a princess Zelda. 
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold: The escape with Impa from Hyrule Castle.
  5. Belly of the Whale: Link is sealed after retrieving the Master Sword, Ganondorf takes over Hyrule Castle. Zelda is forced to flee and unable to return home. Her Sheik persona is born.

Initiation

  1. The Road of Trials: The resistance against Ganondorf during Link's 7 year absence. We see the results in her actions as being victorious in rescuing Princess Ruto and we see her fail against the shadow from the Kakariko well.
  2. The Meeting With the Goddess: Just like how Zelda represents Link's 'goddess' in this instance, so does Link's return represent hers. 
  3. Woman as Temptress: Although not shown or hinted at in the game, in the (non-canonical) manga, Zelda/Sheik hides by becoming a follower of Ganondorf and thus has a taste of the winning side.
  4. Atonement with the Father: Zelda receives her part of the Triforce and sets out to face Ganondorf along with Link. 
  5. Apotheosis: The Sheik persona disappears to make place for Zelda's return.
  6. The Ultimate Boon: Sealing Ganondorf into the corrupted Sacred Realm and saving Hyrule. 

Return

  1. Refusal of the Return: Zelda's hesitance to give up her Sheik persona in fear of Ganondorf finding out about her. 
  2. The Magical Flight: The escape from Ganondorf's crumbling castle. 
  3. Rescue from Without: well this is where her status as a Damsel in Distress comes into play. Zelda has to be rescued by Link in order to help defeat Ganondorf.
  4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold: Zelda has gained an understanding of her kingdom by traveling it as a Sheikah warrior, and now returns to take dominion over it.
  5. Master of Two Worlds: Zelda understands her power and, unlike Ganondorf, how to control it for the good of others.
  6. Freedom To Live: Zelda ascends her father's throne as Queen of Hyrule 
Even other aspects commonly associated with the hero myth such as the miraculous birth can be applied to Zelda through the nature of the trinity that Zelda, Link and Ganon represent as the elements of the Triforce.

Surely you can argue over this model, but if so many aspects of Joseph Campbell's monomyth can be applied to the character of Zelda (and not every hero's journey incorporates them all anyway), is it not disingenuous to just label her as a simple "damsel in distress" or a "helpful damsel"?

Princess Zelda simply does not qualify as a flat character and that makes reducing her worth to a single sentence meaningless and short-sighted. Princess Zelda is a three-dimensional character with her own emotions, motivations and story who grows throughout the story. What she goes through as a damsel in distress is merely part of her character. It is not her entire definition.

Conclusion

While none of these arguments make the need for a game with Zelda as a playable character any less severe (no, the CD-i games aren't proper substitution, make this happen instead), I do think we need to rethink Zelda's position in the games that carry her title as a character worthy of recognition. At the very least there's no need to pretend she is any less than what she is.


Links / References


Patmore Chris, 2005, Character Design. Hilversum. Librero.
Forster, E.M., 1927, Aspects of the Novel

Friday, 24 May 2013

Anita Sarkeesian and disagreement

It seemed rather unfair to do a full response to the Damsel in Distress video in Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs Women series when only 1 part of 2 has been released so far. Considering it's been nearly 3 months and she just recently started talking about part 2, it's pretty understandable people are getting itchy (I sure am).

In the meantime I decided to do a little test of character on her Facebook page. I had seen people posting about how even their mildest comments were removed and they were blocked from Feminist Frequency's Facebook page. Giving Anita the benefit of the doubt (these people could have been lying and you can delete your own comments after all) I decided to ask the question why Angel from Borderlands 2 qualifies as a Damsel in Distress. Which I'm actually genuinely wondering.

 Here's the result:

Asking updates on the next video is also not allowed apparently.

Yeah, I got snarky at the end of it but I wasn't attacking her personally. I wasn't part of some organized mob trying to defame her work. I was merely wondering how Angel qualifies as a Damsel in Distress. This got my comment removed and yes, I was blocked from her page.

This is one thing that bothers me so much about Anita Sarkeesian. You don't want to engage the trolls? Fine, nobody expects you to. However not everyone who disagrees, has criticisms or just asks questions is a troll. If you can't even handle someone asking a question, perhaps you shouldn't position yourself in the middle of the conversation.