Today will explore bimodal characters with Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo
First up: Laura Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo by Helen W. Kennedy
Right from the title Kennedy sets up her topic: which is Laura Croft? A feminist icon that female game players can claim as an identity marker or yet another objectified female representation to be gawked at by the traditionally male gaze?
Kennedy refers to Laura as both "an object of representation [and] spectacle" and as an avatar that "disrupts the relationship between spectator and spectacle" (Kennedy 1).
What Kennedy is doing is fairly obvious: she sets up a bimodal system that people are comfortable with - that a character can either be object or representative - and then subverts this system by calling up a spectrum effect which she has dubbed "bimodal" character. Her appeal does not lie in only an objectified avatar but as an identifiable creature to the feminized viewer. Such characters, like Lara Croft, are important as a revolution of the modern game-play era. Not just men and not just women were allowed to enjoy playing as Lara Croft -- Kennedy implies that the company Sony realized they could appeal to both audiences in one go - by creating an attractive hyper feminized (as in boobs) body with the ability to act out scenarios and activities previously only available to the male body. Lara is able to go into a male game-space, dungeons, tombs, jungles - the explorer's quest-- as no female avatar had done in the same way before.
That is not to say she is not still a problematic character as a representation to females. She is playable because she has been made masculine. She has little in the way of a romantic love interest and, like most female avatars, lacks a male body to gaze at (in the same way the female love interests of male avatars -- in all media, film, tv, art and videogames-- are).
Kennedy also brings up Mary Russo's term "stunting bodies" which are defined as "female figures which, through their performance of extraordinary feats, undermine conventional understandings of the female body" (Kennedy 3). In such an action genre, where most straightforward masculine subculture lies at its most obvious, Lara is cast as an other in sharp relief to her world. Her otherness objectifies her and causes a look upon her, yet it is also her retention of both otherness, while dominating in a natural setting, and her triumph in this traditionally masculine space, that allows her to be seen as a feminist icon. She goes into the man's world, and comes out of it no worse off.
Wait, you mean... this cartoon isn't accurate?
You mean, I won't burst into a fiery ball of death if I leave my house?
I enjoy a good women's suffrage cartoon every now and then.
Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.
After a long exciting wait, here is the paper proposal, which may or may not be altered when my professor reads it! Wooooo-
The difficulty, in the past, with trying to write about
comparative identification in videogames between player and avatar, has been in
the lack of multi-racial and multi-gendered characters with different
sexualities. Much of the market has been dominated by the societal
identification as a cysgendered, straight, white male, and for a long time
video-games fed into nothing but that type of aesthetic, calling for characters
to be nothing more than a mirroring, not of the individual players, but of the
patriarchal identity. Although this trait is still the domineering force behind
videogames, one battle that is starting to be won with the help of videogame
developers is the choice between choosing a playable female and playable male
protagonist, or even being given a solely female avatar, such as in Tomb Raider, or Beyond: Two Souls. Some games offer malleable forms, such as in Mass Effect and Skyrim, which offer almost full player control as to the identity,
both gender wise and sexuality wise. Others offer less choice, with a selection
of prefab characters of several genders, such as Borderlands – four male and two female characters—or Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 which offers an extremely wide
range of identity. Others, such as the Bioshock
Series, offer limited play as a female character.
discussion as to how players relate to gendered characters is not a simple one.
Based upon the games available on the market today, it seems as though the
developers and gamers have differing opinions on how to best create games. The
most vocal portion of the market insists that creating multiple identities to
satisfy all consumers is a waste, yet fail to realize how their games have
already been effected by more gender neutral gaming styles. My essay will not
argue what type of game design is best; it will seek to sort out how gender
effects gameplay and why many characters, as well as the worlds they inhabit,
are identifiable to both men and women. I will talk about several specific
topics, and their pros and cons:
I.Why many male gamers believe they cannot
identify with female protagonists of games, through the lens of an eras-old
gendered play space, and how this misconception is based more in perceived
gender-space roles, rather than actual changes in game play. In particular,
this will look at the already pervasive function of the female space within the
male game action genre, particularly in widely acclaimed games such as the Bioshock Series, which contains all of
its perceivable action in an under-water biosphere that is both city and mall
all in one, and affords its players the values of the stereotypically male
genre (action, violence and exploration) with those of the stereotypically
female genre (character depth, motivations, secrets and interior world building).
II.How women identify with male characters. This
includes ways in which contemporary games have used the traditionally feminized
component of secrets, domestic spaces, and character motivations to create
well-rounded characters that do not just create action but create a story, as
well as the bimodal function of the “stunting bodies” characters who are
designed with both men and women in mind. This second part, in particular, will
be a focus on how girl gamers identify with such female avatars that have been
designed, at least in part, to appeal to a voyeuristic male audience.
III.How men identify with the female characters
already on the market in a continued discussion on cross-gender avatar
functionality. In this section, I will bring up the topic of the Final Girl and
how many female avatars in gaming have been masculinized to fit,
simultaneously, with the love-interest sexualized and objectified body, while
also having the character’s own sexuality denatured to prevent the
objectification of the male body presented to a player. This will include games
such as Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lollipop Chainsaw, which both render
their female protagonists sterile through the absence of a male body to
objectify, Final Fantasy XIII and Tomb Raider, which code their female
characters as either lesbians or asexual and use the game as a way of attaining
manhood through the process of gaining a symbolic phallus, and finally games
that defy the normal gaming function to give a full and complete world of what
it is like to be a feminine character in a male dominated world (Bioshock Infinite and Beyond: Two Souls). This final section
will conclude with an analysis of the game Beyond:
Two Souls – both its controversy as a slower, passive style game, and its
success of eliding the world of combat action gaming with accurate
representations of a straight female character.
In the end I suppose my thesis
could be boiled down to this: The avatar is a representation of both self and
other; The more that avatar is placed in a world that gives equal distribution
to male and female game-space, while not ignoring the realities of how the
world reacts to these character distinctions, the more likely it will be that
the game will resonate with the highest number of players. Even if the player
cannot relate to the gender, they can relate to the qualities that make up
humanity, which is not just gender neutral, but both feminine and masculine in
For those of you playing along at home, here is my baseline annotated works cited. You'll notice that there are some of these articles that I have not posted about yet, but I assure you, that was only because this works cited was due, and I will be catching you guys up pretty soon.
Carol J. "Her Body, Himself: The Final Girl." Men Women and
Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. London: BFI, 1992. 35-41.
the actual section of Clover’s book on “The Final Girl” is short, it has become
a vital part of my thesis. Clover argues that female characters that act as the
main protagonist in horror films, the ones who survive the ending and triumph,
are relatable to the target audience, preteen boys, because they have had their
feminity stripped from them while remaining a marginalized character. Through
their lack of sexuality or voyeurism towards any particular male body they
become devoid of sex or are more likely to be sexually curious about another
woman’s body. They wear flannel, are bookish and quiet and have not yet come
into their own. They become the avatar for the young male viewer and must earn
their metaphorical ‘phallus’ through intense trial. Similarly, many female game
characters are given a traditional place as the “mannish” woman. They either
have no sexuality, are coded as lesbians, or have their sexuality neutered from
them by circumstance. This relatability to the young male consumer is important
to my thesis because it explains why my original topic choice, explaining cross
gendered identification between players and characters, is flawed; if the
characters are intentionally created to be more identifiable with the male
player, then there are not many outlets to see how men identify in the avatar
of a truly feminized presence.
Henry. "Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play
Spaces." The Game Design Reader A Rules of Play Anthology (2006):
associative identity between players and avatars cannot be summed up solely by
the characters themselves but by the spaces they inhabit. Jenkins work focuses
on the prior segregation between girl’s spaces and boy’s spaces within the
realm of 19th century literature—the “Adventure Island” verses the “Secret
Garden”. Not only does he confront the polarized environment that is forced on
to children, he also organizes his own polarized definitions of current female
play spaces as well as current male spaces, so that he can eventually discuss
the concept of a gender-neutral play space. He makes a compelling argument for
videogame spaces that defy preconceived gender stereotypes and focus on giving
girl gamers a wider spatial exploration, filled with more action and adventure,
and giving boys one that encodes more “domestic” puzzles and secrets to promote
character development and motivation behind actions. It is my belief that his
concepts of gendered play spaces could, in part, be responsible for the male
anxiety about adding more female avatars to games – believing that if they
allow more female characters then the game will become domesticized and lose
its playability. This is intriguing as much of Jenkins’ final argument, of a
neutered play space has already come to pass as characters and world creation
through motivation have been landmarks of successful games in just a few short
years – a move which utilizes the best portions of traditionally female and
traditionally male play spaces. The misconception between a gendered space and
a character with a gender, and the anxiety that can occur because of these gender
differences is a key factor in both how all gamers identify with characters and
how they identify with the worlds created by them.
Helen W. Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? 2002. Www.gamestudies.org,
Vol. 2 Issue 2. PDF.
a certain degree, Kennedy’s article on Lara Croft encapsulates many parts that
I would have written about myself had I tried to write my thesis over ten years
ago. However, ten years have passed, and with a larger base of games as well as
approaches to gaming (such as the first person female character), there are
many things to take from Kennedy’s article and focus upon the direct relation
between male players and female characters, lesbianism in gaming, and the
identification that occurs between female players and male characters as well
as male players to female ones. Kennedy discusses Lara Crofts bimodal appeal –
for women as a representative of the female gender, and for men as a commodious
other to be objectified. However, Kennedy’s spectrum goes beyond a simple binary,
giving many different levels of gender discussion to speak about Lara Croft.
She speaks of Lara Croft as a continuation of the “laddette” culture, prominent
in the millennial era, as well as the concept of “stunting bodies” which
represent women as “female figures which, through their performance of
extraordinary feats, undermine conventional understandings of the female body”.
In part, these concepts paint Lara as a masculinized figure – one that happens
to have a pair of humongous polygons as her only signifier of ‘woman’. Kennedy
discusses Lara’s relation as a gender-queer figure (incomplete because of
recent developments which code Lara more so as a lesbian than was made
available in 2002), and as a voyeuristic model to be gazed upon. She even goes
far enough to question all meaning behind these gendered models, stating the
cold hard truth: that these characters are simply mechanics with a pretty face
– the automatons of a new world.
Peter. "Crying over the Melodramatic Penis: Melodrama and Male Nudity in
Films of the 90s." Masculinity: Bodies, Movies, Culture. New York:
Routledge, 2001. 25-39. Print.
article has become more important than I previously realized it would be. It
embraces the stark polarities between the types of masculinity that are
‘allowed’ to be portrayed in the mainstream world of cinema (and therefore
videogames). These binaries, which consist of an ideal of masculinity stemming
from power (often held by otherwise marginalized and villainous characters) and
masculinity stemming from honor (attained by the marginalized protagonist who
must earn his masculinity through great trial). This honorable masculinity is
not solely a masculine trait bestowed upon men but also symbolically upon the
worthy youth and the worthy woman. It is interesting how such marginalized
characters must both rely upon and give up their feminine traits in order to
achieve this honor. In addition, the article discusses, at length, the issues
with putting the male form on the screen and how it becomes a type of intense
melodrama to allow the penis/male form a place of objectification. The
melodramatic penis explains how we perceive the idealized man and how audiences
wish to witness the most exemplified form of masculinity and bath in its glory
or to otherwise reprimand the weak and flaccid ‘other’. It explains reasoning
behind why viewers do not often see representations of the average man.
Sidney. "Desire and Deviate Nymphos:." Journal of Homosexuality
31.1-2 (1996): 71-81. Web.
of the more complex portions of my topic has to do with the straight male
relation to the lesbian female. From my research, I have found that most female
characters in games tend to be either asexual or otherwise coded as lesbian.
Because so many games are created to appeal to the male gamer, it raises
questions as to how men can possibly identify with lesbian women. This article
talks about the use of Lesbianism in pop culture as yet another aid for male
pleasure. In it, it deals with the common stereotypes found and promoted, the
trivialization of lesbian love, and specifically the use of lesbianism as a
voyeuristic object suited for the male gaze. The article focuses, in part, on
how lesbian bodies are portrayed, when they are portrayed, and the confusing
dichotomy between associating with the image of any kind of lesbian
representation while simultaneously being oppressed by it. In particular, it is
this identification/oppression dynamic, as well as the lesbianism as a means of
male pleasure that will be useful when discussing how men and women relate to
these types of female videogame characters.
Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Visual and Other
Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989. 14-26. Print.
Laura Mulvey opened up the field of film by
talking about artistic forms that are solely relevant to filmmaking. Although
many of her theories have been reversed or renegotiated thanks to the
advancement in the gay and female gazes, as well as subverted by videogames thanks
to the player controlled gaze feature characteristic of videogames, it still
has many applicable uses. In the clearest sense, Mulvey’s work is crucial for
understanding why there is a dearth of straight female (or gay) playable
characters. Mulvey argues that men cannot become objects of the gaze because
they are inherently the voyeurs not the voyees. Despite much evidence that
shows obvious examples of how men have often been the subjects of a gaze, this
concept of non-objectivity still holds much weight in the realm of videogames
today. Many female characters are stripped of their sexuality or are otherwise
coded as lesbian. Mulvey’s theory suggests this is because men are incapable of
being the object – I disagree. I believe there is an inherent fear, in men, of
being the object of a gaze, and so to create characters that are more easily
relatable for men, they are not objectified often in mainstream game play.
Lisa. 1999. “Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism on the Internet.” In
Victor Vitanza (ed.), CyberReader (2nd Edition). New York: Allyn and
Nakamura’s work focuses in on Race as the method of identity tourism, her work
is easily transferrable to Gender. Although Nakamura focuses primarily on
racial conflict as appropriated by MMORPG players on the internet, who choose
to define themselves as a particular race, many of her theories, particularly
concerning the ‘safe’ other as avatar, will be important. She argues that
people who, on the internet, choose to ‘vacation’ as an alternate race are
given the benefits of the culture of the other without having to experience the
negative aspects that go along with it. She claims that the issues that occur
because of Identity tourism are not because of the tourism-as-other itself, but
from the flagrant mistreatment of racial stereotypes that hurt a culture. Some
of her work must be considered, for my topic, from other perspectives:
MMORPGers are given the option to choose what their character looks like and
how they define themselves, while most First Person console games pigeonhole
the player into a prefab avatar. They force you to become a white male or
occasionally a white female, whether you want to or not. Even in these avatars
there is still a notion of identity tourism.
Steve. "Prologue: Masculinity as Spectacle Reflections on Men and
Mainstream Cinema." Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in
Hollywood Cinema. Ed. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae. Hark. London: Routledge,
1993. 9-19. Print.
portions of Mulvey fall short, Steve Neale tries to fill in some of the gaps.
In his essay, he discusses the concept of how masculinity is portrayed in film
through a similar lens as Mulvey’s. Unlike Mulvey, however, he believes that
the male can be objectified on screen, albeit in a different manner. In regards
to my essay, his discussion on character identification is particularly useful:
He disagrees with Mulvey that the only people who identify with the male
protagonist are men, and the only people who identify with a female protagonist
are women. Instead, Neale has come up with a narcissistic identification that
promote a fluid gender identitythat
fluctuates between identification and objectification of a character on screen.
I believe this fluctuation exists similarly for the player of a videogame,
perhaps to an even greater extreme. The avatar in a game follows direction from
the player; the player and character often move as one. However, in the event
of a cut-scene or dialogue sequence, the wall is broken and, in a Brechtian
manner the player is reminded that they and the avatar are not one and the same
but two separate entities. In addition, Neale also brings up the topic of
sado-masochistic voyeurism, as a method of explaining how the male form can be objectified
and appreciated without being obviously voyeured at.
Bob. 2003. Playing at Being. In: Wolf, Mark J.P. and Perron, Bernard. 2003. The
Video Game Theory Reader. New York, Routledge pp. 103-127.
Playing at Being utilizes psychology as a method of
explaining the relationship players of video games have towards their on screen
avatars. Although not grounded by any particular marginalized factor, Rehak
discusses the history of the avatar and how it has changed over the course of
time. He uses, in particular, the mirror stage of childhood development as an
analogy to why the avatar fascinates the women and men who choose to play video
games. Through a history lesson in the videogame avatar, dating all the way
back to Spacewar!, Rehak gives examples of how games have gone from having a mechanical
protagonist, to an organic one, to something much more similar to ourselves.
The avatar has multiple levels of being: on the one hand it is the ‘self’, as
defined by its movements guided by the player and reacted to by the on screen
world, but it is also the other, giving a player the potential to do both more
than the human can, but also constricted by the game design’s formula. Rehak
focuses also on how games can toy with subjectivity- leaving players believing
they are given choice and free will when they are artificially contrived to
force situations that will further the story along, begging the question,
who’s space is it, really?
Linda. 1982. Personal Best: Women in Love. In: Jump Cut 27. 1982. pp. 1-12.
the failings of the media’s portrayal of lesbian romance with the Film Personal
Best. She discusses its complexity, looking at the arguments both for and
against it as an agent of male voyeurism. The two women of the film have a
three year long affair, yet their own sexuality seems to fall into their laps.
In the end, Williams argues that what appears to be, on the surface, a film
about women in love conquering through their athleticism, turns out to have so
much influence from the outside patriarchal society that it actually promotes a
patriarchal society worldview. Her methods of picking apart a seemingly
revolutionary film prove insightful as I try to pick apart the use of the
lesbian as an avatar in videogames. What do these games actually say about
sexuality and gender? Like Williams does, I must pick apart the games to see
what undercurrents of topical sexism are not brought to the forefront and
maintain reflections of how the male society mind already thinks. In addition,
Williams discusses the change in the ideal female form from one of soft curves
to athleticism. It may be that the ideal woman to be looked at has changed
form, not become less frequently applied.
Nakamura, Lisa. Identity Tourism and Passing on the Internet. N.p.: Race In/For Cyber Space, n.d.
"the (re-)formation and revision of various forms of identity, particularly ethnic, gender, and cultural identities." - wikipedia
because everyone wants to vacation into the mind of a pinata for a little while
Now how do we cope with that? The whole notion of identity tourism, when you think about it, seems somewhat twisted - but is it? By they end of Lisa Nakamura's article, my answer is no. Identity tourism is not a problem -- but that doesn't mean that depictions of characters, and how we relate to them, is a simple topic without issues-- such as dangerously stereotyped avatars. To stay in keeping with my thesis topic, which deals solely with how players identify with the gender identity of their characters, I will talk about this essay through that specific lens. That being said, if you want a really interesting read, please read Lisa Nakamura's essay.
-This essay specifically addresses the method of identity tourism performed by white males in online MMORPG style gaming and their tourism into the identity of multi-ethnic (but particularly asian) avatars. While she does talk a little bit about gender, she does not systematically go through every variation of identity tourism, ie: minorities who play as other minorities, minorities who play as privileged characters, people who exclusively play across the gender gap.
- Interestingly, Nakamura, in the first few pages, makes careful consideration of how online games will often make you choose a gender and not a race - while it is important to understand such a difference in online game-play, and the implications of having to write ones race into the characters description, as opposed to pressing a button, it does ignore the implications of being forced to take a gender identity online. As most women who play games on an open forum can tell you, being "outed" as a women creates a large source of harassment for which many would rather avoid. Its actually difficult to say which is worse.
-She also does not account for games in which the player is given no choice about the avatar's identity or about how limited choice avatars reflect those who play them.
And then there are games like Skyrim...
So what does she say?
First she talks about the idea of "computer cross-dressing" (1), and how this type of identity play allows people on the internet to take on any new identity. obviously, this is not only true of video games but enforced: every character that is given to a player will not, in every way, become representative of the person playing that character, but the player's skin will, inevitably, be that of someone with a specific race, gender, and sexual orientation. Not all gamers are white, straight men, and with these variables in play on the player side, some kind of identity tourism already takes place, if from an almost entirely privileged vantage point.
Cross dressing computer.
"[the ability to define and avatar with gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality ect.] can, indeed [is] required to, project a version of the self which is inherently theatrical." (2). This quote is wrapped up in avatar theory and how it relates to the concept of drag, as a theatrical performance. There are signifiers, in this sense, that use the anonymity of online game play to assert that everyone is constantly 'passing' for something in cyberspace because no one can verify that they are what they claim to be, even if they truly resemble their character in real life. These performances, Nakamura claims, can be seen as aggressive and invasive when performed by a marginalized group (ie: non-white-straight-males): "Players who elect to describe themselves in racial terms, as Asian, African American, Latino, or other members of oppressed and marginalized minorities are often seen as engaging in a form of hostile performances, since they introduce what many consider a real life "divisive issue"." (2)
In such a realm of fantasy, most gamers, who often enjoy the privilege in real life to not have to deal with these issues, do not wish to be burdened with such distinctions. Nakamura points to in-game examples of players victim-blaming: there are people (now defined as internet trolls - Hi guys!) That believe people who choose to define themselves by race ((or, more often in the case of video-game discussion as feminists)) who 'deserve' the hate-speech they receive because they have put themselves out there instead of conforming to the identity of the assumed "national sense of self which is defined as white [straight, and male]" (2). Take this example used by Nakamura:
"[quoted from a player named 'Nougat']: Seems to me, if you include your race in your description, you are making yourself the sacrificial lamb. I don't include 'Caucasian' in my description, simply because I think it is unnecessary" (6). Let's be real here for a minute: you don't need to include Caucasian in a description of yourself because Caucasian is the assumed identity of the "national self" thanks to the Western World view. What is even more heinous in this statement is how it supports a notion of victim blaming that is archaic! How one self identifies is inexorably linked to ways in which their person-hood defines their world, and race, like gender, is an immense part of that! This leads to another predicament: When Nakamura addresses the lack of option regarding race in online gaming, she fails to address how being forced to choose a gender can also negatively impact game-play: often times in gaming events such as Xbox Live women are forced to stay silent because harassment is rampant when they speak: a game where players offended each others ability based on game play becomes all about gender and how their gender identity makes them a worse player. The things you cannot hide are just as problematic, if in a different way, as the things you are forced to.
Nakamura brings up the national self identity because, in many senses, it is true: unless otherwise spoken, the general sense of omniscient self is assumed to be the white man because this is where the consumer base of all things to be; all this despite these census figures which show that the actual split between male and female gamers is 60m/40f (players), not 85m/15f (available playable characters) as is actually available for play (based on The virtual census figures located on page 824 here).
This is probably the most important idea expounded upon in this article, as pertaining to my thesis: It involves the process of putting on another mask, in this case a racial identity mask, in order to gain the benefits of a marginalized point of view without the fallout of having to deal with the repercussions that come with having no way out of that identity. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing - in fact, if used well, this system of identity tourism allows anyone to experience life from another point of view as well as forcing you to question how you treat others who have a differing self identity than your real life one. The problem with identity tourism comes only in that most representations allow for the spread of harmful stereotypes which hold basis in a white male society. Nakamura uses the appropriation of an Asian identity online as an example:
"The choice to enact oneself as a samurai warrior in LambdaMOO constitutes a form of identity tourism which allows a player to appropriate an Asian racial identity without any of the risks associated with being a racial minority in real life. While this might seem to offer a promising venue for non-Asian characters to see through the eyes of an Other by performing themselves as Asian through on-line textual interaction, the fact that personae chosen are overwhelmingly Asian stereotypes blocks this possibility by reinforcing these stereotypes" (3).
While this concept can be transferred over to gender appropriation, there are some key differences, the first harking back to the concept of The Final Girl from my last post. It seems that, whether a secondary character or a playable character, the only two options of female characters either have their femininity and often sexuality stripped away from them, as is the case for Lightening (FFXIII), Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), and Ellie (The Last of Us) -- or to become hyperbolized examples of femininity that are used for satire or voyueritic pleasure, as is the case for Juliette (Lollipop Chainsaw), Aeris (FFVII), and Princess Peach (Mario). Finding characters that straddle the border, who are allowed to both be somewhat feminine but also fight with "masculine" proficiency, without being hyper sexualized, is rare. In addition, the repercussions for these female characters who choose to dress provocatively is rarely ever noted, with exceptions in games like Beyond: Two Souls, where, in one of the earliest sequences Jodie, who is wearing a rather dashing dress, gets talked about in the background noise, with her body and purpose for being there in question. She even gets solicited by the sheik hosting the event (an event that may or may not happen but is not required), showing a rare and often overlooked-in-games issue of the "catcall".
Seriously, it was the first and only time I was excited to get hit on by a creepy old man. #RealismInGames
"The idea of a non-stereotyped Asian male identity is so seldom enacted in LambdaMOO that its absence can only be read as a symptom of a suppression"(3)
New Issues relating to my topic:
Although this paper addresses the appeal of identity tourism, it fails to address how and why, if identity tourism is such a unique, exotic experience, most developers choose to under-represent the "Other" in games. The article assumes that the other is something which most people would wish to experience, and in some ways, this suggests that there is a viable way to identify with the Other because of the human essence all Other's share. "This second world, like carnival, possess constantly fluctuating boundaries, frontiers and dividing lines which separate it from both the realm of the "real" and its corollary, the world of the physical body which gets projected, manipulated and performed via ... interaction." (5).
Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.
So now that I've done a bit of research, I feel like I need to collect myself and figure out whats important so far:
1. So far, theories seem to suggest that all characters, regaurdless of their gender, are designed with the cys white male gamer in mind : most are, indeed white, male and straight.
2. The avatar acts as an extended version of the mirror stage in childhood development, where the player becomes fascinated with how his or her own commands are visually shown as reality on the screen.
3. Those avatars that are not masculine and are 'marginalized', tend to be directed towards younger male gamers who may not have come into their own form of masculine power and can associate with a character who is going through similar circumstance.
4. Female characters in video games are voyeuristicaly sexualized when a non playable character, but de-sexed when playable: they are either asexual, in some way hinted at being lesbian, or have their sexuality taken away from them by some outside force, similar to The Final Girl in horror film tropes. Oddly, while female characters have their sexuality removed, many male characters often find themselves with a love interest as a "prize" to be gained (ex: Mario and Peach, Link and Zelda)
5. Male characters are shown to be an extreme form of masculinity, able to present an avatar of a superhuman self. This masculinity tends to be looked at as a form of spectacle in which identification is used as a method of appreciating the masculine form, as there is, in our society, a homophobic tendency to refute the knowledge of the male form as an erotic object. In this case, the easiest way to gaze approvingly at a male character is through the use of a Sado-masochistic gaze where, in short, an underdog story can emerge. S+M gaze works to an advantage in games as it creates narrative.
6. There is a limited awareness of the average male in video games, which could be a true reflection of the gamer, and therefore show a sign of weakness and the ability to judge character by a female viewer (as based on the melodramatic penis theory)
7. There exists a fluidity of objectification and identification between gendered characters- both men and women identify with characters of either sex to varying degrees.
8. The avatar exists as a symbolic other to be controlled by the player and establish a dialogue between looker and doer in order to live out fantasies that could otherwise be unachievable.
There's still a lot left to look at, in particular:
1. Do female characters have any inherent power as male characters do when being controlled by the player? or is the power still strictly apparent?
2. How much of video game gender poletics rely on common, often patriarchal societal influences
3. Why do men not want to play as female characters, particularly when they get hurt? can the sadomasochistic gaze still work to create a hero story? Is the hero story an essentially masculine one?
4. Can a male presence still identify with a straight female or a gay character? Do straight women truly identify with a straight male character?
5. How much of gender is fluid when it comes to the avatar? How much is actually polarized? What is wrongfully apparent because of how why and who games are designed for?
6. Games and lesbianism as spectacle for male pleasure
7. How applicable is the trope of "The final girl" to videogames (with examples)
8. How do people relate to non-gendered avatars, such as anthropomorphic pinatas and goats?
I'm sure theres more, but seriously, if anyone thinks of anything I am overlooking, feel free to leave a comment about it. The more holes I find now, the more thorough a discussion I can have.
Carol J. "Her Body, Himself: Final Girl." Men Women and Chainsaws:
Gender in the Modern Horror Film. London: BFI, 1992. 35-41. Print.
Bob. (2003). Playing at Being. In:
Wolf, Mark J.P. and Perron, Bernard. (2003). The Video Game Theory Reader. New York, Routledge pp. 103-127.
The avatar, the guise through which an
audience sees the world in film and other media, is essential not only in
filmic terms but even more essential to the analysis of the video game. Both
Bob Rehak’s Playing at Being and
Carol J. Clover’s Men Women and Chainsaws
discuss the use of avatar in different but allied ways.
at Being discusses the historical development of the videogame avatar, starting
at its earliest interactive presence in Spacewar!
to even more complicated and organic uses in FPS (First Person Shooter) games
as recent as id Software’s Quake.
Spacewar! such wow, very graphics
Quake - yeah, this is nightmare fuel.
Although not a totally history centered piece, it does use historical texts to
paint an in depth picture of how the player controlled avatar morphed from
dots, to inorganic forms, such as the rocket ship, to more organic forms like
PACman and later to first person organic forms. In addition it uses psychoanalysis
techniques to analyze the persona of the first person avatar and its early
appearances as an unsuccessful gimmick in films like Lady in the Lake (1947). For his over-arching thesis, Rehak uses
the concept of the “mirror stage” in early childhood development as a basis for
why humans are so fascinated with game play. This theory can be utilized easily
as it accounts for the function where the avatar on screen moves as the player
sending the signals to the controller tells it to, creating a mirror link. He
says that “videogames ‘reflect’ players back to themselves” and that first
person games (most of which were shooting games at the time of the articles release)
come the closest to this intrinsic mirroring.
“The videogame avatar would seem to
meet the criteria of Lacan’s objet petit a. Appearing on screen in place of the
player, the avatar does double duty as self and other, symbol and index. As
self, its behavior is tied to the player’s through an interface: its literal
motion, as well as its figurative triumphs and defeats, result from the
player’s actions. At the same time, avatars are unequivocally other. Both
limited and freed by difference from the player, they can accomplish more than
the player alone; they are supernatural ambassadors of agency” (Rehak 4).
Rehak denotes the concept of the videogame avatar as both other and self, he
does not address the half of the avatar that is “other” in any specific way and
instead focuses primarily on “self”. This leaves a large omission to his otherwise
sound theory: in what ways can the “other” be “other” while still coming to
represent a very fixed impression of “self” upon the player? Can the "other" go so far as to change genders? And if an "other" does go so far, are they allowed to be a complete person with a prerendered gender and sexuality? It is here that
turning to film theories is necessary.
Boy Fang? Girl Fang? Is there actually a difference?
of secondary selves are many and varied, but the most interesting to compare to
its similar purpose in videogames is the use of the “Final Girl” as avatar for
the viewer in horror and slasher films. Clover’s book hones in on the specific
motif of the final girl and how she comes to represent the survivor character
and avatar for the audience through her introduction as the main protagonist
and masculinization. Clover uses many examples to show how the final girl
utilizes the third of the movie solely focused on her and her escape to give
the audience a subjective view of her horrifying circumstances. The final girl
uses creative, intelligent thinking that has largely been absent from the
majority of the film. She is largely lacking in a sexuality of any form, either
being afraid, previously hurt, or otherwise sexless.
Clover argues that these
functions essential make the final girl a representation of the young males the
film is directed towards: they are both marginalized, unversed in sexual
experience, yet see themselves as survivors. The final girl takes the form of
an other that is both to be objectified and identified with. Her duel function,
as voyeur and object, can be transferred to the function of the avatar other,
particularly in a videogame sense, where the player relates to the onscreen
character in a similar function – as both the physical manifestation of self
and an idealized other.
So figure a) identifies way more easily with figure b) #twinsies
Final Girl is boyish, in a word. Just as the killer is not fully masculine, she
is not fully feminine—not, in any case, feminine in the ways of her friends.
Her smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical and other practical matters,
and sexual reluctance set her apart from other girls and ally her, ironically,
with the very boys she fears or rejects…” (Clover 40)
Understanding the function of the
avatar is a complex process. Where most of the research on the avatar has been
in terms of the third person, filmic avatar, this literature only begins to
delve into the concepts regarding the function of the avatar in a Gaming Space,
as opposed to a filmic one. While Rehak’s article gave a long and in-depth look
into the psychoanalytical function of the avatar as self, he failed to fully
address the concept of otherness that is necessary in his analysis of the
avatar as both self and other. The small portion of Clover’s book on the Final
Girl hit on the ways in which something that should appear as an “other”, a
female heroine, can be identifiable more easily to a young male film goer than
a female one, at least on the surface. Whether a similar circumstance is true
of video game heroines is not yet confirmable, yet it is very apparent, as of
now, that many heroines are, similarly, desexed through the use of phallic
weaponry, undefined sexuality, and ingenuity of the player mind, despite being
the object of a player oriented gaze.
In addition, Clover points to horror and
slasher flicks as methods of recreating a “hero plot” and the addition of a
heroine that survives is simply a reorientation of the hero plot. She seems to
define such a hero plot as being essentially masculine, but is it? Is it
possible to have a female character save the day without it becoming a
masculine plot? Or is “saving the day” a male function of being?
Oddly heavy tonight on the FFXIII I tonight, I know -
Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.
Way back in the pre-historical era known as "The 90s", Peter Lehman wrote an article that focused on the melodramatic use of the penis in film. While the essay focuses on the use of the portrayal (and reveal) of the bodily appendage (sometimes referred to as the d0ng, c0ck, d1ck, Dingaling, big Twinkie, phallus, member, and other silly and amusing nicknames) reserved only for those of us privileged enough to be born male and how it relates to filmic discourse, I have found a few uses for it for my own studies in gender identification in video games.
1. The mother/whore dichotomy, man style:
the action pumped, erect phallus almost literally dripping with masculinity (there's an image for you)
the weak, flaccid, chubby and pitiable phallus
much love to Doughnut Drake <3
Not only applicable to film, Video games also set up this dichotomy - however more often, we are libel to see extreme forms of the first kind of masculinity portrayed. When playing a character in a first person, or even third person limited game, the player is made to relate to an avatar that holds this sort of phallic imagery. Interestingly though, based on what we talked about in class and through the lens of the article "Animals or Romans: Looking at Masculinity in Spartacus" by Ina Rae Hark, even this level of masculinity can be broken down into sub categories that do not include the weak, flaccid and pitiable male character.
masculinity through Power
masculinity through Honor
It is between these two visions of phallic masculinity, as outlined by Peter Lehman, that I see the majority of popular videogame characters fall under.
And, for those characters who are young males, or even women, I think it is equally important to look at how these characters function as avatars for the young male player. Both young male characters/women and younger boys playing videogames may be going though similar dilemmas: The character does not yet hold the power of the man, of the phallus, and must earn their right to one through an honor code, whereby they step out of their marginalized status level and into control of power.
***planning on finding more sources that talk about youth and bonding to marginalized characters - perhaps involving female last characters in horror film?***
2. Between the extremes: representation of the actual man
peace be unto Jeff, the cameraman
alas, poor Jeff, I knew him well
Then I paraded around in his skin when I beat the game.
Most masculinized forms of film and games tend to focus on one of the extreme binaries of male identity, as described above. In Lehman's article, he talks about the image of the penis on screen, and how greatly it is underrepresented in film in ways that female nudity is not. Somehow, despite being the organ with the most representational power in film, the physical being of the penis is also one of the most tabboo elements to show on screen. Lehman has this to say:
"The sight of the actual organ threatens to deflate and make ludicrous the symbolic phallus. Second, since so many areas of representation in our culture, including mainstream cinema, are male dominated, two other problems arise, one linked to heterosexuality and one to homosexuality. Men may fear that the representation of the penis gives women a basis for comparison and judgment and, although men have long engaged in such behavior toward women, the thought of the tables being turned on them is close to unbearable. Finally, the representation of the penis creates a great deal of anxiety for homophobic men who may become intensely disturbed at finding themselves fascinated by it or deriving pleasure from looking at it." (Lehman 27)
Now while Lehman here is talking about the visual representation of the actual penis, I believe it can be applied to how male stereotypes are driven into film and gaming because such stereotypes represent 'desirable' and 'undesirable'. What he really drives at, in this quote, is the idea that the average male is technically under represented because people do not wish to see the average male, with his flaws and annoying behaviors and boring moments. They wish to feel powerful, they wish to feel as if they have attained honor. They do not wish to be the average joe they see every day in real life.
This quote may also come into play when discussing representation in video games and why, exactly, some find it harder to identify with more marginalized perspectives. Mainstream video games have an interesting lack of range in the characters we see represented as playable main characters: most of them are male, most of them are white, and most of them are, if they have a sexuality at all, straight. Interestingly, while many games do involve heroes who do, in fact, win a love interest, by the end of the game, it is seemingly in the form of a non playable female character. Zack loves Aerith. Cloud also loves Aerith but kind of Tifa too. Nate gets Elena. Titus and Yuna. Link gets Zelda. Sora gets Kairi (er... sortof. Depends on how you feel about Riku). Mario gets Peach. Luigi gets Daisy. Pokemon are only ever interested in opposite gender pokemon (I want a gay machoke damnit! and would it kill you to have a bisexual magikarp?). I could go on, but for the sake of space, time and boredom, I won't.
As for the playable female character, something interesting occurs: Even the most sexed up character, like Lara Croft, is often denied a confirmed sexuality. In fact, more often than not, you are more likely to see a female playable character coded as a lesbian than as a heterosexual female. Lara Croft - can be coded lesbian. Vanille and Fang -- also coded lesbian. Ellie and Riley - lesbian. Lightening, while not necessarily coded as a lesbian, is seemingly without any sexuality at all (nothing against asexuals, I'm glad you seem to have representation, I'm just trying to point out that sexuality that would make male characters the intended object of a gaze are limited and often abandoned.). Even Serah, who is an openly heterosexual female non playable character in the first Final Fantasy XIII has much of her sexuality taken away from her when she does become a playable character in the sequel: Snow, her fiance, has vanished and is gone for the majority of the game. They continue, however, to use his existence, as an excuse for why she will not develop any feelings for her constant companion, Noel. They render her sexuality inert.
Why is it that so many male characters have a defined hetero-normative sexuality in mainstream gaming while women, who are most often seen as the cultural obsessors of "romance" often denied any sexuality at all?
Things to look into:
- "Film/Game Lesbianism" as spectacle for male pleasure
- The idea that perhaps female characters are designed without designated sexualities to be "more identifiable" to male gamers.
Also, as a bonus, look at this intriguing quote from Hark's Animals or Romans discussing problems in a previous article:
"When Steve Neale groups the gladiatorial bout in Spartacus with other epic contests... as examples of male combat that are 'moments of spectacle... but they are also points at which the drama is finally resolved,' he overlooks the fact that Spartacus and Draba are fighting for nothing, except the titilation of spectators for whom there is definitely not the intention 'to disavow any explicitly erotic look at the male body'" (Hark 154-155)
Hark suggests here that violence without meaning, fighting for nothing, is purely a titillation intended to arouse through the gaze upon the male body. I'm not sure what, yet, but this definitely says something interesting about how video games are played, by both men and women alike.
Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.
Like what I did with Mulvey, I will do with Steve Neale's Essay, Masculinity as Spectacle - Reflections on men and mainstream cinema (taken from the book Screening the Male, edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark). Rather than giving a summary of the entire artical, I will pull points that I think may have bearing on my topic.
Mulvey's article acts as a quintessential basis of most film and gaze theory, yet although the theory topic is set in the cys, white mainstream background, it leaves one huge component of that world untouched: How men are represented, inscribed and pressured in the films they act as hero of. It utilizes Mulvey as a basis to talk about the topic of maleness and male representation in film and adds on to the theory from a necessary perspective.
Topic 1: Gender Identification
While Mulvey argues in her Visual Pleasure essay that Men will identify with male characters and "gaze" upon female figures for a voyeuristic pleasure, she fails to go in depth with how exactly it is an audience can identify with a character on screen. Neale discusses this topic using both Mulvey and through quoting John Ellis's book, Visible Fictions:
"Ellis argues that identification is never simply a matter of men identifying with male figures on the screen and women identifying with female figures. Cinema draws on and involves many desires, many forms of desire. And desire itself is mobile, fluid, constantly transgressing identities, positions and roles. Identifications are multiple, fluid at points even contradictory." (Cohan 10)
Neale goes on to discuss tow types of identification: Narcessistic, and Fantasies/Dreams, which in some ways seem to ally themselves to Mulvey's classifications of Ego-Narcessism and Voyeurism. However he goes on to say that such identification cannot be so starkly contrasted and, using a quote of Ellis's, explains that Identification is "multiple and fractured" (Cohan 11). He says "identification involves boththe recognition of self in the image on the screen, a narcessistic identification and the identification of self with the various positions that are involved in the fictional narration" (11).
It is because of this that the viewpoint of the character, or in video game's case, the avatar, matters. In order to establish a viewpoint that feels both human and genuine, every film, or game, or television show must define in its viewpoint (gaze) its own identity as either male or female (although I would argue that some films even try to establish sexuality as well.
Topic 2: Narcissistic Identification:
Neale posits that narcessistic identification is particularly important to the process of gendering a film as masculine.
"narcessism and narcessistic identification both involve phantasies of power, omnipotence, mastery and control" (Cohan 11), and in video games these things become an actuality in terms of player avatar relations. In many ways, the player does hold all of these things over the avatar in a game. Where Mulvey assumes that such a gaze, being active, holding power, must be masculine, I believe it is possible to extend this to feminine participation as well. Having control over a gaze has changed, and it is no longer possible to assume that every film is gendered around the cys straight male. However the concept of fantasies and dreams being concurrent with the human process of identification through the method of narcessistic control seems more than reasonable.
He quotes Mulvey again on narcessistic fantasy, where Mulvey asserts that the fantasy is the product of desiring the "more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego" (Cohan 12).
In some ways this quote can take us back to Mulvey, and from there all the way back to Freud and the theory of female penis envy. In this theory, it is assumed that the female suffers from a lack of a penis and represents a male, castrated other. This castration represents power and the phallus acts as a symbolic form of it. In Film Noir, women were often shown to attain a metaphorical phallus, perhaps a gun, and hold a power that they were not supposed to have. Noir generally ends with the evil female's power taken from her by force and she is often shown killed by her own weapon, effectively 'putting the female back in her place'. However, if we ignore the more gender-centric part of this theory and instead focus on fantasy giving us the ability for "the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ego" (12), we can see that in some ways Video game characters act as a metaphorical phallus of the new century: Videogames enable humanity to do super-human feats. It gives us a more perfected perception of ourselves. This is the avatar's strength in identification: depending on our needs, certain videogames and the avatars that play through them are able to complete our deepest desires.
Sometimes those desires require a male avatar, sometimes a female. By having these different avatars available for our use, we are able to receive kinds of satisfaction that we cannot through our own stilted viewpoint.
3. Male Genres and Sado-Masochistic Themes:
"it is not surprising... that 'male' genres and films constantly involve sado-masochistic themes, scenes, and phantasies or that male heroes can at times be marked as the object of an erotic gaze." (Cohan 13)
The easily identifiable fact that male heroes are marked object of an erotic gaze does not intrigue me so much as the societal comment that male genres are privy to sado-masochistic fantasies. How many times in film, television and videogames does someone get most intently involved in a scene where a male character is bleeding, damaged, and near death only to come back as the underdog and win. This melodrama used to be found in only male centric films. Only recently has this kindof melodramatic underdog story been used with violent implications in films involving female protagonists. Even now some men are still uncomfortable with the idea of playing as a female character because of misguided chivalry: they do not wish to see the woman get hurt and find it unpalatable. Regaurdless of sex, this sadistic voyeurism exists and has existed since before the days of the Romans, when men were pitted against each other to fight in the Roman Colosseum.
So what is this Sadistic Voyeurism? According to Neale, such sadistic means of pleasure are derived from a heterosexual patriarchical society: because "the male body cannot be marked explicitly as the erotic object of another male look...[it] must be motivated in some other way, its erotic component repressed." (Cohan 14)
This "some other way" occurs frequently in video games, not only through the intentional and harsh use of violence and damage dealt upon the male character but through the narcissistic identification of the player. Because we see ourselves in this character, we feel an attachment to it that cannot be described as wholly erotic but empathetic. By shifting our focus, we are able to see the male character as an inner vestige of what we, the player, feels and therefore the achievement of winning, even as the underdog, is made a personal achievement rather than an appreciation of the beaten and bloodied male form."sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory and defeat, all occurring in a linear time with a beginning and end" (Mulvey 1975: 14)
In a sense, even the concept of the "final boss battle" is not new. Neale notes that voyeuristic sadism occurs not only through fights and other violence but also through structures that create a narrative form, including fetishistic looking-- where in certain components of the scene are stopped in order to provide (in this case, the player) with a visceral visual catharsis: A scene which shows what is coming and just how difficult it will be to stop. The scene is described as "highly ritualized" (Cohan 17) with a certain method of performance needed to overcome the final obstacle. Take the concept of the boss battle and apply this theory to it. It fits. The swooping overhead shot sets up the scene for the player to grasp even a small amount of what the task before them will be, and the triumph they should feel, provided they succeed. It does not matter if the over-all battle is systematically simple-- if the boss looks big, scary and dangerous enough, the player should feel personal satisfaction upon defeating it.
Something I will need to address is how this sadistic voyeurism is addressed when the character is female. Why do women seem to not mind playing as bloodied men when men seem to mind playing as bloodied women? If narcissistic identification is all that is necessary, what is the missing step that keeps some male players from being able to watch themselves, as a female character, be beaten up? How much of it is influenced from the male-hetero-normative society? I do not know yet, but I will try to explore for this answer.
Finally, this article is extremely useful in pointing out the portions of Mulvey's theory that was left unanswered. Yet it still falls short of gendered needs. By polarizing both sides of the gendered film debate, both Mulvey and Neale have created another binary system that must be broken down. The binary of gazes should eventually fall the way most gendered theory has: on the basis that everything is more of a spectrum than poles. Each gaze is more nuanced than we expect
Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.