The Full Scope

The Full Scope is a Film and Video game blog specifically designated to the topic of Gender and how it is portrayed in the media

Inspired and Utilized by my Senior Seminar MASCULINITY (And Gender) in Film

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mulvey is Processing a System Update

So in my last post (technically two posts ago) I gave one of the worlds most absolutely vague summaries of Laura Mulvey's Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Part of the reason is that I am not yet sure how much of what Mulvey has said can actually apply in the same way to videogames where the gaze of the camera is very much aligned with the gaze of the viewer, in most standard cases. Although we often equate video games to casually being films you get to play through, it is actually much more rare to find a video game where the camera is controlled at certain angles during the course of gameplay (cutscenes/cinematics being an obvious exception).

Those games, such as the Uncharted Series, that do include focused shots in their game play are a bit of a commodity and can get flack from the gaming community for not giving the player enough control.
Take this shot, for example: This shot is very over-the-top, action-dutch angle shot that is seen in practically every film ever made. However the difference here is this shot is pretty much mid-game play and to get to this point you spend your time running like a madman towards the camera having absolutely no way to turn the camera so you can actually see where in the heck you are running. It may be a cool shot but in game it can be irritating as hell. And this happens multiple times in Uncharted 3. 

However, to get back to Mulvey and how her work could relate to video games, apart from the rare dodo bird of Uncharted: Despite the vast differences between film and Video-games, these two mediums do share similarities that other mediums do not. As such, I think I should begin by reviewing Mulvey's work and taking portions of it that seem applicable to gaming while questioning portions that cannot work in a video game setting.

To save on over-analysis of every aspect of the essay, I have decided to highlight specific things that either could be applicable or otherwise raise questions. So with that, let's jump on in: 

1. In her opening Mulvey says that she wishes to use preexisting patterns in film to reveal how film "plays on the straight, socially established interpretation of sexual difference" that already exists in the world. (Mulvey 14)

   Later on she questions the reader on a similar issue, that the goal of alternative cinema (in this case) is "to highlight the ways in which [mainstream film's] formal preoccupations reflect the psychical obsessions of the society which produced it" (Mulvey 15)

      This could very easily be transferred to the model of gaming as well. One often cited excuse behind youth perpetrated violence, stemming back from Columbine, are violent games. Critics of gaming attempt to prove that violent video games are the cause of violent acts. They claim that those committing such heinous acts have had their guttural reaction to horrible violence numbed due to the graphic content. What this ignores is the very basic principal: Causation and Correlation are, in fact, not the same thing. Correlation merely implies that it is possible to things are in some way related-- one effects the other, both are influenced by a third source or, my personal favorite, pure coincidence. Now, I am in no way trying to say that certain people have not been adversely influenced by games in specific instances - in fact there are a wide range of people demanding more accurate, respectful and critical takes on issues found in the gaming world.  What it comes down to is this: 
         Video games do not cause real world violence. They can, however, proliferate certain harmful worldviews that perpetrators of crimes agree with already. They can promote rape culture. They can promote racial profiling and, in fact, all minority issues can be negatively effected because of societies influence on games. But games do not cause the sociopolitical issues. They merely reflect them. If you really needed more proof, think about the amount of people who play violent video games, myself included, who do not go on killing rampages and are routinely horrified by violence perpetrated around the world. If games really did cause violence in the majority of players the world would be in far greater chaos.

Correlation or Causation? The world may never know. But seriously, coincidence.

2.  "Women then stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning." (Mulvey 15)
      My god, this small section raises so many questions because of the original intent of the phrasing: 
On the one hand, Mulvey assumes this theory is being applied to primarily the use of film and this leaves out the undeniable difference between games and film: the audience of a film is passive while the audience of a video game is active. But this in itself raises more questions: 

- When female NPC (Non-Player Characters) exist in a game, especially when they seem to serve no other function than as healer, someone to escort or love interest, does this character's role immediately fall into Mulvey's theory that she is this male other that is to be voyered at? 

- More haunting, in my opinion, is what this theory says about characters, particularly female and minority characters, that you do play: re-read this quote, replacing the idea of the looked-at woman with the playable female character, for example, Lara Croft: 
"[Lara Croft] stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through [controller] command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning."
    In spite of every single attempt to make a powerful female character, what this sentence does is argue that no female avatar, however sassy or well written, no matter the story line, has still come no further than to be a version of the male other to be controlled with no will of her own. So now what do we do? As women, we wish to have better representation in video games with more options to play as a female character, yet at the same time, that very ability to choose a female avatar immediately subjects her to a patriarchal standard of the male other - to be viewed as both an object of desire and a method of anxiety in the form of a castration symbol.

 Especially when that symbol is wielding a two and a half foot weapon. 

     So what do we do? Should we make playable female characters for more games but only give women access to play them? Of course not. Luckily, the concept of fantasies and obsessions is applicable to pretty much any video game character regardless of gender. If you replace Lara Croft with Zack Fair, the quote still makes sense. It is simply in the nature of the avatar to be a vessel of control.
    Yet, before we leave this topic, I think it is still important that game designers and players alike at least consider how this implication could potentially be more harmful to the female character than the male, in terms of how we exert our fantasies and control during game play. I'm not saying you have to do anything, just think about it. I have a feeling I will want to address this topic much more in the future.

*Also, side-note, I really now want to play a game with a female protagonist that starts to slowly fight off the orders of the player as the game progresses. One who starts to claim her own will power to do what she wants in spite of players commands. Seriously, it could be a hell of an epic experience. If anyone has made a game like this in any way, tell me. I want to play it. It'd be like when Slaking ignores you when you tell it to do a certain attack in Pokemon, only better because it would actually have some kind of real artistic value to it.

3.  Pretty much anything about coded eroticism in film is applicable to games, except in games it is, quite literally coded. I'm not saying I think games shouldn't include sexual desire - far from it. I am a very sex positive person. However, my biggest concern is how some of the gaming community does objectify certain characters (not even beginning to mention gamer girls) as commodities rather than as fully developed characters. I often find myself asking, "so is that character not wearing a bra and have her shirt unbuttoned because she is a body image positive, sex positive woman in charge of her own sexual identity or... because they wanted to titillate their male fan-base with a sex object...

4. The Male Gaze. 
This may be the theory for which Mulvey is given the most credit. In this theory she ascertains that the camera is an entity unto itself. Now, in film, the gaze is under the very strict control of the director, who dictates exactly what and where the audience is able to look at any given time. Because of this directed gaze, many mainstream (read Hollywood) films are criticized as having a gaze that is of a heterosexual cysgendered male, presumably white. Even in film this concept of an exclusively male gaze is being majorly rewritten. Many more diverse gazes have been drawn up - the Black Gaze of Spike Lee in the 80s, the Female Gaze of the Twilight Series (most obvious if not best example), the Lesbian Gaze of The Kids are All Right, Tony Kushner's Gay Gaze --- I could list about a thousand more examples of types of gazes and an infinite supply of examples of said gazes. Yet the one gaze that does not tend to be counted for is the gaze of the audience. In film, there is a lack of availability for the audience to choose where it wants to look, unlike Theatre, and more relevantly, the gaming world. 
     From what I understand about some of the articles I have been given to look over, at least one of these deals precisely with this topic of player gaze.  I have not read any of those theories as of yet and my opinion on this may change significantly, but for now I can at least start asking questions that may or may not be covered by the essays I will read. 
     Who controls the gaze? Is it the player, the game director, or the avatar? Does the player truly have freedom of movement to look where ever they want? And who is it that is performing the look? Is it the character or the player? 

    The reason I am most interested in this last question is that it pertains directly to what I wanted to focus on in my thesis topic: the binary between the gender of the character and the player controlling them. When you move the view around, are you doing so while associating as yourself or as the character that you are prescribed to play? I will say right now that my current feeling is that the player will tend to conform to the role of the avatar, perhaps like an actor does during a play or even more specifically to how someone in drag conforms or even exaggerates their role as polarized genders. As it is, I am only beginning to have a grasp on even how to ask this question, much less answer it. 

There are a few more topics I think could be relevant to video game literature: 
- the ego narcissistic Identification to a character that is literally being controlled by the player, rather than just empathetic association for the viewer of a film.
- active vs passive action in terms of the male vs female characters. Does the female have inherent power? or does she merely effect the male character (or even player's) choices?
- the fact that Mulvey asserts that the "complex interaction of looks is specific to film" (Mulvey 26). But really now, is it?

And it is almost 3am, so I think bed is a reasonable request. Hope you guys thought this post was worth it. I know I figured out a lot of stuff as I was writing it these past four hours!

Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.
LEX saved the Game


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