Wednesday, April 2, 2008

EPISODE TWO: "Super Mario & The Sacred Feminine"

The OverThinker agrees that the portrayal of women in video games leaves something to be desired. Conventional wisdom says it all goes back to Super Mario and "save the princess"... but The OverThinker feels conventional wisdom has got it all wrong.


Doofus_J said...

I enjoyed your opinion of Rosalina, a very unique take on females in gaming. The entire video seems to fall in line with what I know of your opinions of video games in the first place (who'd a thunk it?) in that it's the creative games that seem to push the boundaries of women's roles.

I myself often find that I am at odds with the way women are often portrayed in gaming. It's not that I don't like women...I married one. But, I find it not only sexist, but completely inane, that characters like Ivy from Soul Caliber exist. Here is a character that is designed completely around her chest area. Her character design is not only sexist, but completely illogical from a character standpoint. She's supposed to be a European noble, for heaven's sake. Why is she dressed in erotic bondage? Oh, because of tits. Now I understand.

Games like No More Heroes have women in sexual roles as well...but they make sense. Sylvia is supposed to be a tease, and acts accordingly. Her sexuality is how she manipulates people, but is not her defining and only characteristic. By the nature of her relationship with Travis (or his perceived relationship, at least) she's a sexual object, but I never really felt that the director felt the same way about her as Travis, and I think that's important. Game designers need to learn to have respect for their female characters in more areas than just their mammary glands.

I think what I'm trying to say is, badass women don't have to look like whores.

MovieBob said...

When it comes to "sexualized" characters, I'm less concerned with the selling of the sex-appeal and moreso with whether or not it's inately demeaning. Ivy (and, really, every female fighting game character ever) is a preposterous sex object, certainly, but she has a character and a personality that go along with that look. I'm more bothered by women in the GTA games, where they're literally nothing but objects.

Regarding No More Heroes, though... the thing to keep in mind is that the characters in this game serve a symbolic function as well as a narrative one: Aside from being a vicious Japanese satire of American otakus, Travis is a sleazy, greedy lech who has NO interest in women outside of sexual objectification - perfectly visualized by his creepy, well-maintained collection of "anime babe" figurines.

I doubt it's an accident that most of the more vicious Ranked Assassins turn out to be female, or that Travis' voice and mannerisms always take on that soft, oily, post-coital insincerity after he dispatches them (by, keep in mind, running them through with his big, powerful SWORD.) We're essentially watching/playing a violently-sociopathic pervert as he faces down his fantasies/hangups and jams a beam-sabre into them in place of the actual contact he's too socially (and otherwise) impotent to dare. Probably the only thing CLOSE to noble he does (spoiler warning) is NOT kill (read: screw) the underaged Shinobu - instead he just whacks off her hand. (hm.. is there a word missing there?)

Doofus_J said...

You're right on the money about the GTA games. I like how every one of them after Vice City demands a strip club with lap dances. I guess it's just giving people what they want, though. I used to manage a video store, and I remember this one customer asking about the content of "San Andreas":

Him: "So, can you like go into titty bars and get lap dances and shit in this game?"

Me: "I don't know. I guess so."

Him [in slow and sleazy voice]: "Yeeeeeaaaaaaaah..."

Anonymous said...

"Who has NO interest in women outside of sexual objectification - perfectly visualized by his creepy, well-maintained collection of "anime babe" figurines."

SPOILERS!!! I have to disagree with you there Bob, I mean yes Travis is sleazy, but can you honestly say he's just a sex crazed pervert? Look at the fight with Holly summers, at the most he flirts with her a little, but once he beats her he can't finish her off so she kills herself, and I think at that momnet we get a deep look into Travis's psyche. I mean honestly, would a pervert bother saying such things as he buries her corpse? And don't bother with the supposed sword/phallic symbolism, Goichi Suda IS NOT Sigmund freud.

MovieBob said...

"I mean honestly, would a pervert bother saying such things as he buries her corpse?"

Keep in mind, he's saying these things to someone he's NEVER met and only knows from a few moments of armed combat. But he's talking to her DEAD BODY as though it's a lover he's known all his life. That's kinda off-kilter, bordering on stalker-behavior. The tone of it strikes me more as being things he feels he's supposed to say in these situations, rather than anything sincere.

Anonymous said...

Most people flirt with those they've never met before anyway, and from my POV it seems more like he's regretful for shaming her, rather than forcing a delusion apon her corpse.

Silkenray said...

Rosalina does indeed rock.

I think you're right that Peach has a bit of a bad rap. However, I would like to see a few more non-females being used as adventure bait. Why not a kidnapped little brother instead of a little sister? Or a prince instead of a princess? I mean, Labyrinth had a young girl going on a quest to rescue her little brother from David Bowie and his Crystal Balls, and that movie rocked.

MovieBob said...

For those of you linking here from the IGN posting: The Japanese woman pictured at 2:20 is model/actress Eriko Sato, who played the title role in the EMBARASSINGLY wonderful live-action "Cutie Honey" movie. In addition to looking, well... like THAT (she's notably taller and more 'full figured' than most of her peers in the world of Japanese modeling) she's also a fun comic actress.

In addition, she can touch the back of her head with the soles of her feet. No, really. Rent the Cutie Honey DVD, it's worth it for that part alone.

Bradbury said...

The issue with women characters in fiction isn't just that they play into archetypes, whether it's the masculine warrior princess or the frilly pink damsel in distress. One of the other aspects of women in fiction is that they're much too often 'the other'. I'm not going to claim that games never identify you with women, because Peach got her own game as cited in this video and we all know how great Samus is. Still, way too often they're portrayed as incidental to the hero. In Super Mario Galaxy, that woman may be the mother of the galaxy, but she still doesn't have much of a personality. Does she do anything within the game that doesn't revolve around Mario or the plot (no, seriously, I don't know, I haven't gotten very far yet)? It doesn't matter how much power she has if her entire role in the game is to get Mario to help her.

If women are still portrayed as being a different species than men, somehow deserving of a different (not necessarily less or more) status, if they're never portrayed as being individual human beings, if their bodies have no muscle definition and unrealistically large breasts, then there's a problem, and it's the kind of problem that reaches out of video games and pop culture. Now that the "dragons have been vanquished", it's fiction that feminism has to turn to. Banishing the last vestiges of gender roles and sexism (and yes, they do exist, and they do cause real social problems) requires looking at fiction and talking about how it demonstrates what we think about women and men.

However, I know too many women (and men) overanalyze fiction (I'm talking about all media here, not just video games) and pitch fits whenever a female character shows any sign of exiting their very narrow field of accepted behavior. There can be a whole constellation of unique female characters, and every one will be tagged with a sexist archetype and derided.

Women characters can be stupid, flawed, fucked up, fascinating, well-written and engaging all at the same time. They can also be geniuses, ass-kickers, and absolutely unbearable.

In my opinion, the key isn't to go analyzing everything you see. The key is to look for patterns. If women characters suffer, is the effect on the men portrayed as more important than the female's own reaction? Do all the women talk about nothing but boys and have no hopes, dreams or talents of their own? If the answers to these and other questions are no and you can't cite how the women are visibly and consistently treated differently than the men, then you might just be looking at bad writing, or there may not be a problem at all. But if the answers are yes... that's when you have to start talking. Not protesting or arguing or flaming. Talking. That's something this video does very effectively.

ellequoi said...

I enjoyed hearing "game overthinking". Maybe it's just refreshing to hear a review of games that has a larger vocabulary than a clusterbomb of swear words.

My take on feminism criticising things like video games is that it's trying to work on the source of its issues - the tendency of society to not take women or their concerns as seriously due to thinking of them less as people and more as objects. I don't agree that there aren't still battles for feminism to fight (and larger ones than a quarrel over video games) but I'll defer the rant it would take to list them. I'm glad you acknowledged the point that some video games are sexist, and I agreed with your defence of Mario.

It was an interesting perspective of the Mario series that I hadn't realised before - Mario is ultimately Peach's knight and subordinate. I think the fact that Peach is a ruling princess as opposed to a ruling queen, a title more associated with power, makes people assume Peach is powerless, although they would not say the same thing about a prince.

As a female and a feminist (and a minority), where video games isolate me is often lack of choice. I want to be able to play a female character in the same way that I want to be able to play a character that isn't always Caucasian. My boyfriend chooses the female character to have some eye candy on screen as he plays, and I often get the feeling that the character was created more for that purpose than to accomodate actual females. I agree with Bradbury that it is easy to feel like the "other" in the video game world.

Unknown said...

Rewatching this yet again, I love hearing this talk and you actually seem sensible with it. I know it's the vocal minority, but I honestly do throw feminists in the same camp as crazy church organizations and mother's of school age children trying to 'protect' their children by banning or censoring assorted media.

All come across as vastly misinformed and often seem to have not made any real try to change that. They believe what they do about things, and don't dive deeper. Again I realize that not all feminists are this way, but I don't hear from the sensible ones.

Realizing this is a year after the fact, some of my comments I do want to reflect on what others have said. One of the frustrating things I find is something that was said in the video, being female isn't bad. While I personally have finding a mate as the last thing on my mind, that doesn't mean others girls are the same. Yes, all games having boy-crazy females in it is boring but it is very unrealistic to think this should not be included at all. You could take out all reference to attraction, both of the romantic and sexual kind, but I don't think that is the answer. While it's not the only part of the human conditions, it's one of the big ones.

On the point of women being the other, I think as long as you have a male as the lead women having a differentness to them. While yes, sometimes you do connect well with the other sex as a whole I don't for a moment think that I understand men. Women and men are different, that doesn't mean all women are the same but it doesn't change that while you may even be able to empathize with someone of the opposite gender, you don't see or think the same way. But no one does, human beings can only know each other so well. Someone can be your lifelong best friend and you still have issue seeing eye to eye with them on some things.

If they are not portrayed as being humans that is a bad thing again, but I must ask from what this comment stems from. In the case of Galaxy, the total 2 hours I've played it while house sitting, I felt a personality. I felt that yes, Rosalina did feel like a character. How much of her character I saw was small, but that's because I've seen a grand total of two scenes with her and she isn't the main character. How is her role in the story to ask Mario for help a bad thing? If she did it herself, then there would be no point to Mario being there and we would have no game. She is a supporting character, and as that name would lead you to think, that means she a character meant to support the story. She is not a main character, so what is the point of showing anything not relating to the story? I think it would be bad storytelling frankly, and one of the things Mario and Nitendo has going for it is the simplicity. Mario is not Lost, it doesn't sidetrack you or have a million plot threads in the air, and that is what people appreciate about it. I enjoy complex stories that are multi layered and require time and repeated viewings to digest, but that is not the only way to tell a story.

Long post short, video games are stories. If the focus isn't on the main character, then they are no longer the main character. That's part of why for example I'm part of the camp who sees Ashe from FFXII as the main character. While the story for that game was more about the world and the politics(part of what I enjoyed, it made me think of a grand sweeping epic :) ) it still felt like mainly Ashe's story.

Final Fantasy has made me happy with the amount of female leads it's had lately, which I would love to see more of in other games. X-2 I loved for the characters, and destine the number of comments I've seen against it(Of which none have felt like they played the game) I felt you had a good female cast there. Was the jump from X to X-2 a little wonky with Yuna's character? Yes. But what her character was like in X-2, I found charming.

And what started me with rewatching this is XIII, playing the demo the other day. An honest female lead is wonderful, even if so far she does seem like she will play into the frowny warrior chick stereotype right now. With that part, the game isn't even out yet so we don't know her all that well. I do know I am looking forward to it however.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic video. Very thoughtful, if not a bit over thought… though then again I guess that makes sense.

I for one would love to see more female leads in games, because whatever you say about Peach the fact remains that the player, for the overwhelming majority of the time, is still controlling Mario, and Gordon Freeman… and about ten thousand other faceless bearded white male protagonists…

Often the only rolls you see for woman in video games is in fact be a woman, not a person. They exist as only a romance hook, or a set of bouncing boobs or some other gender derived cliché or just for plain marketing. The same is true in reverse though, aren’t we also stuck with our silent stoic muscle bound brown haired male characters? The difference being that the clichéd male is in the lead roll while the cliché female isn’t (and when they are it seems trivial and sexist. As it rightly is.)

Ironically enough the only genre that seems mostly immune to this is RPGs (The very same that was spawned from the pulp mill ultra manly fantasy fiction of table top gaming in the 1970s) because of it’s emphasis on story, which usually results in well rounded characters, no matter what gender.

My point I suppose is that gaming seems stuck with these rolls. And unless more emphasis is put on constructing more meaningful narratives with actual realistic depth of character then we won’t be seeing a break from the tired old gender clichés any time soon.

(Also please don't hate on feminism just because Germaine Greer went crazy. It's still very important! the pay gap for instance still hasn't closed! just because the situation is not as dire as it once doesn't mean there is no situation. Ignoring the movement or even worse, putting a negative spin on it helps no one.)

squall lee said...

Amazing video, although I've always had my thoughts about Peach. I never thought of her as being a piece of property to be taken and done with as I please. As a kid, I always thought I, as Mario, was just being a really good friend and rescuing my friend (who happens to be a girl) from a situation she, and I doubt anyone else could probably escape from without a fuckton of possibly fruitless effort.

That and even at age 5, I imagined there was a power struggle going on between the two kingdoms.

Anyway, I notice a lot of people commenting, claiming the lack of positive female roles in gaming, and the fact that girls seem to be more objectified with how scantily clad they are.

Sadly, there isn't much you can say about this. But it's in good reason. As Bob has said in numerous videos, video games have and still are mainly marketed toward young, white/japanese men. Throughout the course of gaming, this has always kind of been the target audience for every game developer because lets face it, even though games are for every one, a more significant portion of said young men are the ones who play them, and play often enough to get counted in the gaming population.

Now, too say that all girls in gaming are objectified, that would be correct, they are objectified in some fashion but what about the ones who are strong, competent, and the first thing you think about them isn't their T&A.

What about a girl like Street Fighter's Chun-li? Yes, she's full figured and looks lovely, and has a bubbly personality but is that a bad thing? Especially when you're an Interpol agent, have the fastest and longest reach kicks in the game, and great throws. And she's not primarily deprived of clothing and her breasts aren't her prevalent feature unlike her King of Fighters counterpart Mai Shiranui.

How about Faris and Lenna from Final Fantasy 5, both princesses, even though Faris chose to become a pirate captain. Both are proper saviors of their world, incredibly strong in magic (Lenna) and power (Faris). And as an added bonus, neither are as remotely clumsy, and dorky as their counter-part, Bartz, and in fact are just as heroic.

I wish my argument could be stronger then that but I've got a feeling I've overstayed my welcome. Before I leave here's some food for thought on positive female role models in games; Time Gal, Otra from Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, Tron Bonne from Megaman Legends, and any given female protagonist and antagonist from the Phantasy Star series.

alphabet1 said...

clap, clap, clap...

Well done, Overthinker. I agree with almost everything you said, but I'm not too sure about the feminist movement having no more dragons to slay.

As annoying as they are, feminist are helping us grow into a more egalitarian society. Of course, feminazis are a discredit to the movement, and manbashing is not going to get society anywhere.

Although I agree with Doofus J on his comment about women in video games looking like whores, I think you addressed that when you ranted about games coming from Japan the difference's in their culture.

I'm also excited about the FFXIII lead. She might just be that realistic female character that men can really connect with.

donna said...


Unknown said...

Well... No.

Bowser is a dragon, and while the satanic references hint at the same point you're making, a [knight] saving a princess from a dragon is christian imagery from the crusades, symbolising crusaders christening heathens. More or less.

Sure, this is japan we're talking about, but you have to remember that Japan has a very serious west-world complex, and the story of mario (originally) is just an abstraction of this imagery.
This imagery being born during a time and at a place when women were considered weak and inferior.

Furore said...

Dear Sir: I've gone through your entire videologue, and for my money this is your most interesting commentary yet. If you ever get the urge to do anything similar, on this or another topic, I urge you to give in!

Anonymous said...

It has been a couple of years since I last played SMG, but I believe your comparison of Rosalina to god is a bit of a stretch based on the back story as I recall it.

My recollection is that Rosalina was a little girl who found one of the Lumas and somehow got transported to their planet. As she grows older with them, she looks after them and makes sure that they grow, I don't remember anything about her being a creator, i.e., the traditional role of "god." Maybe a protector or caretaker, but not what I would call a god. Any limited power she has comes from the Lumas, not from herself. Again, I am going from memory here. They do call her "mama," but she does not create them, instead acting more like their caretaker or counselor.

Maybe I am nit-picking here. I guess that's what Overthinking is all about anyway, right?

Anonymous said...

Hi, just came here and agree with you highly. I guess Peach isn't exactly the best character in the lot, but I used to play her a lot in Mario Kart. I'd like her better if she could be played, that's all. I don't dislike her "damsel in distress" stance or the pink dress. I just want to play her.

Didn't know Rosalina, sounds great.

But, about the criticisms on Grand Theft Auto, as a woman I must say... Isn't that game atrociously sexist towards men? Yes, men are the active forces in that game, but... aren't they criminal? Isn't it sexist to portray men as criminals and brutes, and women as only victims? I think Grand Theft Auto is sexist to both genders. I know it may sound as "oh, but the women are victims and the men are having all the fun". Huh? It's a game, but you know, the male character usually dies. As it's a game, you can reset, it doesn't seem to matter much, but the point is that there are negative stereotypes about men in Grand Theft Auto, too. And I think it says a lot about society's double standards, that people worry about women being victims (which is good), but no one worries about men being victims in bad neighbourhoods. Woman or prostitute killed? Poor girl. Another guy killed? He was a man, let's not worry. Men raped in jail? Well, apparently in the USA, that's the norm. So someone commits a non-violent offense and apparently it's funny if the guy gets raped in jail. I guess that one doesn't appear in GTA, but the point is, there is sexism about the "down bottom" of society, and that is the sexism that permeates games like GTA. Remember, guys, GTA is saying all men are uncivilized criminals and assholes. It's sexist against both genders, it's violent and cruel. But it's not because it's a videogame, it's because it's GTA.

In any case, I'll always adore Chun-li. She made me take my first course in martial arts. She dressed sort of comfy for battle, but not trashy, had a full female figure, with huge hips, was cute as hell, and was as girly as you can get, just as capable of thunder-kicking-ass as of jumping in girlish glee. So, in any media, there will always be good and bad role-models, and video games do have good role-models. It's just unrealistic to try to always find them in the same game.

Thursday said...

as much as I hate digging up old threads I found this post to be quite thoughtful. never been to this site before and stumbled on it while looking up info on Super Mario Galaxy 2. While I thought most of the commentary of female characters in gaming was quite spot on. I am not of the Dan brown school of thought when it comes to the idea of the sacred feminine, I'll say that right off the bat. I think that the position is intellectually lazy along the lines of the Christianity via Mithrasim school of comparative theology. That being said, I still found the piece worthwhile for proving the point that there are female role models in gaming that exist that are not helpless and/or covered in bondage gear. I would also add that I disagree with the idea that Princess Peach is a Madonna figure, If I had to choose a figure most similar to the Virgin Mary I would have to choose Rosalina. The idea struck me while playing Super Mario Galaxy and reading her back story provided in game and I was surprised by how few people seemed to notice this. I would not go so far as to call the two a parallel, but I would readily admit Rosalina's Characteristics are heavily drawn from a Mariological (no pun intended) perspective. Let's start with the name Rosalina, other translation either use this name or a names with a star theme. both the rose and star are Marian symbols, and although it may be argued this symbolism predates Christianity it serves as supporting evidence to other aspects of the Character. Namely her blue and white motif shared by the Blessed virgin, representative of her humility/purity, her crown which is symbolic of her queenship and also by her maternal role in relation to the lumas, the beings of creation in the Mario universe. The relationship of luma and Rosalina in some ways resembles the Madonna and Christ relationship. supporting this further was the back story provided in game in which Rosalina, as an ordinary young girl is petitioned by an otherworldly being to become the virgin mother of said otherworldly being, in doing so she is given powers and assumed into the heavens (by power given to her) whereupon she acts as an intercessory figure to our hero Mario (Good Hero and everyman by way of being the player character) against the aforementioned Bowser (demonic comparisons and all). There are a few elements of the character that are different and minor though they are they prevent me from making her a full analogue, but it is hard to overlook the character of Rosalina being inspired by the Virgin Mary, More so than princess peach ever could. said...

Thanks for this article, really useful piece of writing.