Sunday, May 17, 2015

CRES's Thoughts On: Anita Sarkeesian's Positive Female Characters: Jade or Look at Me Look at Me I'm Fighting The Evil Corupt Patriarcy!

I'm not LOOKING for Derp faces from Anita, they just happen.
Wait a minute? Anita Sarkeesian has a new video up? But it hasn't been 3-6 months yet! Yes, apparently sometime last week Anita broke from her usual pace of posting a new video during every solstice, and released the second video in her "Positive Female Characters" series only a little over a month after her last video. And HEY this time it is copyrighted 2015! Anyway, this time she is talking about a character who ACTUALLY has a personality and is recognizable as female: Beyond Good and Evil's Jade. Now, before I begin I should make it clear that I actually have never played Beyond Good and Evil, I've only seen my brothers play it on our Gamecube. It just never clicked with me as it seemed like a poor man's Zelda just with a constant Partner, a camera gimmick, and lots of stealth sections (which isn't my strong suit). So I only know the game though second hand experience, which is probably more than Anita's.

I don't know about you, but I kind of dig the trench coat.
Anita starts off the video the way any good Social Justice Warrior does: By judging Jade by her gender and race before anything else.
 "She actually looks the part of the active, practical young woman of color who has a job to do."
 But her first actual comment is about Jade's dress, stating the common sense mantra of any visual media that a character's look conveys information about that character's personality and history. Which I agree with, this is just how you go about character design, and Jade's design does reflect her more practical sensibilities. However, in complimenting Jade's character design, Anita decides to throw every other video game heroine under the bus with this statement:
"Sadly, women in games are often depicted in wildly impractical, sexualized clothing designed to make them appealing to straight male players."
Despite the fact that she gives no examples or even qualify what she means by "often" or "sexualized," her biggest fault here is the suggestion that it is a bad thing for these heroines to be attractive to the accursed "straight male players" (I'm sure if she had her way, she would have put "white" in there as well). What's wrong with men finding certain female characters attractive? Is it that some games go too far with their character designs? If so, then what games and in what ways? I'm not saying there aren't games who's female protagonists are nothing but eye candy with no personality or character to them, but with how open this statement is we can just as easily lump Shanoa from Castlevania along side the entire cast of Senran Kagura.

Also, if Jade's character design reflects her practicality, then why can't characters with a more "seductive" quality reflect aspects of their character rather than just having them appeal to the evil male gamer? It seems like the only way you can dictate what woman are or are not allowed to wear and not be regarded as a sexist is to be a feminist. Also, why is Jade's midriff a little silly? For all we know, Hillys is a very balmy place and thus an exposed midriff may be more comfortable than cargo pants. I guess what Anita considers "sexualized" clothing is exposing skin.

I'll show you bad framing!
Anita's next point doesn't make much sense. She talks about how Jade is poor. Yeah, I really don't know what she is going on about with this one.
"But money is not just an abstract concept for Jade. She’s a working class character with real financial struggles. This is established at the very beginning of the game, when we learn that the orphanage’s electricity has been shut off, and Uncle Pey’j’s hovercraft is in dire need of repair."
Okay, first of all, it's the beginning of the game! Of course you are not going to have anything and the stuff you start off with are either major components to the gameplay or very basic tools that are in disrepair. This is how EVERY video game starts off. I mean, yes Jade is dirt poor at the beginning of the game, but like most RPGs and adventure games, by the half way point you'd have more money then you really need and can afford to blow it all on luxury items such as the life increasing PA-1s or just buy out every healing item you can find. By the end of the game you are rolling in the dough, so much so that you'd have to wonder if Jade's poverty was because she was incredibly lazy. I mean, in addition to the photography that Anita mentions, Jade has other sources of income, like breaking crates and killing enemies. And are you sure she has "real financial struggles"? How many times in the game do you have to spend money on food for the orphanage? Or have to make sure the electric bill is paid? Or have to pay off the creditors trying to get their money back on long over due loans? Never? THAT'S BECAUSE THAT DOESN'T MAKE A FUN VIDEO GAME!

And yeah, she takes photographs, there are a LOT of video game characters with hobbies outside of the main plot that the player can partake in. Link in Twilight Princess can go out and catch bugs. Ryu from Breath of Fire I-IV goes out to fish. This isn't really a unique concept for a character, or a game for that matter.

A woman and her Pig.
Anita's only other comment about the game's actual gameplay is with it's companion character: Pey'j and then latter Double H. These comments are largely repeating the same thing over and over again: The support characters aren't like sidekicks because reasons, they are more like equal partners because of reasons. I kind of disagree with this because from my experience watching the game it seems like both partners are just there to "unlock" a certain area using only context sensitive commands, and ensure the player follows the story/dungeon the way the developers WANT you to clear it by taking away your companion for a while. However, this is all small potatoes compared to her recycling of her talking points all the way back from the Damsels in Distress videos.
"In this early scene, Jade is trapped until Pey’j appears, throwing her a staff she uses to free herself and overcome the destructive alien force. It may seem like a minor detail, but the fact that Pey’j tells Jade to free herself, instead of doing it for her, is incredibly important. He assists her but doesn’t rescue her. He knows that even in this situation, she’s far from helpless, and the fact that Pey’j treats her as a capable partner encourages us to see her that way, too."
Okay, this scene was taken apart all the way back when she first brought it up but it bares repeating: Pey'j saved Jade while she was a Damsel in Distress! JADE IS A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS! And if you don't believe me let's look at Anita's own words back when she was talking about the DiD.
"All that is really required to fulfill the damsel in distress trope is for a female character to be reduced to a state of helplessness from which she requires rescuing by a typically male hero for the benefit of his story arc."
Jade was reduced to a state of helplessness, and she required the rescuing from Pey'j, our male hero, the only part of contention would be the "his story arc" bit. The only reason why it can't be Pey'j story arc is the same reason why Pey'j hands Jade her staff: BECAUSE JADE IS THE MAIN CHARACTER! In fact the entire thing about giving Jade her staff is only so that the game can teach the player about the charge attack, which you can clearly see in the gameplay footage used.

And then Pey'j gets kidnapped. And so Anita had to say this in response:
"As a quick side note, It’s important to point out that a kidnapped male character saved by a woman and a kidnapped female character saved by a man are not equivalent, because while a damsel in distress reinforces longstanding regressive myths about women as a group being weak or helpless specifically because of their gender, a dude in distress does not reinforce any such ideas about men."
In other words, "It's sexist when it happens to a woman, but isn't when it happens to a man." Why? "Reasons." Seriously, I'm getting sick of this whole "you can't be sexist towards men" crap as it gives free reign for people like Anita and other Social Justice Warriors to be as sexist and racist as they want, so long as it is ONLY against White Men.

I don't know, they seem friendly.
And finally, the part that made me compelled to write so extensively about Anita Sarkeesian this time around. See, with her "Tropes VS Women" in video game series it is all about how she is twisting what happens in video games to suit the message she wants to convey. In her first "Positive Female Characters" video it was how she is praising a character that has no noteworthy elements other than the fact that she is just another female protagonist. This time, I thought "It can't be that bad" "She's talking about a well regarded game that has a beloved heroine as it's lead" "Surely this would just be tolerable." However, if you look carefully at how she describes the story, the "messages" she is receiving from it, and the language she uses when describing the antagonists and the protagonists it is clear that there is insidious going on here. Just look at these snippets:
"Beyond Good & Evil’s narrative establishes Jade’s altruistic desire to achieve social justice."
 "There’s a subtle but subversive political dimension to Beyond Good & Evil’s narrative which highlights the importance of questioning mass media messages and challenging institutions of power that perpetuate injustice."
 "we definitely need more games with warm, compassionate, multitalented characters who have realistic and relatable concerns, and more narratives in which taking a stand against corrupt systems of power is more important than personal gain or revenge."
To me, Beyond Good and Evil is about uncovering the truth behind a corrupt totalitarian government that uses propaganda to hide it's true nature. To Anita Sarkeesian, it's about fighting for social justice, questioning media, and challenging institutionalized systems of power. It is clear why Anita Sarkeesian "likes" Beyond Good and Evil: Anita Sarkeesian IS Jade in her mind. At best, this is all just wish fulfillment, that playing as Jade is just Anita's adolescent female power fantasy. But at worse, Anita saw the story of Beyond Good and Evil as a useful tool to spread her message, to convince people that her outlook on games is correct. I mean, just look at the language used when she is describing Beyond Good and Evil's plot. She is using the same words that she uses when she is talking about "Standing up against the institutionalized sexism of video games." She is trying to make it look like she is Jade, that Feminist Frequency is IRIS, that #Gamergate is the Alpha Sector, and that the "rampant sexism" in gaming is the Domz. However, it seems more like that #Gamergate is IRIS, that the gaming media is the Alpha Sector, and that Anita's own ideology is the Domz.

I was hoping that when she started talking about more well known and regarded games that she might become more tolerable, but it seems that she can't talk positively about a game, unless it can be twisted into suiting her own narrative. On the plus side, Bloodstained is just under it's $2.25 million dollar stretch goal! Which means there is going to be a Retro level somewhere in the game. Just 250K and we will experience Bloodstained in the Classicvania style: A bonus Stage based mode. AWESOME!


Until Next Time,

-CRES, I hope Anita is LONG GONE before this ever materializes.

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