Monday, 12 August 2013

"The Legend of the Last Princess" (and a ton of news)

I'm making a start on this blog a bit earlier than usual because even though I've imported Dragon's Crown from the US, the expected delivery date isn't until the middle of the month. So playing that to exhaustion and then writing a blog about it -- as I expect I'll have to, if what I'm hearing is correct -- before the end of August requires me to write something now, so I'm not strapped for time.

It's important that I get it done before the end of August because in September, I'm actually going to college to begin a game development course. Not that the course will take up all my time and don't worry, the blog will continue. In fact, I'm looking forward to hearing a few different perspectives on sexism in video games and keeping my fingers crossed that I'm not the only person in the class who has heard of Anita Sarkeesian. Still, it's best to get this done now rather than rushing at the end of the month.

I got a lot of new visitors after my last post, so if you're still reading, welcome! I also found myself in a huge debate in the comments of my very third blog post after it was linked to extensively on the forums of Escapist Magazine, so go here if you're interested in reading it.

This isn't to do with video games but visiting Reddit this last week, I was drawn to two topics that I thought were pretty important. The first one highlights the lack of safe spaces to talk about men's issues and rather succinctly explains why people interested in fighting for men's issues may also become anti-feminist. Given that a large chuck of the mens rights movement seems to be made up of former feminists, it makes for a worthwhile read. It's very rare that this blog deals with serious real-world issues but the second thread features men going over incidents where they were raped and sexually assaulted. It chilled me to the bone and I had to stop reading because I was afraid I would cry if I continued. It's heartbreaking. The least I can do is link to it here and hope that a very serious issue can be given more exposure, if only a little.

Onto today's topic; I know it probably seems like I write about nothing but Anita Sarkeesian nowadays -- and, being sick of writing about the same topics myself, I'm sorry about that -- but before we put Feminist Frequency's "Damsel In Distress (Part 3)" video behind us for good, I'd like to write a little about the "hypothetical game concept" made by Anita and co.; "The Legend of the Last Princess".


Or if you don't want to watch the video, here's a transcript of the narration:
"Like many fairy tales, this story begins once upon a time with the kidnapping of a princes. [sic] She dutifully waits for a handsome hero to arrive and rescue her. Eventually, however, she grows tired of the damseling and decides it’s high time to save herself. Of course if she’s going to be the protagonist of this particular adventure she’s going to need to acquire a slightly more practical outfit. After her daring escape, she navigates the forbidden forest, leveling up her skills along the way. Upon reaching her kingdom, she discovers the inevitable yet unexpected plot twist; the royal counsel has usurped power and were responsible for her kidnapping. Branded a traitor and an outlaw in her own land, she unlocks new disguises and stealth abilities to infiltrate the city walls. She makes her way through the final castle to confront the villainous council, and abolish the monarchy forever."
Let's not go overboard; I know this is only a minute-long video. Not every point Anita wishes to make can be told in a minute. I am going to be scrutinising it as heavily as I would any other game but I'm well aware that a full game may not have the problems that I'm being critical of.

First of all, I have to say that I don't have any problems with the basic concept; a princess-slash-damsel in distress becoming the hero seems like a decent enough idea to found a game upon. Earning new abilities and disguises is fine too; done right, it could be comparable to games like Okami and Batman: Arkham City, with certain places being off-limits before finding the right ability or disguise.

All that is fine. The problems start to creep in when we look at the plot. First of all, I've heard the "powerless female character quickly adapts to defend herself" foundation compared to the Tomb Raider reboot, although in my opinion the entire plot is practically lifted from Dishonored. In fact, it's basically "Dishonored if Princess Emily was the hero". Although in Dishonored, the protagonist was framed for the princess' kidnapping, whereas that point is glossed over in "The Legend Of The Last Princess" (although yes, I know, it's only a minute long). Even the twist of the council taking over the throne is the same.

Speaking of which, why does the princess want to abolish the monarchy? I suppose I can picture her wishing to prohibit groups such as the evil council taking advantage of the power that the throne provides. It's a stretch but it's the most sensible explanation I have. Having said that, there are lots of reasons why the princess would not want to do this: without the monarchy, the princess wouldn't be at all significant in the LotLP universe. She wouldn't have any power and wouldn't be able to use her influence -- and newfound skills -- to defend the kingdom from further traitorous schemes. Presumably, other forms of government could be taken advantage of just as easily as the monarchy was. It doesn't make any sense.

There is an out-of-universe reason for the monarchy being abolished; Anita Sarkeesian dislikes princesses:


Personally, I think that line of thinking is a little sensitive -- kids are kids, I think we should let them pretend to be what they want -- but that tweet is besides the point; I get how tempting it must be to put a piece of yourself into your characters but giving a princess an anti-monarchist viewpoint is rather silly, isn't it? Although the title of the game couldn't be "The Legend Of The Last Princess" if the monarchy was still present by the end of the game.

Let's talk about the gender issues the video brings up. First of all, how did the princess escape from her cell? According to the narration, she escaped because "she grew tired of the damseling". How did she beat up the trained guard and steal his uniform? According to the narration, she was able to defeat him simply because she was going to be the protagonist.

Again, there might be more to this than the minute-long video had time to mention but when these are the princess' reasons for escaping, it seems like Anita is only interested in making a game that says, "damseling is wrong, see?" and, "look, we have a female protagonist!" I'm sure a full version of "The Legend Of The Last Princess" wouldn't resort to storytelling like this but the video did have time to go into the mechanics of learning new abilities and finding new disguises, so was it really too much to ask to say the princess had a lockpick to escape the cell and had been taught self-defence from a young age? If this game concept really is just a sensible game concept and not a game to satisfy a stereotype-subverting fantasy, having the princess break out of her cell and beat up a guard "just because" needs to go.

The other gender issue is simple; all the bad guys are male. From the guards to the three evil council members seen at the end of the video, there isn't an evil female character in sight. With men as evil and disposable as ever, it's hardly breaking any new ground when it comes to gender roles, including female ones; there have been strong women in games before, not to mention strong princesses (although rarely as the sole protagonist, I'll admit. Then again, I'm in favour of more varied protagonists, so I'm fine with a princess being playable).

The reason I'm bringing up Legend Of The Last Princess now rather than during my post about Anita's Damsel In Distress - Part 3 video was because it didn't particularly matter at that point. Like I said at the time, there wasn't much to write about the content of that video with the exception of Spelunky. Since then, there's something about the way Anita has been spotlighting the fanart for the game that makes me think she's keen to make more of this than just a "hypothetical game concept".

So could it ever be made into a real game? Well possibly. In spite of what we hear about publishers not spending as much on advertising for games starring female heroes as they do with male ones, gender issues in games are a hot-button issue right now; there are certainly developers who would be keen to score some points with a demographic that has so much clout in gaming right now. With game journalism catering to a feminist viewpoint as much as they are -- from Dragon's Crown's George Kamitani apologising to Jason Schreier after Schreier's immature insults to Naughty Dog being "surprised" by the backlash to the gender roles in The Last Of Us (thank you, Carolyn Petit) -- don't you think a developer would be happy to earn some instant good publicity by working with Anita Sarkeesian herself?

I'm not saying that it will happen, just that it's possible. There are reasons for developers to do so.

By the way, while I was on the Feminist Frequency Tumblr, I noticed that Anita had reblogged and linked to this flowchart. It's a great way to ignore the arguments while insulting people and pretending to prove a point at the same time. See which ending fits you the best.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at themalesofgames@gmail.com. Thanks for all the comments last time, by the way.

14 comments:

  1. See, the fact she is happy to link that flowchart and fanarts while refraining from going out to find and address the instances of honest and rational criticism is more damning than any of the oversights in the content of her videos. It simply highlights how she has embraced a 'preaching to the choir and damning all those who disagree' attitude rather than an openness for honest and intellectual debate.

    I wouldn't got so far as you might in demonizing her as a misandrist- after all, she is quite right in trying to address a general state of inequality in gender portrayals- but she is consistently showing herself as incapable of being anything more than an uncompromising spokesperson for her gender.

    The truth is that such revolutionaries are useful at pointing out where there are grounds for concern but prove counterproductive when it comes to figuring out what is to be done. Her 'pitch', is interesting as a concept, mostly because most videogames do often play their tropes so very straight. That said, her idea is basically just a simple genderswap and her trailer gave very little indication that it would examine any of the more intelligent questions that have been posed by other games.

    Well known games like Spec Ops: the Line have dealt with questions of saviour complexes and protagonist's self-righteous justifications for the acts they commit. Others like Braid have engaged in remarkably complex critiques of the act of gaming and the stories involved. Hell, even Spelunky makes a playful comment on the interchangeability of MacGuffins.

    In comparison, what Anita presents us with is a rather naive 'girl power' message that doesn't so much seem to subvert the "traditional" stories that are being told as simply replay the old "hero's journey" storyline with Zelda rather than Link as lead.

    An arguably more progressive and inspiring scenario might have been set in an "ideal" world where people are not defined by their gender whatsoever- where magic or science have largely eliminated the differences between the sexes and led to people being defined chiefly on merit. The Mass Effect series did a remarkably effective job of this while still maintaining gender differences [they're almost becoming a reverse Godwin in gender gaming discussions].

    Instead, her example sounds a lot like simplistic Mary Sue'ing than an attempt to make a creative piece that all can appreciate as thoughtful and empowering. We shouldn't get too critical of it, given it's not likely to have been too serious an idea.

    Does anyone believe Anita is going to invest the vast quantity of time, effort, co-operation and compromise that are involved in producing a fully functioning game? First of all she'd have to get her game an engine and some decent, playable mechanics before she could even think about trying to deal with fleshing out this world of hers.

    I too chuckled a little at the sudden 'And then she abolishes the monarchy' ending- I mean, for the most part it had seemed she would be fighting to regain her rightful place and then suddenly she wants to ... institute democracy? What kind of fantasy land is she living in? That's not how history works. What's more, such a storyline only serves to perpetuate the idea that 'helpless' societies need some benevolent aristocrat to unseat governments and decide what's best for them [without seemingly putting much thought into the consequences of their actions].

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    1. I don't know if I'd necessarily call Anita a misandrist, come to think of it. She's certainly said some misandrist things but her comments tend to be very varied, from misandrist to questionable to reasonably sensible. Anita's a mixed bag. Unfortunately, I feel like the minuses vastly outweigh the plusses.

      You're right that we probably shouldn't be too critical of it. There were moments when I was writing this when it felt like I was nitpicking certain points. The truth is that there's nothing wrong with games being varied and the game's concept is varied enough. Not groundbreaking by any means but just different enough. Having said that, I hope to God that it doesn't get made, for the sole reason that it means the lunatics will be running the asylum (and that's not an insult towards Anita herself; I'd say the same about anyone who would be able to have their game concept developed if the only reason was because they were critical of games, me included).

      Still, even though I want to avoid being too critical now, I think most of what you said was correct. I still have to acknowledge that the concept is a bit shallow, a bit silly and the Mary Sue comparisons came to my mind too.

      ... And really, why abolish the monarchy? Why!?

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  2. I was about to say that the protagonist of that Last Princess thing reminded me of a Zelda fancharacter, and a particularly awful kind of fancharacter at that. The style of dress and the artwork made me think of Wind Waker kinda. So, back to the protagonist of the Last Princess. She resembles an especially awful type of fancharacter that I've encountered during my years on the internet, the kind that clearly exist to preach some message. These seemed to pop up in the old days of fandom, when someone would bring Christianity to, like, Zelda or something, and some remnants of this trend still exist today, albeit not with Christianity.

    Maybe Ms. Sarkeesian really, really wanted to make a Zelda fancomic or fangame or fanfic or something, where this character breezes into Hyrule to give a lecture on feminism and how bad monarchies are. It'd make about as much sense as her hypothetical game does.

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    1. There was definitely an element of fanfiction about it, I noticed. I didn't make the Zelda connection (not being too familiar with the LoZ series) but now that you mention it, I think you're right.

      I'm sure when I've written stories, I've placed my own viewpoint on characters before. There's nothing wrong with that, or creating a game based around a theme (like Bioshock and Objectivism, for example). It becomes a problem when the character feels like they're only there to preach a message, just as you said. Now that I think about it, the line, "she dutifully waits for a handsome hero to arrive and rescue her" feels like the turning point. It feels like that's when we stop seeing her as a fully-rounded character and instead view her as a fancharacter designed to subvert stereotypes and nothing more.

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    2. I just took a look at the art and made the Zelda Connection. I was like "This is someone's rejected Zelda fancharacter, isn't it?".

      That line could work in a parody but in the hands of someone who's good at writing comedy. Ms. Sarkeesian doesn't seem good at writing comedy. I know that comedy writing is hard, but it helps to have a sense of humor, which Ms. Sarkeesian seems to lack, in addition to a lack of a sense of story.

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  3. Slightly off topic, but how do you feel about her apparently endorsing a fan fiction about her killing Randy Pitchford?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONuIvX21VYU

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    1. That may be the worst thing I've ever read online.

      Honestly, I've no idea how I feel about it. I feel like it makes Anita come off really badly but I think the author is banking on her popularity and the backlash against Duke Nukem Forever to make her seem likeable. Also, the idea of Anita taking over Gearbox after killing Randy Pitchford will probably haunt my nightmares for some time.

      I don't really have an opinion on Anita's endorsement of it. As usual, she's being pretty vague. Anita has always come across as something of a pacifist before. It'd be less questionable if the story didn't feature the killing of a real-life figure (described quite graphically, no less).

      Even so, let's not read too much into it.

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    2. You know what, I didn't even make the connection to the "punch Anita Sarkeesian" game before I read the comments on that Youtube video. Now that I think about it, it's completely hypocritical.

      So I guess the message Anita wants to send is "I don't like it so I'm going to endorse a violent revenge fantasy" is completely fine if she does it but monstrous if her critics do it.

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    3. Wouldn't be the first time that she endorsed "mockery, verbal abuse, and violence on people I don't like, but when it's applied to me it's abuse and misogyny".

      She called people using images of her to make image macros "abusive", but is fine with stuff like Privilege-Denying Dude because the latter is a joke at the expense of "those who uphold the status quo", to paraphrase her words. And I think this is the same line of logic she'd use to defend this piece of work, probably done by one of her fans. Frankly I'm shocked that it's Randy Pitchford and not Shigeru Miyamoto, given Ms. Sarkeesian's ongoing bitterness about Dinosaur Planet, and spending a large chunk of her very first Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games video dousing all her hatesauce all over the Mario and Zelda franchises. Not that I'd have liked that, but it surprised the heck out of me.

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    4. Was that really supposed to be one of those fics praising Anita or was that a joke fic to make her look like a Mary Sue?

      You'd think that she'd make opinion more clear so this wouldn't be labeled as another example of Anita's hypocrisy.

      "While I like the idea of taking over Gearbox, but the real me is above brutally killing a man. Doing that to a man for ridiculous reasons, such as creating a bad game, gives the false notion that either women are spoiled children trapped in the bodies of adults or that women have deep-seated grudges for the most trivial of things. Other than that, I like that it's surreal and bizarre."

      I wondered if she purposely left her comment as is to feed on the drama, but later on she posted a video of Movie Bob defending her first TvW video.
      She may be feeling the consequences for her lack of tact.

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    5. Anita is certainly doing a better job at portraying women as "spoiled children trapped in the bodies of adults or that women have deep-seated grudges for the most trivial of things" than any fictional story ever could. Really, the only thing she hasn't done to oppose games she doesn't like is breaking the law. Or make her own game as competition.

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  4. once again, the supposed "solution" to "misogyny in games" is to apply male traits to stock female characters, and then just make another generic game around it.

    this game doesn't even attempt to appeal to the core female gamer demographic. that is to say, it doesn't look anything like farmville or angry birds.

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    1. Not to mention that it's going against one of Anita's own subjects that she wants to address later on in her little series, something like "man with boobs" I believe it is >_> The titular Princess of "Legend of the Last Princess" is *exactly* what would fit under that sort of heading going by Anita-logic.

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  5. I think I feel much the same way about this proposed game as you do/would. I'd probably be interested in this or get it and enjoy it if it were a real game......*except* if it was Anita doing it, or someone who pretty much exactly agrees with her whole entire stance. The idea as proposed by Anita comes across way too much as an example of the "Author Tract" Trope or the "Writer on Board", that general theme. Like the "getting tired of damseling and deciding to make her own path" (paraphrased) line or a ton of other little things that put me off.

    So yeah, I think it's a nice idea in and of itself...but it really isn't anything all that new or even ground-breaking when it comes to female characters. And there are far too many things about that I feel are tainted by Anita's perspective or forced into it because of that.

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