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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for all the comments last time, by the way.