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Posts Tagged ‘Portal 2’

Update: SLee and Topher now have an entire case guide out in e-book form. Even better, it is FREE!

Update 2 (May 5th 2012): If you want some help answering the questions, but don’t want the spoilers of the actual answers, SLee and Topher now have a guide with tips on how to deduce the correct response.

I have been playing L.A. Noire [1] and I have really been trying to like it. It should be the kind of game I love. I have written before about why I love crime shows and I usually like crime games as well. The game was highly recommended to me by two friends whose opinions and taste I trust. So I want to like it, but L.A. Noire is just not doing it for me. In this post I give the uncharitable version of my reaction to L.A. Noire. In a future post I will give the more charitable interpretation of my reaction to the game. [Note: This post contains spoilers for L.A. Noire and Triggers for Racism, Sexism and Violence. I will note each in-text as they arise, and hide any spoilers that affect the cases]

Sections:

  1. Racism and Sexism
  2. Plot, Choice and the Uncanny Valley
  3. Gameplay and the Uncanny Valley
  4. Final Verdict (tl;dr)
  5. Link Round-Up of Interrogation and Investigation Tips

1. Racism and Sexism

[Trigger Warning for Discussion of Gender-Based Violence]

L.A. Noire is both racist and misogynist through and through.[2] You play as Cole Phelps assisted by several partners throughout the game. Phelps himself rarely says racist or sexist things, but his partners can be relied upon for a steady stream of racism and sexism. [Light Spoiler for L.A. Noire] One partner, Stefan Bekowsky Roy Earle [Thanks to Harold for the correction], becomes incensed when a black man makes a suggestion. He spits out, “don’t tell me what to do,” with a tone that indicates he thinks the black man “doesn’t know his place.” Later he says, “What an evening I’m having. First a negro puts his hands on me, and then this.” The game also features anti-Semitic conspiracies as part of the plot-line.[3] Later, Phelps’ partner, Finbarr “Rusty” Galloway, jokes about beating and murdering his girlfriends and wives. Galloway thinks a woman deserves to die if she keeps a messy house.[4] [/Spoiler] But I am not going to dwell on those points, since there is an in-game explanation (America is racist! It was especially racist in the ’40s! It adds realism!)[5] and I expect that anyone who is playing a Rockstar game will anticipate a lot of racist, homophobic and sexist shit and will have prepared themselves accordingly.

[/Trigger Warning]

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An image of Chell from Portal 2: A woman of slender to medium build with somewhat messy dark hair. She wears an orange jumpsuit, the same jumpsuit as she was in Portal 1, but now it is tied around her waist to reveal a white tank top. Chell has braces on the back of her calves, and carries a handeheld portal device, which looks like a futuristic ray gun. She is modelled on a woman of Brazilian American and Japanese descent. The image also has a portal to Chell's right and we can see GLaDOS in an environment over-grown with weeds. (Thanks to rho and bluestar for elements of this description; photo from The National Post).

In June, after the release of the Portal 2 trailer at E3 I wrote about some concerns I had reading interviews with the developers of Portal 2. Now it has been released and I have finished the main story and co-op, gone through again for the trophies and to listen to the developer commentary, so I thought I should return and assess whether the worries I had were warranted. [Note: The following discussion contains spoilers]

1. Portal 2 and Gender

This version of portal is certainly more gendered than the first version was. But just because something is gendered, that does not necessarily make it sexist. Gender can be used in subversive ways as well as being used in sexist ways. Arguably, the first Portal game used gender in subversive ways (for an analysis see Joe McNeilly’s discussion here).

Portal 1 is not very explicitly gendered. When I first played I did not notice Chell’s gender much at all. Some elements of the environment were gendered (GLaDOS was clearly a female computer, if such a thing makes sense).  McNeilly argues (pg. 4) that many of the elements of the environment are gendered (the turrets are ‘boys’ and the companion cube is male–from the GLaDOS line (about 3:30; the link is a spoiler for Portal 1): “A big party that all your friends were invited to. I invited your best friend the Companion Cube. Of course, HE couldn’t come because you murdered HIM,” which I took as the generic “he” but perhaps McNeilly is right).

In the first game you really did not get a sense of Chell’s gender unless you happened to catch a glimpse of yourself through one of the portals. That lead to some magical moments for many gamers, as Jenn Frank wrote about and I discussed in a previous post. It was really great to play a woman in a game without that making a huge difference to the story or the heroism of the protagonist. As Frank writes,

But here is the next surprise: your being a girl doesn’t mean anything. It means nothing. You play on, and nothing has changed, and the game is still the game, and you are still you. But something has substantially changed, and fundamentally changed, because now you know. You have seen yourself.

But the surprise at playing a woman was never really an option for Portal 2, once they made the decision to keep Chell as the main character (and thank goodness they ditched the jumpsuit revision they were considering at the time. This Chell is somewhat more sexed-up, but not overly so. I don’t find her to be any more sexed-up than Faith from Mirror’s Edge. Also, they seem to have kept the racial ambiguity that allows players to project their own race onto Chell. Chell is still modelled on Alesia Glidwell, a Japanese-Brazilian actor.). So now that the player knows they are a woman, there is a choice about how that will be treated.

Chell is definitely more gendered than she was the first time around. As a few people have already written, some of the jabs that GLaDOS levies at Chell involve calling Chell fat as a particularly gendered insult (see below). For example, loodmoney writes,

Secondly, it seems a poor way to write female characters. In Portal 1, the player might very well have completed the game without knowing the protagonist was a woman. Her sex was irrelevant to the circumstances, thus it was not worth commenting on. Chell is a stronger character as a result.
But here I get the impression that the writers got lazy: ‘Chell is a girl, right? And GLaDOS is also a girl, right? And they’re enemies? Well then, obviously the latter is going to say stuff about the former’s weight! I mean, that’s something that girls do, right?’

I agree with loodmoney that Chell is more gendered in this game. I also agree that ‘fat’ is a gendered insult in this particular instantiation. Why is it a gendered insult? Because Chell is not fat, and despite the obvious truth that (fat) men are sometimes called fat with the intent to insult them, and men can also be hurt by being called fat, it remains a gendered insult because non-fat men are not usually called ‘fat’ whereas non-fat women often are. Further, it is generally considered more important for women to maintain their appearance than it is for men, and men get greater leeway before the label ‘fat’ is applied to them. But this is the text, and there is (I think) a different subtext.

I disagree that this is lazy writing or that it fails characterization and feminism 101. The reason is because of the relationship to power that Valve has included in the game.

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So by now I am sure most have seen the Portal 2 trailer from yesterday’s E3 conference. If not, here it is.

I have to admit, I am excited. It looks pretty and the first game is one of my favorite games. But there are some things that make me uneasy. The first game was great because it was simple, it was funny, and it was unexpected. Oh yeah, and it was feminist.

(For the simplicity, see the Zero Punctuation review beginning at 3:30. I find Ben “Yahtzee” Corshaw distasteful, but I think this review is pretty spot on. For the feminism, see Kris at the Hathor Legacy, Brinstar at Acid for Blood, Jenn Frank at Infinite Lives, Joe McNeilly at GamesRadar, or go to the Iris Network forums and search either ‘Portal’ or ‘Chell’).

This version obviously is quite anticipated, and so never had a chance at being unexpected (although it might still have many surprises). It seems like it will still be funny. GlaDOS has a great personality (e.g. “Didn’t we have some fun, though…” my favorite line from the first Portal game, which is kind of a spoiler if you have not played Portal). But it does not seem simple. There is a lot going on in the trailer. Also, I am not sure whether it will still be feminist. I find myself thinking, “Trust Valve… it will be good… I’m sure it will…”

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One of my favorite blogs, The Border House, is renewing a meme about game covers that women want to see. The meme encourages women to write a post about the kinds of game covers that made us want to play a game. The Border House is compiling a list of these blog posts at the site. If we want stuff that is made for us and marketed toward us, then it makes sense to express our preferences around marketing. I agree.

Here’s how it goes…

Game Covers Women Want to See

Ladies, what RPG covers (or interiors) have you seen that involve a woman in the art that make you say, “I want to play that” or, just as good “I want to play her.” Or that make you feel like it is a game you could like, or be included in by a group of guys you’d never met and whose maturity you didn’t necessarily know?
Rules of the meme, by tekanji:
  1. Copy the text of the original challenge from Yudhishthira’s Dice and give a proper link attribution.
  2. Copy these rules exactly (including any links).
  3. Find images of game covers (interiors are okay, too) that make you want to play the game. Any kind of game — video game, card game, tabletop RPG, etc — is fine. Post them and include a short (or long) explanation on why the image makes/made you want to play the game.
  4. The original challenge is about finding out what women think about how game art is marketed and therefore it is targeted at women. I’d like to keep it that way, please.
  5. You can tag as many or as few people as you want. You do not need to be tagged to participate in the meme.
  6. When you make your post, please post the link on this thread so we can all see what others have said.

I dropped one of the conditions.  I dropped the condition that the cover should “involve a woman” because I also often find androgynous covers attract me, and I also like some covers that involve masculine figures, as long as they don’t seem anti-female humans. My additions are below the jump:

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