29 May 2014

Disturbing the Peace: Diversity in Fiction Part 1 - Video games

Recently there's been a bit of a stir around the Internet regarding the importance of diversity in fiction. Not just in books, but also in movies, tv shows, comics and video games, where the default setting is white and straight. In regard to video games, the default setting is straight white dude--abbreviated SWD from here on out--a point this Tumblr post sums up perfectly. To keep this from getting long, I'm going to do a few installments.

So why is diversity important?

The simple answer: Because we're not all straight, white males.

The more complex answer: Because we live in a day and age when media is doing more parenting than actual parents. Kids need people to look up to, and if they can't get it from their parents, they'll get it from TV, comics, or video games (and often the WORST POSSIBLE GAMES [I'm looking at you Grand Theft Auto]).

Where video games are concerned (and this is a soap box I've climbed on top of time and again), everyone who's not a straight white male is completely underrepresented, and the woman, if there is one, is the goal, the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box, or whatever prizes come in nowadays. In games like Shadow of the Colossus (which is beautiful and wonderful and otherwise perfect), resurrecting Wander's lover is the goal. Yeah, you get memorable battles and you develop a relationship to your horse because he's literally the only creature you communicate with besides some random disembodied voice. In the early Legend of Zelda games, Zelda doesn't even get to be part of her own legend. It's Link's story. He sets out on a quest to free/cure her (thinking LoZ 2 here). We get little characterization. To be fair, the more recent games give Zelda a larger role. Ocarina of Time cast her as one of the last surviving Sheikah, a warrior tribe in Hyrule. She has some fancy tricks and then LITERALLY OUT OF NOWHERE, she gets imprisoned in a giant rupee as soon as she reveals her true identity to Link.

For the entirety of the game until that point, you don't know that Sheik is Zelda (though most of us figured it out). Zelda is also a pirate going under another name in one of the other games. But almost every time, you end up having to save her to complete the game.

The Final Fantasy franchise is terrible for stuff like this. The earlier games were great (VI is awesome because Terra), but when the series went next-gen to PSone, we got FF7. In all rights a fantastic freaking game and, again, one of my favorites, but it isn't perfect.

What could be wrong with so hallowed a game you ask? Look at your cast. Cloud, the main character, is blond haired and green eyed (which is a plot point; you don't know Cloud's original eye color but it's likely blue), SWD. Your one character of color (because I'm not sure Yuffie counts, though her influences are typical Asian) is Barret, an angry black man who swears nearly every time he has a dialogue box. Also, in this clip, he seems to be channeling his inner Mr. T.

You also have Tifa, whose breast size defies all logic; Red XIII, a lab experiment; Vincent, another lab experiment; Cid, your resident angry white guy; Yuffie, the aforementioned possibly Asian-based character; and Aeris/Aerith, the character whose sole purpose is to go into the refrigerator to cause Cloud manpain, though the story behind the scene is that one of the game creators lost his wife, so he used this as a method of dealing with his grief. Either way, regardless of having the ability to level up the same way as the others Aeris dies. Cloud gets to show us that he's not a soulless, emotionless monster.

After that, Cloud vows revenge and blah, blah, blah. Also, Aeris is the worst character to have in a fight, ever, period. She is literally only good for healing.

Which brings me to another point, for which I'll be using another of my favorite games, Legend of Dragoon, a game I know inside and out.

Your cast of characters is predominantly white (your main character Dart is also blond w/ blue eyes, SWD), with the exception of Haschel, your bronze-skinned martial arts instructor, and Kongol, the last of a race called Gigantos who talks like a caveman. The women? Light and Dark, literally. (All pics via http://legendofdragoon.wikia.com/)

At a certain point, Shana becomes useless and comatose (not that she was really that useful to begin with), while Rose gets to be all broody and mysterious, a spot typically reserved for men which is quite interesting, except for the fact that she gets called out on it all the time, so it's actually less interesting than it could've been. Men are broody and mysterious, they're damaged souls in need of wuv. Women are broody and mysterious, they're PMSing.

Once Shana is out of the game, you get Miranda, who is described as "abrasive." As an orphan she has loads of issues because of course.

Four women who fall into stereotypes. The virginal huntress (bow and arrow), the dark and mysterious stranger, the manic pixie who wears next to nothing and has temper tantrums, and the orphan with severe anger issues. Congratulations, ladies!

Next time, I'll cover who's doing this right in some current games and where gaming needs to go in the future.

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