4/07/2008

The Warrior Mother

I was in the middle of writing another response to the discussion going on in my comments when I realized that there were enough issues raised to require a follow-up post. Unfortunately, they're a little disjointed, so bear with me.

For those of you not in the know, check the post immediately below this one, (or http://htparnell.blogspot.com/2008/04/final-fantasy-and-hayao-miyazaki.html if you so desire) and the associated comments.

First of all, I would actually go so far as to advocate the label “warrior mother” above the other labels. Permit me to explain why.

I realized, after putting this list together, that the motherhood of these characters is paramount to their personality, even without having any actual children. Again, as opposed to mounting some sort of structured argument, I plan to merely present overwhelming evidence. None of these characters have mothers. Some no longer have one, or never have one mentioned (Luna, Lufia, Alma, Rena, Terra, Aeris, etc.), but many have mothers that fail significantly at being a mother figure. (Elly, Schala, Kara) For those of you who aren't familiar with Joseph Campbell, he suggests that in order for the hero to complete his journey, he either must beat his father in some kind of combat, or his father must die. As long as the hero has his father over him, he cannot become the hero of legend.

None of the characters I list actually have children, but close to all of them act as a mother as an important part of their character development. I could talk about Mist serving as Ike's surrogate mother, or about the flashback to Cloud's mother as he's going to bed for the first time in Aeris's house, or about how Schala's lack of a real mother forces him to act as Janus's mother, but I'll limit it to two really powerful examples, both referenced in the last post.

You find Terra in the orphanage in Mobliz in the world of ruin. She refuses to leave because she's the only real mother these kids have. She suppresses it to some degree to fight Kefka, but the point is still made.

Elhaym van Houten has a very strong motherhood streak, and, as I have said before, serves as a surrogate mother to Fei. She steps into the role of the “Holy Mother of Nisan”, a religious leader, and is, in an unexpectedly literal way, the mother of all humanity. It almost suggests to me that they're intentionally pointing to the archetype.

Again, it's not perfect. Zelda has no mother, and no exclusively maternal qualities, but I think the point is made.

Second, in my response, I mentioned that someone I talked with constructed a very good argument for the Warrior Mother being a non-sexist extension of the woman's role in Japanese culture into a fantasy setting. (That was the worst sentence ever) The case went something like this. The concept of women in the workplace is quite a bit behind the western concept. Women are expected, much more than in the US, to stay home, take care of the kids, take care of the housework, and remain generally passive. However, within the domain of the household, the woman calls the shots. Interestingly enough, they also control the finances of the home. (This is all stereotypes, remember, so it doesn't have to be universally true) The husband has some authority within the home, but it is usually deferred to the wife, in belief that this is their area of expertise. If you buy that activity is the essential male quality, and passivity is the essential female quality, and don't assume (as the west in wont to do) that activity is somehow better than passivity, then try to make a game about those gender roles, I expect you'll end up with a main female character like the warrior princess (or mother, or something of the sort). She can fight, but doesn't like to; she nurtures everyone around her, and she has incredible power that largely operates behind the scenes.

Finally, regarding the staff chick, I think whoever wrote the article was keyed in to the idea of the archetype, but was much more concerned with the game mechanics side of the archetype (which does exist), and less about the character development aspect.

Corvus asked specifically how I think this archetype influences the game mechanics of the game. The simple answer is that it doesn't, but that seems a little glib and canned to me. There's a lot to say on the matter though, so I'll have an entire post on it next. I can't say too much about how it has influenced gameplay in the past, but I can say a lot about how it influences plot development, and provide some interesting suggestions for how it might influence game play in the future.

4 comments:

Malgayne said...

Serves me right for commenting on one post before reading the next. Yes, you've said a lot of what I was pointing at in my previous comment, and better than I did. :)

Natalie said...

I'm not super familiar with most of the women you've been citing, but I think that Nausicaa at least bears a resemblance to a she-bear that is important to the "warrior mother" archetype, and that is that she's much more likely to beat the crap out of you if you threaten somebody she feels nurturing toward than if you threaten her herself.

Since all game characters are more or less combat effective by convention, I'd imagine that this she-bear sort of tendency would come out in a game (if at all) by superlative bursts of prowess in defense of another at a dramatically appropriate moment, as opposed to their normal "staff chick" level of prowess. Do you see that?

William said...

Well, Nausicaa's character arc (at least in the manga) leaves her as kind of the she-bear concept for the entire story, but her arc involves expanding the sphere of who she nurtures. She starts with the people of her valley and the plants and insects of the forest, and eventually expands to contain the entire world.

Also, Natalie, I can't explain all of these characters in any quick format, but I CAN say that when I talk about Elehaym van Houten (Elly) from Xenogears, though the specifics may be different, she is enough of an homage to Nausicaa that they can be used almost interchangably to talk about the character arc of the warrior mother.

carol said...

Think about Sigourney Weaver in the second and/or third Alien movies as the American "iconization" of the warrior mother.