I'll Be That Girl

Before I was derailed a bit (if you can call it that) by my contribution to the Round Table and others, I spent some time talking about archetypes, specifically the difference between two similar female archetypes: the healer and the warrior princess.

At the end of the post, I posed the question of why these archetypes recur so often, and why they're so powerful. Natalie, in the comments, said something very interesting:

When it comes to Heinlein, I can't help but feel like... his (dirty old man) status does taint the validity of his ideas. But here's the thing: he nevertheless makes me wish the world worked the way he proposes.

I think this captures a fundamental appeal of fictional storytelling, but right now, I'm a bit more interested (inspired a bit by Corvus's mention of a more in-depth discussion on gender in games) in the nature of strength as it relates to gender, which I think also keys into the appeal of these archetypes quite nicely.

Everybody in western culture is familiar with the pinnacle of male strength, the action hero. They're physically strong, they're agile, they're smart, they're witty, they're resourceful, and more than anything else they can go the distance. Maybe they don't believe it at the start, but every action hero must believe, before they defeat the final villian, that they can.

I'm reminded of the Lord of the Rings:

"I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness, but I know I can't turn back... I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me."

Must of that book is about whether or not Frodo is, in fact, willing to go the distance.

All of the tenets of the typical male hero, I believe, revolve around this issue. In the case of the action hero (which is most often analagous to the main character of a video game), all of the secondary traits (which are still part of the whole picture, mind you) serve to reinforce the action hero's ability to overcome the obstacle set before him. The idea of "It is within my power to overcome this obstacle, and I will do everything within my power to do so" is the message behind action heroes that resonates with the audience so well, and the more the action hero has to sacrifice, the more notable his journey is.

We see very few female action heroes, and almost as few female main characters in games. When we do, the female aspect usually feels utterly superfluous, and is added for the purpose of throwing sex-appeal into a film that's already going to attract a primarily male audience.

Why do we see so few decent female characters in these roles? The two most common reasons, which are both very true, are: the movies/games themselves primarily appeal to men, and the people making the movies/games themselves are primarily men.

And yet, there are more and more people, as evidenced by the resounding positive feedback that Corvus recieved, who are finding this unsatisfactory. The problem isn't the strength of the male characters, the problem is the dearth of strong female characters.

Paul Wells on Miyazaki (pulled from Andrew Osmond's Foundation article "Nausicaa and the Fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki", which can be found here):

"Miyazaki establishes authorial tendencies by refuting the tenets of films constructed on masculine terms... (His) complex heroines are consistently engaged in the pursuit of self-knowledge and a distinctive identity. His use of the feminine discourse subverts patriarchal agendas both in film making and story-telling.
"As Miyazaki suggests, 'We've reached a time when the male-oriented way of thinking is reaching a limit. The girl or woman has more flexibility. This is why a female point of view fits the current times.'"

While a little more academic than I would have put it, that really hits the nail on the head. There will always be a place for the action hero, but the hill of the digital world is getting big enough for both of those hombres, I think. So if action hero is the male ideal of strength, what's the female?


Common Thread

As I've said on a few previous Round Table entry comments, I find the "Video Games cause violent crime" discussion hilarious. Not good hilarious, like "laugh and squirm like an itchy bear cub" hilarious.

The argument is invariably based on some sort of a vague hunch that the entire world is going to hell in a handbasket, and that video games and violent crime are just one of the symptoms. Violent crime is down, people. Way down. I'm not going to argue that violent video games cause a decrease in violent crime, but it's hard to argue that they cause an increase, when there's no actual increase to be observed. The subject needs no futher discussion.

Likewise, I've never really put much stock in the "getting your ya-yas out" argument, which suggests that video games actually do reduce violent crime, because they provide outlets for people who would otherwise be likely to engage in violent behavior. Violent crime has been on a steady decline since the 70s, I beleive, with no marked change that can be linked to the popularity of video games. That subject needs no further discussion either.

So what do video games teach us? They teach us pattern recognition, they teach us hand/eye coordination, they teach us faster reflexes, they teach forethought (in the same way that chess does), but to assume that any of these skills are easily applicable in real life is taking, I think, a very large, not necessarily intuitive step. Unless I repair watches, or compete in some sort of speed-knitting Olympic event, my hand/eye coordination will probably not be tested very often beyond the "functioning member of society" level. And while being good at Advance Wars might make me a better Chess player, I hardly think that being good at Chess counts as a "Socially Responsible Lesson", to quote this month's Round Table description.

To make a long story not in any notable way shorter: Do video games teach socially responsible lessons? Yes. Is there any reason, inherent to the medium, why they can't? No. Do they make it a habit to do so? No.

So what "Socially Responsible Lessons" have I learned from games? Sadly, the kinds of things that I would say I've learned are the easiest to verbalize. I consider myself entertained and edified after watching "Rebecca", but did the movie teach me a socially responsible lesson? That's harder to prove. Likewise, I enjoyed playing Portal, and because I have, I now have a shared pool of experience to draw from with virtually everyone else on the internet, but is that really a socially responsible lesson?

Barring Edu-tainment (which I'm totally in favor of), I think this is the most socially responsible lesson that games can teach us. By giving our generation a sense of shared context, games provide identity, ease communication, and build a foundation for all further creative interactions.

Wow, that's a tall order. Let me say it again. By giving our generation a sense of shared context, games provide identity, ease communication, and build a foundation for all further creative interactions. Games aren't really special in this regard, I just happen to believe that they join the illustrious ranks of Books, Movies, Music, Television, and any other creative endeavour.

The first two items on that thesis statement can be granted as common sense. If I read a joke about "The Cake is a Lie" on the SomethingAwful forums, I need to have played Portal to get the joke, and if I'm meeting someone for the first time, and I find out he/she is a big fan of Smash Bros, there's an instant comraderie there.

Regarding the concept of building a foundation for further creative endeavours, who can doubt that the creative gamer minds of my age (early 20s) that are now making it into the working world were impacted by Aeris's death, the search for the way to recruit General Leo into your party, and the sheer tenacity of the little guy from Frogger. In as much as games can tell stories (and probably even farther), they contribute to my generation's shared context, which is a particularly valuable lesson, I'd say.


Out of my Head

Due to some interesting business related hurdles I've had to jump through, I've decided to postpone the follow up to the last post in favor of talking about the nature of business, specifically, the nature of any highly production oriented business, like the game industry.

In my short stint in the industry since my college graduation at the beginning of this year, I've learned quite a few lessons. Though some pertain specifically to this industry, in general they are axioms of the business world. These merely reflect my experience combined with my common sense, treat them as you will.

A lot of companies say they value demonstrations of ability over previous experience. Very few actually mean this.

Yelling at people never accomplishes anything, but it can sometimes make you feel better.

Everybody waits to the last minute.

Anything that has to be "processed" rather than "dealt with" automatically takes an extra week.

No one cares why you can't deliver.

Even fewer people care what you had to go through in order to deliver.

Timely completion automatically boosts you into the 90th percentile of competence.

"Green light" is a verb.

E-mail is the final authority in confirmation.

"Managing a process", while non-sensical sounding, can be surprisingly labor intensive.

Everybody CCs everybody on everything.

Cyrus the Great is credited as one of the first great thinkers on the subject of Human Rights. (Believe it or not, I did learn this on the job)

It's not really who you know, so much as who knows you.

Checks get signed when the person who does the signing feels like it.

There is no single trait that is more necessary to success in business than doing what you are asked to do, the first time you are asked to do it.

All humorous quipping aside, the most valuable lesson I've learned since entering the work force is that there's no key set of qualifications requried for success, particularly in the video game industry. Many places list jobs that require certain amounts of experience, and getting that first job with no experience can be very difficult, but for those who are interested, there's nothing for it other than to just put enough bird shot into the air that you're sure to hit something.

I think this really taps into a fundamental difference between an immature and a mature way of thinking. I, for one, certainly figured that something would happen in college that would prepare me for the working world. Strictly speaking, something did, I suppose, but there certainly wasn't the magic switch flipping that we all kind of half expect as kids. I'm reminded of Calvin's dad saying, "I would have been in much less of a rush to become an adult if I knew that everything was ad-libbed." It seems that most of the time in life, there's no magic quality that you can possess that makes you exceptionally ready for adulthood, working in the entertainment industry, or anything of the sort.

It's the same kind of harsh, kind of reassuring lesson as the fact that when under a deadline, no one cares what you have to do to make the deadline: the bleak, existential wasteland of the search for employment in the game industry. Want to get into casual games? Make one. Can't find anybody to program it? Do it yourself. Don't know how? Learn. The fact that nobody's handing it to you is counterpointed by the fact that nothing (nobody?) is keeping you from it.

Would I say I'm an "adult" now? That seems a bit presumptuous of me, but I've certainly enjoyed learning that last lesson there. What have you learned recently?