To the Editor: In the 11/11/05 “Otaku” issue of The Escapist, Shannon Drake discusses the rise of Japanese culture in the US, particularly the rise of anime and manga.
While I agree that this movement has definitely come into its own over the last five to 10 years, I wanted to point out that this movement has been a long time coming. Starting in the late ’70s, but especially in the early to mid ’80s, the American mainstream saw the introduction of a number of Japanese anime (Speed Racer, Robotech, Voltron, Thundercats, etc.) and other anime-inspired cartoons (Transformers, Go-bots, He-man, etc.). I remember “discovering” anime and manga in the ’90s and thinking how exotic and new these films, shows and comic books were. Only in retrospect did I realize that I had been watching anime since I was a child!
One difference, however, between those shows and shows such as Pokemon, Yu-Gi Oh or Sailor Moon is that the shows in the early ’80s were never billed as Japanese, while the Japanese status of modern anime seems to be one of their big selling points.
To the Editor: Sorry, but the article, “The View from Here” was a bit too one-sided if you ask me. I’m American and sometimes prefer games that are simple and fun than heavily realistic and online driven. With the success of the DS in America, it shows that gamers still care about games that are inventive, abstract and (most importantly) simple. Most of those console titles come from Japan unless you venture out into the Mac/PC shareware market. My tastes for gaming are a melting pot of genres and do not weigh to one or the other. I play everything from Metal Gear to Animal Crossing. In the end, it truly depends on what experience the player is seeking: “fun and adventures” or “serious and realistic.”
To the Editor: I loved your article by John Tynes “The View From Here.” I was beginning to think that I was the only person who thought this way, Nintendo just doesn’t do anything for me anymore. The article made me laugh and gave me a sense of not being alone in this world. So thank you guys!
To The Editor: I am writing in response to Bonnie Ruberg’s excellent article in Girl Power. Her ideas and conclusions about female monsters were very fascinating.
At one point in the article, Ms. Ruberg asks: “So what route is left for truly empowered female characters?” With regards to this question, I would like to point-out the recently released title Gunstar Super Heroes for the Gameboy Advance. This game allows you to play through as one of two protagonists, the creatively named “Red” and “Blue,” on any of one three difficulty settings, hence creating six possible paths through the game. I had finished the game on easy and normal with both characters before I bothered to flip through the manual, at which point I discovered that Red was, in fact, a woman (based on that last sentence it is pretty obvious that I had always believed her to be male). I would like to put aside the obvious discussion about my own gender-related prejudices and expectations for a moment and consider the character Red in light of the above-mentioned article.
Ms. Ruberg outlines three possibilities for female videogame characters in survival horror (I feel these categories can be applied to any genre): damsels, heroines and monsters. In Gunstar Super Heroes, Red is clearly a heroine. However, she is quite different from the types of heroines the author describes (sex objects meant to be subordinate to the male player). As stated above, I would still believe Red to be male had I not read the game’s manual. It is not that Red has a distinctly male appearance, but rather, she is un-feminized. Her clothes fit but are not tight, her breasts are unnoticeable, and the only showing skin is her face; she is simply androgynous.
So, we have an androgynous female heroine, which can be perceived in one of two ways: either the artist/developer has exerted control over Red’s femininity and robbed her of it (assuming said person is male this could be taken as yet another example of male dominance); or in Red we have the female lead that a female could look up to: She is not a sex object, does not require saving and is equal to her male counterpart, at times even coming to his aid.
However, there is another aspect to Red that I have not yet mentioned: her personality. Remember that I mistook Red for a male simply due to my own expectations of how men and women look and behave in videogames. Red’s personality matches her color: she is fiery, aggressive and passionate. She believes in what she is doing and is furious towards her opposition. Yet this personality is equally androgynous, as it is not distinctly male nor female. So the question remains: Has she been robbed of her gender identity by having no distinctively female qualities, or is she the long sought-after respectable, powerful heroine?
I am inclined to believe the latter, for a few reasons. For one, she has many of the traits that, from what I have read, women look for in a playable character. Secondly, I believe that any sense of “gender identity” is largely culturally-imposed. Red does not have any “distinctively feminine traits,” yet I do not doubt that my concepts of said traits are a result of the culture I have grown up in. Finally, I believe that it would be impossible to give a character distinct gender-specific traits without sexualizing them to some extent.
Either way, when I play through the game as Red now, I am aware that she is in fact a she, and that does not change anything. Except give me even more respect for Treasure as a developer.
To the Editor: I would like to discuss a letter sent in by Jason Begy in response to my own article, “Women Monsters and Monstrous Women.”
Dear Jason: I think the overarching question you’re asking (i.e. whether gender neutrality is better than sexualized gender identity) is an important one, and your description of Gunstar Super Heroes‘ “Red” offers an interesting example.
It certainly seems that Red, as a woman who is never labeled as such in game, is able to sidestep many of the complicated gender roles discussed in “Women Monsters.” She is a strong, capable heroine. At the same time, she avoids the possibility of becoming a victim of sadism and voyeurism on the part of players since, for the most part, they do not realize they are playing/controlling a woman. In these ways, she may seem to set a positive model for female characters, ones who do not need to be monstrous in order to maintain respect and avoid objectification. And as a fellow redhead, I can certain empathize with a fellow “fiery,” “passionate” woman.
However, I would personally disagree with the concept of androgyny as ideal in representing women. It is, perhaps, the safest route, but it also circumvents the issue. For us, as members of a modern Western culture and a male-centered video game community, gender neutrality is never as simple as ambiguity. When we see a video game character who has not been officially assigned a gender, we rarely consider them to be androgynous figures. Instead, as in your personal experience with Red and Gunstar Super Heroes, we assume that they are male. Therefore, not offering an indication of a character’s sex is, in effect, the same as hiding her identity, or denying her of it all together.
You mention that Red has positive, “masculine” traits, which women often seek out in a constructive female character. Yet, I would argue that not only do we need to keep in mind the precarious foundation of our understandings of “masculine” and “feminine” – as you note – but also our understandings of “positive” and “negative,” “powerful” and “weak.”
Perhaps women do not need to take on manly qualities in order to become worthwhile. Assimilation, in my opinion, is not the ideal. We shouldn’t have to ignore the fact that women are different than men. Of course, this isn’t meant as a universalizing statement; every person has individual tastes, habits, qualities, etc. But to subsume femininity, whatever it may mean for a particular woman, into assumed masculinity, is to give up.
“It would be impossible,” you point out, “to give a character distinct gender-specific traits without sexualizing [her] to a certain extent.” I don’t disagree with you. I would just add that, first of all, we should consider how this statement reflects not just on female characters but male characters as well, and, second, that maybe sexualizing isn’t bad. To remove the sex around a woman is literally to take away her sex. What we need to consider is how we can combine the power of a woman like Red, and the sexual identity that prevails in so many other female characters – how, in fact, the one can be made to feed off the other. This, in my opinion, had only been accomplished by those women who simultaneously inspire terror and attraction: namely, female monsters.