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Representations of the Other

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3 Responses

  1. Adam says:

    Great post, Alex. LIKE USUAL. 😛

    I’m wondering if games have a unique ability to tell a minimalist story and let gamers fill in the blanks. I am not sure if this skips the idea of representation, but I’m thinking specifically of a character like Samus from Metroid. While more recent games have given her a voice and a supporting cast, the first couple games gave very little back story. I mean, until you beat the game you didn’t even find out that underneath the power suit the character you had been playing for hours was a woman.

    So it came down to players to figure out who Samus is kind of retroactively. She landed on an alien planet and killed everything by herself–i.e. she is fearless, she keeps calm under pressure, she may be a bit stoic, works well alone, and is obviously trusted by the authorities to take care of business. How many of these qualities directly relate to her being a woman? None, I suppose, but knowing who she is colors our perception of the events of the game.

    As we get into more story-driven games, with dialogue, complex narratives, etc. developers need to confront these issues you bring up, Alex. But I’m hoping there’s still room for games to bring up race, sex, and gender in unique game-like ways. Like Metroid, where representation and other issues aren’t laid out simply by the narrative, but actually require some work on the reader’s/gamer’s part. Or emerge naturally from a minimal story.

    • alexlayne says:

      I agree to a certain extent. Samas is a strange example because she was created to be male. So, she does open the space for some interesting conversation (especially in the 80s), but I didn’t include her in my list because, to me, she represents more of an androgynous character than as a character specifically marked female.

      But I think your point goes beyond that, to the idea of making gamers do the work. I do hope there is still room for those types of narratives. I think you see that happening in indie games recently.

      • Adam says:

        I think there’s a neat moment where it wasn’t that she was created to be male, it was that the designers had a hero in a power suit and there was never even a space for it to be a woman until someone was like “hey, what if the character was a woman?” Man as default player character was suddenly pushed against as the norm, even though it wasn’t a complete upheaval. I think that’s the power of Samus’ character. If you trace her evolution in early games after Metroid, there are some interesting narratives built on the player knowledge of her female identity without it based entirely on her looks/dialogue.
        If you look at recent crap like Other M, that narrative is really damaged by the handling of her character by the developers, but Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and (I think) the Gamecube Metroid games really have a neat progression of her character that is uniquely female and powerful.