Are you sexist? Probably.

October 2, 2010

So for several days now a discussion about sexism in video gaming has been going on. Specifically talking, people accuse Fumito Ueda, creator of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, of being sexist. For all that´s worth, the discussion is beyond being absurd and I´ll totally defend that game designer. And god knows, I am no fan of Ueda, I really dislike Shadow of the Colossus, and I´m not that hyped about the upcoming The Last Guardian, either. But there´s a limit to how stupidly accusing people can be, and that limit was reached.

Evil mastermind: Fumito Ueda

The quote that ignited the “controversy” stems from two interviews. One is new and about The Last Guardian, the other one is from 2004 where Ueda talks about SotC. This is what 1up published on their website: “Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn’t have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt.” And some years ago, Ueda told this to Gamasutra: “ICO’s composer was (female composer) Michiru Ohshima, and I didn’t want to create the same image for this game. Aside from that, ICO was a game that both male and female players could enjoy equally. But I think this is a game that male players will enjoy more. So I chose a male composer.

Going by the first quote, the first part of it shouldn´t be offending at all. Boys are stronger than girls. It´s absurd to call that sexist, since it´s a generally accepted view within society. And simply going by my personal past, it is true. It´s possible that the differences in strength at the age of 10 and around that are less pronounced than at an adult age, but differences exist nonetheless. Of course, maybe those people that get worked up over that part only knew big, ugly bully-girls. That´s hardly more than anecdotal evidence, though. Then there´s the second part of that quote, the one about skirts. It implies that in Fumito Ueda´s opinion, girls and skirts are inevitably connected with each other. Now, there are several points that could be made, but one simple one would be that if you make your ingame-character a girl, you have to show that in some way. If you don´t show off the gender in any way it is redundant for one, and sexist, too, for assuming that the appearance of a little boy is the “neutral image” of a person. With a kid of age 10 the options for making clear that it is a girl a limited. I doubt the people already complaining would go totally nuts if Ueda gave visually pronounced tits to a 10-year old girl. Such young girls also wouldn´t wear make-up or feature long eye slashes. Long hair also wouldn´t cut it. So the easiest way to show that your character was a girl would be to give her a skirt, a piece of clothing that is generally taken as female-exclusive clothing. And that´s a no-go according to Ueda. However, what´s also a reason against a female kid is that it would absolutely point some focus towards that single fact. Like it or not, but for video games that have no intention to involve some kind of gender importance, having a boy being the main character is more neutral than having girl. If it was a girl in The Last Guardian, people´s feeling would be all like “oh, that´s so sweet” and “come on, big bird rat, protect that cute little girl“. The way it is, however, people couldn´t care less about the character´s gender and instead simply care about the adventure in front of them. Full stop.

The second quote from 2004 actually is not sexist at all, and I´m having a hard time trying to imagine how one could be offended by that sentence. Actually, it just shows how much Ueda takes into consideration various things when creating a game. Some people might argue that there´s no difference between male and female artists, but it´s just as legit to argue the opposite. And if Ueda thinks that a game is more likely to be enjoyed by boys and he needs are more masculine soundtrack for that purpose, it´s his and only his right to choose a male composer for the job. You can disagree, sure, but calling it sexist only makes you look very stupid.

In the end, being sexist doesn´t necessarily make you a bad person, since there exist, at least, two different kinds of sexism. One would be the misogynistic kind, the kind men that dislike or hate women for one reason or another. They believe they´re better persons simply due to their “superior” gender. But then there´s the other kind of sexism, which is: romantic people. You know, the kind of men that open doors for girls, tell them “ladies first” or do silly, dangerous stuff because they like a girl. These men are kind of conservative in their world view, but they don´t harm women with that perspective. For what is worth, I think Ueda falls into that second group of sexists. To be honest, I´m like that myself. I prefer being romantic, not neutralizing all aspects of life. I´m also one of those guys that put the girl they like on a pedestal, which many “smart” guys believe is the wrong way to get a girl friend. But calling someone a bad person because he connects girls and skirts is silly. Just as silly as calling Metroid: Other M a sexist game. It´s funny how artificially outraged people become about sexism in video games at the moment.  Other M portrayed Samus Aran not as a woman, but a human being. It never connoted any weaknesses with her gender. The one moment where Samus Aran shows fear should be clear for any knowledgeable Metroid-fan. But I mean…I even read some people calling The Legend of Zelda-series sexist, so maybe we should just stop talking about it, because apparently everything is sexist today. Fumito Ueda, Metroid, Zelda, me, and most likely you, too.

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Let’s talk about Team ICO

April 18, 2010

I´m eating grilled chicken and a small piece of bread at the moment, the sun is shining and tomorrow, a new semester at university will be beginning. I´m in good mood, so I thought: Let´s write about why I hate Shadow of the Colossus. So be prepared for one extremely subjective article (not that there´s any objective video game article anywhere in the world) that some might easily shrug off as a piece of mighty troll-art…well, it´s hard not to touch into the realms of trolling here, as it´s a highly emotionally loaded topic to me. Oh, I mentioned “emotions”, how fitting for this developer´s games, eh?

Being Zelda-fan and Team ICO-fan - It´s possible!

The Playstation 2 entered my room very late into the system´s life. I´ve never been a Sony-guy, just as I´ve never been a Sega-guy before (though I bought a Dreamcast for the zombie-time of Nintendo 64, leading up to the GameCube´s launch), and the one big reason I wanted a PS2 was Kingdom Hearts 1. Yeah, that sounds really silly now that I look back. But there was another game that I was once interested in, only read a bit about it in some magazine, a two-page article. Some game called “ICO”. Sounded really interesting. But I didn´t have a PS2, so, whatever. Then a friend, who wrote for a video game website back at that time, published his ICO-review. And there I was, almost being instant-hyped about this game that I never looked into that deeply. For what is worth, ICO became the one PS2-game that really stood out to me (again, not a Sony-guy, never interested in all these MGSs, DMCs, GTs or FFs) and turned me into a believer. A believer of Team ICO, who really managed to create a game that didn´t feel “gamey”. Except for the really annoying monsters, especially during times when you had to leave npc Yorda alone, the game was one unique, impressive 7-hour-game. Then, NICO was announced.

NICO, which we later found out would be called Shadow of the Colossus, got me hyped from its very first mentioning. I guess I really liked Team ICO´s choice of colors, polygonal design and animations. And it also helped that ICO was really interactive. You can imagine how thrilled I was when the first trailers about SotC were published. Gorgeous! That has to have happened sometime in 2004 or so, because both SotC and some other game hadn´t been released. It´s that other game and Sony-fans´ reactions that managed to make me a hater. Before I go on, let me tell you: I think that SotC is a nice video game, but it failed to be as special and unique as ICO. I don´t think it´s a “piece of sh**“, that´s what “they” got me to say thanks to “their” behavior.

So, what game could that Sony-fans chose to pick on, while making comparisons to SotC? Yeah, right, it was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Apparently, having a sword and horse and big boss-enemies convinced these “fans” that SotC would be, and it´s not me that created the following phrase, a “Zelda-killer“. Now, at that time we already knew quite a bit about SotC, most prominently that it would consist of only fighting boss-enemies, without any kind of dungeons or other overworld content. Nonetheless, fans all over the world, be it the “Other consoles”-section at some Nintendo-board, another, bigger German multi-console board, or the infamous NeoGAF-board. A “Zelda-killer” had been chosen. Looking back at it with today´s knowledge, I´d say that this was the birth of the modern Sony-fan, i.e. look at what happened prior to Killzone 2´s, MGS4´s, Heavy Rain´s or God of War 3´s release. Terrible.  So I got into arguments with some people I used to talk with a lot about SotC. Mainly about the fact that they claimed, SotC would trump Twilight Princess as an action-adventure. I then explained to these people how Zelda-games are all about the complete package, aka dungeons, overworld, sidequests, smaller enemies, big boss-enemies, npcs, combat, story, and so on. Whereas SotC limited its concept to a very compact offering, focusing on finding and beating 16 boss-enemies, within an empty world, nothing else to do than what you´re supposed to do. In the following quarrels, I lost two friends that I knew from discussion boards, as they couldn´t get it into their mind that someone rejected the idea of SotC being a “Zelda-killer“, because it didn´t have anything a Zelda-game has, except for boss-fights. And there´s another, specially funny detail that these people conveniently “forgot“: The whole “feeling bad for killing monsters” had been done before. In a Zelda-game! Remember Majora´s Mask? All fours boss-battles were not against evil monsters, but ancient guardians. I still remember the second boss, the taurus-like enemy, that was rather easy to defeat. But it took some time, and you really felt much more powerful during the fight than this ancient being, making you feel bad. All that while the taurus would make such horrible, agonizing sounds of suffering. And when you had done what had to be done, you´d see a very moody scene, once again strengthening the feeling of doing something very wrong. That was in 2000, Majora´s Mask. Which leads into the next phase of people making me hate SotC. Let´s call it the era of

SotC is art“. How sick I am of this statement. I wrote an article on video game art for FlyingFisch a long, long time ago, where I finely crafted a definition of what video game art actually is. I didn´t make up some definition that went to my advantage, but looked into what other media do, so people call them “art”. Basically, some piece of a certain medium becomes art when it achieves a really high quality of its medium´s strengths. Meaning, a painting becomes art when it looks really awesome, music becomes art when it sounds awesome, and movies become art when they show you something awesome. And what is it that makes video games its own medium? Interactivity. The possibility to directly interact with something by your own will. So, even though I´m sick of the whole “games as art”-discussion and think we should just enjoy them, seeing how art is not something irrevocably positive, IF we choose certain games as examples of art, whe should pick the right ones. And even though there are many self-proclaimed “hardcore gamers” that hate the company, Nintendo achieved to create lots of games that fit the video games´ definition of being art. Be it Zelda or Super Mario Galaxy, you´ll have a hard time finding more interactive games than those. But to mention a non-Nintendo-game, how about this: Just Cause 2 is closer to being video game-art than SotC.

And now we´re in the pre-release phase of The Last Guardian, Team ICO´s next game for Playstation 3. And to tell you the truth, I just don´t care about it anymore. Though, I sometimes have to shake my head in disbelief, but that´s something I cannot change. Let´s just say: For most Sony-fans, The Last Guardian is already Game of the Year of whatever year it´s released in. We know nothing about the game. We saw a trailer that could as well have been a movie-trailer. There´s a griffon, there´s a boy, and apparently you´ll make the griffon help you to proceed in the game. That´s it.  But oh the feelings! I´d say, at this point it´d be more refreshing of Team ICO to NOT include a tear-jerker scene, seeing how everyone expects that already. The griffon dying, the boy dying, or finding the dead parents of the boy and/or the griffon. Whatever, people expect that to happen.

To conclude this text, I´d like to tell you that I really loved ICO. And that SotC was really lacking as a game. In this modern time, people seem to prioritize certain side-aspects of games higher than the actual game-part (and even then I don´t see where SotC had a great story…there was none). Emotions in games are great, which is the reason why I became a Zelda-fan after playing Link´s Awakening on the original GameBoy. But emotions alone are not enough for a video game to be great. It is the combination of many aspects, and I´d hope that people manage to understand that thought-process of mine. I guess I would´ve enjoyed SotC, had it not been for its “fans”, but that cannot be changed. Right now, I hope not to see fanboy-sh** like “The Last Guardian will obliterate Zelda Wii!” or, regarding potential PlaystationMOVE-inclusion,  “Well somebody has to teach the Zelda team how to use it“. Team ICO is capable of very fine, niche experiences that some people love, some people hate, and lots of people like but don´t think of them as something holy. Zelda Wii is my most anticipated game, and I´d love to look at The Last Guardian without always being reminded of its “fans“. Because I really don´t hate the game. I hate the player.