Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"You will need a man!"

My pleasure reading this week is Have a Nice Doomsday: Why Millions of Americans Are Looking Forward to the End of the World, by Nicholas Guyatt. Guyatt examines the apocalyptic movement in America and the popularity of the Left Behind series, intersecting it with politics and the popular culture surrounding belief in an impending apocalypse. It's a fairly unbiased look, introducing people who know very little about apocalyptic belief with some of the major movers and shakers in the field. So far, I think it's a good book and pretty even-handed. He's not mocking people who believe in an impending Rapture and apocalypse or anything.

Anyway, he mentions Left Behind: Eternal Forces at one point - this is the video game where believers run around NYC and try to convert people to fight against the Antichrist. When it came out in 2006, I heard rumblings about how some of the fundamentalist Christians didn't like the game because of it's violence - you have to build a Christian army to fight against the Antichrist and the Global Community forces. However, I hadn't heard anything about this:
"The apparently unintentional messages in Eternal Forces seem more troubling. When you move through the tutorial, you learn how to convert passersby and then how to train them to be soldiers, builders or disciples. When you convert men, they transform into identical preppy kids wearing V-necks. Women suddenly sport an orange jumper, like Velma from Scooby Doo. If you only convert men, you can do everything you need to do in the game. But if you bring women to Christ, the game starts giving you polite reminders that your options are limited. 'For the next operation,' says the cheerful voice in the tutorial, 'you will need a man. Take a moment to recruit a man before continuing!'

Girls can't do very much in Eternal Forces. Men can become disciples, builders or soldiers. Women can't. You can train them to become medics, but that's about it. Even then, they're not indispensable: men can do this, too, along with their many other talents. Helpfully, random men keep sidling up to you and your female converts if you ignore the injunctions to convert them, though this seems quite seedy if you haven't understood the game's regressive sexual politics." (199-200)
Kinda interesting, and a critique I hadn't heard from the various outlets that reviewed the game. I'd suggest checking out the book if you're interested in the apocalyptic culture but don't want to pick up something that'll try converting you. It's an attempt at an unbiased assessment, in my opinion.

18 comments:

Andrew said...

Well, obviously they need men. They need somebody to obey! Otherwise those poor digital ladies will just stand around aimlessly, right?

Amelia said...

But if you bring women to Christ, the game starts giving you polite reminders that your options are limited.

To me, that would feel more like a slap on the face. Not cool.

There is obviously so much that can be said about video games. I never realized it before.

Kate said...

"Well, obviously they need men. They need somebody to obey! Otherwise those poor digital ladies will just stand around aimlessly, right?"

Hahaha. Its true, Andrew. I mean until I get my "man - instructions" for the day, I can hardly get around to brushing my teeth.

Andrew said...

Well Kate, then it's a good thing you're not one of these women in Eternal Forces -- they can't even seem to do anything useful in the game, even if the men were to tell them to!

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

And as a fairly avid gamer, I'd like to point out that I have in fact seen this game in stores -- one can usually find it in the miscellaneous bins in the middle of the aisles, along with all the rest of the software that nobody wants. Average price -- typically a fiver, a tenner if the store owners are feeling lucky.

Lindsay said...

It wasn't popular with the evangelical crowd, precisely because of the violence they critiqued.

OutcrazyOphelia said...

"There is obviously so much that can be said about video games. I never realized it before."

My friends and I always play "let's apply feminist theory to this" when it comes to videogames and movies. The attitude of the rest of the media is reflected in games too, just like with tv and magazines, positive or even neutral portrayals of women are few and far in between.

Andrew said...

I would like everyone's opinion of Alex Vance, the female lead in Half Life 2 and later series sequels. Google the name to look for reviews.

Andrew said...

I thought she was a pretty tough character, and smart, too. In fact, I'd like to see a Half-Life 2 sequel that stars her instead of Gordon Freeman (or has that already happened and I'm just not remembering right?).

Jason said...

Girls can't do very much in Eternal Forces. Men can become disciples, builders or soldiers. Women can't. You can train them to become medics, but that's about it. Even then, they're not indispensable: men can do this, too, along with their many other talents.

Not surprisingly, this is just plain wrong. Women CAN become disciples as well as medics and singers. In fact, women characters ARE indispensable because they are the only ones that can become the most powerful character type in the game: the Prayer Warrior. Could the game have allowed female characters to become soldiers and builders? Sure, but I seriously doubt the decision not to was made out of sexism.

And the game is nowhere near as violent as far too many people who've never played a single minute of it have claimed it is.

Amelia said...

You know what I find interesting? We have gotten a lot more male commenters since you guys have posted about games.

I find that fascinating, that these guys don't really seem to come here to read anything else (or at least not comment it) except the gaming posts.

Wonder why that is...

Jason said...

It's a fact that more guys play computer and video games than ladies despite how many attempt game companies have tried to make games appealing towards women. It would be interesting to see a scientific study of men's and women's brains in regards to gaming. I don't know if anyone's done anything like that yet. Maybe it's got something to do with the "hunter/gatherer" aspects of human brains.

Lindsay said...

I haven't played the game (which I should have made explicit in the post), so I'm just going off of reviews I read and the description in Guyatt's book.

It's good to hear that women can have multiple roles in the game. However, from your description, it still sounds like women are limited to specific roles. Why are they only prayer warriors? Why can't men be prayer warriors - are they too busy being "real" warriors? I'm hesitant anytime specific things are off limits based on gender (or any other marker such as race or sexual preference).

I'm in no way doubting that this game is less violent than many of the other games out there... I'm just saying that a lot of the critique I heard about it was related to the violence - mild as it may be. I think the problem I heard was that people didn't like the idea of video game Christians going around using violence as a means to an end.

Jason said...

Well, that's the thing. If only male characters can become soldiers, isn't that sort of sexist towards men? Isn't that saying that men are nothing more than violent warmongers? You don't ever see that argument made against this game! Wonder why...

As far as the reports of violence in this game, they have been grossly exaggerated. All aspects of the game - from the game itself to the manual to the website - strongly emphasize how violence is to be used only as the very last resort. In fact, for a large portion of the game, you don't even have access to soldiers, and even when you do, many levels' objectives (the things you need to accomplish to move on in the game) include finding peaceful solutions. You quickly find it to be easier and much more effective to use non-violent means to counter enemy forces.

Lindsay said...

If only male characters can become soldiers, isn't that sort of sexist towards men? Isn't that saying that men are nothing more than violent warmongers? You don't ever see that argument made against this game! Wonder why...

Another good example of what we lose through gender roles... Sexism hurts everyone.

As for the violence, I know Guyatt's book said you lose points (or something like that) by using violence and promotes more Christian-like behavior.

Jason said...

I won't comment much on the "gender roles" issue more than saying that the fact that men tend to naturally gravitate toward certain roles and women tend to naturally gravitate towards other roles is not sexist. If it is sexist, then nature is sexist because even animals have "gender roles."

And yes, violence results in losing "spirit points" in the game and that can result in good characters being lost (which, if it's a main character, can cause you to lose the game). Most other games out there these days reward violence. Just think of the recently released GTA4.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, Jason, Imagine Babiez and a pink DS isn't a real attempt to market gaming to women. And last I checked online gaming was just about fifty/fifty gender-wise. If you count casual gaming women actually outnumber men in certain demographics.

http://www.gamedaily.com/articles/features/study-women-gamers-outnumber-men-in-25-34-age-group/68821/?biz=1