Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fat Princess - my side of the war

Titan's new game for Sony, Fat Princess, is taking some flak from intelligent people. I found Holly's critique interesting (and with the great line "I used to think fat people were inherently hilarious too — when I was 15 years old. Then I grew the fuck up and realized it made me an asshole.")

The price of being critical. Once again I'm surprised at the reactionary hate inspired by (what I consider to be moderate) feminist critique. Melissa McEwan writes about the fallout from her letter to Sony. She has received a lot of hate comments. No one can really defend this game from a critical attack that points out it's coming from a male-dominated (patriarchal) perspective that considers obese women as humorous. That's a fact.

What these "debates" often descend into is a war of insecurities.
People who want to enjoy the game attack critics for not being able to stop thinking and have fun. They see the attacks as an issue of insecurity from being rejected by mainstream culture. Similarly, critics see the defenders of Fat Princess as insecure children who try to raise their own self-esteem by pushing others down. Thus the debate moves away from observing the game and into the angry world of hurtful comments known as trolling.

Indeed, I am insecure. I fear there is a cultural war going on and the unthinking are winning. I was first aware of the polarizing, side-choosing, warlike nature of these battles when reading about the absurd dispute over feminist Jessica Valenti's sweater.

I have a tendency to put the blinders on. I try to avoid choosing sides in conflict because I know from playing Apples to Apples how quickly my own righteousnesses makes everyone else's opinion into nonsense.

Yet, in this instance I must choose a side. I side with the criticism of Fat Princess and denounce the game. Boycotted. If you can't see the harmful patriarchal perspective boiling up in this game then you are choosing not to think and have earned my ridicule, asshat.

My own perspective on Fat Princess:

I like the game dynamics. It's a massive (32 player?) multiplayer game where two armies try to capture the other's princess. You can feed your princess in order to make it difficult for the opposing team to lift her for rescue. It's neat because it requires a lot of teamwork, the graphics are my cel-shaded preference, and it looks like there's a lot of nice touches in this preview.

You would have to have your head quite far up your ass not to notice the following things:
1 .The premise is the classic male (warrior, active) saves the female (princess, passive).
2. The image of a fat woman is an intentional source of humour in the game.
3. All of the active characters (rescuers) are male.
4. The sole female character is passive. All of her movement requires others to lift her or to feed her.

FAQ. Crushing your counterattack.
1. Hey, what's wrong with the classic formula: male hero saves female victim?

Nothing. The only thing wrong is its dominance in our entertainment industry. We should throw off the psychological restraint of 'playing the victim' and provide women with a greater variety of female roles to identify with. Notice I did not say discard this formula, merely add some variety.
2. We should laugh at the fat princess since it's an unhealthy lifestyle, right?
Interesting. Did ridicule help you become a 'better' person or is it more likely to lock you into a cycle of self-hate? Additionally, notice that we're dealing with a princess and excluding princes. Our culture is notorious for waging war on the minds of young women by surrounding them with images of minority bodytypes. Finally, stop fucking around. You're not laughing at the "unhealthy lifestyle" so stop playing the bullshit social crusader. You don't laugh at smokers or carbon monoxide emissions. You're laughing because you've been trained, in our culture, to consider certain bodytypes as unacceptable, thus, humorous. The same thing happens in our culture that encourages to think of heterosexuality as normal and homosexuality as unacceptable, thus, humourous. Consider the rise of the terms 'gay' and currently 'no homo'. These things cease to be funny as you grow up and began to think for yourself.
3. Of course all the rescuers are male, aren't playable female characters usually shitty?
Agreed. Their increased speed never compensates for their weak hit power. Honesty, you have to headstomp someone 50,000 times with Chun-li. Video game designers take note. Stop making shitty female playable characters. Make them just as strong and as slow as their male counterparts. Better yet, have users choose their characters on stats alone and then have a male or female skin randomly generate on the mod.
4. Isn't the game pro-women since the object is to protect them?
Great point but I'm not sure I quite understand your complex argument. Let me put my head up your ass so we can see the world together. Shit, now I see how deep it is. Seriously, only ask questions that you can't bury by thinking for yourself for thirty seconds. What is this, baby's-first-debate?

I believe that criticism alone is useless and that the real useful (and difficult) work comes in thinking of solutions:

The following things would improve the game:
1. The 'princess' should be randomly generated as a male or female.
2. The princess or prince should be an active participant in the plan to make themselves fatter and more difficult to carry (as opposed to a passive object that requires stuffing). This shifts the humour from 'images of fat women are funny' to 'the absurd concept of rapidly gaining weight to prevent your own kidnapping is funny'.
3. The playable characters (rescuers) should be male and female.
4. The playable characters should have a variety of body types (not simply 'bearded angry men' and 'overtly sexualized women'). The NES game Ice Hockey had three body types.

The fact that these ideas do not occur to video game designers proves that the industry is patriarchal. Notice, I did not say 'run by men'. The patriarchy can be propagated by men, women, children, parents, even people calling themselves feminist.

A note to those who plan on enjoying playing Fat Princess.

It looks like a lot of fun. Fat Princess is not responsible for all of the crimes of our culture. It is a small patch in a larger quilt of oppression. You can defend the patch but not the quilt. Know that you have to turn your critical mind off to enjoy the game.


lfar said...

Best parts of this post

3. "you are choosing not to think and have earned my ridicule, asshat."
2. "FAQ. Crushing your counterattack."
1. "What is this, baby's-first-debate?"

I like the way you debate. I think I'd always want you to be on my side.

Nemo Dally said...

Thanks lfar.

As much as I'd like to think making a point is about clarity and proof I know I rely on bullying to expediate the process.

Eric Lyman said...

Very nice post, Nemo, and I couldn't agree more with your viewpoint here. I also like the pre-emptive responses :) I've been reading your posts since I stumbled upon your blog (the FF2 post). I've got to say, I think I'm a fan. Keep 'em coming!

Nemo Dally said...

Thanks for the support, Eric Lyman.

Plorry Stabworth said...

I gotta agree, champ, and nearly posted a long, similarly argued comment on the Kotaku articles on this game, but was discouraged by the backlash any critique received. The most common thing I saw people saying was "You're not happy when it's a thin, healthy princess; you're not happy when it's a fat princess; there's just no pleasing feminists," as if they'd run out of options...

Dwarf said...

Umm... these "crushing your counterattacks" thing doesn't do much sense, so I won't bother with them.
So, yeah, the victim is a girl. So? Would be nice to have a prince version to be selected.
And by your comments, I think you missed the point that you are *rescuing* your princess, so she wouldn't want to be harder for her loyal rescuers to rescue. Would make sense if she tried to walk back home on her own, though.
And finally... I don't see it as a "Fat hatting" game. I really don't see where you people are seeing it. See, your ENEMY is fattening her up, and you are trying to rescue her, instead of saying "let's dump that fat ass and get some drinks".

"harmful patriarchal perspective" Does using large words make you feel smarter? Bunch of soldiers rescuing captured princess. It's classic medieval plot. I'm not saying it's bad or good (I wouldn't mind a bunch of girls fighting to rescue their prince/king as well...)

"I know from playing Apples to Apples how quickly my own righteousnesses makes everyone else's opinion into nonsense." I'm outta here before your ego explodes! Tata!

Anonymous said...

"No one can really defend this game from a critical attack that points out it's coming from a male-dominated (patriarchal) perspective that considers obese women as humorous. That's a fact."

You make 2 assumptions here that you claim to be fact. 1: The consideration of obesity being humorous is a male-dominated perspective (It's not. Fat jokes have long been used for comedic effect. Immature? maybe. Gender specific? No). 2: That pointing something out is the same thing as critically attacking it (It's not. An observation alone is neither critical nor an attack and therefore does not warrant defending).

Both assumptions arise from the misconception that male-dominance is not only inherently negative but also synonymous with patriarchy. This is problematic. Can we honestly say, for example, that Tomb Raider is matriarchal or has a female perspective simply for exhibiting female dominance?

Fat Princess is a nod to the fairy-tale genre. If anything, calling it male-dominated is a comment on its accuracy of satirisation. Yes the female character is passive but the male characters are aggressive (is this any better?). Admittedly (and is this not the crux?) the heroes are all male but as in most fairytales and most games so are all the disposable characters. For sure, there should be many more games with dominant female characters but there should also be more gender diversity in the cannon fodder of said games. You rarely hear people arguing that though.

IMO arguing that there even exists a male/female perspective or that things are symptomatic of a gender orientated social structure does a lot more to reinforce heteronormativity than simply creating things that put men and/or women in positions of dominance. This is because 'perspectives' and social structures have immeasurable influences and subsequently any argument is based on faith of supposed quantity.