(Warnings: trigger for rape, sexual assault, and spoilers for Heavy Rain)
Heavy Rain’s Madison Paige has had some eyebrow-raising marketing use. There has been much talk of a strip scene that occurs in the game. Then there’s this past year’s videogame females in Playboy edition, which includes her.
Among the primary problems with these images is the context in which they are given. The images used for Playboy look to be the exact same ones you can encounter in game, but they are plucked out of the context of the game and placed in a magazine known for showing nude women for the pleasure of men. Therefore, I frowned at the company’s use of her image, but withheld judgment on the game itself until I could play it.
On the one hand, before starting the game, I was glad that there was the inclusion of being able to play a female character, in a roster that looks fairly typical from a media standpoint, even if it escapes the videogame demographic of younger males. On the other, I was very nervous about how she would fit into the game’s plot. Any further thoughts below this paragraph are rife with spoilers and triggers, I emphasize the latter point more than the former:
The introduction to Madison is triggering, but not immediately. She wakes up in her apartment, groggy. Paralleling Ethan’s introduction, she sets about performing mundane tasks: making coffee, turning off the television, and taking a shower to start. What is noticeable about the shower scene, in comparison with Ethan’s, is how the gaze is focused.
Ethan’s puts the camera at a distance, looking up at him, highlighting his naked back and bare ass. He starts by taking off his boxer-briefs, an appropriate object present to prevent his penis making any screen time. Madison’s strip focuses on both her panties and shirt. When taking off the shirt, her back is out of focus, instead putting that focus on the sink and mirror installment she has, signaling the developers were at least somewhat aware of what territory in which they were headed. Unfortunately, what occurs in the shower becomes even more troublesome. Instead of the same treatment as Ethan (which already used the same filmic techniques attributed to the male gaze), her shower is designed in a much narrower quarter, so that the camera pans around her a few times, taking note of her back, ass, and breasts in equal measure.
This would perhaps not be as troublesome as it is if she did not leave her bathroom to momentarily be aware of an intruder in her apartment. After some tense moments, Madison is in the corner, debating going for her phone or door. The phone will result in its missing, the door will be stuck and suddenly she is assaulted by a man in a face mask. This sets a string of quicktime events into motion whereby she escapes this attacker to discover she is facing more than one, fighting in her panties and a tank top. Knives are drawn, she is thrown on to a bed, et cetera. The scene ends with her locking herself in the bathroom, only to have an intruder come up behind her, put a knife to her neck, and slice across; to cue Madison waking up in a cold sweat, the previous events having only been a nightmare.
The stranger rape and violence against women media implication and fear has begun.
While violence visits all the characters in the game, there is a sense that all the scenes involving Madison have a tinge of sexual assault threatened on top of everything else. The scene I just described, in particular, does not seem to aid the story in the slightest. It is so tinged with triggers and emotional tenseness that getting any feel for Madison as a character falls to the wayside, and it does nothing to progress the plot. It serves as an introduction to Madison Paige as a constant potential victim of sexual assault, and for those worried about triggers, it sets the par for the course.
When Madison is not being threatened with sexual assault, she is taking care of Ethan, acting as his nurse or finding information for him (the latter usually resulting back to the threat of sexual violence). She as a character is never wholly developed, and having a sense of who she is sends mixed signals that highlights an ambivalent character design. Madison is simply not well written into the story (whose writing does not really set any new goalposts with which to begin).
Jayden has problems with ARI, a technology he uses to scan crime scenes, that causes hallucinations and withdrawals, on top of being an FBI agent in a police investigation that is hostile to him. Ethan has lost one of his sons and has the other kidnapped. Scott is researching the victims of the Origami Killer, though his story also goes deeper. Madison is the odd one out, a journalist who stumbles on the scene, but whose journalism is always for the cause of Ethan, never for her own use until the very end, when she writes a book on her experiences. She serves as a foil for Ethan, even engaging in an awkward scene where they can kiss.
The information gathering sequences to aid Ethan include visiting a doctor for information on a location Ethan visited, which leads to the owner of a nightclub, Paco. In the case of the former, the doctor prepared a drink for Madison in my playthrough. Not drinking it gained me the ‘Smart Girl’ trophy, which told me all I needed about what would have happened otherwise. My decision was based on the camera scene I was presented as Madison entered the house, where he looked her up and down as she walked toward and past the camera. I left his house directly after finding the information I needed, but had I not, I have researched to find I would have been knocked out, tied up, and presented with the task of escaping.
Gaining the attention of Paco in the club led me to have her dance to try and gain his attention. When this failed, she made herself up to be more typically ‘sexy’ by opening up her blouse to expose more cleavage, tearing off a sizable portion of her skirt, and applying makeup, all of which you control with the Sixaxis. The following dance scene is a bit odd, as I was so focused on the buttons I had to press that I did not pay attention to the split-screen, where Paco was making lascivious mouth movements and such toward Madison (something my roommate and his girlfriend pointed out while watching me play).
This leads to getting his attention and being suggestive about going to his room, where Madison plans on pressing him for information at the point of a gun. This is where the game wishes things to seem more complicated, as she quickly has her purse with the gun tossed aside, and Paco demands she strip for him. When she refuses, and you have no choice to agree at first, he pulls his gun and demands she strip. The game puts her in a situation where she has to be at gunpoint to strip, at the same time as it presents a trophy for keeping her dignity if you can knock him out before losing more than one article of clothing.
She proceeds to tie him up, squeeze his testicles, and get the information for which she came. I am fairly certain this was meant as an empowering scene for Madison from the standpoint of Quantic Dream, but considering all the other sexually-tinged violence presented to Madison by that point, it felt hollow and sidestepped making any actual comment about the world in which Madison lives. To engage him on any level, she still had to threaten his sexuality. I could not even ascertain if it was within her character to do so, because I had not been given a strong enough character identity or map by which to gauge her actions. Again, all her actions are in the aid of Ethan.
When I wrote about the father complex in Heavy Rain for Vorpal Bunny Ranch, I noted, “In many ways, the game feels like a macho contest of wills between Jayden and Blake [the tough guy cop], and Ethan and Scott. Which is also why Madison feels like a more interesting, if problematic character–particularly as both she and Shaun are the ones navigating both very much within and outside these spaces.” This is only aided by the fact that she is often left feeling tokenized, the other females in the game seemingly a footnote (and almost all mothers faced with the loss of their children); Ethan’s wife is a plot device, and Lauren often feels an empty caricature of the bereaved mother who is betrayed.
The ending I received for Madison brought me some mingled hope and despair. She was signing autographs of her book about the Origami Killer, when suddenly a book is handed to her and a male proceeds to tell her that she deserves a more dangerous adversary. While this could mean a possible sequel with her, it sets up many fears for what she would be subjected to in order to ‘engage’ me. Then again, it could just be a cliffhanger that spells out exactly how the Quantic Dream team envisioned her character, a constant possible victim of the male aggression surrounding her.
While I would love to say all these things were put forth to make the audience aware of what females may face in a world where their sexuality is seen as a commodity, Madison is never fully enough developed to allow such a statement. Paired with the way she is treated in both plot and camera, she is a character I would warn off many people I know just because of the constant triggers with which she is faced.