by guest contributor Sparky Clarkson
Michael “Sparky” Clarkson is a biophysical researcher at a small university in Boston, and is originally from Alabama. He blogs at Discount Thoughts.
To a large extent, my enjoyment of a game depends on the values expressed in its story and characters. I don’t just mean the values that characters espouse in the cutscenes; I’m talking about the values that are communicated through the totality of the game’s incidentals, setting, and mechanics. Because a game is an interactive entertainment that requires the player to exert considerable effort in order to progress, it’s important to make sure that the player identifies or sympathizes with at least some the characters he’s controlling. This is especially true of 40+ hour games like RPGs. You’re spending a lot of time with these people, so they’d better be worthwhile company. Unfortunately, Resonance of Fate had a small cast I didn’t enjoy spending time with at all. I found the personalities of the male characters, Vashyron and Zephyr, to be completely repulsive and tiresome. But the female character, Leanne, was problematic in a different way. It wasn’t just her personality, although she’s not the sort of person I’d generally care to hang around with. Leanne just made me sad, because she was so obviously a patriarchal caricature.
This won’t be apparent just from looking at her. Considering that she’s a female character in a JRPG, Leanne’s design is surprisingly reserved. Her clothing isn’t excessively revealing and doesn’t differ substantially from that of male characters in terms of the protection it offers, so it at least avoids the “bikini armor” design trope (although she does, regrettably, wear high heels). She also has the pleasant property of not possessing exaggerated sexual characteristics.
Not all the female characters are so lucky, however, and the reaction of the game’s males to the difference is instructive. Consider an episode where the team is talking to Cardinal Barbarella, a woman whose enormous, swaying breasts have been animated with the finest Japanese jubble physics and who is making orgasmic noises as she consumes a steak. This situation causes Vashyron to enter a rapturous daydream in which he obsesses over Barbarella’s breasts (calling them “bunker-busters”). The daydream ends as he glances at Leanne, disappointedly referring to her anatomy as “raisins”.
So, now you know why I hated Vashyron.
This scene is problematic in a number of ways that are immediately apparent–the camera’s (and Vashyron’s) focus on Barbarella’s breasts being the most obvious. The “raisins” comment stuck with me, though, because Vashyron had previously said other things that belittled Leanne on the basis of her body, particularly during in an episode where Zephyr may have seen her in the bath accidentally. Rather than being a positive, the restrained character design is used to provide an avenue of body-criticism and infantilization. Leanne always handles this criticism by delivering a slap, which also suggests immaturity to me. Leanne is supposedly 21 years old, but her behavior doesn’t match that at all. I’ll leave it up to you whether her appearance does.
Leanne is also portrayed as excessively weak. Early on, I found that she had the lowest weight allowance of the characters, and she also has the lowest HP, level for level, but I’m not merely talking about the mechanics here. In the team’s base there is a trapdoor leading from the roof to the entrance area. Zephyr and Vashyron can jump down from this spot without trouble, but Leanne refuses to do so, despite the fact that she can, in battle, literally jump all the way across a combat arena. She is also constantly talking about how she needs to catch up to Vashyron and Zephyr, but this is positively infuriating when she has the highest level overall and is two levels ahead of them in handgun skill. Leanne is always portrayed, and always sees herself, as weaker and more fragile than the guys.
The battle utterances were a problem for me throughout the game, although most of my complaints have to do with the way they characterize Zephyr. More relevant to this topic are statements like Leanne’s saying that gunfights are too “dirty and smelly”. Or Vashyron’s exultation when Leanne kills an opponent: “Guys don’t make passes at girls who kick asses!” Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with that one. I can see how it might be a positive sentiment gone horribly awry, but the idea that men aren’t going to be attracted to strong women is not one I’m on board for.
As you have perhaps guessed, I could probably make a whole essay just out of the inappropriate crap that Vashyron says. I mean, I haven’t even touched on the part where he jokes about her taking a job as an “escort”, or his regular battle innuendo about how Leanne “goes both ways”.
Leanne also displays a disturbing level of emotional dependence. There’s an extent to which it can be justified, because she met Zephyr when she was at an emotional low ebb. Still, when Leanne says near the end of the game that she owes all her courage to Zephyr and Vashyron I nearly threw my controller. She got it from the men, did she? She’s brave now thanks to the help of the pervert and the psychopath? Honestly, if the rest of the game hadn’t been stuffed full of this other crap I might not have cared about this particular quote. It’s the sort of sentiment that can even be positive, in a certain way. But the reality is that Leanne is portrayed as weak and in constant need of the mens’ help throughout the game. That this extends beyond physical protection into the realm of psychological essence just makes the whole thing more egregious.
So, we have the physically and emotionally weak “girl” who derives all her strength from the poor excuses for men she spends all her time with. Inevitably, they must “rescue” her. Fortunately, Resonance of Fate doesn’t go so far as to have her actually kidnapped, but there are several missions in the rescue vein, ranging from the silly (getting cold medicine) to the dire (an attempt to get the crystal that regulates her lifespan). Leanne, of course, is effusively grateful for the mens’ help, even if she’s upset by the fact that they left her out of important decisions about her life. Yes, seriously, there is a scene where three men sit around discussing critical information about Leanne’s fate while she is in the same building, and nobody thinks to involve her in it.
In the game’s defense, there’s also a moment where Leanne saves Zephyr’s life, although in the preceding battle you play as Zephyr alone. Leanne is the only one of the three playable characters who never faces a boss solo.
Like all video games, JRPGs have a decidedly mixed record in their depiction of female characters. Compared to some of the egregious examples that have appeared in the genre, even in recent years, there’s little in Leanne’s appearance that offends. In terms of how other characters react to that appearance, and how she is presented, however, Leanne’s treatment leaves a lot to be desired. The systems, writing, and overall story of Resonance of Fate relentlessly characterize her as physically and emotionally frail and dependent on the men around her for protection and support. The game’s treatment of Leanne expresses values I don’t share. That was a significant reason why I didn’t care for Resonance of Fate or enjoy the time I spent with it.
This post originally appeared at Discount Thoughts and is republished with the full permission of the author.