What's in a character, anyway? [Gender in Indigo Prophecy, Part 2]

This post contains potentially game ruining spoilers. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK! You have been warned.

The first thing you notice in Indigo Prophecy is that there are three playable characters: Lucas Kane, unwilling murderer and first person you play as; Carla Valenti, the only woman you control; and Tyler Miles, Carla’s (junior) partner. A ratio of 2 to 1 favouring males isn’t exactly equal, but with the way games run these days I should probably be thankful that there’s a woman at all, much less one who wears weather appropriate clothing and has realistic sized breasts.

The Heroes

Lucas Kane

Lucas, Lucas, Lucas… You begin and end with his character, and the conclusion to the story is told from his perspective. With the most screen time and the most prominent position in the story, he is undeniably the main protagonist.

If one was expecting him to be the paragon of masculinity, that idea is shattered within the first few minutes of the opening. While he doesn’t break down and cry after killing a man, he certainly does his share of freaking out here and there throughout the next couple chapters. He is not afraid to admit emotion to himself; indeed, a couple of ways you can depress him is by having him look at pictures of his parents or of Tiffany, his ex. Nor does he seem to have qualms in to sharing it, as he is always frank with his brother Markus. He even owns and plays a guitar, and you know how girly the sensitive artist types are (I kid, I kid, but the stereotype of the sensitive artist type is definitely invoked).

Throughout the game, though, you find that his virility is beyond reproach. Once he gets over the worst of his angsty woe-as-me depression, he gets not one but two women. The first is Tiffany, his ex. If you give the right answers when she comes to get her boxes, Lucas ends up sleeping with her and she stays the night. Later on, regardless of what happened at the apartment, she hides him from the cops and tells him that she still loves him. Right after Tiffany meets her untimely demise, Lucas starts macking on Carla. This leads to sex, Carla’s admission of love, and eventually them getting married.

The ability to get laid is but one way his manliness is assured. Once his wrists have healed, you can have him beat the crap out of his punching bag. And, when I say, “beat the crap out of it,” what I mean is, “kick it clear across the room.” It’s not long before Lucas graduates from punching bags to Matrix-esque martial arts and acrobatics. By the time the game is over, he has done a full-blown Dragon Ball Z transformation, fully equipped with the ability to charge his power to throw a death-dealing ball of energy at the Oracle. No one’s gonna challenge the masculinity of a guy that powerful.

Do Lucas’ traits merely make him a well-rounded character, or does the need to establish his physical and sexual virility say something deeper about gender relations in Western society? I recently criticized conflation of female sexuality with female power in my last instalment of Girls & Game Ads, and I can’t help but feel that Lucas’ situation is the male side of things. In contrast to the women (who are seen first and foremost as sexual and secondly as powerful), his physical prowess is focused on with his sexual exploits are minor asides in his storyline. Given the nature of gender roles, I don’t find this difference very surprising. Men, after all, have a history of being valued for their physical and mental abilities, while women are lauded for their beauty.

None of this is to say that I find Lucas’ character as unduly problematic, or so stereotypical that I found him hard to relate to. I enjoyed his blend of weakness and strength. For all the flaws, I enjoyed his relationships with Markus, Tiffany, and Carla. I did think that, overall, he was a well-rounded, three-dimensional character. It’s just that, taking his character in the context of Western culture, a closer examination of his traits and relationships reveals some interesting assumptions about masculinity.

Lt. Carla Valenti

I’m sure this will come as a shock – shock! – to all of you, but Carla was my favourite character. When I first rented the game with my friend, we would always choose her character to follow first. She was strong, independent, and a natural leader. Things I like to imagine myself being, I suppose. As the game progressed, though, I saw her being caught in more stereotypical traps and I despaired. In the end, I still loved her. She may have brought some T&A to the party, but she was still Carla.

Always the one with a good head on her shoulders, Carla sidesteps the “annoying emotional sidekick” stereotype and falls squarely in the “obsessive work-oriented cop” one. To me, it was refreshing to not have to think about who she was attracted to. I breathed a sigh of relief when it was made clear that any relationship with her partner was thankfully out because of his long-term girlfriend. For the first half of the game, nary a mention was made of Carla having any romantic attachments or inclinations, save for a mysterious e-mail from Tommy.

Oh, Tommy, how can a gay man be the harbinger of doom for Carla’s love life? It was through the non-threatening, homosexual friend that the player learns that Carla is yearning for a man. To be fair, Tommy (like most of the characters), is also attached – he talks about his new boyfriend. It was during that conversation that I knew a part of independent, “I don’t need a man to be complete,” Carla was gone forever. Having Lucas call her to talk sealed the deal; I didn’t even have to see that “moment of affection” in her apartment with him to know that she was going to get with him.

Aside from the final scenes, which are told almost exclusively from Lucas’ point-of-view, the balancing factor is that Carla retains her distinct personality. Throughout the game, she gets a lot of airtime to show off her strengths. I felt the creators took pains to give her an equal part in discovering of clues, in putting them together, and solving the case. There seemed to be a conscious balance of physical strength/dexterity with her intellectual pursuits, as well. I’ll get into a few more specifics with Part 4 of the series, but I noticed that she was the one who was associated with the shooting mini-game. Near the end, she also finds pieces to jury-rig a radio with – a technical task that is traditionally allocated to a man.

Like Lucas, I found Carla to be an overall well-rounded character. Despite relying on a few stereotypes for her characterization, she was more often than not portrayed as an independent woman who was important for what she did, rather than who she did.

Sgt. Tyler Miles

Thinking back on my runs through the game, it strikes me that some of the most vivid memories of Tyler as a character I have are in relation to either Carla or Sam, his girlfriend. Indigo Prophecy does its share of defining women through their relationships with men, which I’ll get to later, but it does its share of defining men through their relationships with women, as well. While I’d argue that Tyler is characterized primarily through his race, taking a close second for defining who he is would be his interactions with the women in his life. I suppose that, if anything, is telling.

In many ways, Tyler is a masculine character: he played basketball in college, he likes video games, he wants to protect his woman, and he, not Carla, drives when they go together to a crime scene. But he is also the empathetic one: on the crime scene, he’s the one who chats with the forensic guys; he’s the one who gets the composite from Kate; and in the end he is supposed to follow his heart and go with his girlfriend to Miami (even if you choose not to do that, his plot is over at that moment).

I liked Tyler. He was a funny guy. He was a people-person who wasn’t afraid to do a little grunt work. Ultimately, though, at least in terms of gender, he wasn’t very memorable as a stand-alone. Most of what I have to say about him will come in Part 3 of the series, because I believe that he is best defined through his relationship with Carla and Sam.

Supporting Cast

Though not as important as the playable characters, the supporting cast still a large part of what a player gets out of the game. They are more likely to fit into stereotypes, as the writers don’t have as much screen time to develop them in, and which paradigms are chosen can reveal much about gender interactions.

Markus Kane
Markus is Lucas’ brother, and his confidant throughout the game. His association to Lucas puts his life in jeopardy, which recalls a lot of the “love interest as target” stereotypes, and in the end he makes an appearance in the underground camp to show the player that he made it through okay. Though I would argue that he is less important to the plot than, say, Tiffany, he is the only non-playable character given a blurb in the manual.

Tiffany
Tiffany is Lucas’ ex girlfriend. I don’t recall if the reason for their break-up is ever really explained, but, like Markus, Lucas’ enemies target her. Unlike him, though, she dies while Lucas tries to rescue her. She lives and dies attached to Lucas, a typical feature for the supporting females of childbearing age.

Sam
Sam is Tyler’s girlfriend. They are exclusive, live together, and plan on having a family. Like Tiffany, her role is defined solely by her relationship with Tyler. She constantly worries about his work, and in the end is the deciding factor in the wrap up for his story.

Agatha
Agatha is too old to be defined as someone’s lover, so she is safely put into another category: wise woman/spiritual advisor. She, too, dies because of her association with Lucas. Later on, her visage is used by the Purple Clan in an attempt to get Lucas to do what they want him to.

Jade (chosen child)
The opposite of Agatha, Jade is too young to be defined as someone’s lover. Instead of that, however, she becomes the paragon of female virtue: she is a lifeless conduit for male power. She is the keeper of the secrets of the universe and “he” (language used in the game, also all those after her are male-bodied) who possesses her secret is given unlimited power. She has no personality, and is constantly referred to as a “pure soul.” Once her task is over, she dies. It is highly disturbing that a girl-child with no agency of her own is used to consolidate male power and then is discarded once her role is finished.

Tommy
Tommy is Carla’s gay friend/hallmate. He has a bit of a political purpose – his relationship with his boyfriend is used to illustrate continued homophobia in Western culture – but ultimately I see him as a non-threatening way to reveal Carla’s single status and set her up for her relationship with Lucas.

Drive-by Characters

Most stories have people who appear only in cameos to emphasize a point, or drive the story on. These characters are generally only important because they represent the breakdown of the world at large. Indigo Prophecy is no exception, but I’ve broken the characters into two groups: people in power, and incidental characters. The gender makeup of these two groups sets up the backdrop and can often last a lasting, if not conscious, impression on the player.

People in power:
Though the world of the game is set up to reflect ours, I was somewhat shocked to find that there was only one person in power that I could find that was female. It was one of the voices of the Orange Clan (one of five or six total). The Oracle is male, the Purple Clan AI is male-bodied, the police chief is male, Sgt. Robert Mitchell (worked on a ritual killing case prior to Carla and Tyler) is male, and Bogart (bum and head of an underground organization that helps Lucas and Carla at the end) is male. Where are all the women? Male-dominated or not, this is the 21st century and women do hold positions of authority. By not showing any women in these important positions, it sends the message that it is normal to see men in power, but not women.

Incidental chars:
Even in the memorable but incidental characters, the split is obvious: Kate the waitress versus four guys. Martin Mc Carthy, the cop from the diner, shows up more than once. As do Garret & Frank, the forensic guys, and Jeffery, the basketball guy. The person working at the morgue was also male, come to think of it. As were most known perpetrators and victims of the ritual killings: Lucas/male victim, both were male in the Kirsten case, and it was only the Laundromat with a female victim that bucked the trend.

Conclusion

In the end, I guess I have to say that I find the characterization in the game problematic but not irredeemable. I would hazard a guess to say that the script writers thought that they were being all equal by having a main female character who was strong, intelligent, and non-hypersexualized, as well as a supporting cast that had a decent amount of women on it. And I recognize that, and appreciate it. It’s a better representation than most games I’ve played. But it’s no Beyond Good and Evil, where it had all that and didn’t define women mostly by their relationships, and had a visible representation of women in power. For Indigo Prophecy, I have to say: it’s a start, but you have a long way to go, baby.

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This entry was posted in Gender in Indigo Prophecy, Gender issues, Series, Sex, sexuality, and sexual politics, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink.