So, OS.CB reader darth sidhe pointed me in the direction of a fan-made flash movie of a live action RPG. It’s actually a pretty well done production and many parts of it I was nodding my head and saying, “Yep, that always happens to me!” Now, let me make it clear right off the bat: I liked this movie. I thought it was a fun, funny, and well-done piece.
But I am nothing if not a feminist interested in the intersection of gender and video games, and so it logically follows that when watching this, even through my enjoyment, I spotted areas that were problematic in terms of gender representation (the racial representation didn’t sit right with me, either, but that’s not really my area of expertise). And me, being the obsessive blogger I am (packing for Japan? taking care of last minute arrangements for school? never!), wanted to blog on it. So, watch the flash movie then come back and read what I have to say about it (I command thee!).
I. The Making of a Utopia
I find the choice of name (“Ultimate Utopia”) to be rather interesting. I don’t know if it’s based off of a name of a game that Square released, or if it was just randomly pulled out of a hat of “likely names for a Square game”. Either, or neither, is possible. But, especially given the discussion on what makes up a utopia over at Ragnell’s place, I have to say naming it as they did makes me wonder if the creators thought about what the title might convey to watchers – especially given the obvious hierarchies inherent in the game/movie.
On the one hand, it could be said that the adventurers are seeking out said Utopia. That the world they live in – the world we see them in – is one without safety, without equality, and with every object you pick up having the possibility of drawing you into a nasty battle. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the world is supposed to represent an “ultimate utopia” for gamers – haven’t we all wished at one point or another to be part of a video game? In that case, the kind of “utopia” conveyed to the watcher is actually rather disturbing; it is a world where might makes right, where strict gender and race castes are observed, and where danger lurks around every corner.
II. You’re the Character Now, Man
As is traditional with Squaresoft games, continuing a game in Ultimate Utopia will lead you to a character selection screen. The names for the three games are, respectively, Kyle, Danny, and Man. Kyle’s game has the characters we will learn to know and love, while Danny’s game seems to represent Grease (the area is called “Rydell High”), and Man’s game plays on the lack of diversity of Square’s NPCs – as all the characters in it are Man himself.
I’d like to draw attention to the fact that the only woman in all three save games is the one in Kyle’s game. Kyle Moore, the leader, has in his party: Tunaidi Ansari, James Yao, and Megan Greener. She is, predictably, the last character in line when the game opens on their location.
III. A Woman After Square’s Heart
As this flash movie is as much a parody of Squaresoft as it is a tribute, I was not surprised to find that Megan is the stereotypical magic user. Not just any magic user, however, but the physically weak healer. Her HP is a staggeringly low 191, as compared to the others who have anywhere from 954 to 1023. As the healer, her MP is the highest: 360, as compared to 54 (the highest MP next to hers). Her weapon of choice? The staff. It does 12 damage, yay!
Throughout the battle, Megan is trashed time and time again. Daniel, their adversary, takes her down to 11 HP with his first hit. Of course, instead of focusing on healing her, the player does a “heal all” which gives her back a whopping 5HP. Bringing her total up to 16. For his next attack, Daniel goes for “Copyright Infringement” and takes Megan down with a hit that does 571 damage. Can we say “overkill”? At least when she gets revived she’s back up to full health. For all the good it does her, seeing as she gets “blown away” in Daniel’s next attack.
When she returns, does she heal her party (like, you know a healer *should*)? Nope. Mr. Player (and yes, he’s a man) has her do an “MP Up” spell. Learn how to play! Well, perhaps I was too hasty in my condemnation; running through the movie again, I realize that her only options appear to be “Heal All” (fat lot of good that spell does), “MP Up” (another useless one), and “Suicide”. I’m guessing the fact that Megan is vastly underpowered is a critique on Square’s use of women, or at least I hope it is.
But, the torture of Megan is far from over. Daniel’s next attack, Clap, is a confusion spell. Which misses everyone but Megan, and stays with her past death. I mean swoon. I mean… what the devil are kids calling it these days? The caveat, of course, is that Megan lands the killing blow (while still confused) after all of her teammates have been killed by Daniel’s devastating “Apocalypse Now” attack.
Like I said before, I liked this movie. It was a funny parody, a nice tribute, and having watched it a second time I’m beginning to think that it may have also been a subtle critique of some of Square’s staple archetypes (like the lack of NPC diversity and gendered stereotypes). And, really, I would much rather them deal with Megan’s plight (the plight of practically all female characters in one way or another) by drawing attention to it instead of having it be part of the background noise.