Ultimate Utopia, Indeed

Ultimate Utopia...?
When Squaresoft meets fans with video skills you get… Ultimate Utopia…?

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

Character Selection Screen 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

Say What?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.

IV. Conclusion

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.

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This entry was posted in Gender Cultism, Popular Culture, Teh Funnay, The Evil -ism's, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Ultimate Utopia, Indeed

  1. Darth Sidhe says:

    Dude, “Ultimate” is a synonym for “Final.” I’m sure you can guess the rest.

  2. tekanji says:

    Utopia is a synonym for fantasy? o.O Still an odd choice, IMHO, and it’s still an interesting juxtaposition, even if it’s one that they didn’t seem to intend.

  3. Lake Desire says:

    The woman is the only one who caught the Clap. Interesting, probably unintention commentary on who gets hit harder with VD.

    The rest of my comments got kind of long winded, so I just made a blog post on the video on NG+ because I’ve been neglecting it.

  4. Pingback: “Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal…” H.P. Lovecraft » Blog Archive » Ultimate Utopia

  5. I would consider the healer of the party to be the most important character of the game. Is that not a realistic assessment?

  6. tekanji says:

    The point was not to debate the pros and cons of the healer (who, I would agree, is one of the integral characters), but rather to emphasize it because the archetype of the healer is the quintessential Square female.

  7. But, to play devil’s advocate, what of games such as FF8 or 10:International where there is no initial stats bias?

    On the other hand, stereotype versus archetype. It doesn’t help that either are embued with value judgements.

  8. adarahs says:

    Being the creator of this video, I think my points concerning your blog are pretty valid. I would first like to thank you for analyzing my film on another level than the usual comment “That movie rocked… for the first two minutes…”. Though, I must say that many of your statements are an overanalysis of my production.

    Concerning the first point about the name, I came up with the name by simply using the thesaurus. For final, I got ultimate. For fantasy, I got utopia. Utopia is a stretch, but I wanted to keep alliteration as Final Fantasy has two F’s and Ultimate Utopia has two U’s. In no way did I intend the name to mean anything; it was just a synonym.

    In your second case, you bring up that Megan is the only female on that screen. You should disregard the second and third game savestates. The second is a homage to my friends from the spring musical “Grease” I was in. The third was a fill-in. If you noticed, the man there is the same man who’s house the group goes into. It was meant to be funny because Midgar Sector 0 is one of the final places in Final Fantasy.

    The most important thing I want to point out is that my movie was making fun of white mages, aka healers. In some Final Fantasy games, the white mages seemed to be rather ineffective. Of course this movie exaggerates it to a whole new level, considering it is a parody. It just so happens to be that white mages are female in many RPGs. No way in this movie am I trying to say to females are weak and inferior. If you interpreted that way, I am sorry then as it was not the creator’s intentions. Once again, I must point out that despite all the attacks on Megan, she is ultimately the one who destroys Daniel.

  9. adarahs says:

    Reading your post again, I might have misinterpreted the last paragraph of your blog. I guess you can say the production is rather bringing up the “Square’s staple archetypes” by making fun of it.

  10. tekanji says:

    Thank you for your comment on this post. I think it is interesting to see how the artist’s intent measures up to my interpretation of your film.

    I would, however, like to point out that once you put up a work for public consumption that it evolves past your original intent for it. While you can respond to my guesses at your intent, you do not get to decide what analysis is or is not valid (re: your use of “overanalysis”). The work is no longer solely yours in terms of viewing and understanding, and what I and others got out of it is as important as what you put into it.

  11. adarahs says:

    With any work, there are wrong interpretations. For example, there are many different interpretations of the Bible. Many people interpret it for their own benefit, in which many times is inaccurate. The only way to gauge the right meaning is to evaluate the intentions of the writer and looking at the piece as a whole. Just because the work is available for the critique of others does not mean that the viewer’s interpretation is correct.

  12. tekanji says:

    I’m sorry, but there is no “right meaning” to a work. There are author intentions and readers views. Just because you did not intend something – whether it be in an artistic piece, or in a discussion with someone else – doesn’t mean that the way it came across to other people isn’t valid.

    When an artist puts a work up for public display, they need to fully understand that their piece will be critiqued in a wide variety of ways by a wide variety of people. Telling people that they are “wrong” because you communicated things in your piece that were not intended is not a useful method of doing this. You come across as condescending and rude, and frankly rather ignorant.

  13. adarahsmember says:

    These incidental occurences that you and others have recognized do have merit now that I look back on the film, but there is a such thing as an overanaysis, tekanji. First and foremost, UUXXIII was intended to be a spoof on RPG’s. Trust me when I say that when it was being written, the film team was not considering ways to demean women, but rather the games themselves. But why can’t it just be seen as a few high school teens parodying something that is easy to make fun of? It boils down to this: there was only one female we knew that was able to film on the 4th of July. Had she not been available at all during filming, an all male cast would have been required, and I could imagine that if you saw it, you probably would have been just as inclined to discuss the lack of female involvement. In other words, a lose-lose situation for Adarahs. However, as always, you are entitled to your opinion, we thank you for the feedback, and most of all, glad you watched the film and are spreading the word.

  14. Atrius says:

    So basically, everything ever written or produced by an artist is without concrete meaning, but instead holds only a shifting, inconsistent meaning applied by those who come across it? What an asinine proposal. That’s like saying there’s no point for an artist to have intent in the first place. If I were to write “I hate George” and you assume I refer to the President when I am in fact referring to another George, then you are flat out wrong, I don’t care what your interpretation is. Don’t call him rude for making clarifications on his own work. If you think you have this sacrosanct right to interpret and criticize it as you like, then he has the same right in regard to your critique which also, coincidentally, has been posted in the public domain. Get off your high horse.

  15. adarahs says:

    Honestly I don’t know why you think I come across as condescending, rude, and ignorant. I am just simply stating the truth which in this case is against your beliefs. If you don’t understand that there are such things as wrong interpretations, then I am sorry for you. No point on continuing this discussion.

  16. tekanji says:

    Atrius: I was willing to bend the rules for adarahs because I know what it is to be an artist confronted for the first time with critique that we don’t agree with or understand. I am familiar with the defensive reaction, having gone through it myself on numerous occassions, so I opted instead to simply discuss the matter with him.

    You, however, do not have that leeway and for blatantly ignoring the red text right above the comment box where its says, “By posting here, you agree to abide by the rules listed,” you are banned. People who are unwilling to play nice are not welcome here, period.

    adarahsmember: While there is something such as overanalysis, it is not determined by whether or not what I read from the subject agrees with author intent. Neither you, nor adarahs, nor Atrius-the-banned have engaged in anything but telling me I am wrong because that’s not what you guys meant. You are missing the important part of what I was doing here: Discussing Megan’s portrayal as it relates to greater context of Square games.

    The only places in which you may inform me as to what actually happened were the parts where I was speculating as to the intent, or the reasoning behind something. The rest – which is the true meat of my piece – is not up to you to decide. You can agree, disagree, or whatnot, but you do not have the authority to tell me that the frame in which I chose to examine the piece is off limits.

    And something that I apparently wasn’t clear about when I said repeatedly that I enjoyed the film: I am not attacking adarahs. It is a useful skill to have to be able to separate the critique of the work from the critique of the person. While I think it would be great if y’all could actually take something positive from this critique – namely to step back and examine some of the subtle sexism both in Square and, by extension, your piece – the facts are that I don’t “fault” adarahs, or anyone involved in the project, for the portrayal of Megan. Even if you had been able to balance the team in terms of gender, the very fact that you were making a Square parody means that there would be sexism. And I still would have commented on it.

    Honestly, I had come to the conclusion that the obvious way in which you highlighted the sexism in Square games by beating up on Megan and making her absurdly weak was a good thing. I am a little sad that, instead of taking my critique with grace and actually thinking on what I have said, your team has opted to get on, and stay on, the defensive and take only negative things from this post.

  17. Darth Sidhe says:

    Hmm. I thought the concept of “the author is dead” was a fairly well-known one.

  18. adarahsmember says:

    I accept your opinion, you have every right to it, and I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I’m also glad its raising a more intellectual debate then the typical about our films. This will be my last post on the subject.

    Regards,

    AM
    http://www.adarahs.com

    FYI- Adarahs is not a person, but rather the name of our film team. I understand the difference between a critique of a person and the piece. I typed it to mean our film team, not the poster adarahs. Sorry for the confusion.

  19. Will says:

    I know this topic is a bit old, but there is something that I feel I should point out: not every female in Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy games (or RPGs in general) is a fluffy little healer girl with a staff.

    Rydia in FF4 was a magic user, but she used damaging magic — and few of the other characters could come close to matching her damage until the very late stages of the game. If you wanted something dead, you went to Rydia. In one scene, Rydia also saves the party from being killed by one of the big bad guys.

    Terra and Celes from FF6 were good with magic, but they were also good fighters, and two of the more powerful characters that you could pick. The best of both worlds, in other words. Both have some cool scenes in the game; Celes saves the party in one of them.

    Tifa in FF7 used martial arts to beat down her enemies. She also saved Cloud from madness, pretty much all by herself. Yuffie can also be a fairly powerful fighter.

    Freya in FF9 was one of the best fighters in the game. Beatrix, who was only playable for a short time, was an insanely powerful swordfighter — stronger than any of your own characters.

    The main character of FF12 is going to be a non-healer girl type of female.

    Agrias and Meliadoul from Final Fantasy Tactics were powerful swordfighters.

    I can think of other fighter-females in other Square and non-Square RPGs, but I think you probably understand what i’m getting at.

    I know that there are some healer-girls-with-staves characters in Square’s games (Polom, Rosa, Yuna, and Garnet, to name a few). But, on the other hand, there are also several martial females, too. For that matter, there are plenty of male spellcaster-types that fight with “wussy” weapons (Tellah, Edward, Palom, Strago, Vivi).

    I’m not saying there isn’t sexism in Square’s games — but you post doesn’t concede the fact that women in RPGs take on a variety of roles besides healer-girl. You seem to have some experience with Square’s games and RPGs in general, but I can’t help but feel that you may have formed your opinions based on a narrow sampling of games in the genre (after all, some games have more healer-girls than others…). Perhaps you can clear this up?

  20. tekanji says:

    You seem to have some experience with Square’s games and RPGs in general, but I can’t help but feel that you may have formed your opinions based on a narrow sampling of games in the genre (after all, some games have more healer-girls than others…). Perhaps you can clear this up?

    I’ve been playing video games since I was too young to hold a controller (my mother, who played with me, was always very nice about listening to my, “Go here! Do that! No, pick THAT up! No, no, no, use THAT spell!” directions, but I think a part of her was relieved when I was old enough to do it myself), so, I’d have to disagree that my argument is based on a “narrow sampling”.

    But I don’t see where I said “the girl is always the weak healer”, rather that it was one of the most prevalent archetypes for girls in RPGs. And I stand by that. With recent games that stance has become less rigid due to character customizability becoming desireable, but even with FFXII, the first girl you get in your party is already geared up to be the magic user. You can change that, but generally when there’s a predisposition people (including me) don’t.

    And on the subject of prevalent archetypes, you pointed out Rydia — who I have to say is probably one of the most influential video game characters in my life. She represents another one, similar to the Healer Girl. She’s still physically weak, but instead of healing she uses destruction based magic. You can see her archetype in games other than the FF series. The Breath of Fire series, for instance, relies heavily on that stereotype. The first one casts Nina as the Healer, but subsequent games have their Ninas as the primary attack-based magic user.

    In regards to Square and their portrayal of women, I’d further recommend reading this article: The Male Lead Syndrome: How Far has Squaresoft Really Come?

    Ultimately, I didn’t delve into the whole task of listing all of the archetypes of women because that’s a whole series of posts in itself. I’ve considered doing it — and I do hope that one day I’ll get to it — but right now I have so much more on my plate that it’s not something I want to take on right now.

  21. Will says:

    A female lead would certainly be interesting — one reason I am looking forward to FF13. Actually, I think that I orignally meant to say FF13 instead of 12 in my original post. Sorry for the mistake.

    I’m not so sure that I agree with the article you posted — it exaggerates, or at least I think it does. There are clearly some cases where the article is true, such as FF4’s Rosa/Cecil and FF9’s Zidane/Garnet, but it doesn’t seem to mention (and in fact, denies) that this “healer girl/lead male warrior” setup isn’t the only way Final Fantasy games are done…or console RPGs in general, for that matter. There are plenty of strong warrior-type RPG women out there (though male leads are admittedly more common).

    FF5’s Butz was a weak lead at best (now, admittedly, I only played through about 1/2 FF5), and the game focused on the other characters just as much as it did on him (I read a walkthrough once — later in the game, the party is 1 male and 3 females, which I definitely thought was different from the norm). FF6 didn’t really have a healer girl. Terra could certainly heal, but she was hardly helpless and could equip some of the best weapons in the game *and* blast her enemies with strong magic. In fact, if there was a lead character in FF6, she’d be it (at the very least, she was one of the most important characters, even if there was no true lead role present in that game).

    Personally, I don’t really care whether the lead is male or female, or what kind of naughty bits the healer has, just as long as the game is good.

  22. tekanji says:

    There are plenty of strong warrior-type RPG women out there (though male leads are admittedly more common).

    I think that was more the point of the article, rather than emphasising how no RPGs are different ever. It’s also more than a few years old by now, so that’s another thing to keep in mind.

    In fact, if there was a lead character in FF6, she’d be it (at the very least, she was one of the most important characters, even if there was no true lead role present in that game).

    Personally, I’d call FF6 the most progressive in the series thus far. (FFX-2 had an all-woman cast, but their main purpose was to be eye-candy for the guys and a “dress up barbie” for the girls. Not exactly progressive, imho.) Although, to be fair, I never actually played through 7, 8, or 12. And I don’t know much about 12 outside of the beginning portion.

    Personally, I don’t really care whether the lead is male or female, or what kind of naughty bits the healer has, just as long as the game is good.

    Yeah, now if only marketing and game development could get that memo…

  23. Will says:

    FF7 had something of a love triangle between Cloud, Tifa, and Aeris, though i’d really hesitate to call either Aeris or Tifa “doormats.” Aeris, despite being a healer girl with a staff who wore pink, had a few scenes where she acted surprisingly tough.

    FF8…was full of teenage drama. I didn’t like it; I don’t remember many of the the specifics of the plot, and the characters were boring.

    You probably know as much about FF12 as I do, since it’s not out yet. One of the female characters who’s name I don’t remember at the moment is supposedly a powerful, intelligent warrior-type, though.

    As for FFX-2, I totally agree with you. I played through it because I wanted to see what the FFX characters did after defeating Sin, but I didn’t particular like it. The story wasn’t interesting and the characters were annoying.

    Some other RPGs that have physically/mentally strong female characters that you might want to check out, if you haven’t already: Wild Arms 3 (Virginia, and she’s the lead, though she begins the game rather inexperienced), Wild Arms 4 (Raquel is a crazy powerful physical attacker and intelligent, too), Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (Titania, a paladin, is sort of a mentor to your main character and can singlehandedly win many battles), Suikoden III (Chris was my favorite of the three main characters and a fully armored knight), and Shadow Hearts 3 (Shania is dressed for porn, but she seems pretty intelligent and the game’s strongest fighter).

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