This is a rebuttal to the article posted yesterday by Kimberly Hall.
Dear Mrs. Hall,
I have some information that might interest you.
Oh, parenting. Must be hard, right? I can only imagine, mind you, because I haven’t bothered procreating yet. Not so long ago, I was still a teenage girl. I can barely keep a plant alive. So far the cactus has made the best bid for continued survival under my care. I’ve got a long way to go before I can provide for another human being.
Anyway, my point is: it’s gotta be hard to figure out where to draw the line, right? It’s gotta be hard to figure out what you should and shouldn’t tell your sons about how they interact with girls–about how they view them.
As a parent, it’s totally within your rights to restrict who your children interact with. As much as you can, anyway. If you’re internet-savvy then you betcha: you can make judgment calls about a teenage girl’s integrity by checking up on her selfies and then ensure that your sons will never look at her again. On Facebook, anyway. They’ll probably still run into each other at school, but what can you do?
I don’t take issue with you limiting who your child interacts with. That’s up to you. What I do take issue with, though, is the lesson you’re teaching your sons.
Here’s what you said, about random girl so-and-so’s selfie in her bedroom:
I think the boys notice other things. For one, it appears that you are not wearing a bra.
I get it – you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout. What’s up? None of these positions is one I naturally assume before sleep, this I know.
You’re a woman yourself, Mrs. Hall, so it probably comes as no surprise to you that bras are one of the most uncomfortable articles of clothing women have to wear. Did you know how many health problems bras can cause? And not just bad bras. Any bras. It’s no wonder that the instant I set foot in my own apartment, I take that thing off.
Regardless of medical details, bras are just one of those things enforced by societal norms. There’s nothing inherently sexual about wearing or not wearing a bra. Maybe you can see the shape of a nipple through the shirt, but since nipples are nothing more than run-of-the-mill body parts and their poking up doesn’t necessarily indicate anything involving arousal (she could just be cold, you know), it’s really not a big deal.
Moving on to your issues with the girl’s posing: I’ll take you at your word and believe you’re not exaggerating. Let’s say she really is striking a pose.
(I will say, though, as an aside–your sons are striking a pose on the beach, too, in your own original post. Flexing their muscles, baring their abs. That’s stuff straight out of sexy male photoshoots. The setting doesn’t matter. Why’s it okay for them to do that, but when a girl doesn’t wear a bra and strikes a pose, it riles you up? Think about the implications. Every pose can be misinterpreted.)
If she is really striking a blatantly sexual pose: yep, depending on her age, it’s probably not appropriate. (It’s not appropriate for your sons, either.) But you should also assume that, depending on her age, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s imitating female models, her friends, etcetera–if she’s too young for you to think about in a consensual sexual context, she’s too young for you to think about sexually, period. She’s too young for your sons to think about sexually, too. Tell them so. It’s pretty easy to say, “You are under the age of consent, and so is she.”
Those posts don’t reflect who you are! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. But, we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say?
I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, Mrs. Hall, but this is what I inferred from your statement: posting “sexy” photos of yourself, as a girl, is not smart. Because the girl is “usually” very smart, but not when she posts selfies that you have interpreted in a sexual manner.
What was the girl trying to do? Get attention–that’s what all teenagers are trying to do. Who was she trying to reach? Her friends, who will tell her she’s pretty; and yes, even boys, who will also find her pretty, and probably desirable, and maybe want to date her. What was she trying to say? Hey, look at me–I’m relaxed and cute and sexy. Praise me.
Do you know why the girl does that? Probably because she was raised in a society that has, for a long time, only praised women based on their appearances. It’s in the water when we grow up, scout’s honor. We learn that only the pretty girls can be loved. That only pretty girls are worth the boys’ time. That only pretty girls succeed. So what the girl did was actually very smart, given the conditions our culture has raised us in. She’s advertising what makes her worthwhile. It’s not her fault that our culture taught her that her only value is between her legs.
Someone should probably have a talk with the girl. Probably her parents. (Not you. It’s not your child. You might want to have this conversation with your daughter, though.) Someone should probably reinforce, again and again, that she doesn’t have to be beautiful to be worth something. She doesn’t have to be a sexual object to be worth something.
Someone should also tell her that if she wants to be sexy, when she’s of legal age and out of their house, she can–and that men should still respect her, because being sexy is not the same as asking to be objectified and seen only as a sexual being. Removing your clothes does not mean that everyone who sees you without clothes gets to take potshots at your integrity. Your integrity as a human being is literally not at all related to your sexual habits, your choice of dress, your number of piercings or tattoos–the list goes on.
Finally, we come to this.
I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way it is under this roof for a while. We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.
You’re right and you’re wrong, Mrs. Hall. Grown men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls, because it’s sort of the equivalent of child pornography, and that kind of thing is frowned upon (not to mention, illegal).
But you know what men of integrity really don’t do? What they really, really don’t do? They don’t judge a girl based on a sexy selfie she posted on Facebook. They don’t look at that picture (or pictures) and decide that she is without worth, without integrity, just because she dared to be sexy in a society that has taught us that our sex appeal is the only thing we have that’s valuable. They don’t look at that picture and cease to see the person beneath the skimpy outfit.
If they’re a real man–and I hope your sons learn this–they will see that picture and still see that person, not an object for their sexual gratification.
Perhaps you should teach your sons to see women as people with viable thoughts, feelings, and opinions–none of which are tied to how skimpily they dress–instead of teaching them that scantily-clad women are without integrity, without intelligence, and ultimately worthless.
A woman who used to be a teenager
- FYI: An Open Letter to Teenage Girls Who Don’t Always Wear a Bra (jessicagottlieb.com)
- A response to Mrs. Hall: Teaching our boys respect and self-control (rebeccahains.wordpress.com)
- FYI (If you’re writing to teeange girls) (dbandt.wordpress.com)
- RE: FYI (If You’re a Teenage Girl) (viewsfromthecouch.com)
- Concerned Mom: Slutty Girls’ Selfies Are Tempting My Perfect Sons (jezebel.com)
- Can We Knock Off The Slut Shaming? (emmiemears.com)
Ahem. I’ll refresh your memory, if I may. My second paragraph went a little like this:
Video games have come a long way since I first unwrapped a new GameCube, but we are still not as advanced as we should be. Gamers like me are still chased out of online forums with various and unimaginative threats. Gamers like me are still accused of being frauds. Our contributions to the gaming world are usually laughed out the door or booed into silence. In spite of all this, though, we persevere. We’re still hunkered down with the latest Dead Space, anxiously awaiting The Last of Us, and salivating over Uncharted 3. [Bolded for emphasis.]
Keep that in mind as we explore what’s going on here.
Last week, I went to see Man of Steel. I didn’t like it, and I wrote the review behind the link explaining why. I felt that I had legitimate and well-articulated reasons behind my distaste for the newest attempt at a Superman movie. Despite my irritation, I believed that I’d given the movie a fair shot, and was passing on my opinion–like a lot of other movie-goers these days, if I’m honest. A lot of us out here on the internet write about what we see and play and read. Most of it is so much dust in the wind, caught in the churning river of information flowing through the cloud.
I figured that this would be like any other thing I’ve written. I didn’t think it would get much attention at all, for one. (Some of my more complex meta–like Monsters, Humans, and Hunters–has gotten a modicum of attention on Tumblr, but nothing substantial. A couple hundred likes and reblogs in the Tumblr environment is nothing, really.) I also didn’t believe it would provoke any kind of hostile response. While I wrote to you, IGN, about “gamers like me” being chased out of forums, name-called, and threatened, I’ve never been the target of such shenanigans myself. I’ve just watched a lot of other people go through it.
I should probably rephrase “gamers like me” to “nerds like me.” It’s more encompassing, and covers what happened to me last week.
I posted the review–both here and on Tumblr–late on Thursday night. I only spent about an hour cobbling it together, and I went to sleep glad that I’d had a chance to put down exactly what frustrated me so much about Man of Steel. In the morning, as always, I huddled down in bed after my first alarm went off and scrolled through my e-mail. I was surprised to have a notification from Tumblr, informing me that someone had anonymously asked a question.
I snorted. Well, it was a first, but I have unusually thick skin, and this seemed a hilariously weak assault on my analytical capacities. I staggered out of bed, slapped the coffee pot on, and opened up my laptop to write an appropriate response–only to find that there wasn’t just one of these messages. There were three.
At this point, I was full-on giggling. I’d realized my error. All of my previous reviews–all of my other meta–none of it had hit home with that specific niche, the reservoir of fanboys lying in wait to take offense whenever you so much as raise a finger against their beloved heroes. Man of Steel has probably provoked my most negative criticism so far in my writing adventures on the internet, but I thought it was all entirely reasonable criticism. Not so! cried the Superman fans from behind the protection of the infamous Gray Face.
I eventually stopped laughing long enough to respond, politely, and with a healthy dose of sarcasm. I don’t know how else to handle these types of people; I don’t think that there’s a best way. After the initial onslaught, I closed the sandbox. I went on with my day. I knew that I was going to feel compelled to write this post–eventually–but only when I’d gotten over my good humor at the situation.
Here’s the thing: I wasn’t kidding, in that cover letter I wrote to you. This is the actual way that women are treated in nerd culture. (This is the way women are treated in culture, period, but that’s an article for a different day.) Take a look at what these messages insinuated:
- That because I was a girl–and didn’t like the movie–I must have gone to see it because the lead actor is attractive. (Wrong.)
- That name-calling was an appropriate way to respond to my perfectly legitimate criticisms of something they clearly liked. (Wrong.)
- That sexually violent threats were an acceptable way to react to this perfectly legitimate criticism of something they liked. (Wrong.)
Every single one of them also has some weird fixation on The Avengers, too, like they rooted through my blog enough to know that I’m a fan of that movie and enjoyed the franchise (for the most part). I say they rooted through my blog because I didn’t mention The Avengers or Marvel at all in my review; you’d only know I was a fan if you dug through enough of my reblogs and read through enough of my tags to get a general picture of what I liked. I made no direct comparison between the movies anywhere in my writing. Or, it’s possible that they just assumed–I didn’t like a DC production; ergo, I must be worshiping at the altar of Marvel, which seems to be synonymous with devil worship for these people.
There’s also the assertion that I’m “trashing” or “bashing” Superman by criticizing a single movie–cheerfully accompanied by the declaration that I am “A TOURIST” or “intellectually challenged.”
It’s not hard to figure out from my blog(s) that I’m a woman. My name isn’t one that is commonly used for both genders. It didn’t take the anons long to pull out the big guns once they’d figured that out. Forget all my careful criticism; forget my valid points; don’t bother to read my review in its entirety, in fact. Read enough to figure out that I didn’t like Man of Steel, and then open fire. I must not have liked it because I’m a girl. Because I’m an old cat lady. Because I’m a casual viewer of the comic book genre, so I’m not entitled to a valid opinion. Because I’m not a real nerd, basically, or I would’ve liked it.
Various and unimaginative threats? Check. Accused of being a fraud? Check. Laughed out the door, or booed into silence? They certainly attempted to accomplish the latter; they’re giving the former a good shot, too. The single unifying message in these attacks is that my opinion is not valid. Does this happen to men, too? Of course–but not nearly as often or violently as it happens to women. (I’d love to see an actual study done on this; currently, all I have is my own experience navigating the bowels of the internet, and the experience of every other woman down there with me.)
This kind of thing only starts to change when there are more women running the show–and in “nerd culture” that, sadly, just isn’t the case.
Let me break down my major issues for everyone who’s interested.
Man of Steel did not suffer from the things that usually make me froth at the mouth. The women weren’t at all hypersexualized (and while it didn’t pass The Bechdel Test, this is a story about Clark Kent/Kal-El, so I didn’t for a second expect that it would); there wasn’t evidence of glaring racism (in fact, two positions of power in the human brigade are occupied by men of color, so that was actually a step in the right direction); and at its inception (DUNNNNNNNNNN) was actually a story that I found myself intrigued by.
My interest, of course, waned after the first forty-five minutes. Roughly. I wasn’t running a stopwatch in the theater.
I was invested in the story of Krypton. It was a good story, an interesting one, complete with the bleak dystopia-esque view of a future beyond our solar system that I’m sure we’re slowly staggering toward ourselves. (That feeling is further validated by the knowledge that 50 Shades of Grey has been given a release date next fall. For the love of all things unholy—) The crumbling society has its inherent issues of corruption and has, in fact, brought its destruction upon itself, which makes this culture of super-human beings more interesting than they would be otherwise. They clearly have a very serious failing: despite an evolutionary advantage, they’re moronic enough to mine for energy in their planet’s core, thereby killing their own world. I think that’s the definition of irony, folks.
Jor-El still has some redeeming character traits, though, and even General Zod is a top lad in his own way. They’re both just trying to save their people. It’s been decided (probably long ago) by the writers that Jor-El’s plan to launch his infant son into space with the genetic code for their entire civilization and then die an honorable death by stabbing is better than General Zod’s plan, though, which makes the latter the villain of the piece. Jor-El has all those bolstering character traits of honor and loyalty and self-sacrifice which, of course, lets him off the hook for his teensy treasonous act of stealing the Codex. Zod is not so lucky, because apparently deposing your corrupt idiotic leaders by killing them is frowned upon by Kryptonians. It’s the clink for you, sir.
This whole story is told with enough bright flashes of light and screeching sounds of battle to set off even the most epileptic-prone. The wide-scale destruction of Krypton, though, is at least sort of pushed into the background, and the more personal elements are up front: the birth of Jor-El’s son, the insurrection started by Zod, Lara’s grief over saying goodbye to her son so soon. It’s not exactly a good story, but it’s mediocre. This alien populace is relatable to us because of their inherent failings, which are all up in your face at the beginning. Again, not good. Not subtle. But mediocre bordering entertaining, sure. I was entertained.
The problem begins when you realize that this was all set-up to set-up. After all, we haven’t even gotten to the meat and potatoes of Man of Steel yet. That was just the salad, and I haven’t quite moved on from the blue cheese dressing yet, thanks—but now you’re telling me that they’re all dead, and I have to get re-attached to the actual protagonist of this movie? That turnip-headed little twerp last seen crying his way into outer space? I don’t care about him. You spent the time and energy getting me to be invested in Jor-El, Lara, and Zod—and planting a hell of a Chekov’s Gun (“You believe your son is safe? I will find him!”)—and now you want me to patiently twiddle my thumbs through your exposition on Clark Kent’s evolving character?
That exposition, by the way, was inherently faulty. We’re focused not on Clark’s or Kal-El’s or whatever the fuck you want to call him’s personality, but on his genetic superiority. The story of his childhood is told through the freakshow that is an alien among us—through incidents that have garnered the attention of his town. The rescue of the bus; the freakout in grade school; the refusal to fight bullies; and the perpetual whining through it all—Clark Kent does not get a personality. He gets the evolutionary advantage. If he was among Kryptonians, this wouldn’t be quite so dull; they would have been able to leave out all the stuff about how he’s stronger and faster and etcetera, etcetera, and focused on the stuff that makes him a little more human (and thus, a little more relatable to us): the ways that he fails.
Instead, he spends a load of time being set up as a social outcast, and that appears to be the bulk of his personality. Let me tell you, kids, if I’d been told before watching this that Clark Kent would choose to save humanity approximately an hour and fifteen minutes into this film, I would not have believed you. If I was him, I would’ve let y’all die. Humans have been nothing but inhospitable to him, with the notable exception of his adopted parents and dog. I completely understand why he spends all his adult years chasing down the answer to his heritage, because no one on Earth wanted him around. He’s just freak to them.
After the incident with an old spaceship belonging to his near-extinct people, figuring out all the deets on where he hails from with help from the technological ghost of his father, and meeting Lois Lane, there’s this whole piece where Lois goes through enormous effort to track him down again. His childhood story is capped in the graveyard where his father is buried, where he tells Lois how the old man died.
Let me interject with an important meteorlogical note: I lived in Wisconsin for nine years. I have seen a tornado up-close and personal. And the scene where Clark’s father dies—you know, the one with the tornado—is about the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. That is not how tornadoes work. I get that they were going for—no, I’m not actually sure what they were going for, but what I got out of it was a death scene that had me nearly in giggles, because of the following:
- The instant Clark and his father were shown arguing in the car, it was very obvious that one, if not both, of his parents were about to die. My money was on his father, of course, since he bore the brunt of the argument. It’s a really obvious, overused trope: the ungrateful child starts a fight with their wise elder, a fight which is interrupted by a fatal case of death, and the child is then left to grieve and fester in their guilt. Yawn.
- The instant the tornado came down, I knew we were going to have problems. Yes, you can run from a tornado. Depending on which way the thing’s traveling, you might even manage to get out of its way. Running for the overpass is a good idea, too. If you’re out in the open on a freeway, the ditches to the side and the overpasses are the best chance you’ve got. Once it’s that close to you, though? You aren’t capable of running anymore. From a mile down the highway I saw a tornado pick up and throw an eighteen-wheeler like a football, and the two were not even in physical contact. The winds that form a tornado are compact, but only in comparison to, say, a hurricane. Within a certain proximity, you’re going to get tossed around a bit.
- There was no logical reason why Jonathan Kent should have been the one to go back and free their dog. Clark is younger, stronger, and faster, even without being an alien, and odds are even if something went wrong, he’d survive. Yes, Jonathan is trying to protect his son’s secret—but this was an incredibly contrived way to show that.
- There was no logical reason why Clark shouldn’t have run back for his father when it was clear that he was going to die otherwise. Yes, this is the man who has asked Clark again and again to keep the silence, but it was obvious—even though the storytelling was shitty—that Clark loved his dad. (For this, I draw on Supernatural as a prime example: despite being drilled repeatedly, his entire life, to kill Azazel on sight at any chance he got, Dean could not pull the trigger when John was being possessed by the demon. I think something similar applies here.)
- When a tornado is bearing down on you, you don’t get the chance to smile enigmatically and wave for your son to stay put. You also aren’t given the ability to continue standing on your own two feet while it swirls menacingly only two feet away. The wind clouds do not swallow you dramatically, they pick you up in a torrent of rage and fury and swirl you around like so many socks in a dryer. Maybe you come down with a hard knock to the head and a new chance at life, or maybe your heart fails you in a moment of absolute terror. But one thing is for sure: you don’t get to fade back into a swirling vortex with a calm look on your face. That is bullshit.
Not much exposition later, we come to the climax of the piece, which lasts an uncomfortable amount of time. Like, really uncomfortable. Dark Knight Rises was long. It was especially long because I saw the 3:45AM showing after one hour of sleep and the kind of caffeine high that makes your eyes go crossed. But the finale of Man of Steel felt even long than that, a kind of special hell for act threes that started when Lois and Clark get turfed off Zod’s spacecraft and doesn’t end for—I don’t know the exact minute count, because again, not running a stopwatch, but it was excruciating.
There is something inherently alienating about this kind of massive CG destruction. Character foundation for this story was already shaky to start with, but it all gets thrown out the window when the screen is dominated by Metropolis getting blown up in minute stages. The process could last for hours, and—
No, sorry, I’ve got to diverge on the point of Metropolis, which I realize is a problem not just with Man of Steel but with the DC/Superman universe in a broader and older sense. Metropolis was actually one of the earliest science-fiction films, a German thing in the 1920s, about a city of the same name that was built on the foundation of oppressed workers (sound familiar?) and gave riches, wealth, and quality of life to the limited few (*cough*). Metropolis is a big fuckin’ deal for sci-fi; it’s the R.U.R. of film (Rossum’s Universal Robots, by the way, was a very short Czech play which coined the word “robot”, and everyone should read it because it’s very important, etcetera). Allusions like this one can lend incredible legitimacy to contemporary work. Dollhouse did it with R.U.R., slipping in the name “Rossum” with an effortlessness that made me squeal in delight, but “Metropolis” doesn’t do it for me. It screams comic-book gimick, loud and clear, especially when paired with town names like “Smallville.” It feels like lazy writing. Unimaginative, dull writing.
Back to the mass destruction: it’s pretty. It’s big. The CG is good. It’s not the visual I have a problem with. It’s the absence of all the people.
Sure, they’re screaming and running. The staff of the Daily Planet is heroically standing their ground and then hurriedly evacuating. But aside from them—and they’re really side characters, people we’ve had bare glimpses of and only scant lines of dialog—we’ve got nobody on the ground to identify with. I have never felt so disconnected from this kind of carnage on screen. There was nothing to tie me to the terror that I should have felt, by proxy, at the annihilation of not just the city, but the impending doom of Earth. They went too big, and they lost the personal element along the way—the human element. That’s the only thing that ties us to fiction, folks. You lose that, you lose everything.
There were humans involved in this big, exhausting showdown, of course. Most of them, though, were only there to run or be frightened or die. (“A good death is its own reward,” some military leader who didn’t have enough exposition for me to remember his identity tells the female Kryptonian who kicks a lot of ass but who suffers from the same exposition problem as the military leader.) They were also there to only finish the job when Superman passed on the go-ahead, which means that the head military POC is ultimately taking orders from a white dude with blue eyes again, and his hands are kind of tied because Kal-El is actually genetically superior to him. I take it back—there is actually something inherently racist about this story. I just couldn’t put my finger on it earlier.
I thought it was at least over, though, when Superman again saves Lois Lane from certain death and the big curtains-closing kiss happens, but no; Zod is still alive, and the way they deal with him is to continue pulverizing the jagged remains of Metropolis by repeatedly sprinting/flying at one another. Also, monologing and capes. The first served to make the villain, who already seems absolutely over-the-top due to his thirsty quest for revenge, seem even more ridiculous, and the second makes our evolutionary hero look like an idiot. (The Incredibles was right—capes are a disaster waiting to happen.)
Not to mention that Superman cries over the death of four solitary people when Zod laser-eyes them, but apparently the inevitable thousands who died in the siege of Metropolis were moot because he didn’t stare into their faces personally. Our champion, ladies and gentlemen, is unfortunately inconsistent.
A few other points that didn’t fit coherently in the above:
- I can’t take anyone—baddie or otherwise—who moves like Albert Wesker seriously. Go ahead, play Resident Evil 5 and then rewatch Man of Steel. You’ll laugh your ass off every time a Kryptonian does their funny run-dodge thing.
- Come to think of it, there is something inherently sexist about Man of Steel, too. Lois Lane is a smart, savvy individual who figures out Superman’s origin with good old-fashioned journalism, but he inevitably has to save her from certain death three times during the course of the movie. Once, maybe, I could have handled. But three.
- We got no exposition at all on how the gravity-stomping world-builder was affecting the people in Asia, despite the fact that that bohemouth of a machine landed right in the South Indian ocean. We got a lot of Americans running and screaming, but no other cultures get to run away from the violence. Representation. We have a serious problem with representation. All we saw in that hemisphere was Superman beating the shit out of a machine, and sometimes the machine beating the shit out of him.
That point was at about forty hours into my second play-through. My obsession with side quests abruptly died, and my attempt to return to the main story left me confused and disinterested. Where was I going, again? Look, there’s an interesting cave. Oh, I’ve already gone there. I haven’t even reached that one port city yet?
First time through, I relished in the freedom Amalur presented me with. I could run around harvesting regents for hours on end if I wanted. No one was going to force me to participate in the main quest beyond a few lines of dialog if I accidentally brushed proximity with them. I could gleefully hunt down every exclamation mark on the map and demand a job from involved parties–again, for hours on end, if I wanted. (And sometimes, I did. It wouldn’t be an RPG without some high-quality, time-wasting grinding.) There was nothing about the main story or the faction quests that particularly pinged my radar, but they were fun enough to participate in, so I went along with it. Winning titles at the end of long, gruelling side campaigns gave me a brief glow of accomplishment.
I was ready to do it all over again, too. Maybe I’d make different allegiances this time. Guilt complex notwithstanding, I could decide to betray all of those peripheral factions and the good-ish people who helped me along the way and become some kind of megalomaniac.
Ultimately, though, the choices were definitely not numerous. Megalomaniac or saint: there was no in-between. And, in the end, what you do in your spare time (inviting the Niskaru Big Bad for tea and slaying all Warsworn, for example) doesn’t at all impact your main quest; you’re still going to save the world, no matter what. Seems a bit contradictory, considering that the game constantly throws in your face your status as the Fateless One. I felt far from fateless; I was continually dragged toward a predetermined endpoint. Apparently you’re also excused from facing the consequences of your actions; minor aspects of the game aside, your choice does not affect your ultimate showdown with Gadflow and Tirnoch.
The other major problem is what could also be considered the game’s most interesting aspect; your character is tabula rasa, the perfect blank slate, a reincarnation of some poor shmuck who was tied to destiny and thus died chained to his grisly demise. You, on the other hand, are displaced from the weave of fate all around you–and, unfortunately for everyone else, you’re also capable of screwing up all their fates, too. Your mere existence is a disturbance in the natural order. Times are a-changin’, my friend, and it’s all your fault.
Too bad you have no idea who you used to be, or maybe you’d be able to form some kind of connection with your character, who is really just a silent hunk of fate-destroying disruption. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t change how you related to other characters, too, but oh, goodness gracious, it does. There are a lot of people in this world who sort of know you or even deeply know you, but lacking the knowledge of the history between you–since they’re certainly not telling–means that you constantly feel adrift in the world of Amalur, one step behind the grand schemings of a world mad on self-destruction. Everyone else is a dozen or a hundred steps ahead of you, and you’re lollygagging behind, trying to contribute to the war effort without really knowing why the war’s on in the first place. I expected to be distracted by side quests, but I didn’t expect to dread returning to the main story when I’d depleted a region of all its exclamation points, and that is exactly what happened.
Amalur also manages to somehow incorporate all of the obvious character stereotypes: your sort-of adviser is an old white man with a beard and wisdom to offer, whenever he pries himself away from his alcoholism; the villain of the piece is creepily voiced with glowing red eyes, so you’d be unlikely to miss that he’s EVIL, capitalized, after your first encounter with him; and, of course, your female sort-of romantic interest is mysterious, scantily clad, and has no more backstory than a thumbtack. Despite the fact that Alyn Shir kicks serious ass, she somehow isn’t aware that armor would be a fashionable (and, more importantly, logical) addition to her wardrobe.
I get the sensation from Amalur that so much effort was used up streamlining the gameplay and erecting massively impressive scenic views that there wasn’t any time left to also devise a revolutionary plot with compelling characters. Let it be said that the gameplay is indeed extraordinary; it’s a seamless fix for turn- or time-based attack systems, which feel bulky and unwieldy in comparison to Reckoning’s invigorating battles. Similarly, this is obviously a game too pretty not to stare at. The graphics are nothing short of incredible.
That being said: Video games are notorious for uncomplicated characters and stories, but uncomplicated does not have to mean boring. It also does not have to mean repetitive. This is a fantasy story that’s been told time and time before–with elves and dwarves and mischievous gods, oh my–and the only differentiating element is your character, who is fateless and anonymous. Since this actually causes more of a disconnect from the world of Reckoning than it helps connect you to the storyline, I wouldn’t count that as an aspect worth introducing.
I was visually stunned, but all other brain regions were dark. I sank dozens upon dozens of hours into Reckoning, but what I got out of it was, at best, a very fuzzy memory of the story I was being told, or the characters that were supposed to intrigue me. Maybe the point of an RPG isn’t to wax poetic, but I still prefer a gameplay experience that leaves me with more than a fly-catching “huh” after I’ve saved the world. What was I saving it from again?
My history with the Resident Evil franchise is powerfully sentimental, since Resident Evil 4 was the title that introduced me to video games in the first place. Sure, the plot left something to be desired, and the limitations of the GameCube made certain bosses a total frustration to conquer, but despite its unimaginative title, Resident Evil 4 was incredibly innovative. The traditional zombie story was revamped with new mutations, there was lava in a castle, and my personal favorite: mouth-breathing Regenerators, which gave a younger me the kind of nightmares that wake you up convinced you’re about to be chewed to death. I didn’t get that kind of terror out of Resident Evil 5, so I was beside myself when advertising for Resident Evil 6 clearly heralded a return to the zombies of old–on a much, much grander scale.
Previous Resident Evil stories have featured isolated incidents, but Resident Evil 6 turns that defining feature inside out. The whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, so this incident–or incidents, really–is unlikely to get buried in classified reports. Yet another virus has been created and dispersed in a few locations around the world, and each one of the three main campaigns–following old heroes Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield, and introducing Jake Muller–disperse to handle the threat in their unique way. Leon, as usual, is outgunned and outnumbered, which makes his campaign by far the most terrifying; Chris lucks out with B.S.A.A. backup, and thus leads a crusade through China that’s more Gears of War than survival horror; and Jake, the conflicted wayward son of Albert Wesker, Resident Evil’s most persistent baddie, spends his short campaign running for his life.
It’s unfortunately obvious in this installment that Capcom is backtracking: trying to preserve the new fans that hopped on with action-packed Resident Evil 5 while also trying to placate old diehards who complained about the forgotten survival horror aspect. For the latter, Leon’s campaign does not disappoint. It’s not likely that you’ll be scrounging for bullets, but all the same, if you adjust the brightness of your television as suggested–and play in a dark room–there’s a nerve-fraying bit in the subway tunnels of Tall Oaks that will keep you on edge. For the former, Chris is your guy: his enemies are less zombie-like, featuring instead the anatomical mutations popularized by his last campaign in Resident Evil 5.
The multiple, intersecting campaigns are a fresh addition to a fairly stagnant franchise. Resident Evil has a history of leaving you alone and vulnerable in overwhelming situations, but in Resident Evil 6, you always have your partner, and at various points, you interact with the other pairs from other campaigns, too. I am not particularly fond of co-op, but while the A.I. is somewhat improved over Resident Evil 5–when Sheva was likely to waste herbs at the slightest provocation–this game is still better played with a human partner, in whatever capacity you can have them.
These campaigns, though, feel unbalanced. The sheer scope of locales is certainly admirable, but while Leon and Chris get a lot of fleshing-out and solid plot-driven action, Jake’s campaign is brief and scattered, with an air of disorganization. This is due largely in part to the elongated timeline: while both Leon and Chris have campaigns that only span a few days, plus a flashback chapter for Chris, Jake’s campaign stretches over half a year. His story drags in comparison to the hyperactive events of Tall Oaks and Lanshiang.
The gameplay mechanics are polished and sometimes even inventive. Technically, running and gunning is now an option, but it won’t get you very far very fast; survival depends heavily on accuracy, something you really don’t get unless you’re aiming while walking or standing totally still. It’s a good fix for Resident Evil 5, when stopping to shoot was still forced, even though the platform was capable of more versatility.
Capcom has also solved the inventory problem of Resident Evil 5; each player has their own inventory, and if you’re playing with an A.I., you’re not responsible for managing their herb and ammo collection. The inventory still hangs over ongoing action, though, so any respite you might have gained in accessing your stuff is lost in the mad shuffle to get in and out of the screen before something gnaws your leg off. Herb ingestion is also easier in tablet form, and it’s possible to organize your stash in a way that gets you healthy without having to mix in the middle of a fight for your life. Herbs as health have never seemed particularly logical, but better to have any kind of health system at all than to give all characters special self-regenerative powers.
The addition of a melee system is also a huge plus; kicking and punching enemies will drain your stamina, and you’ll know when you run out by the depletion of the bar in your status box, as well as your suddenly sluggish movements on screen. You won’t be able to run very well, either, until your character has sufficiently recovered from the onslaught–potentially leaving you stranded in the middle of the hoard you were attempting to escape from.
Rather than the shop system of old, Resident Evil 6 introduces a new mechanic for upgrading not only weapons, but abilities: skill sets. The skill points you pick up while fighting for your life can be traded for increased damage, higher magnification, and how your A.I. partner behaves. While interesting in principle, the limit on how many skills one can have equipped at once is frustrating to someone who occasionally enjoys being overleveled. On the other hand, this is a useful in-game restraint to that kind of behavior, and certainly a unique expansion from the shop system, which made it possible to go into a final boss battle with everything you needed to make that fight extraordinarily easy.
The gameplay is solid, the score is invigorating, the mood teeters just enough into survival horror to be satisfying, but there’s still a resounding meh in the latest addition to the franchise. Ultimately, Resident Evil 6 is trying too hard to be too many different things–a survival horror game, an action game, and a simple puzzle game, all packed with enough content to have the length of an unambitious RPG. With its attention splintered across genres, it leaves irritating potholes behind to trip up on.
The thing that I found most redemptive above Resident Evil 6 was the story–a sentence I never expected to write about this franchise. These tales were poorly paced, but the characters of the Resident Evil franchise have never been particularly compelling before this installment. Helena’s backstory, coupled with the attack on Tall Oaks and the murder of Leon’s beloved President, is actually moving; Chris’s battle with post-traumatic stress disorder in the face of prolonged exposure to combat is viciously real; Jake’s reluctant effort to help save the world after his spotted history as a mercenary is sympathetic and redeeming.
The villains are as forgettable as ever, except for their truly cringe-worthy monologues. On the whole, the dialog is regrettable, though the voice acting is improved. There are few new and exciting aspects to the gameplay, and while a balance is struck between “action” and “survival horror,” it’s a precarious one. The stories of the protagonists, though, are compelling. That is what will ultimately keep me replaying this installment, though maxing out all my skills is a close second incentive.