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SPOILER ALERT. This review contains major plot spoilers!
"Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons" is a 2013 adventure game described as "interactive storytelling". The player controls two characters, brothers, overcoming obstacles together on an epic quest to retrieve a magical healing water to save their deathly ill father.
It's beautiful, highly polished, emotionally charged, charming, and brave. It's received countless accolades. And when I played it, it slapped me across the face, told me video games are not for girls, and demanded I make it a sandwich.
There are three female characters total, which is not bad, considering the convention is to have one or maaayyybe two. The problem is, these aren't actually characters. They're stereotypes. Together, these three hit a trifecta of regressive female roles in traditional storytelling.
The Dead MomAlso known as the Dead Girlfriend/Wife, the Dead Mom exists to provide the male hero with angst and, occasionally, appear in a dream or vision to offer unconditional support from beyond the grave. "Brothers" contains an archetypal example in the form of an actual dead mom.
The problem here is not so much the plot device itself, but with its overuse. Female characters die to provide angst for male characters so often, it gains a dark undercurrent: that a female's life is relevant only insofar as it affects a male. Discarding female characters in the first act in order to fuel the male's development reinforces the concept that female lives serve male needs, even unto their own deaths.
The Contested PossessionThe Possession belongs to a male owner. This is often excused by saying, "She loves him, she wants to be with him," but the truth is that she cannot leave because the storyteller has not granted her full membership in the cast of characters, and she therefore cannot make plot-changing decisions. In other words, she lacks agency. She becomes a Contested Possession when a plot point hinges on another male contesting the original male's ownership.
In this game, a troll's wife is stolen by another troll and the player must reunite her with her husband. She is happy to go back, as the interloper was a Bad Guy who was Not Nice. Yay!
My problem with this stereotype isn't the message that monogamy is good and homewreckers are bad. No, my problem is that the female characters aren't involved in the decision-making process at any point. The men have some kind of contest, some test of wills or strength, and work it out for themselves. Then she's assigned to the victor.
This is worse than the Dead Mom because it denies full personhood to the character and reduces them to little more than a pet.
The Treacherous Seductress
A sub-type of The Traitor, the Treacherous Seductress betrays the male hero by using her feminine wiles to dupe him.
In "Brothers", they rescue a woman from a weird caveman blood cult (that's her on the cult altar, above). After that, she pretends to be really into the older brother in order to seduce him into her lair. Then she transforms into a drider - a half-spider, half-human monster - and tries to eat him, and not in a fun way, either.
Treacherous women occur at a much, much higher per-capita rate than treacherous men. I'm working on a different post that actually assembles this data, so I'll have numbers to back this statement up, but please believe me when I say it's true. This is particularly prevalent in video games, where the game industry's moronic idea that games are for boys shows up in the form of a sausage-fest cast of characters, plus one chick, who betrays you.
How can we ever expect men to extend equal footing to women when they cannot trust us? Every time a man spends hours playing a game only to have his goals thwarted by a female, he is receiving a message that women can't be trusted. That the only way to survive is to make sure women are NOT on equal footing, because they are cunning and wily and they will fuck your shit up.
The Treacherous Seductress is a particularly malignant form of the Traitor because it reinforces the idea that a woman's sexiness is a threat. This is where burqas come from. As long as we keep telling men that when a woman asks for sex, she's trying to trick you, we will never be able to fully empower both genders' sexualities.
Yes, I said BOTH genders. We need to stop telling our boys that their sexuality is a terrible weakness, that their penis can and will override their brain, and that it is impossible to control themselves around a pretty girl. We need to stop telling them that their attraction to women is something to fear, and start helping them come to grips with it as a part of their body, like hunger. Men are not nearly as stupid as we tell them they are.