Mae TidmanMarch 18, 2010LCC 4725 - Game Design as a Cultural PracticeBlogpost 4 – drawing from the readings, play the video game of your choice and discuss the waysin which gender and/or race and/or culture embedded in both in the space, representation andthe game mechanics. Gender, Race & Representation: Heavy Rains on Innovation Heavy Rain is a game released last month for Playstation 3 only. It is considered aninteractive fiction that has an experience unlike any other game currently available. It has beendescribed as incredibly original and compelling dark noir game and as a remarkable achievementin gaming (Wikipedia). It has been met with critical acclaim. Despite its overall originality,Heavy Rain could easily be criticized for its lack of innovating core aspects – especially when thegame itself is considered an innovation. The game fits right in with “today’s hegemonic gameindustry” described in the essay Hegemony of Play by Dr. Pearce (pg 1). It is lacking inrepresentation for gender and race, and does not contribute itself as a game aimed for girls; thatis, like most video games, it is male dominant. First let us consider the developers. The production environment of this game, includingthe director David Cage, is typical of the gaming industry; it is mostly comprised of workers whoare male, white, heterosexual, and aged between 25-40 years old (Pearce, 2-3). Given this, it isnot surprising that the game is targeted toward the usual demographic characterized by “anadolescent male sensibility that transcends physical age and embraces highly stylized graphicalviolence, male fantasies of power and domination, hyper-sexualized, objectified depictions ofwomen, and rampant racial stereotyping and discrimination” (Pearce, 7). The rest of this essayexemplifies that quote in Heavy Rain. An obvious aspect of the game is that race representation is minimal. All four maincharacters are white. From my experience playing the game from start to finish, I remember onlytwo black characters who were also poorly represented. One is “Mad Jack”, a huge, tattooedviolent criminal who is labeled ‘armed and dangerous’ by the FBI and police. The second blackcharacter is a gravedigger who speaks with an uneducated accent and tells of a tragic story of aboy buried in his graveyard. Other non-white characters include a convenience store owner whogets held up at gunpoint and a Hispanic club owner Paco who uses his nightclub for criminalbusiness and pleasure. These obvious stereotypes in addition to the all white playable characterswould be more noticeable in media forms other than video games. It garners less attention herebecause this is the condition of the gaming industry, and it is the way the industry has alwaysbeen (Pearce). Gender in this game is also an issue to be considered. One of the playable characters isa motorcycle-driving woman who is introduced in her underwear. This stereotype of sexy andbarely-dressed characters doing male activities is overused in the industry, and this overuse ispointed out in the essay A Game of One’s Own (Fullerton et. al., 3). This character is put insituations a man would put her in, such as bondage with a torturer pointing a drill at her crotchand a scene where she is in the nightclub trying to get Paco’s attention. Another female characteris the ex-wife of a main character; she is depicted as distant, cold, and blaming, and in one sceneshe tries to convince the police that her husband is a serial killer. Other female characters includea prostitute who displays her weakness regularly, an old lady with Alzheimer’s disease, and awoman who attempts suicide with her baby left alone. These are basic stereotypes that take away
from the playability for girls; especially since the girl characters are obviously designed by men and being such are mostly annoying, sexual, and/or a burden on the male characters. As far as the game-play and -spaces are concerned, this game is fully male. There is violence in almost every chapter of the story, and sexuality springs up often as well. Contrasting this are two of the first playable scenes, which are brighter than the rest of the game. The first unfolds in a tidy, attractive home with the player controlling a father playing with his sons, and the second is within a mall. Despite the appeal to girls these settings could entice (Jenkins, 336), they are hardly the feminine conceptions of space described by Fullerton, et. al (pg 4). There is a significant amount of emotional space as described in A Game of One’s Own, but the darkness of the urban setting and rainy narrative leave the emotional spaces less appealing to girls. The game- play requires a good amount of experience with the Playstation console and controller since the core mechanic is quick time events. The violence in and intensity of the game also make it more aimed at boys/men as an easy and safe outlet for aggressive feelings (Jenkins, 341). This game is a good example of the alienation minority players face with the gaming industry, even though this minority is numerically a majority of the possible market the industry excludes (Pearce 1). Because the studio decided to aim this game at the same old demographic it has always included – i.e. “hardcore gamers” – it has probably prevented itself from entering a huge market of gamers who do not classify themselves as such (Pearce, 2). One aspect of the game – the narrative that unfolds – could be something of interest to girls. According to Laurel, girls do not mind violence as much as they dislike a lack of a good story or characters (pg 60). If anything makes the game female-friendly, it is certainly the fact that the game is an interactive fiction with a thick plot that changes based on the player’s decisions. The two tag lines are “make decisions, face the consequences” and “How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?,” which could be of initial interest to girls based on the readings’ descriptions of what female gamers look for. I will conclude by admitting that I am a female gamer who thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this game; however, by writing this essay I am acknowledging that there is a problem with the game industry’s demographic. Heavy Rain is a unique and entertaining game, but it is not so original to go beyond the standards that have been in place as long as video games have been made. In other words, the designers are nothing like the utopian entrepreneurs the industry needs to grasp that unsatisfied majority of players out there; this is probably due to the fact that the industry desires more than intrinsic rewards and self-satisfaction (Laurel). ResourcesFron et al (Ludica). “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007. Web.Fullerton et al (Ludica). “A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Genered Poetics of Digital Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007. Perth, Australia, September 2007. Web.Heavy Rain - Official Site. Web. 16 Mar. 2010. <http://www.heavyrainps3.com>."Heavy Rain." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 16 Mar. 2010.
Jenkins, Henry. “Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces.” The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Ed. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. 330-363. Print.Laurel, Brenda. Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001. Print