Eater of Trees

Posts Tagged ‘nitpicking

Trigger warning: unpleasant sexual experiences

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One of the common tropes about relationships that I’ve come across is that you’re supposed to do them in a certain way. Or that certain traits clearly are necessary to show you love someone, or a bit more often, that they’re indicative of romantic love, or just, coded as indicative of wanting a romantic relationship.

Many of these have nothing inherently romantic about them. There is probably some indication of at least some level of friendship, obviously, as they do tend to involve spending time and/or energy on another person, which, tends to be a clue of at least some sort of relationship.

An obvious example would be the concept of a date. This is significant enough to the concept of Serious Romantic Relationships as constructed by mainstream society that, in fact, the phrase “Person A is dating Person B” is interpreted as synonymous with a Serious Romantic Relationship.

At least as I have gathered,* a normative date seems to exist of arranging in advance with a person to go out and do something, more normative choices seem to be watching a movie or eating at a restaurant, or both. And some amount of formality is also normative, for example planning it in advance, putting some extra effort into looking nice, etc.

But there is nothing inherently romantic about formally arranging to go have a meal with a friend and dressing up, it is just as possible to do this with a nonromantic friend. And this by no means means that this is the only way to performatively date, either; planning to talk to a friend on IM and calling that a date, or going out for supper with a partner spontaneously because you’re bored is just as much relationship performativity, just a bit less normative.

There are of course other examples of relationship performativity. Examples coming to mind off the top of my head are such things as commemorating anniversaries, or Valentine’s day, or certain varieties of presents are coded as romantic, such as flowers or chocolate.

Nonromantic relationships are also performative, it must be noted. The tropes tend to be a bit less formalized and are treated as less Serious Business than romantic relationship performativity. Though for example I’ve seen going to bars together, or watching TV together coded as nonromantic relationship performativity, or doing something for Mother’s or Father’s day is often coded as child/parent relationship performativity.

This does further lead into an obvious way in which relationship performativity can become oppressive. In coding certain behaviors as expressions of a relationship, their absence can, in turn, become coded as absence of a relationship. For example, forgetting an anniversary could be read as a sign that you don’t particularly care about your partner, or not remembering to thank your friend when they take time for you could be read as being apathetic or uncaring about their support, and not, for example, a manifestation of ADHD, which tends to just result in terrible short term memory, and so such forgetting is a manifestation of a physical inability to consistently remember such things.

This can also lead to a situation where because a person does not feel they can fulfill performative relationship tropes that they feel that they are unable to have a legitimate relationship, for example a person with minimal ability to handle subtext or other varieties of normative flirting could feel that it is impossible for them to ever have a relationship at all.

The fact that relationship performativity can be oppressive does not necessarily mean that it, in fact, always is. Relationship performativity, especially when open to personal interpretation, can be an immensely valuable thing. Compulsory or exclusionary relationship performativity, however, can rapidly become extremely oppressive.

The concept of relationship performativity also ties into the deconstruction of relationship classification, as it is entirely possible for relationships that are not remotely romantic or sexual or other common tropes of Serious Romantic Relationships to be performative in ways coded as romantic, or for a person to have multiple performatively romantic relationships, or, on the other hand, it is entirely possible for romantic relationships to not be performative in the slightest, or for relationships that resemble close friendships in terms of performativity to be romantic in terms of the emotions present in said relationship. In short, there is nothing remotely inherent about relationship performativity tropes, and people should be free to choose or discard such tropes based on what works for that person.

*The closest thing I’ve ever done to a formal normative date was entirely nonromantic, and my relationships are more likely to involve mutual ranting about Judith Butler’s cissexism than dates, so I’m not necessarily the best at saying “this is how dating works!” based on my own experiences, though the tropes frequently show up in media, or have happened to my friends.

I recently was reading someone talking about how silent protagonists in video are awesome because they let the player assume the role of the character, and the character is basically an insertion of the player into the game or some such.   Which seems reasonable on the surface, except in practice it doesn’t work that way.

My biggest issue is that they completely are not representative of the player.  At least, not if the player is me.  Most notably, almost inevitably these silent protagonists are male. (Examples coming to mind: Crono from Chrono Trigger, Gordon Freeman from Half Life (and sequels), Link from Zelda; I know there are more, feel free to look up ‘heroic mime’ on tvtropes)  They’re also often white, lack disability, and straight, but those don’t quite effect me in the same way.  (Which is to say, I’m not straight and do have several disabilities but the latter rarely would come up in the game’s story–possibly in the game play though–and the former means that I still generally like the same gender as the protagonist.)

The issue that I’ve found comes up is that I completely cannot relate to male characters.  It’s probably especially significant that I’m trans here.  This means that when I’m playing a male character, if I am in some way percieving the character as me, that I’m being forced into a roll that I have a very long history of being coerced into assuming and really would rather not.

For example, recently I was considering playing Half Life 2 again and found that just considering playing it was enough to cause me to panic about how flat my chest was.  Which is a rather unpleasant experience.  (And also: my chest isn’t flat. So it was mostly unpleasantly recalling a time when it was.)

This is, obviously, a significantly more dramatic reaction than many people would have.  But it still highlights something important: a character who is depicted entirely as silent is very rarely depicted without numerous traits that the player may not have. Race and gender being quite common but not the only examples.  And that can completely break the ability to relate to said character.  (It certainly doesn’t have to. And I will readily admit that again, my experience is not typical.  But it’s also not unique.)

Really, once this connection to the character is lost, it quickly becomes problematic.  Especially if the story is at all complex, which is less the case in early Zelda games or Mario, for example.  But when the protagonist barely has any sort of interaction and somehow drives the plot, or even more so when they don’t drive the plot and just do what people around them say, as is more or less inevitable in a video game, you suddenly have a weird situation where the game focuses on a remarkably uninteresting character at the expense of the much more interesting ones around them.

(This can also apply to the much more detail-free AFGNCAAP type protagonist if they turn out to be significantly less GN or CA than the trope would imply.  Which the TVTropes article on this points out is not entirely uncommon.  And for examples, see the advertising of nearly any RPG with character creation ever.)

And this of course doesn’t touch on the fact that most linear narratives are not remotely player controlled, and so inevitably the ‘protagonist’ is not driving the action at all.  Which, much like when some incorrect assumption about the player’s identity breaks your connection to the character, also leads to a very boring character being the focus of things at the expense of those around them.

(When games acknowledge this, though, it can work really well.  Portal, for example, works really well because the focus is not on the players character, but on GlaDOS.  Also I may be a tad biased because the silent protagonist isn’t male. But regardless the game’s focus is not on Chell at all.)

So in short, I really hate silent protagonists, especially when they’re male, and except occasionally when I don’t.  Because the narrative of “they let the player take the role of the character” frequently falls apart in practice.  Especially when your identity is non-normative or the narrative is at all complex.

Short version: The game is pretty good, beyond one plot point that I really hated and wasn’t very well done at all.  Also it stars a woman without much sexism, so that always helps. (Yes my review mostly focuses on the sexism there is, what, did you think I’d ignore every little fault?)

Beyond lie spoilers.  For pretty much everything.  So go play the game first, if you want to.

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