Thursday, 14 March 2013

Kratos, God of Poor Taste?

I know they say all press is good press, but....

Perhaps it was only fitting that I talked a little regarding the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games yesterday, because today it seems that I'm going to be covering something that they would likely have a field day with. This was actually a story that was somewhat easy to miss, mostly due to the huge amount of coverage that the spectacularly shitty launch of SimCity received, but I believe that it's something significant nonetheless.

To set the stage a little, God of War: Ascension is a prequel to the original trilogy. It features Kratos having to contend with the Furies, classically depicted in Greek myth as the Goddesses of vengeance and retribution. Kratos has brought their ire down on him for breaking his contract to serve Ares, and thus must escape from their imprisonment to carry out his revenge.

Now, for anyone who has played or even seen the God of War, you are probably aware that Kratos is pretty much a classical tragic hero, especially in terms of Greek myth. He's haunted by his wrongdoings, in this case the death of his family by his own hands. However, while his character is sympathetic to a degree, he's certainly most definitely not a good person.

Kratos generally doesn't care about anyone, and the only thing that drives him is his motivation for revenge. This is made clear as early as the very first game, when he could have saved the captain of the ship, but merely took what he needed and let the man die. Kratos is also quite barbaric, slaughtering his foes with extremely visceral executions. Thus, it should be surprising that in Ascension, this happens:

Warning for both in game spoilers as well as graphic content

Now, even putting aside that it turned out to be an illusion, there's no real argument that Kratos pretty much brutally killed that Fury, who of course is a woman as well. Now, his treatment of the Fury in and of itself is shocking, certainly, but not unexpected. Kratos hasn't been known to show mercy to anyone. The act is meant to be dramatic, impactful, memorable. The thing is though, after that cutscene, the trophy unlocks, one with the title "Bros Before Hoes".

One of the first people to comment on the trophy was Adam Sessler, who went so far as to say that it was a "gut-punch of misogyny irredeemably sours this game and is shocking that such a talented developer would traffic in such a contemptible attitude," pretty strong sentiments to be sure, but is his assessment correct?

It's a tricky and delicate question, but I would lean toward the camp that thinks that while it was undoubtedly in poor taste, it wasn't meant to be misogynistic. Looking at the context of the scene itself, it becomes clear that Alecto, the Fury that Kratos is assaulting, is at one point actually laughing when Kratos is beating her. She is obviously undamaged after his assault is revealed to have been against an illusion. The Furies are still the ones in complete control of the situation, and it's only due to the intervention of an outside party that Kratos actually escapes.

Now, that's not to say that it's not an offensive scene, it certainly is, but again, so are a lot of scenes in the God of War series. Kratos murders with impunity throughout the entire series, and aside from the trophy being a piss-poor punctuation of what happened in the scene, I cannot see a difference between this and any of the other people that wind up on the wrong side of his rage.

I think that without the trophy being present, or at least without it being named something that detestable, that the scene would have actually had its desired impact. Jim Sterling has some thoughts about this, and I think that an example that he brings up is poignant: 

"Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (and be warned we've got spoilers coming) features a character by the name of Pigsy, who naturally inspires a slew of porcine puns in the game's Achievements/Trophies. Phrases like "Swine Flew" and "What a Pig" all pop up through the course of the game, hoping to inspire a cheap smile with a little light wordplay. This is relatively inoffensive stuff, until a late chapter that attempts to tug at our heartstrings, and fails through no fault of the writing itself.

Essentially, Pigsy dies in an attempt to save the heroes from a group of enemy death machines, a moment played not for laughs, but for tears. Pigsy was something of a joke character up until that point, but comes through in a fairly archetypal display of self-sacrifice, one that's really not badly done. Until, of course, the Achievement "Smoky Bacon" pops up, reducing the entire scene to a joke. At that moment, any attempt to build an emotional response from the audience is lost, any sense of sadness immediately shattered. Pigsy's death, far from being a noble display of affection and respect for his allies, is now a gentle goof, complete with punchline."

As much as we may like to think otherwise, small stuff like a trophy popping up after is scene can and does affect the way we look at it on the whole. I would imagine that if, say, instead of what we got the trophy would have been instead been named something like "You can't fight fate ... yet" or something along those lines that it would have instead underscored the gravity of the situation while promising that at some point in the future there would be a chance to turn the tables. Instead, we got something that tried to be funny and seemed to not only fail, but invoke enough of a backlash that the trophy was changed to "Bros Before Foes" which isn't much better in terms of actual meaningfulness, but will perhaps be less offensive.

Of course, throughout all of this you had people saying that it was horribly misogynistic, and others saying that everything was a huge overreaction and people needed to just shut up about it. I don't think that either of those approaches would have been the correct one. I think that unfortunately what this shows is that even in cases where we have things that are in poor taste, we still have a long way to go before we can actually sit down and discuss things like this calmly. Kind of a shame, really, but at the same time not the least bit surprising.

1 comment:

  1. Foresight? Who needs it? Certainly not the guys over at Santa Monica.

    Setting aside the misogyny problem (and there is fuel for that fire, but I'll stay out of it for now), it's still a pretty jarring tonal shift when that trophy title pops up. A tonal shift, AND an anachronism; I'm inclined to agree with what Jim Sterling said regarding Enslaved, because it does indeed just take one little line to spoil an entire scene.

    Also, "Bros Before Foes"? Really? That's the best they could come up with? This is a game franchise where the "hero" ripped the head off the god of the sun. This is not the place for cute little rhymes, guys.


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