Doing things differently since the Carter Administration
Feeeeeelings in Gaming explores Reggie James’ article, Why It’s Okay to Objectify Women in Video Games as it relates to longitudinal research specific to sexist games and sexist gamers, and also considers an alternate argument in which narratives shape our individual experiences and resulting paradigms. Paradigms & Personal Agency in the Horror-verse outlines some of the common myths highlighted in James’ article. The basic tropes the author presents in his article provide a good starting point for analyzing Until Dawn. Part II also incorporates my own experience playing Until Dawn, as part of the narrative is determined by a player’s unique choices.
Until Dawn provides an “interactive drama survival horror adventure video game” experience and keeps you on your toes with its surprise QTEs and its constantly shifting perspectives between a group of multiple lead characters. The game’s basic premise is to survive (or not?) a slumber party in the mountains.
Players begin at the Blackwood Mountain Cabins. The first cut scene shows some of our heroes playing a prank on Hannah “bookish”. Emily, Matt, Ashley, and Jessica hide in the bedroom and wait for Hannah to arrive.
Mike fools Hannah into thinking he likes her, and asks her if they want to make out. As she begins to take her shirt off, Emily and Jessica, both hiding under the bed, try to stifle their laughter. Hannah hears them, and everyone comes out of hiding, where we see Matt filming the entire prank.
But was this just a harmless prank? The entire ordeal sends Hannah running outside into the cold, snowy night. Hannah’s twin sister, Beth, hits the trails in search of her.
The sisters soon realize they are being hunted, and we see Hannah and Beth seemingly falling to their deaths.
Statement: “Why should fake women who’ve been made to be the pinnacle of beauty and sensuality not be objectified?”
Trope: Women— especially beautiful women— are only put on this earth to be objectified by others.
Some might say that Hannah and Beth served to enrich a story about a group of friends who have to learn to stick together. On the other hand, I argue that Hannah and Beth are objectified, and serve only exist as women in refrigerators: Hannah propels the storyline— existing for only a few minutes onscreen— and helps to establish the morality of the other characters through their participation in the prank against her. Beth exists to reveal the evil presence that exists around Blackwood Pines and to escort her sister off a cliff to their deaths.
In the first cut scene, Emily and Jessica feel compelled to teach Hannah a lesson by pranking her, since she had a secret crush on Mike. A year later, Emily and Jessica fight in the midst of this night of horror— Emily and Mike have broken up and Jessica and Mike are now dating.
Statement: “Women get jealous easily.”
Trope: Women get jealous easily.
Toward the beginning of this night of terror as the group reunites at Blackwood Mountain Cabins— one year after Beth and Hannah plummet down the canyon— Emily and Jessica begin fighting. There probably could be a larger discussion regarding why you play as neither Jessica nor Emily during this fight and, instead, play out the scene through Matt’s perspective.
There’s so much jealousy going around; therefore, Chapter 2 is called Jealousy.
Statement: “These are women who want to be a part of the video game experience because in their minds these hot, sexy, confident and capable women are somehow taking away their man’s affection towards them.”
Trope: Women exist solely in relation to men.
…a paradigm represented in the few interactions Jessica and Emily have with each other.
side note: Have you heard of the Bechdel test?
Statement: “Can you imagine being so insecure that Miranda Lawson from Mass Effect makes you reevaluate your standing with your significant other? That would be like a man being jealous about a woman’s crush on Harry Potter. Yes, some women do have a crush on the literary character, but I’m not jealous about it, because I have self-worth and a grip on reality. It seems that some women do not, and something tells me far too many people are listening to these types of women right now.”
Trope: Women are insecure.
Trope: Women have no grip on reality.
Insecurity is the force which, in part, propels Hannah out the front door of the cabin.
Insecurity and a skewed sense of priorities is what drives Jessica and Emily’s jealousy. In my play-through, there was a point where I had to choose between killing Ashley or Josh. Both appear to be chained to a wall. Even though I chose to kill Ashley, the saw still heads toward Josh, sawing him in half (or so we think…).
What boggles my mind is how Ashley is mostly “okay” with the fact that Chris chooses to save Josh’s life over her own. Her affection increases even more for Chris if he doesn’t shoot her the second time they are cornered by the psycho, which leads to Ashley actually saving Chris life when it matters most (the Wendigo chase).
Statement: “Do men come into Zara and slap the shopping bags out of ladies’ hands and then complain that the male models are too muscular? No!…Men don’t do shit like this because we understand that women have their activities. Go have your spa day, go see Magic Mike: we don’t care!”
Trope: Women are petty and only care about shopping & fashion.
Guess who forgot her bags at the bottom of the mountain and is the premise for going back down the mountain in order to trigger a subplot?
While I see and appreciate the appeal this comprehensive style of choose-your-own-adventure style games, the fact is that Until Dawn engages the same old, tired interactions. All in all, rather than design better ways to enrich character backstories, the game focuses on the same old horror narratives to try to capture our interest BUT on the plus side, it does attempt to empower, rather than show all damsels in distress. Emily, Jessica, and Sam all go through incredible survival ordeals on their own: Emily survives a building collapse and a Wendigo attack in the caves; Jessica survives a Wendigo attack and a plummeting elevator; and Sam athletically scales walls (though these moments also seem to be exploited opportunities for careful lighting and gratuitous butt shots).