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Artikel mit dem Stichwort ‘Smash Bros.’

A Defense of Miyamoto

Montag, 11. März, 2013

Anita Sarkeesian just launched her Tropes vs. Women video series a few days ago with its first installment, „Damsel in Distress (Part 1).“ I’d like to thank her for her well argued and informative take on one of the most powerful tropes in video games established in this medium by Shigeru Miyamoto. Unfortunately, as Sarkeesian correctly points out, this age old trope works against female gamers‘ identities and against a balanced view on gender in general.

Nevertheless I feel that some perspective can be added to points raised by Sarkeesian in her video. She rightfully feels cheated of a female video game heroine which had great promise but was turned into the usual damsel after a suggestion of Miymoto to make the game Dinosaur Planet part of an older, established franchise, surely to increase its sales potential. Some more blatant stereotypical ideas presented in the eventual Star Fox Adventure game made by Rare and later in the video in TV ads for Zelda („Will you get the girl? Or play like one?“) are products of Western interpretation of Miyamoto’s damsel plot device and should not be attributed to Miyamoto directly.

Still, the video gives off the impression that Miyamoto is a bit of a villain who stands at the center of a problem that upholds sexist views in games and male gamers who play those games, and also denies female gamers a greater wealth of strong female characters to play as. Sarkeesian argues that in core Nintendo franchises and especially in the core series of Mario platformers the damsel depiction (being reduced to a helpless object) is maintained with little steps to change this trope.

It is true that in the Mario platformers, which aren’t very story heavy and rely on simple plots like the save the princess one, the only female playable character is there only because a non Mario game needed to be reskinned. It bears mentioning though that this original game already had a female character and was also made by Miyamoto, who doesn’t use the kidnapped princess plot here but instead kids are getting kidnapped (more concretely, sucked into a book). The older family members then follow them into the book to rescue the kids.

There is also the similarly big Mario RPG franchise in which Princess Peach frequently features as a playable character. In the Square developed (but Nintendo produced and published) Super Mario RPG for SNES, in true Final Fantasy fashion the kidnapped princess plot device is only a warm up to the true adventure. In Final Fantasy the opening credits only roled after the princess had already been saved and in Final Fantasy III Princess Sara is the only inhabitant of a castle town who escapes being turned to stone and helps the heroes to save her home and its populace. Playable female characters also abound in later Final Fantasy installments.

Consequently in Super Mario RPG, Peach joins the heroes gathered with Mario as playable character and even the villain Bowser fights among them. In later Nintendo developed Mario RPG games Peach again becomes a playable character, sneaking around in Bowser’s castle after again being kidnapped in Paper Mario for N64, and like in the only Mario Bros. platformer in which she starrs as a playable character, Super Mario Bros. 2, in the platform/RPG hybrid Super Paper Mario, she and Bowser again are among the four playable characters. Players even get to experience being hit on by a male nerd gamer, dating simulation game style.

It is true that the damsel plot device is still maintained today but there is a much greater awareness for the device and also ironic parody of it.

In one part of Sarkeesian’s video we see Peach and Zelda dressed in Mario and Link’s hero attires. They also are capable fighters in their female dresses in the fighting game series Smash Bros., which features an all star cast of Nintendo mascots. The fighting game genre, while having its fair share of sexist stereotypes also, did produce a great wealth of female playable characters so it’s no surprise that in Nintendo’s take on the genre, which is a huge franchise of its own, the damsels become capable fighters as well.

super-mario-mii5But in the recent 2D Mario installments, even though they feature 4 player modes with as many playable characters, Peach again is reduced to being a price, stolen like a cake which Mario wanted to eat. This is true but the game is extremly low on plot and the above mentioned opening scene is just hilarious and more of a self aware parody. What escaped Sarkeesian’s attention (in the first video at least) is the fact that in the latest Wii U sequel of New Super Mario Bros., we can play as our own Mii wearing Mario’s costume. So in this game players can become the main character, regardless of their Mii’s gender.

The Mii, one of Miyamoto’s most recent successful inventions, are meant to bring the players themselves into the games and have an adequate avatar also for their gender. As they now have started to wear costumes of the Nintendo mascot characters they should remind us of Japanese TV commercials in which the players playing the Mario and Zelda games suddenly have become Mario or Link themselves, wearing their costumes. With his games, Miyamoto makes us gamers heroes in his image. He also makes female gamers into damsels, which is what Sarkeesian rightfully criticizes.

6But the symbolic, narrative meaning of the damsel plot device is also becoming more and more apparent with the new Mii franchise. In StreetPass Plaza, an app pre installed on 3DS handheld game devices, there is a mode called Find Mii in which your Mii, regardless of gender, is abducted and encaged like a princess damsel from a Mario or Zelda game. Other Mii characters which you collect by passing other 3DS owners on the street can rescue your kidnapped Mii self and find hats to wear for your Mii. Once the evil kidnapping boss is defeated twice there is even a hat that makes your Mii look like the villain.

Mii characters can turn into any Nintendo type of character, may they be heroes, damsels or villains. Each are creations of the game creators and each represents a part of them too. Sarkeesian comments that while she grew up playing Nintendo games which she loves, we also must view games critically when warranted. So villain Miyamoto (an image Sarkeesian draws up in her video) made hero Miyamoto come out in Sarkeesian to fight for the freedom of helpless damsel Miyamoto. We all have the features of villains, heroes and damsels. We all do bad things, we all do good things and we all feel helpless sometimes.

Sarkeesian is fighting the good fight and Miyamoto, even though he may appear a villain, is cheering for her to succeed. For a new generation of games with new plots and new heroes.

Brawl Revisited

Montag, 4. Oktober, 2010

One of the first articles to generate traffic to my old site was the one I wrote about Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, The Subspace Emissary. Not right away, but a few months later in June, when the game came out in Europe. I’m not a big fan of the Smash Bros. interpretation of the fighting genre and the only reason I got the game was this adventure mode with a story written by Playstation era Final Fantasy’s writer NOJIMA Kazushige. Nintendo’s president IWATA Satoru always wanted a Nintendo RPG franchise to rival the success of Final Fantasy and giving NOJIMA, who like IWATA comes from the northern Japanese Island Hokkaidō, a shot at writing a Nintendo game storyline might have hinted at the company’s later challenges towards the RPG genre like Monolithsoft’s Xenoblade (first announced as Monado in the US) and Final Fantasy inventor Sakaguchi’s The Last Story. I ended up being disappointed with Brawl, mainly because of a stylistic decision to refrain from using any dialogue at all in the game. Dialogue seemed like crucial element in telling a complex narrative and I dismissed The Subspace Emissary for the lack of speech.

But actually the concept of a story completely without spoken dialogue is quite ingenious. Of course practically all the Nintendo heroes follow the school of the mute hero to allow the player to project their own thoughts into the story. And NOJIMA also started as a writer of Dragon Quest type RPGs and interpreted the mute hero in very interesting ways in his early works. So trying out this concept was probably the most interesting thing he could have done to adapt the Nintendo universe and its characters and he also had the necessary experience to pull it off. I just didn’t see it during my play through. Rewatching the story sequences again later opened my eyes to many things I had missed before, making me want to write another article on the game.

By waiving dialogue the game doesn’t just become the equivalent of a silent movie; in fact all the games before the advent of voice overs were silent. Like silent movies they used text to relay the spoken dialogue. But a lot more of it because the game medium had better ways of putting text onto the screen than the silent movies, which usually interrupted the moving picture with a black screen to show the dialogue. Games completely without any text aren’t that uncommon either, they just usually don’t try to tell a story then.

The Subspace Emissary doesn’t just omit voice overs, like most Nintendo games still do for the most part, but also text boxes. Actually certain in game moves are accompanied by short bits of speech in recent Nintendo games, compromising the mute hero concept, but in text box dialogues Mario still skips his part of the dialogue as to not impose his (absent) personality on the player. Since all the characters in Brawl are like Mario in this regard, since they are all mute heroes, even including the playable villains, the narrative has to do without text altogether. This is in fact very rare not just in games but also in the silent movie genre.

Actions speak louder than words, as they say, and actions are also the thing that is easier to convey into interactive form since actions can be linked to button presses or other input from the player much easier than words. Generating speech interactively would be almost as much of a pain as having it interpreted by the game software. Simply speaking we’re still a long way off from that kind of interaction. So by only showing action in the non-interactive movie sequences they become more like the interactive parts. They’re still automatic but not that different from some scripted game parts which come very close to movie like action where the player does everything themselves apart from talking. But being narrative scenes what the player can actually do is still predetermined by the game. This fact becomes even more apparent when the on screen presentation is restricted to action only. Playing a story means giving up almost all freedom. You become a pawn on the board which constitutes the game, an action figure so to speak.

The Ancient Minister delivers the subspace bomb

That was also the original setting of Smash Bros., action figures coming alive to battle each other. And this is also where the story of The Subspace Emissary starts, with Mario and Kirby having a sporting competition in a huge stadium. Until the Ancient Minister and his minions show up and wreck havok with their subspace bombs. The whole world is threatened by these bombs and all its inhabitants have to face some sort of crisis. The narrative switches between different places in the Nintendo universe to show its heroes and villains battle in midst of the huge detonations of the bombs of the Ancient Minister’s army.

Donkey and Diddy Kong vs. Bowser

Donkey and Diddy Kong protect the jungle yet untainted by civilization from the devilish Koopa King Bowser, who has come to this foreign place to exploit its natural resources. They get help from the futuristic pilots of the Star Fox games and later team up with another coupling of future and past: The main driver of the racing game F-Zero, Captain Falcon, and the alien captain Olimar and his army of plant soldiers called Pikmin. Olimar actually is a bit similar to Bowser as he also harvests a foreign natural resource but unlike Bowser he treats the Pikmins with respect and feels compassion for their frequent deaths. They are very fragile and even during Captain Falcon’s “cool” entrance a few dozen of them die in the process. In a way it is a black humored commentary on the rise of technology at the cost of nature.

Lucas

The frightened boy Lucas is encouraged by his strong friends Ness and Pokémon Trainer. Lucas has an actual name, whereas Ness is a reference to the family of consoles his games were released for and Pokémon Trainer is just the generic hero of Nintendo’s most successful franchise on Game Boy and later handhelds. It’s as if an actual boy got help from a legendary game console and game series to do the things he didn’t have the courage to do by himself.

Marth faces the bomb

Marth, who is just one of many medieval knights in the Nintendo universe to make an appearance in the game, tries to protect his fortress from the blast of one of the subspace bombs. Mario and Link protect their respective encaged princesses. Donkey Kong protects the jungle. Getting a glimpse of the world wide destruction Pit, the angel living in an ancient Greek inspired fantasy heaven, receives a bow from the goddess Palutena to join the heroes protecting all of the world.

Samus and Pikachu find the Power Suit

The modern woman Samus Aran is empowered by technology and rivals every other Nintendo hero in strength. The princesses, told to stay put by macho hero Snake after being rescued from their cages, seem to comply with this order at first, but dressing up in her male guise as Sheik, Zelda and the dressed as usual Peach go out to fight alongside their male companions. The Ice Climbers, a team of a man and woman of equal abilities join the larger growing band of heroes.

The evil Wario

Meanwhile the villains of the Nintendo universe go around the world shooting the iconic heroes with a beam cannon that instantly turns them back into action figures and collect them like trophies. They also corrupt the icons turned statue to make them battle for evil. But even the villains take their orders from Master Hand, the boss of the bosses since the first Smash Bros. crossover game. Who turns out to be nothing but a puppet of the real boss Taboo who is pulling his strings. Taboo’s name implies that he symbolizes something which is not to be openly talked about and his weapons are the subspace bombs, marked with an X, equally omitting their real name.

So far we have identified the following themes:

  • battle as a fair sporting event,
  • video games as encouragement for timid boys,
  • conservative tendencies to protect something (usually a place or a woman),
  • clash of primal nature and high technology,
  • modern women fighting alongside men,
  • battle as destructive war associated with a final boss that is a taboo,
  • technology providing a weapon that can annihilate the whole world.

Detonation

The last one is especially important to the narrative as a whole. The huge detonation of the subspace bomb provided by the army of the Ancient Minister starts off the story and gives the heroes a reason to fight. The horror of these bombs is linked to their enormous devastative power but also to the self sacrificing robots who bring them to their destinations. They don’t mind blowing up together with the bombs, effectively treating themselves as weapons, as things rather than sentient beings. You could argue that they as robots are indeed just things but you would be wrong.

The Ancient Minister has doubts

Even the heroes and the Ancient Minister feel compassion for the poor robots and try to stop them from blindly acting out their destructive order. The Ancient Minister’s name implies a long heritage, whereas Mario and the other heroes have a much more modest tradition. But in the end they both oppose the destruction and the act of self sacrifice. After working with the Nintendo villains for most of the story the Ancient Minister resists the war campaign spurred by his allies and for the first time attempts to stop the robot soldiers. This turns out to be futile but the Ancient Minister after being set ablaze is revealed to not be a mythical entity but a robot like the members of the army he commands.

Taboo

In the end all the heroes and villains have to unite to battle the real enemy, Taboo, who controlled even the supposed controller, Master Hand. A taboo is something to be kept silent, like the heroes who can only act. To overcome this taboo they have to confront the truth of war to bring back the places trapped1 The world robbed from most of its locations and the heroes restoring the world to its complete existence was also the concept of earlier games, most prominently Dragon Quest VII in 2000. In that game you had to travel the past to find the lost locations and learn their story before they disappeared. in the subspace2 The subspace is called akū (亜空) in Japanese. The second character of this made up term means sky, heaven or space. The first character can also mean Asia but here it refers to the concept of subsequence, of resulting from something else that is its base/origin. of the virtual reality of the game.

  1. The world robbed from most of its locations and the heroes restoring the world to its complete existence was also the concept of earlier games, most prominently Dragon Quest VII in 2000. In that game you had to travel the past to find the lost locations and learn their story before they disappeared. []
  2. The subspace is called akū (亜空) in Japanese. The second character of this made up term means sky, heaven or space. The first character can also mean Asia but here it refers to the concept of subsequence, of resulting from something else that is its base/origin. []

Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Der Subraum Emissär

Freitag, 29. Februar, 2008

Eigentlich mag ich die Smash Bros.-Serie gar nicht besonders. Ich mag z. B. die Analogsteuerung nicht. Ich würde lieber digital zweimal nach rechts tappen, um zu rennen. Mit dem Analogstick passiert es mir immer wieder, dass ich das falsche Tempo auswähle. Was auch daran liegt, dass man nicht fließend von Laufen in Rennen übergehen kann, wie etwa in 64. Außerdem mag ich es nicht, wenn die Kamera so weit nach draußen zoomt. Klar, das mag der Übersichtlichkeit förderlich sein, aber die Figuren werden dann so winzig und kommen nicht mehr recht zur Geltung. Alles in allem bevorzuge ich „normale“ e wie Street Fighter und Soul Calibur.

Warum habe ich mir also den dritten Teil der Serie doch wieder gekauft? Weil , der Autor von vielen Final Fantasy-Spielen, das Szenario zum Abenteuermodus des Spiels Akū no shisha (Der Subraum Emissär) geschrieben hat. Aufmerksame Leser dieses Blogs wissen, dass ich ein großer Fan von NOJIMA bin. Und ein Nintendo-All-Star-Spiel mit einer -mäßigen Story klingt verlockend. Leider hält das Ergebnis nicht ganz, was das Konzept verspricht.

Das große Problem: Es gibt in diesem Spiel keinen gesprochenen Text. Die Figuren sind quasi alle stumme Helden, selbst die Schurken, die schließlich auch spielbar sind. Der stumme Held ist ja nun deshalb stumm, damit man sich besser in ihn hineinversetzen kann. Für die Dialoge sind dann die anderen Figuren außer dem Helden zuständig. Aber da im Subraum Emissär alle stumm sind, sind die Möglichkeiten, eine packende Geschichte zu erzählen, etwas eingeschränkt. Statt mit Worten drücken sich die Figuren allein durch ihre Mimik und Gestik aus.

Daher beschränkt sich die Geschichte mehr auf . Die Subraum-Armee, angeführt vom Uralten Minister, detoniert überall auf der Welt Subraum-Bomben, die ganze Landstriche ins Nichts zerren. Und überall stellen sich die Helden des Nintendo-Universums ihnen entgegen. Es wird also an allen Fronten gekämpft, auch mit den klassischen Nintendo-Schurken, die mit der Subraum-Armee unter einer Decke stecken. Mit Strahlenkanonen trachten sie danach, die Helden in Statuen zu verwandeln.

Es stellt sich die Frage, ob nicht jeder andere auch einen ähnlichen Plot hätte schreiben können. NOJIMAs Talent für Dialoge bleibt völlig ungenutzt. Jedoch gibt es Szenen, die durchaus gelungen sind, vor allem humorige. Wenn Diddy Kong Fox McCloud erfolglos versucht zu überzeugen, in die andere Richtung zu gehen und ihn dann kurzerhand hinter sich herzieht, ist das durchaus witzig. Oder wenn König Dedede Wario die erbeuteten Helden-Statuen klaut. Auch die Action kann sich sehen lassen: der Kampf mit Ridley, in dem Samus von ihrem Gegner an der Wand entlang geschleift wird, ist spektakulär. Und der letze Boss könnte wahrlich aus einem FF-Spiel stammen.

Zu den besten Szenen gehören diese, in denen die Helden verzweifelt versuchen, die R.O.B.s der Subraum-Armee davon abzuhalten, die Subraum-Bomben zu zünden. Das gipfelt in einem Sinneswandel des Uralten Ministers, der nicht mehr zusehen kann, wie seine Roboter sich für ihn opfern.

Alles in allem ist Der Subraum Emissär kein völliger Fehlschlag, was größtenteils daran liegt, dass es spielerisch gut umgesetzt ist. Mehr ein actionlastiger als ein Kampfspiel (mit Ausnahme der Endgegner-Kämpfe) macht es ordentlich Spaß. Nach etwa 10 Stunden ist dieser aber vorbei. Was bleibt, ist ein tolles Multiplayerspiel.

Link: Offizielle Homepage des Spiels.