Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chrontendo Past and Present

Another inter-episode post today. Again, Episode 21 moves slowly. Blame the torpor brought on by a sudden summery heatwave.

I do however, have a couple thoughts about last episode. A comment from a much more prolific video game blogger than myself mentioned that Super Mario Bros 2 was one of the few good early NES games that allowed you to play as a female. This made me pause for a moment and wonder whether the inclusion of Princess Peach as a playable character was an intentional attempt to include young girls in SMB 2's target audience. (Or was it merely a matter of necessity? Nintendo needed to fill four slots with Mario characters. If not Princess Peach, then who? Bowser?)

Typically, video games aimed specifically at girls have been indifferently designed and more than a little lame. Think of all those horrible Barbie games as well as our very own Lost Word of Jenny. Assuming that girls either do not like or will not be able to play games that require much coordination or skill, "girl games" tend to strip out most of what makes video games enjoyable. The result is often is often a dull, toothless, repetitive game (of course, young children often enjoy such things. Much children's entertainment is fantastically dull to adults). The problem with developing and marketing games to females is that it is usually done in a very condescending way. Making a video based around supposedly female-specific concerns (let's say, shopping or horsies) is really no different than taking a cell phone, painting it pink, adding a few rhinestones and then claiming said phone is designed specially for women. Surely, ladies, isn't this a bit insulting?

However, all this stuff about making games for females seems pretty academic as far as Chrontendo is concerned, since I'm not sure we've actually seen many games aimed at girls, other than Lost Word of Jenny. Yet, there have been games that have featured female protagonists: Wing of Madoola, Apple Town Monogatari (whose character frequently exposes her panties when bending over), Dirty Pair, Titanic Mystery, and of course.... Metroid. As far as I can tell, these were all created with the typical male gamer in mind. It's clear that the most of the female protagonists in these games were intended for the purpose of titillation, not identification. Japan seems to have virtually invented the concept of female characters in video games. There were a few exceptions, such as Ms Pacman*, (and, er.... this game), but it wasn't until the mid-80s that we suddenly saw a wave of Japanese-developed titles for the arcade, home computer, and Famicom featuring female protagonists, often of the big-eyed anime variety. RPGs would end up being the genre to most organically incorporate female characters (female warriors having been a long-standing trope in western fantasy literature, it was natural they would wind up in D&D and its offspring). Despite often being stuck in the healer/support magic role (at least in Japanese games), the ladies in RPGs at least were sometimes sensibly attired.

Which brings us to Valis, Telenet Japan's series of action/platform games featuring short-skirted schoolgirl Yuko. Originally an MSX title, mysterious and unknown hands completely redesigned the game and released it as Mugen Senshi Valis on the FDS. The game is a mess, but surprisingly features none of the cute girl artwork and up-the-skirt shots the series is known for. In 1987 there was enough sex appeal inherent in the act of controlling a young, blue haired girl to satisfy most male gamers. Later iterations of this game, such as the far superior PC Engine version, would focus more heavily on Yuko's scantily clad charms, but in Mugen Senshi Valis she is surprisingly modestly dressed.

On the other end of the scale we have Taito's Kiki KaiKai. Its not clear exactly how old your character is supposed to, but her superdeformed proportions give her a sexless quality. So much so that a bootleg version of the game was released in the west as Knight Boy. While I don't know exactly who Kiki Kaikai was aimed at, it is an early example of using adorable, pre-adolescent girls as characters in video games. While young girls would eventually become highly sexualized in Japanese games, that moment hasn't really arrived yet.** Whatever their motivations for doing so, by 1987 male gamers had the option to play as a female character if they so desired.

All of this makes Nintendo's understated use of female characters in Doki Doki Panic/SMB 2 look even more admirable by comparison.

*For those not familiar with the story behind Ms Pacman, it was a western developed game.

**Standard adult themed video games, however, had already begun to appear on PCs and arcades in Japan. Nichibutsu, for example, had released a series of strip Mahjong arcade games, and even Sega had a naughty
Arkanoid rip-off, Block Gal, in arcades. Most adult arcade games are standard Mahjong or puzzle games that reward you with images of undressed women between rounds.


Anonymous said...
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Lynxara said...

Your point about RPGs being an early game genre with a lot of female characters is very well-taken. I was big on Dragon Quest III (I think) because you could make male or female versions of each class; in the SNES era I was big on Final Fantasy thanks to characters like Rydia and Terra.

These days when it comes to the girl games about girly things, I'm mostly just happy that for every crappy Imagine game that hits, there's something like Cooking Mama or Super Princess Peach that will make little girls happy while not being horrible. In the old days, well, games were mostly a boy thing... though some of us girls found our way there anyway.

Anonymous said...

the Valis series unfortunately went downhill after the TG-16 versions.
After years without any sign of it, Telenet OFFICIALLY released an ero-game based on it.
tsk, tsk.

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