Women and Geek Culture or Why the Fridge Has to Go

I grew up reading Green Lantern. Much like Doctor Who, there have been multiple Green Lanterns in the lifetime of the comic, and you always have your favorite (The 10th and Hal Jordan.) Yet, Hal wasn’t my first. That honor goes to Kyle Rayner.

I could go into the backstory as to why Kyle got the ring, and who his predecessors were, and why Hal came back; but none of that really matters. All that you need to know going in was that when he took the mantle of GL, he was the only one and he loved it. Kyle was young, reckless, and took his role with little seriousness.

That was until this happened…

Fridge

…yeah, that’s his girlfriend.

Long story short, she thought Kyle should take things more seriously; but he wasn’t the listening type. Unfortunately, one of his villains (aptly named Major Force) was, and decided to kill and stuff her into above fridge. The ensuing guilt propelled Kyle into being the hero that he was destined to be…

…and it also was the first instance of “fridge-ing”

Congrats, Geek Culture! We helped create a terrible narrative trope!

Unfortunately, things haven’t really gotten that much better as the years of have gone by. Female characters in comic books, games, and television have been mishandled, mischaracterized, and all together misused since then. For every Orange is the New Black, there are multiple shows, games, and comics that just do everything wrong.

Examples, you ask? Okay.

Game-wise, the two most recent offenders are Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Watch_Dogs; which both use “fridge-ing,” as a narrative technique to motivate their respective heroes.

MGS1

In MGS: Ground Zeroes, Big Boss/Snake is required to rescue former associates Paz (a female officer) and Chico (a young male soldier) from a government run facility. By the end of the game you have rescued them both, but it’s found out that Paz has had a bomb placed inside of her. So, in one of the most gruesome moments put to gaming, the male characters dig into her abdomen, un-anesthetized, and rip the bomb out.

PazGZ

It’s gross, over the top, and not the worst part.

After the bomb is removed and she comes to, she relates that she has a second bomb placed inside of her as well; and so she jumps out of the helicopter to save the rest, exploding mid-air. It is not revealed unless you go through some of the side content where the other bomb was hidden…

…her vagina.

Within the audio logs you find, you discover that Skullface (the villain) had not only his men rape Paz, but he had Chico rape her as well, and THEN placed the bomb into her. The audio logs are long, uncomfortable, and disgusting. There’s no narrative or gameplay value to their existence in the game outside of shock value and as a means to motivate the player character to revenge in the upcoming sequel.

Though not as graphic, Watch_Dogs is just as bad.

Watch Dogs

In the game, there are two main female characters, Clara (a hacker who befriends the player avatar) and Nicole (the player’s sister.) Suffice it to say, both ladies have little to no story arc simply because they exist only to continue to push the main character forward.

Nicole’s only contribution to the plot is to be captured, held hostage, and kidnapped multiple times over and over again to bring the player character to action. At multiple points in the game, the player has to hand hold her through an action filled situation, because she is unable to defend herself on ANY level.

Ironically, her subplot ends with her leaving her ENTIRE LIFE behind in Chicago, taking her son with her; as the player character realizes that her continued existence within the gamespace (Chicago) would only result in her getting kidnapped, killed, etc. over and over and over again.

(Did I mention that she had a daughter that the main character got killed because she was in a car with him when he was attacked by thugs? Yeah, that too)

Clara might be the bigger problem. She is introduced as a competent rival hacker, but soon afterward she just becomes an objectified character model walking around the hideout of the player. Unfortunately, this is not out of the ordinary for most video games. Because of her lack of development and any story arc to speak of, she becomes less a character and more a piece of set dressing.

(Oh yeah, there’s also the fact that her model is actually based off a well known porn actress too…which has very little to do with the argument above, but it sure doesn’t necessarily help matters either.)

The icing on this terrible cake is that she ends up being “fridged” as well by the end of the game. It is revealed that she had a hand in some of the events leading up to the game, which tangentially led to the death of the Aiden’s (the player’s character) niece. While visiting the grave of the girl, she is gunned down as the player is trying to rush forward to save her in real time gameplay.

This, of course, is followed up by the player having to listen to a 2 minute long voicemail she left, just before she died; apologizing for her involvement and wishing to “just disappear…”

…which in turn motivates Aiden into the final act of the game.

It’s all very frustrating, to say the least.

Yet, much like you see in other forms of media, there is a silver lining, a ray of hope that shows things are changing; if only ever so slowly.

Take a game like Transistor.

As fellow Promethean Stewart wrote,

Transistor is a beautiful story about a woman whose voice (literally) was taken from her. It’s about her lover. It’s about a city that they both love deeply, but isn’t what it used to be. It’s about change, and remembering the way things were without ever being able to go back.”

Most importantly, it not only stars a female (Red) as a lead, but it gives her a complete, well written, and genuine story arc. She is not used, she is not thrown around by events in the game space, she is the one CREATING those events. In other words, she is a fully realized character.

Red has more of a voice without having one, has more of a message without saying a word, than any of the previously mentioned examples above….

…Cue Dramatic Irony

Joss Whedon, known for his work on Buffy, Angel, The Avengers, and much more said in an interview once,

“When people say to me, ‘Why are you so good at writing at women?’ I say, ‘Why isn’t everybody?’ Obviously there are differences between men and women – that’s what makes it all fun. But we’re all people.”

It’s a pretty straightforward sentiment, but one that geek culture is now just starting to embrace, albeit slowly. Hopefully as we all continue to move forward, and as the medium continues to mature, we’ll see more games like Transistor, Gone Home, or Mirror’s Edge.

Geek culture has to come to terms with the fact that sexism and misogyny are deeply ingrained, and figure out what we can do to excise that cancer from our favorite hobbies. I’d like to believe that we are all better than this…

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Friday Feature: Francesco Francavilla

There’s something really, truly, incomparably wonderful about being full of leftover Thanksgiving turkey and drifting off to sleep on a couch with a comic book in your lap, while the rest of the world gets into fights over electronics at Wal-Marts around the world.

That pleasure was all mine today with a book that I picked up on a whim because, you guessed it, the cover looked really, really cool.

That book was Black Beetle: No Way Out.

I don’t want to focus too much on this, but the production quality of this particular hardback is just way ahead of the curve. The cover price is $20, but it has the feel of a $35 “special edition” book. I think Dark Horse is taking a page out of Archaia’s manual – If your product looks professional and well put together, people will pick it up. Once it’s in their hand, you’re halfway to the sale, even relatively unheard-of creators will get a second or third look when these high-quality books are on the shelf.

Anyway – moving on. Black Beetle is a pulp-mystery-superhero adventure-drama with that old radio-play style that you seem to either love or hate. I happen to fall in the “love” category, so these pulpy adventure stories in almost every iteration I encounter them.

But the true selling point of Black Beetle is the highly stylized, somewhat retro, never disappointing art of Francesco Francavilla. A couple of seconds on his website will show you better than I can the true love that Francavilla has for the pulp genre.

Francavilla is the writer as well as the artist on this title, which is always a treat, and his love for pulp mysteries shines through clearly in the writing as well.

Even beyond the Black Beetle book, Francavilla’s art is always a pleasure to encounter. He frequently creates lobby cards and movie posters for some of his favorite other works. Notably, he created a poster image for tons of episodes of “Breaking Bad.”

He contributed art to the impeccable Batman: Black Mirror, which otherwise featured art from Jock and the writing of Scott Snyder (and it’s about Dick Grayson while he was Batman, and if you’ve previously only Bruce Wayne Batman, you should really check out Dick Grayson Batman).

Do yourself a favor if you’re a fan of comics or pulp adventure stories, and check out Francesco Francavilla’s work wherever you can get it.

Except Archie.

Ok, fine, Archie too.

Friday Feature: Cosplayers

This week’s Friday Feature is actually more of an anti-feature.

After having watched almost all of two episodes of SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay show, where manufactured drama rules the day and 3/4 of the conversation is about how much cleavage is too much, I’ve decided to feature:

10 Better Cosplay Costumes Than You’ll See on SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay!

In the Video Game Character Category:

Gaige from Borderlands 2

Corvo Atano from Dishonored

In the TV Show Character Category:

Princess Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Zoe from Firefly

Marcy and Simon from Adventure Time (If you know the episode these cosplayers are referencing, feel free to take a moment to tear up now.)

In the Movie Character Category:

Merida from Brave

Bounty Hunter Leia and General Grievous from Star Wars Episodes VI and III respectively

And finally, in the Comic Book Character category:

Old School Animal Man (Who wins every costume contest I’m judging.)

Alana and Marko from Saga

And as bonus:

Brokeback Pose Hawkeye (A True Believer in the Hawkeye Initiative.)

This week’s Friday Feature is here to save you some time. Don’t bother with SyFy’s lame attempt at geek fan-service and sex appeal. Most of the images from this post are lifted from Comics Alliance’s “Best Cosplay Ever (This Week)” column. If you’d like to see great quality cosplay from ordinary folks that love what they do, do yourself a favor and go there instead.