Are We Moving Back or Moving Forward? (Part 2)
As is often my way, or, well, used to often be my way — I latched onto a relatively small statement in another post and then turned it into a post of my own.
This time around, erm, it might’ve turned into a bit of a monster. As we’re now embarking on the ‘Part 2’ of the response. You can find Part 1 here.
Otherwise, as a brief catch-up…
Meghan’s post, the one that started this whole thing, spoke to Zelda’s latest outing, Tears of the Kingdom, and the persistence in continuing to sideline or otherwise marginalise the female characters, and in particular Zelda herself. But being someone who has never so much as set virtual-foot past the introductory area of a Zelda game, what I more latched onto was a query on whether we were still seeing forward progress in representation or not.
I used to think representation was getting better, that more effort was being put into creating and including well-rounded female characters. But I’m not so sure anymore. Partly because of the politics of representation, and how a vocal minority (at least, I hope it’s still a minority) continues to scream and shout about the perceived push for “wokeness” in gaming.Meghan, Meghan Plays Games — On Writing: Tropes of the Kingdom (2023)
After a run-through of where I suspect biases may impact my own thinking on this, I gave a very short summation of my current opinion.
But in summary; I think we’re seeing good improvement at a societal level on the acceptance of more diversity in lead roles. But I also think that Hollywood has done some damage to this acceptance. The efforts to commercialise the wave of increased desire to see this diversification happen directly contributed to the rise of the “Go Woke, Go Broke” style sentiment.
Games, in my opinion, have perhaps made some more sincere strides in this arena. And yep, Alan Wake 2 I think is a recent prime example of this. Sure, Alan is the titular character, but Saga has equal air time, and was, in my opinion, the more interesting side of the story to play.Naithin, Time to Loot — Are We Moving Back or Moving Forward? – Part 1 (2023)
The idea of this post being to give my thinking on this and back up my position somewhat.
Backing it Up
I have three main areas to comment on here.
And I’ll tackle them in this order — largely because Movies are where I can most clearly see an argument for a regression in an active drive to move representation forward.
Social elements I see as being rather mixed.
Games though… While absolutely there are exceptions, heck, one such — Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom — was largely responsible for kicking all this off… I still see this as largely a positive space and will hold up Alan Wake 2 as a possible counter-example.
Hopefully, will get through all this in this part! That’s certainly the intent… But Alan Wake 2 might require its own spin-off post. We’ll see!
As mentioned, I can see an argument potentially being made within this arena for a visible step-back from female representation.
You don’t have to go back too many years to encounter all, or predominantly female-led movie projects.
Projects which are seemingly no longer going ahead, and are being quietly cancelled without much fanfare.
Putting my cards on the table; I haven’t much been a fan of these types of reboots/remakes. I’ll get back to that, but…
Keeping it Positive First
Implicit Bias as covered in Part 1 is a difficult thing. Given that these biases exist unconsciously, it isn’t a simple matter of providing the person with new information.
They may already consciously hold to the values of equal representation.
But if they grew up with movies where the overwhelming majority showed men in the role of hero and saviour, with women either occupying the background roles, or worse, solely present as eye candy or damsels-in-distress, or both… Then regardless of consciously held beliefs, seeing a movie that puts a group of women front and centre like this can strike discordantly.
The way to combat implicit bias is with exposure to ‘over corrections’ of the intended balance point. Again, and again. Eventually, the unconscious needle on what is considered ‘normal’ does shift.
So the charitable explanation for the existence of these movies is that the creators absolutely believed in what they were doing, and in fact had this as their intent.
The Negative View
The much more cynical view is that the attempts were nothing more than a cash grab. To re-use older properties with some name recognition and try to hit another audience with them and that was the sum extent of the ‘goals’ as it were.
Perhaps with the degree of risk involved with the cost of making a movie, there can be some understanding of why this might be a tempting proposition — even if, as it turns out, the hoped-for broad appeal didn’t seem to exist in reality.
Then, once that was established, these projects dried up.
Even if there had been an element of social good being considered, they sure as hell weren’t going to be the ones to pay so much for it.
So… Movies Then?
Reflecting on this, I think that the likely place to find the truth — as it so often is — is somewhere in the middle. I’d be willing to bet that there are people involved in the creative process of those movies that truly did believe in what they were doing from a representation point of view.
But equally, I believe the only reason these movies were greenlit and given the budgets they did, was out of expectation of commercial success. When said clearly like this, it seems like a bit of a no-brainer, right? As much as we may argue that the movie industry is creatively bankrupt, happy to re-use the desiccated corpses of once-successful properties now past their prime, they are — for the most part — commercially driven.
I think where my opinion has changed on reflection of writing this up is the softening of the cynical belief that most involved, top to bottom, were in it for the dollars and the dollars alone.
The Social Discourse
Similar to the Difficulty Debate, I find this to generally be an area where you’re perhaps better off not engaging with the discussion as the room for nuance and civil debate is largely gone.
There is often a belief that to say anything negative about projects that have — for whatever the underlying motivation might’ve been — even if not directly on the subject of the representation in question, is to be tagged with an ‘ist’. Misogynist. Racist. Whatever the case may be.
And to be somewhat fair, those people definitely exist. Some wear their ‘ist’ proudly on their sleeve, while others may well make some attempt to couch their position while making bad-faith arguments.
So while it is therefore somewhat understandable that any naysaying gets called out as ‘trolling’, it certainly isn’t helpful. Unless of course you are are on the hook financially for the film, then weaponising the inclination toward this response might seem like a pretty A-OK way to go to you.
Where this ends up leaving us though, is in a position where it isn’t either safe or productive to, in many contexts, even attempt the conversation. And so only the most vocal — often with the most extreme views to match — bother to do so. They neither care for safety nor productivity, so that isn’t a concern.
Wrapping Up (Part 2)
As suspected, the Game (Alan Wake 2) discussion will have to come in a later part. I already had a tad over 1,000 words before starting this conclusion.
Where I want to leave it is at least with the unambiguous position that I think improving representation is not only a worthwhile endeavour but a necessary one. I even recognise that you need to tilt the balance well past ‘normal’ to actually shift the needle on what implicit/unconscious bias tells people that ‘normal’ is.
So the argument of keeping representation strictly proportional to the population — an argument often pulled out when discussing LGBQ+ representation — doesn’t hold a lot of water for me.
That might be something we can revisit in the distant future but simply isn’t possible yet if we want to have any shot of getting rid of the social stigmas that still exist.
Which I suppose is another point. Representation is good for its own sake, definitely. Everyone should be entitled to see people like them in media — and in all roles; not just villains or as victims. But it doesn’t stop there. Improving representation can also be, at least one vehicle by which we improve society on the front of diversity and inclusion on the whole.
But I think the current execution in the realm of movies, in particular, is failing. If they cannot come up with a way to do it and also be commercially viable — and, you know, just a tip here: lumping everyone who doesn’t immediately leap to the cinema to see your latest effort in the same group as the misogynistic basement-dwelling troll population? Yeah, probably not a good way to get people on side.
I do think games might be making better, and more sincere efforts to step forward in this arena. As said from the beginning, Alan Wake 2 will be my case-study of sorts for that argument, but alas, it shall need to be another day.