Monday, 22 February 2016

The Role of Women In Deadpool


Source

Before we begin, let me introduce bell hooks - or rather let her introduce herself – through her Twitter bio: “Author, Feminist, Teacher and Scholar-bell hooks”. In her blog, bell hooks states she advocates feminist politics (I know, obviously), a term she defines as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Also, she is a bad-ass who speaks her mind and is infinitely quotable. She and Emma Watson interviewed each other about feminism, and though I initially thought Watson would be present with her usual type of feminism – that of not wanting to offend anyone so much that her points get watered down and lost in the discussion – I was pleasantly surprised and it’s a pretty good read. I introduce these two feminists really so that I can use a quote of bell hook’s to introduce my analysis of Deadpool and its treatment of women. Well, and also because they are legends in their own rights and everyone needs to know about them. But bell hooks said something I thought was incredibly insightful and true. Here’s the quote:

“That's a pretty big stereotype about feminists, that we're not fun, that we don't have a sense of humor and that everything is so serious and politically correct. Humor is essential to working with difficult subjects: race, gender, class, sexuality. If you can't laugh at yourself and be with others in laughter, you really cannot create meaningful social change.”

I’m using this because I guess for this post I’m reinforcing that stereotype. I want to dissect Deadpool’s treatment of women because Hollywood is still MASSIVELY sexist and it pisses me off. The humour part of the quote especially relates to Deadpool, because humour is the biggest thing in it. Guess how many of the laughs are because of the female characters in the film? Probably, at most, 10% - and that’s being generous. Most of the humour involving women is aimed AT them, mocking their appearance or their personality, it’s not an inclusive thing. Just think about the amount of “sullen teenager girl”/Sinead O’Connor quips are thrown at Negasonic Teenage Warhead (admittedly very funny), or “butch female” jokes are flung at Angel Dust.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Of the 13 main characters in the film, there are 9 males and 4 females. Which isn’t actually as bad as most superhero films, so props to them for that. But if we looked in terms of the actual screen time it wouldn’t be quite as optimistic. If we looked at the script and how much males/females talked, I’m sure females the world over would just question why the women were even put in the film... for about three milliseconds, until they remember women have bodies. Then it all makes sense. Let’s think about each female character individually and their part within the film. It won’t take long, because there is only one female that says more than about three lines during the whole film anyway.

Source

Vanessa Carlysle: Said female that speaks more than about three lines during the whole film. Her character is still, however, just “Deadpool’s Girlfriend”. Vanessa, easily likeable and played magnetically by Morena Baccarin, is definitely the honoured female, given full sentences that are believable and not completely stereotyped. Her story progression is pretty impressive; she manages to stay within the sex industry for the full 1 hour 48 minutes of the film! She starts off a prostitute that comes across Deadpool/Wade Wilson in a bar, who chivalrously pays for her time that doesn’t involve sex. She says for the amount of money he has he can do absolutely anything he wants to her for something like 48 minutes. Way to make herself into a glorified sex doll, and feed into the idealistic view of women being passive, sexual objects to be looked and at used for the pleasure of men. Anyway it ends up with them having sex anyway, so I feel like Deadpool really did well with his money management skills there. Then, by the end of the film, she has made the progression into a stripper and her lingerie work uniform is the one she wears until the credits roll.

Her relationship with Deadpool begins quite positively. She calls the shots for how long he sees her (even if he’s paying and chooses what they do). And we all saw the “Happy Women’s Day” scene, right?! I mean if we want to get really deep (heh) into this, we could say that scene is problematic because to celebrate women’s day, and to assert her dominance, she must wear a symbolic male phallus in order to do so. Still, I feel it’s something not really shown in cinemas, so I appreciated it regardless. BUT then of course she can’t be seen as equal to Deadpool. At his cancer diagnosis she is the strong one, working out what to do. Because he is a manchild, all he can do is stare at her face in denial. Which is quite touching, but damnit, Deadpool, try and act like she is something a bit more than just your “hot girlfriend”! After that when he’s like, “I don’t want you to see me die, I’m off” and sneaks out in the middle of the night, he thinks something that is obviously supposed to be really selfless and touching but when I heard it all I could think was “WTF?” I literally cannot find the quote ANYWHERE but it goes something like “I realised if I let myself die, I’d be killing her too” or some shit. Hello? Why? Her life does not depend on yours, I’m sure she’d be heartbroken as anyone would be but she has her own life... Or does she? If she’s not moodily prowling the streets for some food or working, she has no life outside of Deadpool/Wade. No friends, no family.  Just Deadpool.

During the final scenes she had a few sassy words with Ajax, and had her defining moment in the form of stabbing Ajax and saving Deadpool. She wasn’t stingey with letting Deadpool know how annoyed she was, but she forgave him pretty soon after, which after two years of no word and assuming he’s dead, was pretty generous of her. After researching the film I found out she’s supposed to be a mutant in her own right, called Copycat, a shape shifter. There is literally no mention of this, except for the white streaks in her hair, or even that she could have the potential to be a superhero. Except grabbing that one guy’s balls when she first meets Deadpool, I suppose. Hopefully her character will be greatly improved in the sequel.
Source

Now moving onto the amazingly named Negasonic Teenage Warhead played by Brianna Hildebrand. If she wasn’t such a stereotype she really had potential. She didn’t care what anyone said, she did her own thing, she was moody and sullen and rebellious. She wasn’t sexualised at all, and with her shaven head, dark makeup and being fully covered in her X Men suit or leather jackets and leggings most of the time, she was not a societally accepted version of “feminine”. But, she was a bit useless. If not for her letting Ajax go in the beginning scenes none of the big catastrophes would have occurred. She had one funny moment in the whole film that didn’t involve slating her appearance/demeanour, the texting gag, but otherwise didn’t really speak much. She was quite 2D and probably had a total of around 30 words to say, maximum. Her superpower was probably the most useful and powerful, being able to blow up as an explosion (I mean her name pretty much gives that away) but it’s used in really poor ways. She assists Colossus in his battle with Angel Dust and saves his life. She blasts Deadpool up to the top of the ship to face Ajax. She’s a walking, barely talking elevator. I did appreciate the fact she wasn’t a size 0 actress too, and thought she looked great even if her dialogue needed massive improvements.

Now let’s talk about Angel Dust; an ironic name for such a strong, powerful character. She manages to say even less than Negasonic Teenage Warhead, totalling probably around 10 words throughout the film. She settles on intense gazes and nods. She could be characterised as Ajax’s bitch. Angel Dust is an interesting character but we get no back story or referential information about her that isn’t within the framework of actually being about Ajax. She, like all the females in the film, messes up at a crucial moment, because women are just so silly like that! One of her matches is used in Deadpool’s escape. But she has some mean sewing skills when she needs to play as nurse to care for Ajax. She does what she’s told by him, like an obedient schoolgirl. And, gah, she is sexualised. Most of the time she’s wearing alright clothes but the final scenes her boobs are out, saying hi, and during a fight it’s a gag that she’s accidentally come out of her bustier. Saying that, I do like that a female is playing the strong henchwoman for a change, even if it wasn’t planned. It was only because of budgeting reasons that Marvel characters Garrison Kane, Wyre and Cannonball were removed and replaced with Angel Dust. So, though you were sloppy seconds, we salute you.

Source




Blind Al’s time to shine now. She is the old lady who lives with Deadpool. She is constantly ridiculed, ordered around. Her one funny moment is lamenting cocaine in the laundrette, and her constant bickering with Deadpool about what IKEA furniture they will have. Even though it is her house she has no authority or power. She is kind of a bad ass with her guns and drug use and active sex life, and she has some banter with Deadpool that’s pretty amusing. But again another character who needs improving. Especially because she is the only woman of colour in the film with a speaking role. For men of colour there is the hugely stereotyped Dopinder, played by Karan Soni, complete with heavy accent and taxi career. LBGTQ representations are basically non-existent in the Deadpool universe, it’s a hetero world where strip clubs and prostitutes and biker clubs are surprisingly prevalent. 

So while representations of anything other than straight white males are lacking, the film itself is actually hilarious and crude. The storyline is a bit disjointed but overall enjoyable. Pass the Bechdel test, Deadpool does not. But let’s keep our fingers crossed for the sequel learning from its predecessor’s flaws.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Lifeline (2015) Game Review - NO SPOILERS!

Source

Lifeline, out of any I've played, seems to be the single most talked about mobile game. Not just in the retrospective way of, "that game was great", in the currently-playing-and-highly-addicted kind of way. The type of conversations that are multi-layered; not only do you try and find out where your friends are up to, but how they got there, how the options differ from yours, what they've discovered that you haven't, and even weird things like trying to judge who's been more reckless or sensible. Like the main player is a mutual friend, you'll find yourself asking, "How’s Taylor doing?" and without question receiving a reply like, “Oh, currently eating rat food.” And that’s cool, that’s fine. Most people I knew were embroiled in a daily struggle of trying to not let Taylor die in weird, horrific ways. And, more importantly, trying to decide whether Taylor is male or female. I was categorically on the side of Taylor being a female and struggle to understand how anyone can think she’s female, just based on how her dialogue is composed. The trend seems to be the player projects their gender onto Taylor which actually is quite a cool perk. I enjoyed playing as a bad ass female astronaut, I connected better to her, but I’m sure men prefer imagining themselves playing as a Matt Damon male survivalist. Which actually brings me onto my next point...

Source

The whole beginning part of the app, the exposition and the tentative few steps into the beginning of the story, seems like it was almost directly lifted from The Martian, Andy Weir’s 2011 novel about an astronaut stuck alone on Mars and having to survive long enough to be rescued. I know there will obviously be similarities because the circumstances are pretty much the same, but it just seemed so similar it was kind of distracting. Like an interactive fanfic. Then the feel of Lifeline switches from somewhat realistic to hardcore sci fi with aliens and green goo and shit just blows up. 

Source

Lifeline’s interface is simple yet effective because it is primarily text based. The only image is the initial loading screen. It works, though, because it feels like an actual communication device, with the [Taylor is busy] a feature that lets you know when to let go for a while and find something else to do. Playtime of the app varies from person to person, not due to skill, it’s more down to sheer luck, but this is actually one of its biggest merits. You choose Taylor’s path (for the most part) and as she follows through with your choices, you have to wait in almost real-time for her to complete the task. If she goes to sleep you’re forced to wait hours until you get your next reply which is sent in notification form to whatever device you’re playing on. You almost forget about Taylor and then *ping* she’s waiting for you to make the next life changing decision that comes her way. It’s sometimes annoying having to wait because with most games there’s an immediacy to it that means you can sit for hours playing, but with this the sporadic replies span days, or weeks if you’re really unlucky. It has the effect of making Taylor feel like a real person stuck on a real planet and you’re the only one who can help. It’s engaging.

Source

I’ve played through probably like, 1.5 times. I got halfway through, died, replayed and miraculously made it to the end of the game without dying again. I can imagine that right at the end (no spoilers) when stakes are high and you’re so close to the finish line, dying would be a major inconvenience. The ending is where the speed of the game suddenly goes from gear one to five; everything happens at breakneck speed and there’s barely time to process what the hell is going on and what the best path is to saving Taylor’s life. But I would say that’s the issue, that there’s no skill involved in the decision making you do. There are two options and you can either choose the right one or the wrong one and sometimes it’s not necessarily obvious which the stupid decision is. There’s one option where skill COULD be involved, where you’re given the option to Google the answer to a question Taylor has about her survival, but even then it’s still entirely luck based which the right option would be. I wish they’d had more options like this where intelligence, skill, thought and logic all played a part at certain times. Where there would be no possible way Taylor could progress without the particular knowledge I had that she did not being stuck on a planet without wifi or phone signal. 

Source

I managed to get this as part of Apple's app of the week so it was free, but I feel it's usual price of under £1 (generally, but I think it varies) is very fair. The choices are mostly, like 80%, well written. Never too similar, sometimes a moral dilemma, but sometimes the two options you are faced with are SO BANAL. Like Taylor will say, “No way! Oh god oh god oh god” and instead  of being able to wait a minute to hear what she has to say you literally have to choose “What is it?” or “Take a minute” like why! No, bitch, don’t take a minute! I want answers now but I’m totally pretending to be patient and kind when really you just need to tell me what is up. Especially near the end this is extremely prevalent and when there are barely any gaps and your main job is to ask, “Tell me!” it gets a bit grating. Even Taylor, a qualified astronaut who in reality would be approximately a billion times smarter than the average player, gives no strong reason as to why she would listen to your advice so willingly. There are times she rebels and that’s frustrating but quite amusing at the same time. There’s a mixed bag in terms of the quality of the writing, but luckily for the player it is generally on the excellent and conversational side. 


Overall this game is an enjoyable, involving ride that lasts days and feels like you’re really a part of mission control helping to save someone’s life. The interface is the most simple I’ve seen but it’s effective and would be especially fun with a smart watch for the constant updates. It is an easy game to grasp, but at times the overly simplistic choices can be frustrating or dull. If you enjoyed this app, well rejoice! There is now a part two to eat up a few more days of your life.

8.5/10

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Oxenfree (2016) Game Review - NO SPOILERS!


Source

Only recently have I started playing indie games as opposed to traditional mainstream games like Fallout and Grand Theft Auto, just to try something a bit different. With less of a budget, fewer people, and with less expectations about what the game should be or who it should appeal to, the games indie companies develop and release are obviously worlds apart from mainstream games. Instead of talking more widely about the differences between the two, though it would be interesting another time, I’ll focus more specifically on Oxenfree, a new 2016 adventure game that was a pretty amazing surprise, for being so understated and quiet. The game popped up a few times for me in “New Games” lists or “2016 Games” and after seeing its icon so much I felt I needed to look into it some more. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive on most well-known games review sites, and the screenshots portrayed the game as well made. The trailers I saw, without saying too much, featured an attempted suicide and some trippy graphics that got me really interested. I had no option, I had to download it.

Source


I got it for Xbox One and though I could be wrong, I feel like the game was designed with console in mind. There are a few tasks within the game that aren’t hard but they are quite satisfying (to wind tape players with both analogue sticks at the right pace to get the song playing properly). It’s a sort of platform set up, but with a bit more freedom than that to shift around the roads a bit left and right, and to climb up and down, so the game doesn’t feel so restrictive. The geography of the game, though well planned out and realistic to the point of seeming like it was based on the blueprint of a real island, was ultimately just too confusing for me. It was ridiculously hard to get a grasp on the layout, how to get from A to B without first visiting C, E, F and G. This is alluded to in the dialogue as a joke about the island being confusing though, so I have to assume it was a conscious decision like The Shining, or something. Regardless of that the scenery is seriously beautiful and it’s a joy to explore. Some of the graphics are pretty magical and it every aspect works in harmony to brilliantly unify the whole experience of the Oxenfree.

Source



The map itself was an interesting idea. It didn’t help much, but it looked good and kept you on track with where you had to try and find, but it was also glitchy at times. The bugs are what really annoyed me; there were only a few but they were big enough to be distracting and take you out of the zone. For instance the first mission you have to choose between two people. You choose. If you then start walking in the opposite direction to that person, the dialogue shifts to something like, “But Person Z is the other way! Guess we’re going for Person X, then.” (The conversations, by the way, are amazingly intricate, delicate, naturally flowing and organic.) Which is a nice touch that you aren’t cemented into following through with a choice once it’s made, but then once I’d gone for one person the map glitched and said I had rescued the other person and my mission was to rescue... the person I had just rescued. There were another few things like that, bugs in the plot or the dialogue, or being punished for choices I didn’t make, while the game said I did. I know, it’s petty, but I don’t expect things like that to happen in professional games that should have been rigorously tested; especially when the choices you make impact so heavily on the ending.
Source


The characters you get the opportunity to explore with are a bright and interesting bunch. Something that strikes me about the whole game is how amiable it is, how the apparent realism pervades every aspect of it, how stereotypes are shunned in favour of uniqueness and originality. The teenagers don’t feel like a recycled shadow of the ones used in films, they are whole and have their own quirks and traits and personal back stories. Your choices matter and after I finished and researched all the possible options, I was majorly impressed about how deep the intricacies go, and how much power you have over all storylines; past, present and future. Would it surprise anyone to learn I found this game shortly after playing Life Is Strange? The choices don’t matter quite as much as that, but still enough to make the effort worthwhile.
Source


The premise of the game revolves around time and sound, two wide subjects that are honed into elements that set it apart from the crowd, make it unique and a surprisingly enjoyable experience. Nothing is too complicated, nothing gets too deep. The controls are basic, the mini games are  appropriately difficult but given weight because the consequences can be dire in such a personal game where you really do care about all (well, most) of the characters. The mini games are even contextualised to not allow them to become jarring within the storyline, and actually though having fun should take away from the creepy experience, it pulls you deeper in. The creepiness is only added to by the fact you have so much control over the outcome. Someone dies? Probably your fault. Someone hates you? Definitely your fault. 

Source


Now I need to talk about one of the best things about the game. I’ve been waiting patiently to do it and now it’s time. This was a scary game! And not in a shock value way, in an extremely creepy way you can’t quite put your finger on that seeps out through the sound, the glitch time loops, the shadows, the darkness, the weirdness that nothing is as it seems and the possibility that the whole world can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye really gets to you! You sit on the edge of your seat, really wondering about what is going to happen next because you can’t even guess. It’s trippy, it’s crazy, but it’s simple and well executed. Special congratulations to the audio/sound people involved. The next best thing? The ending. Wow, the ending. Not often does an ending EVER live up to my very high standards, but this one blew my expectations out the water. Wow! I can’t say much without spoiling it for you, but let’s just say nothing gets tied up into a convenient bow to put your mind at ease conclusively. It’s clever and more of a wry wink to the player, one final twist, something to take away with you so the game never quite leaves your mind even when you’re done with it.


Overall, Oxenfree is well planned, well executed and well designed, a high quality game that, despite its short play time, is enjoyable and thrilling. Creepy without relying on shocks, the setting and characters bring you into a personal journey that runs alongside an accidental expedition to a different kind of world. Brilliantly written, Oxenfree is worth it for the conversations alone. Also, excitingly, a web series is development based on Oxenfree, so watch this space!


9/10