Apologies for the lateness of this entry – I meant to have it up last week, as the topic is relevant to the theories covered in class on that date. If it’s any consolation, I will say that ninjas were involved. Heavily armed ninjas. Very dangerous. Keep your eyes open, they could come from anywhere.
On to business. The topic covered last week was the nature of a theory called ‘the gaze’ – to those unfamiliar with Theories of Race and Ethnicity, a short definition of the theory is that of the imposition of our (I use the term ‘our’ loosely, in this definition consider it to cover Western culture in general) societal mores, values, and perceptions, and judging another society or culture by those self-same perceptions as opposed to their own mores and values. As an example; judging the actions ofEngland’s imperial period as opposed to our more ‘enlightened’ (this is sarcasm) outlook.
So no, not that kind of gaze. The salient question here, though, is how this relates to narratives in the gaming industry. What new and modern games can we apply or have had the ‘gaze’ applied to? Take a look at one of the games studied in another English unit – Team Bondi and Rockstar’s L.A Noire.
What marks L.A Noire most is it’s setting; it’s stated in the title, in game materials, in the advertisements – this is a noir game. Part of the noir genre. The definition, in this case, being that of the hard-boiled detective/cop fiction; femme fatales, gangsters, and a very unsympathetic portrayal of violence and corpses (to those attending my American Literature class, you might recognize this description from the recent presentation on video games and narratives). We are being presented by L.A Noire a distinct impression, our modern era’s impression, of a certain era in American history – one that has been almost romanticized under this genre. Look at the following pictures, and the video;
The slang, the styles, the characters. Suits, fine outer-wear, outfits we associate with that era and that genre; the suit coat, the tie, and especially the fedora. Make it specific; that hat is a trademark of a genre we have built up under this modern ‘gaze’; look at two of the biggest movies in the noir genre, The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon.
The same styles of outerwear (that hat!), the same type of main character, the tough-as-nails investigator (albeit in L.A Noire, presented on the side of the police), all these public perceptions we have come to associate with the era of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The modern ‘gaze’ being applied to a major period in American history. Granted, it’s less on the ethics and morals (although more than a few articles have been written debating the actions of Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon) and more on the stereotypes we built up in the public mind, but that same imposition of our perception onto that era fits with the theory of the ‘gaze’ in and of itself.
As another example, let us return to a game studied last week; the Command and Conquer series. Start with these videos; the opening scenes for two of the factions, and the speech of the leader of the Allied faction; President Ackerman.
“It is an honor to sacrifice one’s life for the Motherland.”, “Comrade Dascha”, “No longer will we suffer the appeasement and corruption of the foreign barbarians.” “A new Empire of the Rising Sun” “You are destined to reawaken bushido, the way of the samurai.”. The sheer level of Western perception in those two videos, and the over-the-top nature of the President’s anti-Communist and anti…well, pretty much everything that isn’t his party speeches are primary examples of the ‘gaze’ theory – again, we are seeing Westernization and imposition of our perceptions of these peoples into the games’ narratives (with a healthy dose of self-depreciating humor alongside it). Talk of bushido, the Soviet peoples and the rather outrageous Russian and Japanese accents, the very heavy Cold War-esque sentiments being expressed in a very pro-‘mom and apple pie’ type platform by a very capitalist president; the idea to ‘fear the Red menace’ or ‘fear the Yellow menace’ (to coin some very old phrases), whereas in their story narratives, we are being presented (or at least America) in a very much ‘fear the Blue menace’ type affair. What is notable is that in this case, it is purposeful, and not due to a cultural phenomenon that has remained with us since the 40s and 50s.
Either way, this narrative has taken our perceptions of the values and mores of these two countries, the USSR and Japan, and imposed them onto the characterizations of their respective leaders and groups in-game. I could go on about L.A Noire as a homage, and Red Alert as a parody, but regardless, both take the ‘gaze’ theory to different levels in their narratives.