Thursday, May 26, 2011

And She'll Scream, and She'll Shout, and She'll Pray

Video games, like other forms of media, often comment on the nature of society. In fact one could argue that that is the very nature of media: to comment on society, the good, the bad, the ugly, the confusing and the complicated.

Kotaku recently published an article concerning the nature of the relationship between Elizabeth, a woman from the highly anticipated (read OMFG IS IT HERE YET?!) Bioshock: Infinite and Songbird, her mechanical captor. When she first appeared in the teaser trailer Elizabeth was shown as nothing more than a beautiful face, trapped high in a tower, being held against her will by something lurking and monstrous. She seemed to be a very real princess trapped in a very real tower waiting on a man to come to her rescue.

Needless to say, I wasn’t terribly impressed with her.

Then the 10-minute demo footage was released. Here, I saw this woman in the midst of the fight, more than holding her own. She didn’t seem to need any help or protection which in addition to giving her more of a unique personality put my fears of escort missions aside.

What also caught my attention was the fact that Elizabeth spent a fair amount of time in the demo struggling to breathe as she raced through the chaotic streets of Columbia in a corset. I know it may seem strange that such a thing really stuck with me but I think it speaks volumes in the developer’s quest to make her a real person. Society demands that she forcefully constrict her body to accentuate her hips and bust while making her waist seem impossibly small all in the name of what’s considered beautiful and appealing – never mind that it also compresses her lungs, ribs, and organs. Elizabeth is a woman restricted by her environment and is now being revealed as a woman fleeing an abusive relationship.

In the article, Kevin Levine describes how Elizabeth pleads to the protagonist – you – not to let Songbird take her back, implying she’d rather die than fall back into his mechanical hands. Yet, when the synthetic beast catches up with her she tearfully apologizes for running away and asks it to take her back home.

She is strong and clearly capable but still frightened, made weak by her fear and inability to keep the hopelessness of her situation out of her mind. She resigns herself back into captivity to save your life, as abused women often do for the sake of their children.

I find it brave of Irrational Games to explore this type of relationship. I truly do.

Elizabeth seems damaged, trapped, strong, intelligent, and real.

I can’t wait to get to know her better and find out how her story ends.

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