I Know, It’s Only Retinal Candy, But I Like It, Like It, Yes I Do . . . But I Like It, I Like It

Grand Theft Auto IV is officially the largest media release in history. It earned more money in its first day, weekend and week than any movie, CD, book or other video game. But, as Roger Ebert once opined, some still believe good code and narrative can never be art — as for example, his favorite Russ Myer movies such as “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens” or “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill”.

Let’s move beyond Ebert. It’s a staple in videogame lore that visual aesthetics aside, when the games began to evoke deep emotional responses from players as well as “twitch” or puzzles, then art began to take form. And for most, the touchstone moment was Final Fantasy VII. There, a much beloved female character, Aeris, died at the hands of the arch bad guy Separoth. True tears were shed by millions around the globe, male and female. Circa 1997 or so. Legions upon legions of fans (of all genders) played the game several times tying to avert this death. Some even tried to hack the game to prevent it.

Most game designers today still cite this date as the breakthough moment that proved Ebert off his mark. So what’s this got to do with GTA IV? Not so much directly. It is not aiming for that gentle provocative moment. Our friends over at Feministing have some commentary that is pretty balanced on the whole controversy — is it art? They quite rightly note that the “sandbox” nature of the game — i.e., the character can roam the City at will, and make moral choices (or not) — take it away from the traditional rail game. Feministing’s major points are that the game is premised on violence and does not allow a player, for all the vaunted ‘freedom’ to escape an essentially misogynistic role. And naturally it all comes down to corporate manipulation.

OK, this is unhelpful

OK, This Could Be More Helpful

What the Stiftung finds so amusing about it all (and yes, we do consider GTA and HALO art) is that GTA is written by foreigners looking in on America. Vice City (Miami), San Andreas (LA-Vegas) and now IV (NY City) are all not only the product of a small, young (read hormonally active) set of developers (how does Feministing know they are all straight?), they also happen to be from Europe, looking at America. That young Europeans do not embrace Feministing’s social agenda should be no surprise, nor should it be a basis for misunderstanding the games as a critical (or uninformed) view of our fair continent. Regardless, for many around the world, this is what you get in the Land of Plenty.

Movies, like games, are in the end about the spectrum between art and commerce. Final projects intentionally or unintentionally fall along that spectrum. It would be interesting to hear Feministing’s idea for a game that would attract the venture or other financing to get their vision made that would incorporate their artistic and social notions. Along with a business plan. It’s not enough to denounce the mere presence of a business plan, alas, as a sign of dread ‘corporate’ presence. Even Indie films have one, albeit often on a napkin. Money will go where it has some return on investment — either actual ROI, relationship development or in pursuit of some political/perceptual change.

What exactly would a feminist ‘sand box’ game look like? Or for that matter, any type of game? Would Okami qualify with its stunning visuals and non-traditional play? ICO? Katamari Damacy? Or are we talking women doing the same thing, ala Tomb Raider ad nauseum. What exactly is a feminist video game? Perhaps there really is a market niche waiting.

We actually agree with most of what Feministing has to say here. It’s just a shame the post left off when it was about to get the most interesting.


  1. Anon says

    That guy Tweety tooled on re Appeasement , Kevin James, is actually someone with a rather (realtively) impressive resume. Our so-called meritocracy is not an efficient market so there is often a tremendous gap between resume and reality (eg Condi) because the casual viewer would see this character as a lower level Hannity.


  2. Comment says

    That great Random Quote – from Henry Cabot Lodge to McGeorge Bundy just popped up. It’s almost literary intrigue, as well as history- Fantastic amount of information contain within. Love that feature – glad we contributed.

  3. Comment says

    Btw – McCain is unintentionally lucky that Bush’s colossal smear (which we think will backfire – maybe not with the rapture crown) blew his somewhat sad speech.

    McCain seemed like one of Newt’s slower futurist-class students when he tried to outline what the world would look like when he finished his first term,

    When he got to the end of part of his speech saying Osama Bin Laden would be killed he paused and smiled as if he were a student that managed to memorize a not-so complicated poem by Shel Silverstein.

    This is part of McCain’s accessible charm – But it’s a weakness too. Oh – one more weakness McCain has. He is under the false impression that he knows a lot about sports. But he doesn’t – He has no idea how much people who do know a lot about sports really know.

  4. Comment says

    We have mixed feelings about this admittedly funny Tweety takedown of this right wing radio guy Kevin James. For the record, Kevin James is someone we have never heard of before so we don’t know if this was his standard performance or maybe he was nervous like that Mayor from Austin that Tweety embrasassed before.

    Anyway – Kevin James came accross as someone a bit lower than Hannity on the food chain of wing commentary and he really did not seem to know what Appeasment means.

    But – in fairness to this seeming ignoramus, he hears George Bush and John McCain and talk radio constantly refer to Appeasment as talking. So that’s all he knows?

    Would Tweety have nailed McCain the same way? McCain also confuses appeasement with talking, as does Bush.

    We suspect not – Tweety is too cowed by Authority and he saw this harmless shout show dude as just some mean competituon to stick thru the grinder.

    Oh – btw – McCain at Davos (elitist!) video discussing his favorable view to dealing with Hamas is up on HuffPo.
    It makes good video – McCain is confused and was probably under the influence of European swells when he spoke.

    Too bad we Dems don’t excel at sticking with this stuff. It takes practice. Comment knows from conversation with Dem operatives that many of them don’t attack Republicans on a host of vulnerabilities because the variouos lines of attack never occur to them in a sincere way. They just don’t grok it – Rather, they are often lured into the interminable swamp of cultural politics and they don’t understand that this benefits Republicans generally.

  5. Comment says

    Ha – we just heard on CNN that McCain told Jamie Rubin on UK’s Sky News that he was in favor of dealing with Hamas. Another McCain flip flop? So McCain is technically softer on Hamas than Obama? Hmmm – We’ll hold our breath for the media to pounce. But the DNC should have an ad up that airs on the side of unfairness.

    A good image for an anti McCain ad is to get that footage of McCain delivering pizza to a firehouse. McCain looks ridiculous in that footage – confused. Like a simpleton.All it needs is some clever editing, good music, and a sarcastic voice over.

    It should say simply that McCain favors talking to Hamas, but only recently flip flopped.

  6. Comment says

    One more minor note – McCain wants to have a PM question time – Like Parliament.

    You don’t have to be a fan of Addington’s (btw – good joke about him Yorkshire ranter) Eexcutive notions to see why this would be a-constitutional.

    Does McCain understand how Gordon Brown was elected? Does McCain understand the seperation of powers? Were not so sure.

    But we think McCain inherited from his father a view that the British government is a better system. McCain probably groked that unconsciously.

  7. Comment says

    McCain had an interview with Matt Bai when he sincerely explained why it was less cool to interfere in Africa than the Mid East:
    “I think in the case of Zimbabwe, it’s because of our history in Africa,” McCain said thoughtfully. “Not so much the United States but the Europeans, the colonialist history in Africa ….”

    McCain really seems to be unaware of the colonialist creatiion of the modern Middle East. It’s sad that Democrats like Biden and Daschle have not figured out a way to pounce on this when they appear on talk shows.

    It takes some work – and practice – to fiogure out how to properly attack politicians in a way that causes them trouble.

    St John gets lots of slack over his alleged experience (failed bombing runs, congressionl junkets, etc) – All this is par of the course and we have always liked St. John personally.

    But it is becoming clear than he is someone who thinks he knows things that he does not know. His Shia Sunni confusion was not just a mild senior moment. The latter would be fine.

    It would be better if he has neocon view of the Mid East – One that understands how the modern states were created and seeks to undermine them on that basis.

    But McCain seems to think they are these organic Arabic nations. Incidentally – on the Daily Show he seemed to confuse Qaeda and Hamas. If that was just politics, that would be ok – But it seems now that he really is confused.

  8. Comment says

    We just tunes into hear a lame Daschle defense of Obama against Bush’s disgusting attack in the Knesset.

    Bush has strengthened our enemies in the Middle East in almost every respect, but someone how Daschle seemed defensive instead of using this as opportunity to attack Bush and attack McCain. Let McCain cry foul – Let Mark Salter cry in his beer – but by all means attack him.

  9. Comment says

    Did anyone catch that intense Bill O”reilly flame out footage – Ofcourse, that manic intensity is actually the key to his success. Part of his following is generated by the fact people sense that deep well of rage within that could (indeed did) explode at any moment. Like a PO’d SUV driver in traffic on I95 goes into total road rage during a traffic slight from an offending car.
    Colbert has a pretty funny spoof – showing his own supposed flame-out from his days as a minor anchor.

    The best part of that Bill footage was the end when he gets up and just fumes. It’s hard to know what steamed him so. But that is the key to his success. Just like Tweety’s success is based, in part, on his deep sense of insecurity – a caricuture and exaggerated form of the same insecurity many of his fellows have.

  10. Comment says

    So the grandson of Prescott Bush plays the Nazi card in the Knessett? Will it work? We doubt it – McCain lacks the finesse to pull off a good smear job. This will be a net negative for his campaign.

    But this is one more small sign that Gee Dubs might want to attack Iran – esp if 8 years of Obama loom and he wants Obama to inherit a different kind of mess.

    Bush is not a good President, but his whole life has been a masterpiece in blame shifting and avoiding accountability. Try to imagine all the times he avoided the legal accountability when young – both civilian and military – Plus all the times he was bailed out when older. Then re-elected after a disasterous war sold on lies, compunded by failure. With that in mind – an attack on Iran makes sense, precisely because it makes no sense. By creating a bigger problem to hand off the Obama, he escapes many lines of direct accountability for what happens when he leaves office.

    It’s gonna take a very clever mind to make these people accountable in a politically acceptable way.

  11. SolidPhil says

    Holy fucking shit, peeps, there are two video games. One is Quake, the other is Civilization. “What exactly would a feminist ’sand box’ game look like”. Get over yourselves. “Sand box” game indeed; maybe the original Empire is non-deterministic. Sorry, I’m sputtering. Did I miss the point?

  12. Comment says

    Just reading the GTA wiki and we’re psyched to buy this game. Here’s how a feminist version could be created – Just as Eve came from Adam’s rib, a feminist character could be created for GTA 5 and then a spin off could come from that. She’s a professor of ‘cultural studies,’ lives in a hipset W-burg type neighborhood, but she sidlines as a Fence because she otherwside cannot afford a a rent controlled apartment. This connects her to the underworld. She has many weaknesss – but a heart of gold.

  13. Comment says

    Does GTA4 contain any Albanian characters? If so, they could probably do something with that. We plan to get this when we get the chance.

  14. Comment says

    “What exactly would a feminist ’sand box’ game look like?”

    If you told someone 15 months ago that Hillary would wind up her campaign being defended by Pat Buchanan on charges of race baiting, they would have thought “no way.” But life is stranger than the game of sand box politics..

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