Does Having a Female Lead In Video Games Affect Sales?


Over the years the video game industry has developed into becoming one of the top profitable forms of entertainment beating streaming services, the music industry and the box office. From their realistic and life like graphics to its ground breaking storytelling, it’s no secret that the video game industry has come a long way from the classical 80’s type of games. Take the gaming company Rockstar’s newest installment Red Dead Redemption 2 for example. This highly anticipated western sequel went on to make over $725 million in its first three days of being released, thus making it the largest opening weekend in the HISTORY of entertainment. That’s just one example that shows the success the gaming industry has. However, while these games do make a profit and are enjoyable to play, they are missing a vital role. I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to video games in the public eye, it can be seen as being a more male dominated culture. Because of this, we see a lack of female leads for big video game blockbuster hits. This is a problem the gaming industry has faced for years and continues to face in the present day. However, with the rise of national movements such as #MeToo, we might be able to see a significant change in the gaming industry that will lead to an equal representation of both male and female leads. 

In the past, it was almost unusual if a female were to admit she played video games. But now a days, I feel we’re finally growing out of that perception as video games have slowly become more mainstreamed in our culture. If we look at the charts below, you can actually see throughout the years how male and female gamers almost stayed equal with one another as users.

So, with these new found statistics, why is it that video game characters/stories still don’t seem to have a sort of inclusion with female leads? Well one answer to look at, is the marketing side. There seems to be this myth that still holds up today that games with female heroes won’t sell. The reality of the situation is that games with a female lead hero does not have a strong enough marketing budget due to its lack of female lead games that are avaliable. “Games with exclusively male heroes sold around 75 percent better than games with only female heroes.” (Becky Chambers). Male lead games do take over the majority of gaming so it’s no wonder their games get an increase in the marketing budget. It seems to me that this problem has a Sisyphus effect. Because of its lack of female leads in games, the marketing will always stay down and won’t be able to change unless the games change. Until then, we’re going to continue to go in circles.

https://youtu.be/t60azfi_tzEThis is the trailer to the game Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 from 2011. You can imagine the production value is rather high and the commercial follows two male leads.

https://youtu.be/ZfZGhHXwPGEHere’s another live action trailer for Call of Duty Black Ops 2 from 2012. In it, you get to see a little bit of diversity and even a few females kicking some ass. Progress?

Now, it’s not to say that there are no female lead video game characters because there are. In fact, there are some great female leads with a fully developed three dimensional characteristic compared to those that are more two dimensional (Princess Peach in the early years who always seems to be the damsel in distress). However that being said, these lead female characters tend to be more sexualized for the game. Lara Croft in Tomb Raider is a prime example of this. While she’s going around the jungle fighting bad guys and collecting artifacts, she’s doing it dressed in not exactly the attaire you would think. 

While the game remains to be a fun action-packed adventure, it almost seems as though the story and the marketing relied on a more sexualized Lara Croft rather than a character driven Lara Croft. This has actually since changed in the newer developments of the Tomb Raider games. 

More clothed and dressed appropriately for the environment

https://youtu.be/QT3kfwrkbvIThis is another excellent example of how female lead games are often sexualized, thus getting the male demographic more interested.

While the gaming industry has tried and failed with female representation, I do believe they are slowly on their way to achieving their goal. There are games that represent a female lead based off of her character and not their sexualization. Games such as the new Gears of War 5, Uncharted Lost Legacy, Mirrors Edge, and Metroid Prime just to name a few. One quick game I really want to focus on is Naughty Dogs ground breaking The Last Of Us, which went on to win over 48 awards including a BAFTA games award for the female lead performer. The Last Of Us is a survival horror game that features a duo narrative starring the lead Joel and the other lead, a young girl named Ellie. Both of these characters are well developed and given very strong realistic personality’s. My hope for the future, is the sequel to the game that is to be released in 2020. This time, we seem to follow an older version of Ellie as more of the lead and a possible represent of the LGBTQ community. You can see from the gameplay trailer below. 

While we are still a very long way away to getting equal representation of female leads in video games, one can see how far we’ve truly come in developing these characters and also, can see what the future holds. While there still isn’t nearly as many titled female games as there is male, I strongly believe that the gaming industry will fully turn around. I also believe that the release of the highly anticipated The Last Of Us Part II will play a big role for the future. Unfortunately, it all seems to come down to being a money issue. In order to change this, we need to break the wheel that is the marketing side of the gaming industry and give equal publicity, marketing value, and production value to games for both male and female leads. 

Citations:

https://www.themarysue.com/why-games-with-female-protagonists-dont-sell-and-what-it-says-about-the-industry/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/232383/gender-split-of-us-computer-and-video-gamers/

https://www.athena40.org/45-percent-of-gamers-are-women

https://www.gamecrate.com/statistically-video-games-are-now-most-popular-and-profitable-form-entertainment/20087

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2140553/awards?ref_=tt_awd

How Disney Has Distorted Our Perception Of Reality

As a child, I grew up obsessed with Disney movies. My mom had an entire cabinet dedicated to VHS tapes of every princess movies created (she still hasn’t thrown them out, by the way). These were the movies that shaped my childhood and the perception I had of the world. However, analyzing the movies I loved as a child through the eyes of an adult, I’ve realized that many of these films are problematic. So, how did animated movies made for pure entertainment affect us negatively? And how is the new content they are putting forth changing the way children perceive the world, in comparison to movies of the past?

One of the biggest issues with the Disney of the past is racial stereotyping. As our culture has become more aware and respectful of other cultures, movies that were meant to be innocent fun are actually problematic. In the World War II era, Donald Duck became a symbol of America and support for the American military, appearing on countless propaganda posters. Using a character that children look up to in order to inspire people to join the military ingrains the message of American dominance into people from an early age.

In Pocahontas (1995), Pocahontas’s life was spared by John Smith because of her beauty. She also becomes the “nice” Native American because she saves the life of a white man. Instead of representing Native American culture and women in a more accurate or empowering way, Disney instead made the film about white male dominance. Another movie that has garnered a lot of criticism is Aladdin (1992). The whole film is a stereotype of the Middle East, complete with commentary on how “barbaric” the culture is. And, if you look closely, the “good guys” have much lighter skin than the “bad guys”. Since the initial release of the film, lines from the songs had to be changed because they were too racist.

Taking it all the way back to the beginning with Snow White and The Seven Dwarves (1944), Snow White was prized because she had the fairest skin. From the 40’s to the 90’s, we can see that Disney has released countless films that shaped our childhood. But, due to the racist and stereotypical way the films portray other cultures and the dominant way white Americans were portrayed, the young children viewing these movies grew up with a narrow and misconstrued world view. 

In the past few years, Disney is making a conscious effort to make sure they are providing America’s youth, along with the rest of the world, a better representation of different cultures and more diverse range of content. Taking a look at the old films I mentioned previously, you can quickly note that not a single person of color worked in the creative development of the film. However, recent films such as Moana (2016) and Coco (2017) have been praised for their use of consultants throughout the creative process to ensure that both films were culturally sensitive. Moana takes a look at Polynesian culture, whereas Coco is inspired by Mexican-American culture and the holiday Day of the Dead. Both films are a far more accurate representation of a minority group and don’t feature the subtext of white American dominance the films of the past do.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) has received some criticism for being culturally insensitive, but Disney did take a step forward by introducing an African-American princess. The setting of the movie being in New Orleans was also a step away from the traditional films and provided the audience with a subculture within America. Disney recently announced their newest animated film, Raya The Last Dragon (2020), which will be Disney’s first animated feature to take place in South East Asia. The future for Disney’s diversity and inclusion is looking much brighter.

As one of the largest production companies in the world, Disney has an immense influence on popular culture. Their power is like nothing no other company has, which can be intimidating when the majority of their content is created for children. They have an ability to shape the minds of the next generation. Looking back on these films I adored as a child has changed my perception on them. While they are entertaining and nostalgic, it is important to remember how content like this can cause children to become narrow-minded. Instead of condemning the films, I think that it’s important to learn from them and improve. By looking at Disney’s most recent animated films, it’s easy to see that they are actively trying to do better. With the success of films like Moana and Coco, I’m hopeful that the future of Disney will continue to do better. 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-disney-came-define-what-constitutes-american-experience-180961632/

http://www.hollywood.com/movies/the-evolution-of-disney-films-from-snow-white-to-now-60557826/#/ms-22719/2

https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/hollywood/coco-moana-see-disney-get-diversity-right-1.2133738

Müller-Hartmann, Andreas. “Is Disney Safe for Kids?—Subtexts in Walt Disney’s Animated Films.” Amerikastudien / American Studies, vol. 52, no. 3, 2007, pp. 399–415. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41158321.

Tavin, Kevin M., and David Anderson. “Teaching (Popular) Visual Culture: Deconstructing Disney in the Elementary Art Classroom.” Art Education, vol. 56, no. 3, 2003, pp. 21–35. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3194050.

The Superhero Genre : Violence and Morality

Superhero movies have become the best selling genre of movies in the box office. The buzz over the new “Avengers: End Game” has drawn thousands of people to crowd the box office to head to opening weekend. So, why do we find superhero films so appealing? As a genre that paints the world black and white, and lets us decide the forces of good and evil it peaks our simple fancies. What happens to the narrative once violence seems to overshadow the good? If the hero turns into the anti-hero; do younger audiences get the chance to critically analyze and notice the effect on their own judgment in the long run?

A new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition hopes to break down these very real worries. The institute conducted a study on superhero films from 2015-2016 totalling ten movies in all. They found the protagonist on average was depicted in more acts of violence than their antagonist. They noticed 22.7 violent acts per hour, but the antagonists only had 17.5 per hour in comparison. Fighting, being the most common act of violence, with use of a lethal weapon coming in second. Males were depicted with 33.6 acts per hour and women barely hit 6.5 on average within that hour. My question is exploring how can children start to decipher who the bad guy and good guy is after seeing them commit acts associated more commonly with immoral behavior.

One argument is children and adults alike get the sense that aggression can be justified if it’s being done by a good person. While we have a fascination with the bad guy as their moral depravity interests us from an outside perspective, are we getting that same fascination with vigilante and anti-hero narratives? The line become blurred as we get more crude, dark, or wise-cracking heros like Deadpool, Mad Max, and Hellboy. Humans tend to learn moral lessons from our media intake and in the movies we often feel pain or delight in getting to condemn or praise the hero or villain on screen. Those same principles have been around since early vaudeville as the villain was much easier to spot with little quirks like an evil cackle, maniacal laughter, twirling their mustache, and cheeky grins. The audience is encourage to participate by picking sides; in those cases audiences would “boo” the villain. We don’t do that anymore, but we still get to make a choice for who to root for.

In comics, heroes establish an unspoken rule to make sure they never actually murdered their enemies and took responsibility for their actions. For example, Batman always catches the Joker in the end, but never actually kills him as his own moral code will not let his anger get the best of him. In contemporary times, starting with the new surgence of anti-hero, we see more implications of death. In Deadpool comics and even the movies he has no such restriction to value the lives of the “bad guys”. They are much more complex than the average Superman, but they are showcased as a more flawed meta-human/ human who usually acts for more selfish reasons.

In my personal opinion, I believe superhero movies can be good fun for younger audiences, but violence just like sexuality or other adult themes should be talked about to children. They should be encouraged to critically view these films and talk about what they have just seen instead of letting little Jimmy pretend he killed the whole family with his toy gun. I believe it could be constructive and pick apart what the real message in these moral stories are. I think this should be a more prevalent issue as we continue to question other social problems, but America’s constant thirst for violence seems to never be put up for debate as much as I would see other hot topics such as LGBTQ representation, the war on drugs, racism, or feminism.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/02/health/superhero-movie-violence-study/index.html

Rosenberg, Robin S. Our Superheroes, Ourselves. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Going the Distance

Going The Distance
One of my favorite movies when I was a child was Hercules. He embodied what I wanted to be: strong, courageous, and a hero that saved others. Back in the day when video cassette was still a thing, it was Hercules or Cinderella, so I’d rewatch Hercules over and over again. “I can go the distance” is something that has stuck with me since. This phrase, to me, meant being determined and tough, no matter the circumstances. It’s a phrase that translates well to my own idea of being a man and overcoming obstacles that life throws at us. After learning about gender stereotypes and the idea of toxic masculinity, I was surprised to see how much media and animation has had an effect me and my own ideas of what it means to be a man. Using Hercules and my own experiences as a “man”, I attempt to define what it takes to be a man in today’s culture and address the outcome of this view.


As a child, I looked at and held onto the stereotypical traits that Hercules exemplified. His physical strength and bravery, and his willingness to go the distance were values that I looked up to during my time as a wrestler and cross country runner. The movie starts off with baby Hercules being drugged into being a mortal by Hades, however unbeknownst to Hades, the drug wasn’t utilized fully and Hercules still has his overpowered physical strength. Hercules is exiled by this strength in the mortal realm and his uniqueness outcasts him from society other than his mortal parents. After he basically destroys a market due to his superhuman strength, he realizes that he is indeed different. This sparks his journey of self-discovery where he learns that he is actually son of Zeus and in order to become a god again he must become a “true” hero. This is when, “Go the Distance”, is brought in. He avows to overcome any obstacle in order to become this “true” hero and go back home to his real parents and become a god. This first part of the movie sets up the journey in which he finds out what being a “true” hero really takes. He’s different from everyone else and we the viewers know he is actually a demigod who was taken actually taken away from his home. After he realizes this, we root for him to get his rightful place back. This leads into the second part of the movie, in which I derived most of what I think it takes to be a man from.


After he swears to do whatever it takes to get back to his real father, Zeus, he goes to the satyr Philoctetes to learn what it takes to be a “true hero”. This is the training arc of the movie where he is taught to hone his physical strength and become even stronger. He also becomes a hero to the people and defeats many evil beasts. Throughout this training arc his physical appearance changes to something akin to a professional bodybuilder. This is the part that I latched onto as a child. I saw this change and wanted to replicate it. This change from scrawny to brawny is what I believe is the first step into being a man in today’s culture: physical strength. A lot of you may not know this but I typically spend six to seven days a week at the gym and train for average three to four hours each time I’m there. Physical strength is important to me. While we are leaning away from these stereotypes, it’s been grounded into me that physical strength is easily the most identifiable feature of being a man. Being scrawny or fat was a fast way to alienate yourself from other boys growing up. Because of this reinforcement by my peers growing up, the training arc has stuck with me till this day. The idea that you must be physically strong and fit to be a man is something I believe to be prevalent in today’s culture. This can lead to more violent/aggressive tendency and also contributes to this idea of being a manly man. All in all, this was where I found most of my ideas of what being a man are and what I believe culture sees it as. The defining characteristics being that men must be physically and mentally strong, courageous and determined, and ultimately unburdened by things that cause vulnerability such as emotions.


The final part of the movie is where Disney perhaps tried to take Hercules and use him as somewhat a unconventional hero. The younger version of me did not interpret this, however today I can see this as an attempt to alleviate some of the male stereotypes. After defeating all the bad guys, he sacrifices his life to save the one he loves, Megara. This act is what is deemed by Zeus to be hero worthy and he gets his godhood revoked. However, it’s his final act that goes against the typical male stereotypes that were portrayed through the other parts of the movie. He finally gets his goal of becoming a god and going back home but he gives it up for love. An emotion that leaves us vulnerable and usually gets us hurt. This sacrifice of immortality and power shows that he was different. The typical male protagonist at the time would have gotten the power, fame, and the women. But in this instance, he had a choice between power and his love, and he chose love. This final part of the movie didn’t fully register to me at the time but seemed like an attempt to show that masculinity is not all about physical and mental fortitude.


All in all, from the Disney movie Hercules, I grew up wanting to become a manly man. Someone who was strong, reliable, courageous, and invulnerable. However, as I get older I start to see that there is much more to being a “man” than these things. Such as being able to accept one’s own weaknesses, failures, sacrificing and allowing oneself to be emotional. I’ll admit that I’m still a believer in many of the things I believed in as a child. I still believe in strength and emotional invulnerability as strong indicators of what it takes to be a man. Be that as it may, as I learn more from my own experiences searching for a job and facing hardship, sometimes the phrase “going the distance” means something far more complex.

 

Citations:

Primo, Cassandra. “Balancing Gender And Power: How Disney’s Hercules Fails To Go The Distance”. Social Sciences, vol 7, no. 11, 2018, p. 240. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/socsci7110240.
https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/what-we-mean-when-we-say-toxic-masculinity

Romance With Purpose: Yuasa and The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl

Mention the words “romantic comedy” among a group of people and there tend to be two general reactions. On one side there are the supporters, who might find Heath Ledger’s long hair in 10 Things I Hate About You extremely charming, and on the other side stand those of us who couldn’t care less about this genre of film. I myself tend to hold the opinion of the latter group–I mean, if I am going to watch a chick flick, I’d prefer to have some more substance than purely romantic drama. So then, you can imagine my surprise when I exited the theater after seeing Masaaki Yuasa’s The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017) completely by chance. The film debuted in select American theaters a few weekends in late August 2018. Unlike other films of the genre, The Night Is Short challenges the traditional definitions of romantic comedy films in order to create a story that better connects with its audience. In doing so, the film brings a wonderful new twist to the romantic comedy genre–one that both supporters and skeptics can enjoy alike.


The Night Is Short revolves around two main characters: Otome (the Girl with Black Hair), a young woman determined to experience “adult life” through a night of drinking, and Senpai, an out of luck college student who is convinced that the night’s events will determine his romantic status. Throughout the film, Otome and Senpai travel throughout the city of Kyoto, encountering a variety of eccentric characters and events along the way. At its heart, The Night Is Short is a romantic comedy: Senpai’s driving purpose throughout the film is to spark a romantic connection with Otome, yet a series of blunders plague his efforts. However, instead of stopping there, the film expands to encompass themes of maturity, purpose, and perspective. It is with this distinction, that Yuasa redefines how The Night Is Short approaches the genre of romantic comedy.

Considering my aforementioned position as someone who does not typically enjoy romantic comedy films, I decided to consider why I have a problem with films of this genre. I am not against romantic plotlines in movies, but I do have a problem when these plotlines exist without purpose. That being said, I think that one of Hollywood’s biggest pitfalls is writing romantic stories that feel genuine. So how do directors avoid this? From Don Underwear and “Apple Girl” to Todo San and his collection of art, many of the characters in The Night Is Short are involved in romantic dilemmas of some sort. However, Yuasa designates both narrative and visual screen time to each of these characters, allowing the audience to understand their stories and desires before rushing into a romantic situation. As an audience, we see the group of older drinkers struggle with finding entertainment in their remaining time, the heartbroken Kozaka mourn the marriage of his crush, and Rihaku struggle with the hollowness of life. Each of Yuasa’s characters holds a purpose, both emotionally and narratively, which make the central story between Otome and Senpai feel all the more real.

Finally, Yuasa uses the visual style of The Night Is Short to highlight the absurdity of human emotions, especially love. Each and every emotion throughout the film is accompanied by a dynamic visual representation. This makes the character’s come to life even further, as it is crystal clear how each character feels during their screen time. By choosing to draw emotions in this way, Yuasa inadvertently demonstrates how quickly human emotions appear and change. Characters go from balling their eyes out to dancing wildly or even fall in love within a matter of seconds. Their stories feel genuine because they are rooted themselves in reality. The characters in The Night Is Short remind us as an audience how simultaneously true and absurd the ideas of true love, talent, and inevitability are.

Regardless of your stance on romantic comedies, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl offers a narratively and visually unique experience for its audiences. With this film, Yuasa has redefined how romantic comedy films write romance and love for their characters. Further, Yuasa challenges each of us, both as audience members and creators, to expect more from our characters and ensure that each of our stories has a purpose–even if it is about something as overwritten as love.

That being said, GO WATCH THIS FILM! You can find the link to the trailer below.

Sources:

https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a26115125/romantic-comedy-definition/

https://kotaku.com/night-is-short-walk-on-girl-is-the-best-anime-movie-in-1828461233

What does it mean to be PG? 

The first time I pondered the idea of “kid-content” for entertainment was sitting on the blacktop with my guy-buddies in the first grade. Our raging debate revolved around what exactly the label PG meant. The conclusion: movies for babies (which we clearly were not.) PG-13 was what big-kids like us were going to watch. Then there were the spooky, off-limits rated R movies. What, wandered us kiddos, could possibly be so scary and so bad that we six-year-olds weren’t even allowed to look at. 

            But what actually is “kids’ content” in entertainment and media? Particularly within the world of animation, a form of visual media that is generally and platonically labeled as merely kids’ stuff? The cut and dry film rating system as stated by the Motion Picture Association of America defines content as such:

Rated G – General Audiences

All ages admitted. Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.

Rated PG – Parental Guidance Suggested

Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance”. May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.

Rated PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned

Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.

Rated R – Restricted

Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.

Specifically, the guidelines are designed to help parents decide what content is right for their kids. The MPAA rating helps parents choose what their child can and should view without actually having to prescreen it first.

But to understand why animation in America has come to be generally lumped into the “merely kids’ stuff” category, we need to look at the history of animation and how the industry came to be powered by targeting child audiences.

The rise of animation in the 1920s, like all forms of film during this decade, were both experimental and wide-ranging in content. Small studios were playing with the effects of animation in shorts, primarily cartoon-characters like Felix the Cat and Oswald Rabbit. It just so happened that not only did these early cartoons appeal to all audiences but primarily children. Particularly Walt Disney himself who as a young kid was inspired by the likes of Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur. Walt Disney would go on to become one of the most influential individuals in the animation industry as a forefather of the Walt Disney company empire that we see today. But it was this early period where the animators experimenting in 2D animation were not only testing the limits of the medium but were also creating content inspired by their own childhoods and reflecting that to child audiences. So, when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out, Disney’s first musical animated feature was not only a financial success – but it had the largest impact on kids. So, arising naturally from the personal tendencies of the artists and spurred on by financial success, animation began to showcase the magical imaginative nostalgia of childish stories – for children. 

But with Snow White and all the animated features to follow, darker, scarier themes would emerge as main characters frequently faced internal and sometimes terrifying trials, or wildly inappropriate behavior.

            We understand now that Animation developed both as a vehicle for monetary gain and as an artform powered by creative and imaginative individuals. Kids’ content was the primary target and therefore arose the misconception that animation is only for kids. But is it really?

            This has been the debate for as long as entertainment has been around. What is really for kids? How do kids know what is really for them? How can we lump a large group of our population into one category? And how -as creators- do we understand what a kid can – and cannot handle?  Are we mistreating the power of storytelling? The industry now creates content in all facets of the MPAA rating, from G rated preschool series to R rated raunchy adult comedies. Animated content isn’t entirely dominated by merely kids’ content. And while a four-year-old shouldn’t necessarily watch an episode of Rick and Morty, nor would a 45-year-old adult want to watch an episode of Bubble Guppies. Content however, can migrate across these ratings when it comes to deeper themes and meanings creating saturation in different forms of entertainment, particularly animation. 

            For instance, two films that come to mind that do so are kids’ films, both rated PG, that include subliminal messages and deeper themes. The first is Shrek.

Shrek is a kids’ film but at the very same time it is not. It is disguised as a kids’ film. It’s about an ogre named Shrek who just wants to live in peace and quiet in his swamp but in order to do so must go on a silly quest to save a princess to get his swamp back.  But the film is really a comical trope for the animated fantastical universe. It flips stereotypes on their heads and cause its adult audience to laugh while underplaying adult themes of accepting one for who you are in light of a world that disgraces you for what you are. 

The second is The Good Dinosaur, a film about a sauropod named Arlo who has to return home to his farm and traverse the wildness alongside Spot, a human caveboy. The characters learn to face their fears in the light of friendship. This film, however, goes much deeper than that and explores the darker, more depressing arenas of loss, death and abandonment. While usually brief and lightly touched on for a character’s overall story arch the Good Dinosaur really fleshes out these moments to be both impactful and resonating with its audiences- an audience primarily composed of children.

            So what then about animated content that focuses on adults? What themes meant for children become saturated in adult content? Part of the reason why animated content for adults is even animated is that the content itself wouldn’t work as live action. But, also, it could be to bring back some of the nostalgia of what it was like to be a kid, be it the awkwardness of adolescence in Bigmouth.

Or perhaps the imagination and fun of Rick and Morty.

While obviously these shows and others like them go beyond these innocent themes, the stylization and creation of this content plays on the idea that, even a wise adult with the knowledge and understanding of what might really be going on with themes and meanings, it’s still fun to partake in a play of childhood innocence. In fact, that might be the most tangible and valuable part of adult themed animated content.

In conclusion, how then do we define what’s right for who? Age and maturity play a part in how one perceives content. But if kids can be reminded through relatable characters the deeper and more adult themes like loss of innocence, death, war, profanity that slips into kids’ content and vice versa of adult content playing homage to the imagination fun and carefree innocence of childhood. Then what really is animation labeling good for? Clearly animation isn’t just for kids – it’s for everyone, for all ages have a different perspective of entertainment content and how its perceived entirely depends on the viewer.

Citations- 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Association_of_America_film_rating_system
https://studioservices.go.com/disneystudios/history.html
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Snow-White-and-the-Seven-Dwarfs-film-1937
https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2014/03/19/enquirer-artist-influenced-walt-disney/6608049/

Dynamic Womxn in Animation

In Animation, mostly if not all lead characters are “strong” men who go save the damsel in distress. The damsel in distress is represented as perfect standard of beauty, and their only dimension to their personality is being nice and thankful for being saved. We see this in movies, mainly from Disney like Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc. But, where are the womxn characters who are dynamic? Who are multi-facted and are more than just a pretty face and hot body. As a Filipino-Italian womxn, I have my own stories to tell. I know I am a talented, strong, funny, ambitious, cultural, loud woman. But, where is that side of me and other girls like me represented on the screen? For too long, we have had a one sided narrative of a strong cis white male saving the day. But, I want more than just flipping that narrative for womxn, I want animation to show other sides, perspectives, and stories of women. Stories should be shown of women even with negative feelings because that is what’s real. We are not just always happy, nice, pretty beings. We are dynamic and powerful; which should be demonstrated on screen to many other girls growing up and older women watching too. In this post, I wanted to shed light on some of my favorite womxn characters that are dynamic and challenge the norm in animation.

Mandy

Mandy, from Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, is a 9 year old girl from Endsville. She is very intelligent, sarcastic, devious, and quiet. She is very opposite from her best friend, Billy who is very dumb, loud, happy, and talkative. She is known to never smile, and when she does it throws off the natural order of the universe. She is an anti-hero and at times an antagonist. She can be very stubborn, unsympathetic and has a superiority complex. Mandy aspires to dominate the world and rule it cold heartedly with her intelligence and intimidation.

Mandy is a very different take on what we usually see as a little girl. She isn’t particularly designed to have a pretty face such as Disney girls. She is represented in a normal pink dress and headband like a normal young girl would wear. But, her hair is curved liked horns implying her deviousness. She is a great representation of what an average young girl would look like, but with a different take on her personality. Young girls are often represented as sweet, innocent, and cute. But, Mandy is anything but and would hate to ever be associated with any of those terms which makes her a great unique character.

Heather

Heather, from Total Drama Island, is an Asian-Canadian young adult who is the antagonist of the series. She is extremely manipulative of anyone in order to try to win the show. She knows what she wants and how to get it. She will only be kind when it benefits her. She is not a team player and is a control freak. Heather could be very rude and employs many mean girl tactics to get her way.

What Heather represents to me is one of my first representations of an Asian womxn who looked liked kind of like me. She wasn’t at all any of the usual asian womxn stereotypes. She was loud, mean, ruthless, and manipulative. She was attractive and at the top of the chain which wasn’t common in animation at all. An attractive asian womxn villain was not a thing, and her character serves as a showcase of successful asian representation without stereotypes.

Azula

Azula, from Avatar the Last Airbender, is the princess of the Fire Nation and key adversary of Team Avatar, which was in charge of hunting Avatar Aang and her brother, Zuko. Azula is a prodigy at Firebending and a skilled strategist. She is confident, sadistic, narcissistic, and a perfectionist. She does not have empathy, and was very hostile. She has a one track mentality and has extreme composure and focus making her very cunning and perceptive. Although she was intelligent and talented, she harbored a fragile mentality because she believed her mother loved her brother, Zuko, more than her and thought she saw her as a monster. Living in an environment where she received no affection from parental figures, her will strove her for perfection and maintaining relationships through cruelty and fear.

Azula is a great representation of a character who was given a multi-facted story that explained why the way she was. She was given a narrative where she was strong, talented, and powerful yet the deeper aspects of her personal life hindered her success in relationships and for the throne. Azula was often seen as this cruel, power obsessed girl who’d do anything to win, but there were moments where she broke down, where you can see her be heartfelt, or a normal teenage girl. Azula for me was my first animated character who I saw a girl as strong, with crazy abilities, and had layers to her.

Why is this occuring?

In Animation, a huge problem is making the female characters sexualized and a separate entity as a narrow role. Lino Di Salvo, the head animator of Frozen, even said himself, “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty… So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough.” This statement is very telling of what the current perspective character designers in the animation industry have of the need for female characters to be pretty and that there is one standard of beauty in the industry. This limits the designs and concepts of female characters due to pressure from marketing where the decisions are dictated by mostly men who have the most say. And due to scarcity of female leads, no one notices the one formula of beauty for female characters and the lack of willingness to attempt to make something different. The need for female characters to be beautiful was very apparent in early 90s and 2000s shows where the male gaze was apart of even more “feminist” shows like Powerpuff Girls and My Life as a Teenage Robot. In Powerpuff Girls, to offset their female anger the designs and aesthetic would be hyper-feminine and pretty like bright backgrounds, or ultra pretty representations of their abilities. In My Life as a Teenage Robot, Jenny struggles with being beautiful or being a strong super-hero. Should she wear a pretty human girl exo skin or be herself? This dilemma illustrates the message that women can’t be both.

Although many animated shows and films have included womxn, they are often one-sided, forgettable, and are one standard of beauty. By providing diversity within a department where more female artists can dictate new perspectives and ideas of the female narrative and look. There can be new concepts and fresh looks to the industry that many kinds of people are wanting to see. It is very important to show complex personalities, cool character arcs, relevancy on their own, and diverse looks because without that it disempowers females and sends the message that we can’t and aren’t able to have those things.

Sources:

https://dotandline.net/sexism-in-cartoon-women-554b37de01f9

New Creation Platform of Our Wildest Dreams?

Have you heard about DREAMS? Not the dreams that one day you will work at Disney, Pixar, or Riot Games, but Dreams as in the new PlayStation 4 game. Developed by Media Molecule, Dreams is a game that lets you create games, and play the games made by others from around the world. It is a platform where you can create characters, environments, art, assets and even music from scratch. You can go as far as recording cinematics for your games or short animated movies. The style of animation is not necessarily very hyper realistic, or stylized 3D, it is whatever you want it to be, including 2D. “The level of capability in Dreams is sort of shocking, as if Media Molecule bundled Unity, Garage Band, Final Cut and Photoshop into one package, along with a social network” (Hornshaw). While the creation range Dreams provide is quite wide and as complex as it gets, the interface is extremely user friendly. It is made to be easy to use by anyone and everyone. On top of all this craziness, any asset, character, instrument, sound or game itself that you have created can  be shared online in a giant library to be played or used by others to create new content. With this kind structure the possibilities of creation are endless.

When I first heard about this game from a friend I did not believe it. “So you create games by putting together premade assets?” If you want to you can, but the idea is that you can create everything from scratch, the way you want them to be, even the game dynamics and the rules of your world. “Then it’s all 3D sculpted characters?” No, you can have drawings, anything. “It must require a lot of coding, and figuring out hard interfaces.” It is as simple as a swing of DualShock 4 controller. “There has to be a catch.” There is none, it is what it is. “Then why do I melt my brain trying to learn all these softwares like Maya, Harmony, Unity, Animate, if it is as simple as it is on a single platform?” I will admit when I first heard about this game I did not want to believe it. It made me think why spend four years in college learning about all these programs this one platform can single handedly outdo. Now, that is an exaggerated statement, however, not thinking only about Dreams, but coming from that and asking in a more broad sense, how would our futures change (in the animation industry) if a platform where you can create anything and showcase it was to be made accessible to anyone in the world?

Think of it this way, the greatest benefit of college for a path in animation is that it provides us with industry used equipment such as softwares, computers, tablets, so we can have experience creating, and build a portfolio. What if this was available for everyone? There are so many talented people out there unable to attend college, or major in animation, due to various reasons, what if they had a chance to put themselves out there? Would they be the ones filling up the empty spots in the industry before college graduates? What does a college degree in animation mean if what is important is what you are able create? It is an interesting idea to think about, also kind of intimidating. Although, we should not forget, animations majors are in college and in that major because they have shown talent and proven themselves to an extent. I will admit, it is also true that despite the safe feeling college environment provides, getting a degree does not mean you are guaranteed a future. There is only so much we can learn from professors, and friends in a path of artistry and we need to put in most of the work in order to grow. However, college provides us with resources to be able to do just that. Furthermore, we can never forget the power of networking, and the role of college friendships play in that. All in all, it seems that we are on the same grounds as anyone in achieving our dreams, if not a step ahead. I would still ask though, could such a platform where creation of anything and everything is possible as well as easy become the new industry standard, leading us to forget all we have learned and master this new software?

I was just trying to pick your brains with some questions that sparked in me earlier this year and introduce you to this new masterpiece of a game whose release date is still to be announced. Feel free to check out these links for more info and dope demos:

https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/dreams-ps4/

Hornshaw, Phil. “‘Dreams’ is a game about making games, and it goes as deep as you want.” Digital Trends, Designtechnica Corporation, 11 December 2017, digitaltrends.com/gaming/dreams-preview/

Let’s Talk Mental Illness in Animation

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year. And when it comes to kids, 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness. The bottom line is this: millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions every year. As an animator and filmmaker who has dealt with depression and anxiety, I can’t help but wonder about the ways mental health is depicted in media and how it truly affects its audiences. Growing up, it felt like many times when a character was shown to have a mental illness, that was their defining characteristic and it ultimately led to some offensive stereotype that was way off mark. According to Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at U.C. Berkeley, “The worst stereotypes come out in such depictions: mentally ill individuals as incompetent, dangerous, slovenly, undeserving. The portrayals serve to distance ‘them’ from the rest of ‘us.’” I couldn’t agree more. However, while there are some notoriously flawed depictions of mental illness in media, I wanted to look at two more honest depictions of mental health conditions that are out there in animation. With such honest and more positive depictions of mental health conditions in media, I believe it can greatly impact those who tune in to watch it. So let’s discuss —

The Legend of Korra

Image result for legend of korra ptsd

A truly legendary animated series, Korra follows the adventures of its protagonist as she attempts to master the four elements and bring peace and harmony to the world. In her journey, however, Korra is poisoned by one of her enemies and survives, albeit with severe trauma. Though her mental health condition is not explicitly diagnosed as Post-Traumatic stress disorder within the show, it shows all the signs. After Korra survives from the poison, it is clear that she is not her “usual” self; as a direct result from the event, she is weakened and can’t function by herself.

What is amazing about The Legend of Korra is that unlike other shows with a hero protagonist, it displays mental health as something that can happen to anyone. Not only this, Korra shows how mental health is acquired, how it can affect someone, and how someone can support a friend struggling with mental illness. The character of Asami, Korra’s friend and ultimate love interest, writes letters to Korra and takes time out of her day to support her physically and emotionally. Eventually, Korra is able to make an improvement in her health and recover, ending the series with her and Asami taking a trip to the Spirit World together.

That last bit is especially significant as it showcases the importance of relationships for someone suffering with mental illness. One of the biggest reasons mental illness is misrepresented in the media is because people living with them are are almost always shown as people who simply cannot recover. Dr. Otto Wahl, director of the graduate institute of professional psychology at Connecticut’s University of Hartford states, “Recover is seldom shown. When people [are shown seeking] therapy, when they go to psychiatric hospitals – rarely do they get better. [And if they do get better,] it’s enough that they’re stabilized, but not enough so that … they’re integrated with the world, and have friends and jobs.”

Bojack Horseman

Image result for bojack horseman depression

Upon first examination, the premise of Bojack Horseman seems entirely unrealistic: a show about a washed up sitcom star who also happens to be a walking, talking horse. While others see it as just that, many viewers recognize the animated series for its realistic depiction of depression and addiction. Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg states, “The goal was never like, ‘Let’s really create an expose, let’s really investigate this kind of thing, let’s diagnose BoJack in a certain way.’ I think it was more about just trying to write this character truthfully, and taking him seriously. The idea [was to take] a character trope that is maybe a little archetypal, or that we’ve seen before, but really believing in it, and trying to be honest and respectful to it.”

To many people, Bojack Horseman is an honest portrayal of depression. In contrast to the problem that Korra combats, Bojack fights the notion in many TV shows that mental health conditions can be fixed in a simple episode or 30 minutes. You see this kind of problem in so many other shows, like in Full House when D.J. had anorexia for an episode and it was never mentioned again, or in Hey Arnold! when Sid is implied to have OCD but it also magically goes away.

Not only does the show focus on Bojack’s mental health condition and his struggles, it also gives the audience insight into the struggles of almost every other character. Bojack Horseman showcases a multitude of different ways someone deals with depression through not just the stereotypical one depressed protagonist, but everyone in the universe itself. You see it in Diane Nguyen’s character when she shuts down and disappears, Sarah Lynn when she consistently turns to drugs, and Mr. Peanutbutter as he puts on a fake smile.

Why is this Important?

These two examples of representation are extremely important. Especially in the case of Bojack Horseman, it allows people to feel seen and heard. Good depictions of mental health conditions really make a difference for audience members. They show people with mental illness as complex, relatable people. It can also give people insight as to what loved ones with mental illness could be feeling, which really helps in the long run when you want to support those loved ones. Back in 2010, a UK study found that almost half of fictional characters with mental illness have storylines depicting them as violent. That kind of negative portrayal in media can have a similarly negative impact on those with mental illness watching it.

When you watch shows in the future, try looking out for how they portray those with mental health conditions. Are they referred to as crazy? Are they shown as someone with violent tendencies? What is the show saying about those with mental illness? I believe that with more positive depictions of mental health conditions, media and animation can make more of a genuine difference in someone’s life.

Sources:

Shifting the Animation Paradigm

From 2-D animated Mickey Mouse whistling on a boat in black and white to the second installment of the Incredibles in 3-D CGI, animation has come a long way since its inception in France, 1877, by Charles-Émile Reynaud (Bendazzi). Nowadays we have 2-D animation, 3-D animation, and animation styles that are as vibrant as the inside of a 120 Crayon Crayola box. Animation now plays, or has played, a key role in everyone’s media consumption at some point in their lives and I am no exception. In my own childhood, I loved watching cartoons on a weekend afternoon like Tom and Jerry, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Jackie Chan Adventures, and although animation is a beautiful style for which stories are able to be told, in contemporary America, there is a strong paradigm in which animation is mainly seen as a medium aimed toward children and family audiences. Animation is a medium not just for younger audiences, but also for mature audiences, addressing real issues, darker topics, and the nuanced realities of life. Despite animation being perceived as a medium for younger children, there are many works of art that show animation should be seen as something more: a medium capable of conveying any and all stories for any age and all audiences. If storytelling in America is to ever advance, I believe this paradigm needs to shift by applying more mature themes to American animated storytelling; we need to see animation in America branch out toward a more mature audience and I believe Japan holds the key to this paradigm shift.

If in America we see animation as a medium mainly for telling stories for children and younger audiences, then in Japan we could say the opposite. Japan is internationally known for its plethora of animated series called “Anime”. The key difference with Japanese anime and American animation is that, despite being all animated, mostly in 2-D, there are stories from every genre on the market, thereby catering to a much broader target audience. While Japan does have its fair share of animation geared toward younger people – let’s not forget our childhood love for Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! – there are some anime that children should definitely not be exposed to due to mature themes, content, or imagery. In this blog post I will introduce you (or re-introduce you) to a couple anime that are not only targeted toward more mature audiences, but are also prime examples that highlight the infinite potential of animation as a medium of storytelling.

Tokyo Ghoul

When a show or movie is intended for children, there are certain boundaries that need to be adhered to, boundaries such as swearing, violence, and psychological themes to name a few. This can limit the potential stories that can be told through animation and is a problem which the current paradigm causes in America. Tokyo Ghoul, and it’s subsequent series Tokyo Ghoul:re, are both series that push the aforementioned boundaries to its limit in every form: it contains violence, bloodshed, dark topics and yet is able to weave into being a story about life, love, and growing up. In this video by “OK Beast” on YouTube, he discusses how Tokyo Ghoul develops its characters through psychological trauma, a theme I doubt would appear in an animation for children. If Tokyo Ghoul had to adhere to the same boundaries present in American animation ideals, then such stories would be impossible to tell; we’d miss out on stories that perhaps reflect the beauties of life that arise in its darker areas. Tokyo Ghoul is just one example of an anime or animation that includes darker themes. Another anime I’d like to feature is an anime called Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Regarded by many to be one of the best anime series to have ever been created, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood may be one of the most clear examples of how a more mature animation can bring to life the most powerful of stories. Now for the purposes of keeping you, the reader, awake while reading this, I’ve decided to not dive in to the makings of this series as that can be an entire essay on its own and instead provided a video for you to watch. But what I will divulge is that while Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is widely regarded as the best, or one of the best, anime to ever be made, it is also simultaneously considered to be one of the darkest. From allusions to one of humanities darkest hours in Nazi Germany, to the sins of both religion and science, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood amalgamates all these mature themes into one powerful animated series.

Would an animated story such as this be possible in contemporary America? I’d argue that it’s not. Themes like those previously mentioned are of course not themes one would expose to their child; do you see themes of religion and sacrifice in a contemporary Disney movie? Okay Moana’s grandmother passing away was a surprise for me when I saw it and was quite moving actually. But nonetheless, American animation, in terms of storytelling, will be unable to reach the same heights as Japanese animation if we are to continue to believe in the paradigm that animation is for children. But is that to say there’s no hope for American animation? No, as two series you may or may not be familiar with, Avatar the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, reveal to us.

Avatar the Last Airbender & The Legend of Korra

Avatar the Last Airbender

Two of the most popular American animated series I’d like to discuss are Avatar the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Wait, these are kid shows right? How are these supposed to be hope for American animation? Well before you take out the pitch forks and come after me, hear me out. Although, yes, these two series are still geared toward younger audiences, as they were produced by Nickelodeon, there are hints of more mature content in each of these series that make them great. In both series (spoiler alert), a certain power that is highlighted is the power to bend someone’s blood, thereby controlling someone’s bodily actions against their own will. While it may not seem like much to simply mention blood, as there’s no visible blood shown in the series, to manipulate and control someone’s body against their will is a darker topic than most would be used to seeing in a children’s show; I don’t see Pokemon bending each other’s blood right? Also the fact that death happens and is present in these animated series, still meant for children nonetheless, it’s clear that there are in fact darker elements to these great works of storytelling.

The Protagonist: A Reason to Fight

In conclusion, I had asserted in the introduction to this blog post that there is a paradigm in America that animation is simply a medium for which to tell stories directed toward children and younger audiences. Due to this paradigm, American animated stories are limited in their capacity to tell a captivating and moving story. But in many stories, not limited to the previously mentioned examples, darker elements and themes like death, philosophy, pain, and suffering give our protagonists that we know and love a reason to fight, a reason to forge onward, and a reason to grow; without darker tones there would be no sense of danger or internal conflict, conflict that, in one way or another, we might connect with on a personal level. This is what drives us to love the protagonist of a story: their struggle. We love to root for the character to overcome their obstacles that they, and potentially we ourselves, have to overcome, we love to cheer for the character that is reflected in ourselves, we long for the final battle, whether external or internal, that the hero finally wins. Without that sense of struggle, without the presence of more mature themes, we lose that genuine love for a character and the story. Currently in America, animated stories like these are not commonplace and for that reason, we must push past the idea that animation is just for children, that darker themes are not something to shun, but to welcome. Animation is for everyone, in all its forms, styles, and genres, and when it is welcomed in every way, shape, and form, it flourishes and I hope that one day we will be able to see a wider range of animated stories from the American animation studios.

Sources

  • Bendazzi, Giannalberto (1994). Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Tokyo Ghoul Video https://youtu.be/Ox4tFZnU7aY
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Video
    https://youtu.be/Y8uh9eIBGmE