Jason Pook's Games Design Blog

CATS Log Book 7/8 Critical Perspectives

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To conclude semester 1 of log books we did our final lectures on Critical Perspectives.

Our 7th and 8th CATS lectures were about “Introduction to Critical Perspectives”. This lecture began with some simple questions in relation to critical perspectives and its role in technology:

  • How do we use technology?
  • How do we interact with it? Physically? Mentally?
  • How does this effect us as a subject?

The definition of the subject is “a person or thing that is being discussed, described or dealt with” or “a thinking or feeling entity; the conscious mind; the ego, especially as opposed to anything external to the mind”. We then went back to the TED Talk that we watched by Sherry Turkle which I have already written about separately.

I then learnt that critical perspectives can be used to help develop analysis of society and culture. And we can identify key perspectives within cultural studies that can also help us to think about ourselves as subjects (producer/audience) and society. I We were then introduced to two key theoretical perspectives Psychoanalysis and Feminism.

This is where theory becomes a very large part of thinking critically as its such an important area for us to understand the history of the subject we study. We use the theory to help us to understand and then think critically about cultural production, its content and meaning. Critical perspectives give us the capacity to form our own thinking and make up a part of the toolbox of skills necessary to advance further.

At this point, we all split into groups and watched two game trailers. We were given two key theories and an image of the game to assist us with this. We then had to use our understanding of Critical Perspectives to analyse and study these theories in the image and videos then to feed back to the class our findings to collectively see what we may have missed. The games we were given were Silent Hill: Book of Memories for Psychoanalysis and Tomb Raider for Feminism.

My group came up with the following suggestions (with me trying my best through Skype due to my injury):

Silent Hill: Book of Memories

  • Creating a personal avatar – puts the player into a more personal state of mind that this is them in the game.
  • Avatars created resembled teenagers which means they are of an adolescent mind-set. Adolescent mind-sets are more easily manipulated, and this puts the player into that mind-set. It also suggests the target audience of the game.

Tomb Raider

  • There is a question as to whether the design of Lara Croft is objectifying women or if the design of Lara Croft causes her to be a feminist icon, this was due to the original first ever female character being large chested really skinny and overall a sort of sex icon which she still is.
  • Designed by men in the mid 90s, attitudes have changed since then so was it purely aimed to attract men.
  • In the newest game the latest instalment to Tomb Raider, Lara is designed to be attractive, despite being battered and bruised which makes her more relatable as she is no longer indestructible and perfect she really does take a beating most levels (spike through the head was the most gruesome of deaths I was involved in)
  • Appearance was changed to be more relatable for female gamers, from a large pointed chest perfect figure to a more natural beauty look.

Using critical perspectives will help in the analysis of most cultural artefacts as it helps you with:

  • Representation
  • Stereotypes
  • Character Design
  • Narrative
  • Concepts/Motifs
  • Experience
  • Genre and Stylisation
We can use cultural theory/ critical perspectives to help us understand and think critically about cultural production, its content and meaning.

At this point, we were introduced to Sigmund Freud. Freud was an Austrian Psychiatrist. His career in psychology is very important as he invented the therapy of psychoanalysis. Freud graduated from medical school in Vienna in 1881. Freud’s ideas in the field of psychoanalysis continued until being forced to leave Austria to seek refuge from the Nazis. He moved to London in 1938.

We went on to cover what exactly psychoanalysis is. This can be summarised by the following quote.

“Psychoanalysis is a theory of the human mind, a therapy for mental distress, an instrument of research and a profession. A complex intellectual, medical and sociological phenomenon”- Ivan Ward and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Psychoanalysis, 2000

We learned that over time, Psychoanalysis has shown:

  • The relationship between sexuality and human motivation
  • The hidden meanings of psychological events
  • The importance of childhood
  • Psychic conflict as part of the human condition

We then were introduced to two notable feminists, Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock. They are both “Feminist Art Historians”. We learned that analysts in feminist circles suggest that the cultural system and it’s writing of history have institutionalised sexism. We also were introduced to the concept that the very idea of “The Artist” and “Art History” could be viewed as a construct of masculine nature. The idea behind feminist theory is that female artists are and have been ignored and “written out” of cultural history.

What is feminism?  well its the issue of rights for women first became prominent during the French and American revolutions in the late 18th century. In Britain it was not until the emergence of the suffragette movement in the late 19th century that there was significant political change. A ‘second wave’ of feminism arose in the 1960s, with an emphasis on unity and sisterhood; seminal figures included Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer. Feminism still continues today with push for rights in workplaces and pay amongst other things.

We then looked at exactly what feminism is. The definition of a feminist is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. We then learned that gender is largely a social construction and feminism allows us to think more critically about these stereotypes.

In relation to games and new media, these following quotes illustrate the current state of gender in the games industry.

“Today there is a ‘general recognition that things are more complicated in terms of games and gender and that the older stereotypes are often being perpetuated by the games industry and a certain hardcore contingent of players but do not reflect actual player demographics or interests.”- Steven E. Jones, The Meaning of Video Games, 2008

“Despite the increase of female players and women entering the industry, the stereotypes and the industry itself still need major renovations.”- Casell and Jenkins (1998) / Kafai et al (2008):

An example of a feminism and how its portrayed in a video game would be that of Mario, in Mario he is always on the hunt to save Princess Peach a beautiful blonde haired princess who is captured by a big bad guy. This is stereotypical that the man needs to saved the woman as she’s too frail and cant save herself. It is the video game industry that is still using these questionable stereotypes in certain games, only up until Lara Croft the lead female role in Tomb Raider was a woman portrayed as the hero and used as the lead character.

This concluded our final log book lecture as in proceeding weeks we are presenting our presentations of gaming timelines to the class. I learnt that some things I just didn’t pick up on in games like the role of women are actually there if you look properly, a little further research I did on this was women’s roles in Grand Theft Auto none of them are lead and they are all objectified or portrayed as weaker than the main antagonists, this being a already controversial game with its content has given me another angle to pick problems at now when previously I thought nothing of it.

Author: Jason Pook 3D

Current student at Hull School of Art and Design studying Games Design.

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