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My Concern for Beyond: Two Souls

Very few details are known for the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls except that it won't be like Heavy Rain and that it's going to have a lot of "meaning," so why am I already concerned? Simply put - because David Cage is writing the narrative for a female protagonist.

Out of all the problems I have with Heavy Rain, on the top of the list is how Madison Paige is handled in the story. She is written to appear as a strong female character, but there are problematic (read: sexist) tropes implicity shown in her story that make me feel nervous for Jodie Holmes in Beyond: Two Souls. Let's see how Madison serves as a vehicle to progress a narrative that utimately shames her, and hope the best for Jodie.

Sexualized Violence

The opening segment to introduce Madison shows us boobs, violence, gore, and gives us no information about her character. The scene starts with Madison wearing a white tank top and panties, jolting out of a nightmare and groaning about her insomnia. There are moments where the camera shifts perspective to show a view that suggests someone is hiding and looking at her in a Peeping Tom position. She types for a bit on her computer - I guess this signifies she has some sort of work to do. Seconds later comes the shower scene and we get to watch her strip, get wet, and dry off only to put on the same white tank top and pair of panties. She steps out of the bathroom and notices her fridge is open and we are made aware that there are intruders in her apartment. Crouching around her apartment with the camera zoomed up her ass, Madison panics and thinks of exit strategies. Now comes the attack.

She is grabbed by two masked men and tossed around in her apartment with QTE prompts to fight back and defend herself. The clothing she wears uncomfortably sexualizes each time she is pinned, slapped, or forced in a position where her legs are spread. The anonimity of the masked men shifts the focus on her exposed body, and we only hear her grunts and screams. Finally she breaks free and locks herself in the bathroom and her face is bloodied. A third masked man grabs her from behind and slits her throat. She jolts out of another nightmare in a panic, and a fade to black switches to another segment in the game. This opening is completely pointless, only showing a sexy shower scene and a violent struggle that has nothing to do with Madison's character or story. It's a trope used in several horror genres where a barely clothed woman is in an inescapable situation only created to indulge in torture porn.

The Nursemaid/Trusty Sidekick

The main story follows protagonist Ethan Mars through a series of dangerous trials set up by the Origami Killer to get his kidnapped son back. Madison finds an unconscious Ethan at a motel where she goes to sleep when her insomnia gets tough, and immediately rushes to his aid. Without knowing anything about Ethan, except for the possibility that he could be the Origami Killer himself, she disinfects his wounds, brings him food, and protects him from the police. This is an unsettling caretaker trope that makes no sense unless Madison was a serial killer groupie. Later it is discovered that she is actually a journalist keeping an eye on Ethan, but that can quickly be thrown aside depending on the decision you make and she can become his trusty sidekick and lover who is his son's new mommy.

It would have been a better narrative if we knew about Madison's career before she began helping out Ethan so there would at least be some built up tension that makes sense (ie: we would know something Ethan does not), but instead we are forced to watch her in typical sexist scenarios that are explained after the damage has been done. It was difficult for me to watch these scenes (and there are more examples of sexualized violence and being a caretaker) without wondering what the hell Quantic Dream were thinking when they wrote this character.

Am I saying that the same tropes will be used in Beyond: Two Souls? Not necessarily, but I will be keeping a critical eye open to see how Jodie's character is handled in upcoming footage. 


Comments
  • Joseph Christ 5 years ago

    Great article.

    Soon after Heavy Rain came out, Brad had the same things to say about the main female character...especially in the way she was first introduced to the story.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      Thank you! That opening segment left me speechless. I think it's worse when sexism is implicity sewn in the narrative compared to outright sexism in games like Duke Nukem Forever, etc.

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      • Joseph Christ 5 years ago

        As ill-conceived as it was, the sexism is DNF was so over the top it could more easily be dismissed.

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  • Frank Hartnett 5 years ago

    Never got the chance to play Heavy Rain, but I can definitely see the cause for concern. We can only hope the protagonist in Beyond is, well, an actual character and not just fan service.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      I think Madison's character was always playing off of Ethan, so she was often just thrown into these stereotypical roles. I'm really curious to see how Cage will write for a woman who isn't playing off of any other male character since she's the protagonist. Although, it's still very early to tell and there might be some time to throw in a dude just for dude's sake.

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  • Shadow 5 years ago

    Just about every time I saw Madison in Heavy Rain she was either tied up, taking her clothes off, or tending to Ethan Mars. Heavy Rain had way too many stereotypical character moments, not just based on gender, for me to like it personally, so I definitely vibe with this article. I doubt Beyond: Two Souls will fare much better in the characterization department, but I don't think they'll write Ellen Page's character the same way they wrote Madison... or at least I hope not, 'cause I'm pretty sure Jodie Holmes is underage, and seeing her striptease at gunpoint would be creepier than all the uncanny valley moments in Heavy Rain combined, just sayin'.

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    • Joseph Christ 5 years ago

      I agree, and I think one of my biggest gripes with Heavy Rain was that it was filled with stereotypical moments overall. (some ripped right out of popular movies...you can read my Review of the game on this site to get an idea).

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      • Shadow 5 years ago

        Damn, I only noticed like half the movie rip-offs you did in your review and I watch a lot of movies. By the way Joseph, mad props for referencing Black Dynamite and Shaolin Soccer in that review.

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  • Soulglove 5 years ago

    While this is a growing concern in the industry, stereotypes and sexism, one cannot see this and wonder why it happens. Many people, myself included, could write pages upon pages pointing out sexism in videogames, no matter how minor it is presented on the surface. Writers in all industries aren't generally sexist, not most anyway, but writers do create characters based on knowledge and experience. Then the problem stems from writers not knowing any strong women, so they write what they know: a stereotype. While it is not an excuse, I understand simply from experience in not knowing many women. Could women in the studio add their two cents in writing these characters? Could Ellen Page add hers?
    I'm not entirely sure how Beyond: Two Souls will be handled, Ellen Page's character could be a vessel for the ghost players actually be controlling for a majority of the story.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      I never thought about sexism as a direct result of the lack of women, I think tropes are so deeply embedded in narratives from all media that it just seems second nature at this point. I'd be intrigued to see if Ellen Page gets any say in her character development, I guess it's still too early to tell.

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  • Absolutely_Daft 5 years ago

    I'm still lost on what B:TS is suppose to be. I remember in E3 that it was to delve with the subject matter of the after life, but all the Die-Hard like action is really distracting me from the main idea. I'm predicting that the story will be too action oriented and your good points potentially show that David Cage may inhibit good characters becoming great. In the end im just not interested in this game. Good work i'd like to further add.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      Thank you! I'm still lots on it too, let's hope it doesn't disappoint.

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  • zombieplasticclock 5 years ago

    I'm surprised you didn't mention that bit where the crazy apartment owner ties her down and almost makes her take a cordless drill to the hoo-ha. That made me fucking cringe.

    The worst thing? Completely avoidable, so it's in the game for no reason. Which, as you said, is a lot of Madison's character. Which makes me sad. I'm a fan of David Cage, actually. Both Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy do a great job of building up tension, and feature a compelling story. It's just that it is always marred by problems: Both had a terrible ending that tore the story apart, and Heavy Rain had the sexism, poor voice acting, and a story that contradicts itself so many times.

    What I'm trying to say is I hope Cage learned his lesson from his last two games.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      I definitely thought about that while writing this post, but if I put up every single moment of sexism this post would have been a tl;dr situation haha. Drill to the hoo-ha is the exact definition of sexualized violence, you're totally right about that! I hope he learns his lesson as well...

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  • Sickbrain 5 years ago

    So what trailer are we talking about, link?

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      Sorry, which trailer?

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  • Rorix 5 years ago

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think this is a ludicrous criticism to make about a game which, as you acknowledge, we know basically nothing about. First off, an aside: just because a female character isn't an ass-kicking warrior doesn't make her character sexist, a word that is vastly overused to the point that it is now basically meaningless. Madison made due with the tools she had, and was quite successful with them as well, a fact you fail to mention. She interrogated a mob boss, took care of someone who could have been a murderer, fought off attackers, and used her abilities as a journalist to piece the killer's identity together. I'd say she was a pretty integral role in the story and the fact that there was some fan-service doesn't change that. She was almost always out-manned or out-gunned the entire game and still fought through it. I'd say she's someone to be admired, not someone who's only role is eye-candy. Now, as for the topic at hand, you're saying that because the main character of this game *seems* to be a woman (we don't really know for sure yet) and is going to be written by the same guy who worked on Heavy Rain, that you think the game is going to portray the female character in a sexist light? That's downright silly and is such a huge leap in logic (or lack there of) that I'm finding it hard to believe you're going to give this game a fair shake. I appreciate your opinion, but when you do finally play this game, I'd be on the lookout for confirmation bias.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      I disagree that sexism is a word that is overused - it's a word that is not understood. She made due with the tools she had in situations that were only presented for us to watch her sweat. Her role isn't eye candy, it's attempting to look like she's a strong woman when in fact she is put in situations that none of the men get into. How did she take down the mob boss? Sexuality. How did she take care of someone who could have been a murderer? Being a sidekick. How did she take down her attackers? In her underwear, in a scene that had literally nothing to show but a shower scene, and that was graphically violent in her underwear. I understand why it's difficult to see because the gendered violence and sexism isn't extremely obvious like in some other video games, but I argue that it's very much there. Thank you for commenting, though - I will give B:TS a fair shot but I'm keeping my eyes open.

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      • Rorix 5 years ago

        With all due respect, I think you're looking for controversy where none exists. As I stated before, just because a woman isn't placed in the exact same ass-kicking situations a man is isn't sexist. If anything, it shows that women have skills unique to their gender. Yes she used her sexuality to take down a mob boss, but she was using her own unique abilities to get the job done. Is it sexist to show a male character flexing his muscles to scare away enemies? I would say the two are equivalent in that both are using the character's physical traits to gain advantage, and there's nothing wrong with that. Also, she wasn't a sidekick; she branched out on her own, even got her own DLC because she was such an integral part of the story. Does showing compassion and empathy make her weak or her character sexist? Heavy Rain is a noir about people's everyday lives, and yes that even means seeing people in their underwear or in the shower. Ethan was also shown in his underwear and in the shower. Is that also sexist? Or could it be that you're reading too much into everything? That you've started out with the conclusion you wanted to find and cherry picked the optimal examples to fulfill your storyline? There may be some unflattering representations in video games, but when articles like this are written that attempt to string together the barest of threads and tenuous connections, it makes taints any serious discussion about that subject. That's ultimately why the word 'sexism' is meaningless. It can be manipulated and twisted to fit any situation and any need. There's no agreed upon definition making the charge of sexism worthless. Just something to think about.

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        • Caroline 5 years ago

          The controversy exists. Period.

          "That's ultimately why the word 'sexism' is meaningless."

          Probably the worst thing I've ever read.

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          • Rorix 5 years ago

            Simply because a controversy exists in some people's minds doesn't make it valid, especially when it's based on a false or cherry-picked premise.

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            • hmh 4 years, 10 months ago

              Just because you refuse to actually look at the problem doesn't mean it's not there. You're pulling out all the stops to try and make it look like people being critical of problematic tropes in games are illogical but you're ignoring everything that doesn't align with your own view. Selective exposure much?

              I think you're ignoring a very important bit of info here--that the author never once stated "Madison from Heavy Rain was awful! This means Beyond:Two Souls will be awful! It's sexist!" which is what you appear to have taken away from the article

              She's just examining how problematic Madison was and stating that David Cage doesn't exactly have a great record writing women. So yeah, of course, as a person who cares about how women are portrayed in media, she's going to be a little weary of the new female protag being written by the guy who thought it was necessary to introduce his last big female character through a sexually explicit and violent dream sequence that added NOTHING to the story.

              But god forbid we look at anything critically, right, because then we're "reading too much into everything" and tainting " any serious discussion about [sexism]".

              As an aside I think it's kind of funny how the women who talk about sexism are the ones who are "rendering talk about sexism meaningless!", but the dudes who show up on every single article to try and talk over the women aren't.

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  • Shazza1990 5 years ago

    I'm hoping the main character isn't sexualised, she seems a little young for that :|
    I also agree with you when it comes to Madison in Heavy Rain, I felt at a lot of times during this game, she just came off as a walking pair of tits (especially her first scene, I mean come on... what was that?)
    Great article and an interesting read.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      Thank you!

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  • grenouille 5 years ago

    In all honesty, I don't think there is any reason to think that Madison is a sexist portrayal of a female. In this case, sexuality being paired with violence adds to the overall feeling of being exposed to the world (fighting in underwear does not sound appealing male or female), which builds into Madison's current state of being paranoid (she was sleeping at motels). I would also like to point out that the scene was a dream, building into this viscous cycle whereby her paranoia builds into insomnia which builds into more paranoia. This build-up into the ultimate feeling of psychological vulnerability, perfectly paralleling that of Ethan Mars (who is experiencing trauma of some degree in almost every facet of his life). Point being: Nothing really gender specific here, just two different ways of getting the same point across. Also, many of the themes pointed out in the article can be grouped under admirable qualities of humanity, such as altruistic motivation (Madison aids Ethan) and need for cognition (curiosity/investigative process to the point of stripteasing?). A female helping others (altruistic motivation) and being portrayed in a sexy light is not a bad thing and actually serves as a method for building Madison's character. The end point is that I don't really subscribe to the idea that David Cage nor Quantic Dream have a record for being sexist in their portrayal of female characters, but rather see this as an industry criticism being extended into a specific game where this kind of criticism does not apply.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      Thanks for your input! I think it becomes gender specific when the rules of violence don't apply to the men. For example, if there was an attack scene of a half naked Ethan I wouldn't have used the opening scene as an example. The scenes were men are trapped and they have to struggle, there's no sexuality involved. However, Madison is strapped to a gurney and about to get a power drill inserted into her vagina by a madman. That is a direct visual of gendered violence. I would agree about her introductory sequence as a way to show off her insomnia, but that never factored in to the story again because it was revealed that she had gone to the motel she knew Ethan was staying in during her investigation into Ethan. He definitely experiences trauma as well, but it has nothing to do with his sexuality.

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  • Matt 5 years ago

    I don't necessarily think this is a gender concerned issue, nor is sexism any part of it. It can all be chalked up to bad writing, really.

    First of all, the whole Madison going around in her underwear and showering thing is absolutely no issue at all to me, considering we experience the exact same thing with Ethan Mars. The whole insomnia / nightmare thing was probably meant to go somewhere, but was either forgotten or was eventually just left out of the script for some reason. So, like I said, poor character writing. I don't necessarily think she was being posed in delibirately sexual positions when being assaulted either, just because you're moving in your underwear doesn't mean you're trying to exploit the physique of a character.

    As for the whole sidekick thing, I once again chalk this up to lazy / unfinished writing. Odds are they started writing a character, and eventually decided to turn her into some sort of generic love interest. I don't think they're trying to sexualize her or that they're terrible at writing women, I just think they did a lazy job writing side characters (Norman and Scott weren't exactly very well developed characters, either).

    I wouldn't get your hopes up or down for the main character of Beyond: Two Souls, I'd just wait and see what happens.

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    • Soha E. 5 years ago

      Thank you for commenting! While I disagree about the lack of sexism, I definitely agree that many narratives seemed like they were unfinished. If Madison's introductory sequence led to some plot element that involved her insomnia and paranoia, I would be more inclined to forgive the violence as it seemed like it was just violence for violence's sake. So far I am neutral about B:TS because of the lack of information so far, but I was intrigued about Cage's writing since I was so disappointed in Heavy Rain, especially when it came to Madison.

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      • Matt 5 years ago

        Glad to see that you're keeping up with what the rest of us think, and I'm glad to see that even though we might not agree on all of your points, you can at least see where I'm coming from. To be honest, it's been a long time since I played Heavy Rain, so maybe Madison's scenes were portrayed a bit more tasteless than what I remember. In either case, it was definitely an interesting read, so I'll make sure to keep an eye out for whatever else you may post.

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