My Concern for Beyond: Two Souls

Published by Soha E. on Dec. 4, 2012

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

  • Avatar
    Joseph Christ
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Frank Hartnett Avatar
    Frank Hartnett
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Shadow Avatar
    Shadow
    7 years, 10 months 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'.

  • Avatar
    Soulglove
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Absolutely_Daft Avatar
    Absolutely_Daft
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Avatar
    zombieplasticclock
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Avatar
    Sickbrain
    7 years, 10 months ago

    So what trailer are we talking about, link?

  • Avatar
    Rorix
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Shazza1990 Avatar
    Shazza1990
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Avatar
    grenouille
    7 years, 10 months 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.

  • Matt Avatar
    Matt
    7 years, 10 months 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.