Monday, June 6, 2011

I remain convinced: Portal's Chell is wearing heels.

[04/27/2012 note: I wasn't expecting anyone to ever read this post and was sloppy when I wrote it.  It has since become the most read thing on my blog (awkward) and so I  going to be revising/updating this post in the near future.]

I love the Sociological Images blog.  It's one of the blogs that inspired me to start blogging too; not that I have any (admitted :P ) pretensions to being as excellent a blogger as the Socimages team.

In a post about a news report about the bullying the player is subjected to in the game, I commented that I'm disapointed by Valve's (The original Portal was made by a small team that was absorbed into Valve early into the game's development) decision to have Chell wear what I consider to be high-tech desexualized high heels.

My comment (a reply to another person's):
“That is, she avoided most of the problematic tropes female characters get saddled with.”
And yet they found a way to put her in heels the entire game; certainly in a de-sexualized way (they save her from breaking her legs when she falls from large heights) but I still found it disappointing that she *had* to be wearing lady-shoes just because she’s female.

I had thought that what I was talking about was completely self-evident.  Apparently I'm completely wrong, which is fine.

My reasoning is that her long-fall boots look like high heels, Valve obviously put a lot of thought into different ways to make her footwear similar to high heels, that referencing the real world prosthetics that inspired aspects of the boots design only reinforces my points because those prosthetics serve to mimic the function of running normally i.e. not with a person's heels propped up.

The discussion has been dragged out to a surprising length, though I think it can be condenced down to two posts.

A user named 'Cee' posted

So, you’re suggesting that real, useful designs should be banned because they happen to resemble historically gendered objects?
Yeah, that’s not sexist.
My response

WOW. I’m not saying it should be banned. I’m saying that since they’ve taken the fictional liberties of introducing trans-dimensional intergalactic warfare (Portal is explicitly part of the Half Life universe) and since they did such a good job avoiding or even head-on addressing most of the sexist tropes in video games; I find it disappointing that they went with that design, especially since if you look at the ‘real, useful design’ that was linked to above you’ll notice that it mimics the effect of running in regular shoes.
I’ll concede the point if they have Gordon Freeman running around with his heels propped up like that in the next game.
Not all of the opposing views were as nonsensical as Cee's; it you're interested you should definitely go read the entire discussion.  I do want to address another inane ad hominid (here, it would only be a distraction there) though.

I posted a link to a character study with four different versions of Chell (already linked to above).  In my initial post I stated that they are in a 'fashion-model' pose; very stupid of me.  I'll maintain that's an obviously feminine pose; I have no problem with that and I later clarified that "On second thought: ‘fashion-model’ is an overstatement since posing that way simply allows for more details to be seen."

After which JDP responded

In game, you can only see yourself in passing and at an oblique through portals. It’s not like you spend the whole game staring at your character’s butt like you do in many RPGs or third-person shooters. So you’re nitpicking about aspects of character design you literally never see.
I guess the bad guys make an issue about it. Like GLaDOS’s patently absurd statement about medical degrees in fashion from France.

Simply moronic.  It's not 'nitpicking' to discuss what is easily one of the most instantly noticeable features of a character, especially if its also what has become the one that is the most iconic after her gender (and the fact that she's an impressively non-stereotyped female player-character).  Valve did an entire teaser-trailer about the boots.

More importantly it's the hypocrisy that is the reason I'm disappointed.  GLaDOS does make a "patently absurd statement about medical degrees in fashion from France" and it's equally absurd that Chell couldn't have regular footing in her boots.

I love BloodRayne and Mortal Kombat (the newest MK is sssoooooo fun!) and am willing to roll my eyes at the hyper-heteronormative sexualization of the characters (male and female) because the games gleefully wallow in it and avoid all self-hypocrisy; I described MK as 'bloody sexy fun' in a post on Wired and I stand by that statement.

To summarize: I find it disappointing that, since they did such a good job avoiding or even head-on addressing most of the sexist tropes in video games, they went with this particular design; especially since if you look at the ‘real, useful design’ that was linked to above you’ll notice that it mimics the effect of running in regular shoes.

For the record: Portal and Portal 2 are amazing games that need to be played, and I think the way they portray Chell is brilliant.  I'm just a bit disappointed by the footwear.

Trivial Update: Oh, in general I have no problem with ad hominids, vitriol, and childish name-calling; all things I regularly employ.  The very first response (not reposted here, btw) to my original post, for example, is perfectly reasonable in tone and content.

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