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Okami: Approaching Regendered
Transcript of Okami: Approaching Regendered
Many video game critics such as Anita Sarkessian have observed the phenomenon of video games using the exact same literary tool that ultimately makes male playable characters idealized and complemented for succeeding at masculinity, despite being fictional, but leaves female playable and non-playable characters as flat, one-dimensional beings with little merit and value in the fictional society.
Clover Studio's 2007 North American release Okami for the PS2 was applauded for it's art direction, engaging narrative, and straight forward game play. While it did follow the adventure format of good versus evil, meeting allies, and ultimately save the world from evil Okami has regendered this approach by not only having the hero be female, but also utilizing it's gendered characters into different archetypes besides the Hero and the Damsel in Distress as well as having active roles throughout the game. The game offering a large memorable cast which lead to a more involved game play.
There are various game genres that reflect this unequal dichotomy, but when it comes to game narrative the action/adventure genre is the common perpetrator of trope overload.
The Legend of Zelda series, Super Mario Bro. series, Ico, and Shadow of the Colossus do very little to look into different character archetypes for both genders.
Wolf, God, Hero
Natural vs Mechanical
Yami is Amaterasu's opposite in about every single way
Amaterasu; organic form (wolf), a creator, power derived from all light sources (Sun and its reflection from the Moon)
Yami; inorganic form (mechanical ball), a destroyer, power is derived from Solar Eclipse (where Amaterasu has little to no power)
The Hero/ine's Journey
As a being of light and purity Amaterasu's heroic quest is to banish evil forces that have consumed Nippon. Mejia references Whitmont who describes that one of the basis of the hero's quest as the hero/heroine having to confront their own shadow. (10) Even though Amaterasu's shadow is not a internal conflict, she does have an opposition she must face, Yami, the Emperor of Everlasting Darkness.
Diversity of male roles
The male characters in Okami move away from either the archetypal Hero role or the flat one-dimensional help. They take on an active role in moving on the story and several assume the role of helping Amaterasu as combat help. These male aids and heroes are flawed and must go through various trials to realize their faults, rectify them, and actually grow as an individual as seen in various cut scenes.
I have pinned down 4 key male NPCs in the game, 2 of them will be thoroughly studied by using archetype.
The Strength of Men
Video Games Regendered: "Okami" and The New Approach to Gender
Amaterasu is the game's main character and is based off of the Shinto Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Not only is she a deity, she is the ruling God in the Shinto Parthenon and is revered in both Japans, reality and in the game. Though she is portrayed in artwork as a human female,
characterized her as white wolf.
“In video game theory, the avatar functions in dualistic roles: contextual cues (Consalvo 180; Grodal 152; Newman 413) and “mediated extension” of the self (Filiciak 93; Rehak 123; Rushing and Frentz, “Projecting the Shadow” 18). As a contextual cue, the avatar functions to ground the player into the atmosphere of the game (Crogan 288; Newman 413).” (Mejia 2007 ,7)
Because Amaterasu is the path between player and the world she takes on the status of wolf with pure white fur with strange, otherworldly red markings, and initially a shield/mirror like object floating over her back. A image of serenity and purity. It also lets the player know that the scape of the world they are in is a supernatural one, one directly connected to nature and the purpose of the journey is one of good.
Overcoming the Shadow
Despite being a god before fighting Yami, she has yet to attain the highest tier of godhood, because the major source of her power comes from the belief of humans, which is little. "..to obtain godliness, the hero/heroine must subdue the Shadow (Rushing and Frentz, “Deer Hunter” 395; Whitmont 168)” (Mejia 2007, 10)
the order of attaining godhood and overcoming the Shadow is reversed.
Amaterasu's achievement of gaining divinity did not come after defeating evil, it was done so by finally gaining the faith of the the people. In doing so she finally has the power to overcome Yami (the Shadow).
The Gendered Hero
Even though Amaterasu is occasionally referred to by female gendered pronouns she doesn't display gendered behavior.
Gendered behavior is the acceptable actions placed on women and men. Women are expected to behave demurely and passively. Men are to act out and to be dominant.When attempting to apply appropriate gender behaviors on Amaterasu these expectations do not fit. This is because Amaterasu is a wolf, and not a visible person where the division of behavior is more readily seen and easier to compliment/chastise.
There are various moments where Amaterasu shows visible interest in the physical assets of female NPCs, something that happens quite often in male-centric games where there is a male playable character.
Interpretation of Scene
Amaterasu is fixated on Rao's bust for a noticeable length of time, that if done in reality would warrant as good hit on the offenders face, but in video games this is often not the case. This may be an attempt at mocking hegemonic expectations of supposedly heterosexual women, the way that other games tend to over-emphasize that a well-endowed female character does indeed have a notable bust or just to add humor in the moment.
From God to Goddess
Though Amaterasu is a female in the game, that has not always been the case. Amaterasu's previous incantation, Shiranui, was argued to be male.
This theory was addressed in the game's sequel,
where it was confirmed that Shiranui was Chibiterasu's (Amaterasu's son) grandfather.
With this validation it is possible that Amaterasu can can biological sex when reincarnated.
Challenging the status quo
Many female characters in video games are poorly thought of and rarely influence the narrative of a game aside from being placed as the damsel in distress. They are viewed to be physically weaker and/or there for some sort of sexual gratification. While male characters are more attractive because of their raw power and idealized masculinity. Janz notes the division of male to female playable characters from a study of video games,"...researchers analyzed the content of 70 video games and found a wide range of traditional, if not stereotypical, men and women portrayed in the games. Overall, 64% of the games featured male characters, against 17% female." in these games only 15% of those female characters become heroes. (Janz 2007, 3)
Okami challenges this statistic by not only having the main character be female but by also giving fair treatment of both male and female NPCs in terms of the number of times featured
Character Study of Male NPCs
Archetypes are the general, one-worded description of a character in a narrative, however it is a description that is seen time and time again in various stories from various civilizations throughout the span of human history.
Carl. G. Jung coined the idea of archetypes, the psychiatrist Bolen describes his concept as, "...patterns of instinctual behavior that were contained in a collective unconscious...is the part of the unconscious that is not individual but universal, with contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals." (13)
List of Key Male Characters and Their Archetypes
*Issun- The Traveler/Communicator
*Susano- The Hero
Waka- The Wise Old Man
Oki- Proud Warrior
*This character will be looked into in this presentation
Issun is a wandering artist and Amaterasu's right hand aid throughout her journey. He's small and is a glowing,hopping, green ball, which makes many call him a bug, a great offense to him. He gives Amaterasu direction and information when needed.
His initial motives for joining Amaterasu on her quest was to learn all 13 Celestial Brush techniques.
Issun desires adventure and freedom from responsibilities. The reason to this was because he refused to become a Celestial Envoy. A Celestial Envoy, in the game's mythology, are messengers of the Gods who show the works of the deities through there artwork to raise the faith of humans. Their faith is what gives the Gods their power. However Issun eventually acknowledges his destiny as Amaterasu's Celestial Envoy.
With Issun's experience in traveling and becoming a messenger for the Gods his archetype is described by Bolen as somebody who is mobile in the world and is able to carry and share information and culture to the places they journey to. (166) Issun spreads the story of Amaterasu throughout Nippon through his brush skills and knowledge gained in his adventures. He fits the Communicator/ Traveler archetype.
Qualities of Communicator/Traveler Archetype
"Inventiveness, the capacity to communicate well, and the ability to think and act quickly are traits that can be used creatively to achieve or deceive." (Bolen 1989, 166)
Issun displays his quick wit several times.
Once by using a paper mask to "disguise" Amaterasu into entering the Moon Cave to fool the imp guards.
Another was possessing the Emperor's body for a limited time to free a young girl named Kaguya from her prison cell to avoid any complications if they chose to wake him up and tell him a long story about the entire event. As shown in the following video.
Though Issun does not display the qualities of the Hero motif it does not diminish his value as a character. His role in
is incredibility important since he is the one that in a sense saved the Hero for the Hero to save the world.
A middle-aged swordsman and the direct descendent of the legendary hero Nagi. Unfortunately he is nothing like what a hero/warrior is expected to be like. He is lazy, is found sleeping, which he excuses as "meditating", is frightened by monsters, and irresponsible. He is also the reason why Amaterasu was revived to save Nippon. Not really hero material. But it is in his flaws that he follows the typical Hero motif.
Susano ("The Great Worrier...")
Underberg describes the Hero's cycle as a circle of three main rites; birth,initiation, and death. Most heroes in stories are sons of gods, have had unusual births, and other extraordinary origins. (10) Though Susano may not have been conceived by extraordinary circumstances or people, he is of a respected lineage. The tale of the hero is to find the Self, as explained Burrows, Lapides, and Shawcross, and to overcome unconscious desires which can be self-destructive. (10)
The Hero Cycle
The first scenes of Okami is of a shadowy figure that freed the dreaded demon Orochi by removing the sword Tsukiyomi from its place in the Moon Cave. This action causes great darkness and destruction to fall over the land of Nippon. In order to escape the consequences of his actions Susano goes through great lengths to get away from going to towns,forests, and valleys in order to do so. Eventually he is finally spurred into action when Kushi, the person of his affections, is chosen as Orochi's sacrifice. He goes after her into the Moon Cave.
The Moon Cave: Underworld Motif
Caves in many mythologies, and religions symbolize the underworld. The Underworld in Greek myth is entered through the mouth of a cave. The Mayan underworld Xibalba is thought to be located in caves. Underburg also points out that the hero's journey to the underworld is an important step in his development. "By psychological extension the descent to the underworld may also be constructed as a descent to the dark realm of the unconscious." (10)
Defeat of Orochi and Finding the Self
As stated before the hero must find the Self by over coming unconscious desires. The desires are"often manifested in various creatures an objects." (Underburg 2005, 10) For Susano the creature of this manifestation is Orochi. Orochi wishes for power and if Susano agrees he too will have unequaled power as well. Susano was able to overcome his fears and deal the final blow that killed Orochi and saves Kushi (and implied by final credits and noted in the sequel to have married her.) As it usually goes in the hero journey. Susano finally achieves the power to protect his village, earn the rightful respect he deserves, and overcomes his callous behaviors.
By showing flawed heroes going through character growth it allows the player to relate to them. Not everyone is born to be great but can attain greatness by realizing those faults and improving themselves. They can be reflections of people in real society, even if a man is not the ideal hero, he can be traveler sharing his experiences and acquiring new knowledge where ever he goes. These NPCs roles in
have value in their varied characteristics making them memorable and unique from each other. Not just cookie cutters of the romanticized Hero mold.
The Value of Feminine Power
Character Study of Female NPCs
Diversity of Female Roles
Many of the female NPCs in
are physically weaker than their male counterparts, an aspect that has been done repeatedly in many other video games. However where they lack in musculature strength they make up for in generosity, spiritual ability, and thinking for their own. Many of them also do not solely fall on the Damsel in Distress trope. Save for one but she does manage to use something that defeats the monster Orochi.
When it come to girls playing video games there have been two studies that point to the possibility that female gamers that identify with female protagonists have an appreciation for games.(Janz 2007, 2) However many girls may not relate to the kidnapped princess, the victim, they may relate more to the nurturer, the priestess, or the hero themselves. The women of
show a variety of personalities and goals, not just pretty faces that stay passively in the background.
List of Key Female Characters and Their Archetypes
Princess Fuse- Gate Keeper
Queen Himiko- Soothsayer/Oracle
Queen Oto[hime]- Gate Keeper
Kaguya- Lost Soul
*This character will be closely analyzed in this presentation
Sakuya is a spirit that inhabits the sacred tree, Konohana, whose roots spread throughout Nippon and protect the nature of the area. However upon Orochi's return the tree was unable to withstand the evil force released.
The offshoots of Konohana are called Gaurdian Saplings and with Amaterasu's Divine Intervention can dispel the Curse Zones that plague the land.
Wood Sprite Sakuya
Even though Sakuya needs initial saving, her role is much more than a damsel in distress. As a earth spirit and protector of nature throughout Nippon, Sakuya's role better fits as a Nurturer. The nurturer in various stories is often depicted as a maternal/mother figure. Bolen describes this archetype as a nurturer to others, is generous, and giving, as well as finding satisfaction as a caretaker and provider. (172) However she also points out that this archetype isn't limited to being a mother.
Sakuya does not have a shortage of gifts for Amaterasu to show her gratitude. Sakuya's generosity comes in the forms of peach fruits that grow on her tree for each Guardian sapling revived. In these fruits contain; treasures which can be sold for some extra money, Holy Bones that restore Amaterasu's health, a Gold Peach that fills up a food pouch that revives Ammy if all her health depletes.
Each Guardian Sapling, when revived, also provides plenty of Praise (which is used to increase the amount of health, ink pots, money purse, or gain another food pouch.
Other Aspects of the Nurturer
"She is solid and dependable...She is usually generous, out-directed, altruistic, and loyal to individuals and principles...She has strong convictions and it difficult to budge when something or something important to her is involved." (Bolen 2004, 177) Sakuya's purpose is to protect Kamiki village from evil forces and does so by using all her magic, at the cost of her own life, to protect it from turning into a curse zone. She manages this by encasing the spirits of the villagers in a magical peach on Konohana.
How Necessary is Sakuya?
Sakuya's goal, as opposed to the destination of male heroes was to find a way save the land and the people, while the hero's quest usually is to conquer the Shadow or just save one individual. Ultimately Sakuya was the one that freed Amaterasu from her statue and gave out the quest to revive the Guardian Saplings. Amaterasu's quest to bring back the strength of the guardian trees is what ultimately lead to the final destination, defeating the root of evil in Nippon and bring back the Celestial Plain. Sakuya was the one that gave Amaterasu her start in her journey by pleading for her aid.
Kamiki Village's Sake Brewer and business owner of the sake house. She is also the person of Susano's not-so-secret love. Kushi is the first human to make friends with Amaterasu, willingly she goes up to pet her as opposed to drawing a circle around a character to force them to pet her. She is kind,optimistic, hard-working, and caring. She sees the best in everyone, even
in Susano, also when she is confronted by a imp demon.
Sake Brewer Kushi
The Princess/Lover archetype is the person of the Hero's, occasionally hidden, affection, and the one who is usually saved by the hero when she is in danger. In terms of gaming this archetype often becomes the Damsel in Distress trope.
How does 'Okami' present the DiD?
The Damsel in Distress is a plot device from which a female character is in a dangerous situation with no way of saving herself and needs to be saved, typically by a male character. (Sarkeesian 2013) Kushi ultimately becomes this trope when she is chosen to be Orochi's sacrifice and is taken to the Moon Cave. However she is not forced to go in there. Kushi decides to accept her fate but not without making an attempt to stop Orochi by using Thunder Brew, a sake that is supposedly strong enough to knock out even Orochi with one swallow. Issun claims that her little jug of sake can't defeat Orochi, Kushi knows this but refuses to run away or else Orochi will destroy Kamiki. Amaterasu then takes her to the Moon Cave where she is subsequently captured by Orochi however the Thunder Brew is dropped. It's at that point in the cut scene that is shown that Susano followed them to the Moon Cave, to most likely save Kushi.
Also that little jug of sake, through a miracle, was transformed into 8 Purification Sake, which helped Amaterasu fight Orochi, making him drunk enough to actually inflict damage.
The Hero Saves the Princess...
Saving the Princess has always been around and is especially prevalent in Medieval stories. This act of saving a maiden was said to be "the reason for living" for the male hero as it proves his strength both physically and mentally. (Sarkeesian 2013) Kushi's capture gives Susano the real reason to face Orochi as it provided him the motive to fulfill the Hero's story arch.
Despite Susano finally being able to defeat Orochi, he still felt unworthy and directionless. It is by Kushi's support in that he should look on the bright-side of things that ultimately lifts his down-trodden spirits.
but the Princess also saves the Hero
The State of the Damsel in Distress
Sarkessian adds an important note that the damsel in distress is a state in which something happens to a female character. It's possible that a DiD isn't one from start to finish. Once Susano's Hero story ended Kushi went back to her normal life of harvesting rice and making sake.
A powerful temple priestess that specializes in demon exorcism, and Queen Himiko's reagent. She is well thought of by the people of Sei-an City as intelligent,beautiful, caring, and wise. She gives Amaterasu several tasks in order to find the Fox Rods, a magical item Rao claims Queen Himiko is looking for.
Temple Priestess Rao
A Sunken Ship
In an effort to find the Fox Rods, under Rao's request. Amaterasu is instructed to look into the Sunken Ship off the shore. Rao claims that the Fox Rods were being delivered via a ship, but unfortunately the rampaging Water Dragon sunk it. With Rao's help traversing the ghost infested ship the Fox Rods were not found. While swimming back to the mainland Amaterasu, Issun, and Rao come face to face with the Water Dragon. Rao flees from the dragon, hoping/floating on water and scaling a sea cliff ,abandoning Amaterasu. Amaterasu escapes and Rao is surprised to find out the she still lives. Leaving Amaterasu alone to face the wrath of the Water Dragon seems contradictory to her supposed caring nature.
...and A Dragon's Stomach
The search for the Fox Rods leads Amaterasu to a very uncanny place to look. Into the body of the Water Dragon. Otohime tells Amaterasu that the Water Dragon fought the Dark Lord and took away the Fox Rods. Once Amaterasu finds, and escapes the now collapsing body of the dragon, Rao appears and Ammy gives her the Fox Rods. Rao promises to return to the city posthaste and give Queen Himiko the Fox Rods to use against the Dark Lord.
Rao in Danger
Before Amaterasu departs from the watery realm of the Dragonians, the Dragon Orb, another item obtained from the body of the Water Dragon, glows and shows them a vision. In it Rao is attack by a giant,shadowy, monster, and cornered by it. The vision ends there, Issun then exclaims that they must go save Rao. On the mission to save her it eventually leads them up into the Imperial Palace, where Queen Himiko resides. Upon entering the room, they find the Rao is okay but Queen Himiko is not. While Issun mourns over what happened to the queen Amaterasu does not look away from Rao as she tells them about the Dark Lord and how he killed her. Soon Amaterasu becomes aggressive towards Rao and for good reason. Rao is in fact the Dark Lord.
The Dark Lord is a kitsune, properly named Ninetails. Ninetails murdered Rao in order to take over her corporal body and cause chaos in Sei-an City. He was able to mimic Rao's personality and countenance so well that no body was able to tell the current Rao was a fake.
Whether or not Ninetales is able to change into human shapes by will or needs an actual human body to copy is unknown. Especially since the real Rao's skeletal remains are found in a secret underground tunnel. It's possible the Ninetails only needed the skin in order to appear like her.
Ninetails Rao is a blend of two archetypes that are often seen in various mythologies; the Trickster and the Succubus.
The Trickster motif is one commonly used for animals. Ninetails is a
, the translation is 'Nine-tailed fox'. Animal tricksters are able to transform into things, animals, and people. Japanese mythology has no exception to this motif as
do possess great magic and the ability to shape shift. "One of the major types of fox behavior in East Asian folklore is the transformation into some other form. Usually this is into a human." (Johnson 1974, 40) Fake Rao is also able to transform into a more fox-like appearance in order to fight Amaterasu.
Nine-tailed foxes can be good or evil. The pattern in which they appear in gives clues whether or not they are good and bad omens. "...the Shoku Nihongi: five times as good omens (one bllak and four white), three times as bad omens (two wild foxes entering the Palace and one holwling fox), and one haunting fox." (Jonhson 1974, 3) However in the context of the game, Ninetails Rao brings evil and illness to Ryoshima Coast.
Lust for Power: Succubus Archetype
Though the Succubus archetype isn't as readily seen and is overshadowed the the Trickster archetype, it does being another dimension to Rao. Succubi are character that seem inn but very often they lead others into danger. Rao does this several times to Amaterasu by; abandoning her to fend for herself against the Water Dragon, causing her to fight against another demon named Blight, and almost perishing in the body of the dying Water Dragon. Rao does this in order to gain lustful gratification that Amaterasu is out his/her way. Lust is not solely about sex, is is also for power,and/or wealth. Ninetails is lustful for power, and gain it by putting everyone in great danger.
Rao as a character does portray the negative aspect of corrupt feminine power. Destructive, cunning, and purely driven by lust. Understandably it was because she wasn't a real person, and was a perversion of the real Rao who was well revered by those she helped save. Though it's important to note that many video games take advantage of the "sexy bad girl" trope to make the game appealing towards mainly heterosexual men. Because if they defeat her than it may symbolize the ability of men to overcome basic sexual desires, giving them a sense of virginal masculinity, an aspect that it heavily used in Arthurian legends that the hero must be pure. However in Okami the gratification isn't as important when defeating Rao because defeating Ninetails is a greater beast to be destroyed as he is an distortion of Amaterasu/the player.
Are NPCs created equally?
The female NPCs that play a significant role in the game do have value. Even though several have gone through the Damsel in Distress stage, they do not remain as one. They aid Amaterasu in moving forward in her journey by pointing her into the right direction, providing useful items, and help defeat monsters either directly or indirectly. (Sarkeesian 2013) Sarkeesian refers to these helpful ladies as "the Helpful Damsels" in which female NPCs are aids to the hero on their journey.
Once Amaterasu is done helping specific female NPCs they return to their lives, whether it be protecting the village, running a business, defending their village or becoming the new sovereign ruler of their kingdom with little intervention from Amaterasu or anyone else.
is about creation, a skill that is applied
the numerous deities and humans, both male and female. It is about character growth and finding a valuable place in society as seen by the male protagonists. It is about the profound value of the woman, who is not just a pretty face that needs saving all the time. It is about overcoming the Shadow, one's inner conflict. And ultimately it is about attaining one's full potential, such as Amaterasu's fully realized divinity, and Issun's acceptance as her Celestial Envoy.
is a great model on how games can be regendered and can still be a powerful model of the action/ adventure genre with great narrative that all genders can enjoy without sacrificing the full potential of both male and female characters.