Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mega Man Reclaims His Masculinity

Disclaimer: No, I won’t be exclusively writing about old video games, new retro-style video games, or specifically Mega Man 10. However, it just occurred to me that I got something to say.

Coming off the giddy high of learning that an evil sheep robot will feature prominently in the upcoming exercise in eight-bit nostalgia that is Mega Man 10, I have come across additional information that I like a little less. It’s being reported on various gaming blogs that another one of the game’s eight bosses will be a fairly uninspired robot named Commando Man. (Lamely military-themed. Does not derive power from shedding his underwear.) Also, unlike Mega Man 9, which broke decades-old gender barriers by pitting Mega Man against a mass of pixels that we players were told was supposed to be female on some level, Mega Man 10 will feature no female villains. “So what?” asks the practical gamer. “Pixels is pixels and it doesn’t make a lick of difference in the long run.” And Mr. Practical Gamer would be correct. However, thinking about this news in light of what I know about the production of Mega Man 9 makes for an interesting look into the brains of the people who make these games (dudes, mostly), the people who play them (again, mostly dudes), and the process of deciding what the former group thinks the latter will enjoy.

As I wrote about earlier on this blog, another Mega Man 9 boss, Hornet Man, was initially conceived of as also being a ladybot, Honey Woman, until the production team decided that two female Robot Masters would just be too big a departure for loyal Mega Man fans. The result of this was Honey Woman getting morphed into Hornet Man and Splash Woman — a mermaid-tailed robot whose attacks included singing — the sole do-badder who would have to squat instead of stand. (If robots urinated, that is. And since Splash Woman lives underwater, I’d imagine she’d just do it wherever she wanted, the slob.) I find this line of logic a little strange. Veteran gamers, who grew up controlling Mega Man and pew-pew-pewing through level after level, were delighted to have a new, old-style game to play through. The realization that two of the game’s bosses were gynoids instead of androids wouldn’t have exactly made them throw their controllers to the ground and stamp them into little pieces in disgust.

So there’s that. But there’s also the odd decision on the part of the Mega Man creative team to pigeonhole how these female robots would function and appear. Roughly half of the series’ bosses have names that imply some degree of badassness — Tornado Man, Shadow Man, Blizzard Man, Napalm Man, Knight Man. The rest range between slightly odd — Spring Man, Dust Man, Magnet Man, Time Man — to vaguely pornographic — Hard Man, Wood Man, Plug Man, Top Man — to fairly wussy-sounding — Plant Man, Crystal Man, Ring Man, Bubble Man.

Note that the two female Robot Masters, Splash Woman and the nixed Honey Woman, fall squarely into that last category, with honey being about as innocuous a substance as you could find and a splash being second only to dewdrops and fine mist in terms of dinkiness. I mean, in the universe of these games, robots can and are made to do anything, so there’s no reason the female-looking ones couldn’t be made to be as fierce as the male-looking ones. For example, the series has never had a Tsunami Man, so there’s no reason the designers couldn’t have made Splash Woman a little more imposing by avoiding Daryl Hannah references and calling her Tsunami Woman. Instead, the final product seeks to remind anyone looking at her that she’s not only a girl but the girl — at least so far, at least for the bad guys.


splash woman says “tee hee”

It’s not surprising, given that the majority of the video games I grew up playing had female characters designed and named to seem sweet, small, pretty or otherwise benevolent. But it’s interesting to think about, especially in the sense that while current video games are getting more progressive, as far as sexual politics, this throwback Mega Man game still goes for some of the old stereotypes.

So, then, since this seems to be the pattern that the female Robot Masters should follow, here are my predictions for the villainesses that may appear in future retro-style Mega Man games:
  • Bunny Woman (fires carrots, procreates profusely)
  • Lipstick Woman (traps you in slicks of caked-on make-up)
  • Stove Woman (hefty, yells at you for treading into the kitchen, is made of pastries)
  • Waitress Woman (throws dishes, spills drinks on you, cries when you ask to see her manager)
  • Scented Candle Woman (weaker but pleasant-smelling version of previous fire-based bosses Heat Man, Flame Man, Burner Man, etc.)
  • Flower Woman (is not a robot but is actually human woman selling flowers; tragic case of mistaken identity)
  • Hysterical Woman (follows no discernable pattern, cannot be defeated)

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