Tuesday, June 28, 2016

[AVW012] Doing Better - The Missing Half (Part One)

Previous: [AVW011] Doing Better - Semiramis, Builder of Walls

"But I could swear by your expression
That the pain down in your soul
Was the same as the one down in mine
That's the pain
Cuts a straight line
Down through the heart
We called it love

"The Origin of Love" - Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Our last post examined the female as a representation of the passive psychological principle, And while that's an interesting idea in and of itself, you may have noticed that there's another, bigger idea nested inside of it: the idea of the male sex and female sex as a balanced whole.

This topic gets slightly afield of our main question, but I think it's an important psychological image to understand. Part of this is because of how inescapable it is - the union of the sexes is a picture of a balanced whole in Tantric Buddhism, the two columns of the Sephirot, and pretty much every story about how the universe was created. Genesis is fairly unique in that it shows the world being created by a Word of fiat instead of by pairs of divinities boning.

Anything that shows up this much in human thinking is probably worth a second glance.

The base psychological reason for this image of male and female joined in a balanced should be somewhat obvious. Humans have an instinctual desire to mate, and an understanding that most living things reproduce by mating (screw you, amoebas).

The fascinating part is how our subconscious minds anthropomorphize out from this image of primordial wholeness. The universe is made by making love. The meaning of life is love. We extrapolate out the whole of creation and the inner core of our being from this image.

The generative force of mating, and the two sexes required for successful reproduction, take on a meaning beyond the purely physical. They become the two halves necessary to make a true whole.

The Story in a Nutshell

Today's story comes to us from Plato's Symposium, where a chap named Aristophanes tells us of the primitive, original humanity which did not experience love. I'm going to nutshell the story as usual, but frankly, you should really just watch this video below. It captures Aristophane's story beautifully, elegantly, and surprisingly faithfully:

Back, way back in the day before Hercules was born or Prometheus stole fire from the gods, lived the first humans.

Now the humans of that time were unlike the humans of our day. There were only three sexes back then, instead of our 10,000 genders (or indeed, the two sexes of our ignorant fore-bearers). The Children of the Sun were the original Men, and they were round; spheres with four arms, four legs, and two male faces on opposite sides of the sphere. Similarly shaped were the Children of the Earth, the original Women, who were like two women smashed together. Last came the Children of the Moon, who were part male and part female, as the Moon is part Sun and part Earth.

These original humans knew nothing of love, for they were whole and undistracted spheres. In time, they grew tired of making sacrifices to the gods, instead turning their undivided minds to overthrowing Olympus.

This put those gods of Olympus in a bit of a bind. They wanted to slay the upstart humans for their arrogance, but then who would give them their sacrifices? It was a difficult question. But Zeus, like Alexander after him, thought of a way to split this knotty problem: he would cut the humans in half, reducing their strength and doubling their numbers.

His lighting flashed like fire, cutting the original humans in half, slicing the perfect spheres apart. All across the face of the Earth, the new humans were sprawled in confusion. Their awkward bodies stumbled up onto two unsteady feet, searching about for the other half that had been cruelly cut away from them.

Even now these new humans roam, searching for their missing self, crying for what has been lost. This is the story of the Origin of Love, and of why we half-humans desire to be united with our missing selves.

The Archetypes

On a very deep level, there is a hole in our hearts, a longing for something that is not there. At times, it may feel like something we once had and lost - as the longing for a lover no longer there or the lost comfort of childhood. If only we could go back. If only we could recapture it.

At times, it may grow so powerful we think it could only be something fated by the gods or carried over from a previous life. If only we know who it was. If only we could remember!

The magical sexual dynamic between the male and female principle is not about dominance, subjugation, or patriarchy (although it can and has been used to justify those things). It is about balance, interplay, and completeness.

This desire for wholeness is not limited to men or women, or for men or women (Aristophanes speaks highly of homosexual male and female love). Still, there is something uniquely fitting about the joining of opposites as opposed to the joining of sames which may explain why the male/female pair is the most commonly used. Joining sames can be unbalanced, and is not quite as fitting a symbol. There is a reason so many primal deities are portrayed as hermaphrodites (Hermes+Aphrodite) or sexed pairs - because we are more the one.

Now this is a big topic, and I have more to say about it than can fit in one blog post. Much like Zeus, we're splitting this one into two. This post will talk about romance as sub-plot and the second will talk about romance as genre (and why that genre doesn't exist in video games).

Real talk time: how much do you really care about Mario's backstory?

I mean, obviously the collective We is interested in it to some extent. It's been fleshed out in comic books, cartoons, and (terrible) live-action movies, but that all came after we enjoyed the crap out of  Super Mario Bros. The interest in Mario games spurred our interest in him as a character, not the other way around.

Moreover, all of those movies and comics have differing takes on Mario's backstory. They are completely incomparable - but no one cares, because it does nothing to affect what we enjoy about Mario games. We don't need a Crisis on Infinite Mushroom Kingdoms (Mushroom Kingdom Come?) to settle the cannon, because the backstory is not essential to the character. While we may occasionally wonder about Mario's prehistory, we don't really care.

Now, how much do you care about beating the levels, stomping the monsters, and saving the princess in another castle?

That's a little bit more motivating. We don't need a compelling backstory to convince us that saving the princess is a thing we want to do. In fact, we're willing to do it over and over again, regardless of the surrounding context.

The desire to save the damsel is not cultural. It is biological. It functions in every culture, of every time period, on every continent. It works without context (how much context is there in Super Mario Bros.?) and without characters (Mario, Bowser, and Peach have no true backgrounds and no true development). It works in a complete textual vacuum.

All of the above should not be controversial. What comes next will be.

Why do people think we need strong female characters? We really don't.

How strong is Mario as a character? Link? Samus Aran? Not very. Sure, strongly developed versions of these characters do exist, but the backstory doesn't matter. It's not what motivates us. It's not what makes us care.

I'm asking this for a reason. Part of the debate over 'strong female characters' is driven less by feminism and more by feminist puritanism.

Feminist puritanism is stupid, ugly, and ineffective. Feminist puritanism tells you that a female character should not be motivated by love for a man, then turns around and complains about how effective a man's love for a woman is as a plot device. You can't tell me in the same breath that we need compelling female characters and that we can't use the most compelling plot device to make them.

Feminist puritanism tells you that only a certain type of female character is truly acceptable: one who is already whole, already perfect, already complete. A woman who don't need no man. A woman with no possible plot arc because she's already a singular whole.

There are things other than love that could be used to motivate a female character (we're never explicitly told Mario loves Peach, just that he's trying to rescue her), but the search for the missing half is the most universally accessible. I simply do not understand why these puritans can't stand the thought of using it, or why they think a woman is nothing more than a sex puppet if she has a romantic interest.

C'mon people, we're better than that.

So that was romance as a sub-plot/motivation. Next time, we're going to look at Romance as a genre, and why it doesn't exist in video games.

Next: [AVW013] Doing Better - The Missing Half (Part Two)

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