Wednesday, May 17, 2017

[AVW016] Lilith, Demoness of the Night (The Shadow) Part Two

Previous: [AVW015] Lilith, Demoness of the Night (The Shadow) Part One

-Luke Skywalker, The Empire Strikes Back

The Narrative Role

Sora and Anti Form Sora
The Shadow is one of the most common video game archetypes (really, one of the most common in all human storytelling), but it usually does not function as a game mechanic. Usually, the Shadow functions on the levels of character and narrative.

It is so very common. Either the villain is a dark reflection of the hero (Batman and the Joker) or else a relative of the hero (Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader), or else some sort of literal manifestation of dark energy created from the hero's heart (Sora and Heartless Sora, Anti Form Sora, Roxas, and like eleven other characters).

There are plenty of fine examples of female Heroine/Shadow pairs in stories. Ripley and the Xenomorph Queen ("Get away from her, you BITCH!"). Samus Aran vs Mother Brain. The chaste protagonist vs. the sexually aggressive antagonist in pretty much every romance novel/movie/etc. ever (a good gaming example is in Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure). We can expand this list with a few pairs covered in this series already; Inanna vs. Ereshkigal, Paghat vs. Anat, Psyche vs. Venus.

Again, this usage of the archetype is so common that detailed analysis is really not necessary, but a few words are perhaps in order for specifically female Shadows.

First, a Shadow for a female Protagonist works best when the Shadow is also female. The psychological mirroring is less effective when the villain is the opposite gender. It's a case of making the Other too "Other" to function as an appropriate foil. That's not to say that a male antagonist can never work, only that a female Shadow is the most directly accessible setup.

The inner Male aspect of women is more effectively used as the Animus, which is a more positive aspect of the inner Other. This is perhaps why bald faced anti-patriarchy morality fables are so rarely good story-telling (in addition to the usual problems of "party line" fiction).

Second, note that some of the best conflicts with the female Shadow center around sexuality. Ripley and the Queen conflict over their children. Cornet and Marjoly in Rhapsody conflict over the affections of Prince Ferdinand. Psyche and Venus clash over Cupid; husband to the first and son of the second. The Whore/Madonna Complex (or the Lilith/Eve Complex) is not just psychologically compelling to men!

Third, note that there are plenty of conflicts that do not directly center around sexuality. Inanna and Ereshkigal mainly clash over authority and power. Paghat seeks revenge against Anat for her brother's murder. Samus fights Mother Brain for survival. And while a clever sort might find sexual symbolism in these stories as well, it functions on a level more implied than explicit (and really, you can stretch sexual symbolism into anything).

To sum up, on the narrative level, you want your female protagonist's Shadow to be female as well. Otherwise there is less of a sense that they are confronting themselves and growing as a character. The lack of a strong female villain is one of the major weaknesses of the new Star Wars franchise, along with Rei's lack of shortcomings to overcome - and these issues are not unrelated! Without an appropriate, easily accessible foil, the Heronie's inner struggle is harder to grasp.

Not very subtle, but effective as fuck.
We continue with Game Mechanics after the jump.

The Game Mechanic

The Shadow is one of the most common video game archetypes (really, one of the most common in all human storytelling). Unfortunately, most games focus on the suppression and destruction of the dark, shadowy aspects of the self rather than their redemption and re-integration. Indeed, the general principal is that when the Shadow confronts the Hero with the words "we're not so different, you and I," the Hero responds with explosions and kung fu and other awesome stuff.

In other words, most games only have one game mechanic for interacting with the Shadow (ie, actions the player has agency over), and it is combat. Whether that means first-person shooting or turn-based combat, the only way the player interacts with the Shadow is killing it dead. The most important part of the Shadow we discussed last time, that it is a part of the self to be confronted and redeemed, is absent from the player's experience.

The main exception I am familiar with is the Shin Megami Tensei/Persona series. I've written about these games a frankly embarrassing number of times, but this post in particular dives into how Persona 4 allows you to redeem the Shadow into a positive source of strength. This could arguably apply to other monster collecting games (Pokemon), albeit in a less explicit manner.

Atlus has been mining this archetypal mechanic for decades in these series by allowing you to 'redeem' enemy demons into allies. This is part of the core demon collection/leveling/fusion game mechanic which is absolutely essential to progress.

Persona 5 takes this a step further by focusing its main dungeons around "stealing the warped hearts" of boss antagonists. This is explicitly done to reform the villainous villains, not simply killing or destroying them.

I said in the post on romance in video games that I don't think anyone's ever really gotten it right. In this case, maybe one or two companies have gotten it right (Atlus and Game Freak), and it got them both decades-spanning franchises and just piles of money. Developers who find mechanics that really nail this psychological principle stand to make money hand over fist.

So that's probably worth thinking about.

Next: I don't really know yet! Maybe Antigone.

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