176: Woman, Mother, Space Marine

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Woman, Mother, Space Marine

James Cameron's Aliens inspired a generation of developers, but the games industry missed the most groundbreaking aspect of the sci-fi classic: the Fighting Mom.

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I remember listening to a programme on the radio here in the UK quite a while ago - the subject under discussion was 'women and power' and it was a prety well-informed and intellectual examination of what happens - and what has happened historically - when women have access to great power, especially political and/or military power. The consensus was that it generally doesn't end well, usually resulting in wars, political repression and other undesirable outcomes. Yes, women in position of power can become autocratic lunatics, too.

Of course, this doesn't absolve men from millenia of war and waste, but even the female historians on the panel seemed to feel that all the weaknesses and failings traditionally exhibited by males in positions of power become somehow magnified and still more destructive in the hands of a woman...

Ripley is a great example of just such an outcome. She might be 'kick ass' etc, but you wouldn't want to cross her, or expect to engage her in meaningful negotiations: she knows she's right about absolutely everything and like all good fascists, she'll brook no other opinion that does not fit with her own view of the world. Her solution to the problem of alien infestation? Nuke everything. It's left to the man beside her to beg for a moment's hesitation, a rethink...some simple compassion.

It's also worth mentioning that as the films progress Ripley moves closer and closer towards becoming one of the xenomorphs herself: a creature wholly without cloudy notions of conscience, morality or guilt. An unfeeling, calmly efficient killing machine that even the relentless aliens themselves learn to fear... Just what was Ripley - or the scriptwriters - telling us about this woman's journey towards power?

Maybe, on the whole, we like Space Marines because they are inherently fallible - in a clumsy, half-assed kinda way. It's reassuring to know you're only human, you're prone to make mistakes, you're not always right about everything and sometimes you get scared. I think on the whole I prefer playing as a Marine, rather than as a 'fighting mom', if it's all the same to you. I sincerely hope the devs creating the next Aliens game feel pretty much the same.

PS: Oh yes, as another example of a strong woman in a position of power, how about Captain Janeaway in ST: Voyager? During her tenure she presided over wholesale genocide, countless violations of the Prime Directive and appalling lapses of professional military conduct...

It seems like the article could have used some more research: Here's a few examples of Mama Bears from TV Tropes:
Samus Aran from Super Metroid
Sophitia from Soul Calibur
Terra from Final Fantasy VI
Jade from Beyond Good and Evil

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MamaBear

Of those, Samus Aran even takes a detour in her escape from an exploding planet to save some semi-intelligent wildlife (who, in karmic payback, save her later).

Sorry, but in my view 'Aliens' is a 'great' movie in exactly the same way that Heinlein's 'Starship Troopers' is a 'great' novel. In other words, it's NOT. Both of these are second rate sci-fi products featuring characters that don't elicit much, if any, feeling from the audience.

I'm all for female badasses, but surely there are better movies than Aliens in which to find them. One is another James Cameron film: Terminator 2 - the queen of female badass movies. But even T2 is not a 'great' movie - it's a mindless blockbuster and hardly of the same calibre as 'The Godfather' or Clint Eastwood's 'Unforgiven'.

But for truly 'great' shows/movies with REAL badass, heroic or even simply 'human' women characters I'm afraid we have to go to anime. So far, western cinema has not even approached the likes of anime such as 'Elfen Lied', Makoto Shinkai's 'Voices of a Distant Star', Yoshitoshi Abe's 'Haibane Renmei' or even Hayao Miyazaki's 'Princess Mononoke' or 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind'.

Your statement about feeling a maternal attachment to some in-game character reminded me of Bioshock in some ways. Even though that last, annoying escort mission riekd me to no end as I had to keep a brainwashed little girl from becoming splicer fodder, I still felt some mode of attachment to the rescued but still brainwashed Little Sister. Even though no emotional connection was made to establish the Little Sister I was escorting as someone in specific, the co-mingling of maternal and paternal instincts as I froze, bludgeoned and blasted splicers left me feeling vaguely like the end sequence from Aliens. Get away from her, you bitch, indeed!

Dogstar060763:
I remember listening to a programme on the radio here in the UK quite a while ago - the subject under discussion was 'women and power' and it was a prety well-informed and intellectual examination of what happens - and what has happened historically - when women have access to great power, especially political and/or military power. The consensus was that it generally doesn't end well, usually resulting in wars, political repression and other undesirable outcomes.

Well, first of all, I completely disagree. There are plenty of examples of women who were in power that led their nations to greatness, or presided over a time of greatness in a particular country. The UK certainly has its share of female leaders who help it gain prominence in the world.

However, that argument, whether it be true or false, has little bearing here. :) We're talking about video games and what would be suit video games and their narrative.

Her solution to the problem of alien infestation? Nuke everything. It's left to the man beside her to beg for a moment's hesitation, a rethink...some simple compassion.

Actually, if you recall the movie, it's the male leader, Hicks, who orders for the nuke to occur. As for compassion - compassion for what? The Aliens in the movie are not depicted as creatures or animals, but rather a force of nature. It's difficult to sympathize with a tornado or hurricane. Such forces of destruction simply are.

It's also worth mentioning that as the films progress Ripley moves closer and closer towards becoming one of the xenomorphs herself: a creature wholly without cloudy notions of conscience, morality or guilt.

I would normally agree with this but...the subsequent films are a violent departure from James Cameron's vision and the work of other authors and directors. In that sense, each movie is almost its own story with its own narrative and its own themes. The should not be seen as one contiguous work.

Beery:
Sorry, but in my view 'Aliens' is a 'great' movie in exactly the same way that Heinlein's 'Starship Troopers' is a 'great' novel. In other words, it's NOT. Both of these are second rate sci-fi products featuring characters that don't elicit much, if any, feeling from the audience.

I also disagree with this statement and I can easily show how Aliens is a great movie. Simply put - look how much it's been ripped off. The original Doom was obviously an homage to Aliens and many, many, many FPS's out there continue to be homages to the Aliens movie. Halo, Gears of War, and even the recent Dead Space have clear references to Aliens.

It may be that you personally do not connect with the movie. However, there can be no denying that the Aliens movie has left a permanent footprint upon cinema and video games for all time.

Dogstar060763 wrote:
"I remember listening to a programme on the radio here in the UK quite a while ago - the subject under discussion was 'women and power' and it was a prety well-informed and intellectual examination of what happens - and what has happened historically - when women have access to great power,"

Whenever someone says there was a "well-informed and intellectual examination" why do I get the feeling that what the writer means by "well-informed and intellectual examination" is that the 'examination' in question merely mirrored the writer's own deeply held prejuduces - in this case the prejudice being that women are inherently more destructive than men.

Just because some 'expert' agrees with you, it doesn't mean the expert's argument is well-informed, intellectual or even correct. All it proves is that bigots tend to like people who agree with them.

The first game I ever played which gave me the protective mother feeling you are describing was Yoshis Island on the SNES!
When baby Mario was drifting away in that bubble, bleating his little lungs out, the sheer feeling of desperation and potential failure was immense!
Also because Mario had no AI to annoy me with, he felt like a total blank slate innocent who deserved my protection and in being essentialy a character I already loved, the emotional effect was very suprising to me!
I have to say that I loved this article! A note on the space marines from Aliens themselves, they are some of the most realistic soldier characters I have seen in any movie!
My friends and I quoted them frequently when I was in the military and I notice that the further away we get from the drafting era and films made by people with real military experience (even if a director had not been to Vietnam, chances are his dad had been in WW2 or a good portion of his crew could be veterans) the less authentic the soldiers tend to feel.

Tabloid Believer wrote:
"...there can be no denying that the Aliens movie has left a permanent footprint upon cinema and video games for all time."

True, but movies like 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' and 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes' also left a permanent footprint upon cinema and the public imagination (and even on some godawful games), but leaving a footprint doesn't mean a show is great art. Aliens is hardly of the same calibre as its own predecessor (which might just be a 'great' movie). But James Cameron is no Ridley Scott, and Cameron's best movies sit squarely in the B-movie category.

When all is said and done, at its best Aliens is just another Vietnam movie along the lines of 'Go Tell The Spartans'; at its worst it's merely a slasher flick set in space. We have disposable redshirts who get killed in gory setpieces, and it all leads to the standard pyrotechnic-rich finale. I mean seriously - 'Aliens', a great movie? Give us a break! Michael Bay's awful 'Transformers' had a richer plot and more effective characters. Heck, Paul Verhoeven's 'Starship Troopers' was a better film - at least that film tried to make a real political point (a point that was lost because it was made 4 years too early - i.e. long before we could use it as a lesson to help us fight the post-9/11 propaganda of the Bush administration). Rather than making a film that had societal value, Cameron's 'Aliens' was merely an attempt to cash in on a popular anti-corporate zeitgeist.

Plus, Aliens itself was derivative. It seems to me that it's a remake of George Romero's Day of the Dead, which 'coincidentally' came out the previous year. And all those slasher type films derive from John Carpenter's 'Halloween'.

In short, I think it's a big stretch to claim that Aliens was a 'great' or even an 'innovative' movie.

Dogstar060763:
Oh yes, as another example of a strong woman in a position of power, how about Captain Janeaway in ST: Voyager? During her tenure she presided over [...] appalling lapses of professional military conduct...

... and I think we can all agree that Cap'n Kirk would never do any such thing.

The article is deep, the subject at hand is as well something buried in something that was somehow forgotten.

I really imagined selling this to someone in a meeting, I also imagined the response :

"Oh... yeah... this is really excelent.... yeah..... I think will go with the space marine though [...]"

The fact is most game designers don`t really go that deep when thinking up their future projects. There is a Space Marine folder in their heads, they open that up and build on it. That is it.

Cameron had the actors playing his marines read Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers before filming. It is a terrible book.

Actually, I think that statement unfair, and unreasonable. The fact that I disagree with the philosophical and/or moral arguments presented by an author in a book (or in any other medium) does not make that work "terrible". Bad spelling/grammar, incomprehensible plot, incredible* characters -- these are all arguments for calling a book "terrible". For all that I disagree with the societal structure Heinlein argues for in Starship Troopers, it is good, fun read, and he presents his viewpoint through compelling characters and well-written dialogue.

And after reading it, who didn't dream about what it would be like to be a member of the jumpsuit-clad, superhumanly-tough Mobile Infantry?

As controversial as its socio-political agenda might be, that book invented the futuristic warrior. Warhammer 40,000's Space Marines, Halo's Spartans, the marines in Aliens, and the Terran Marines of Starcraft: the list of sci-fi fighting forces inspired directly or indirectly by Heinlein's soldiers goes on.

* Incredible: impossible to believe in.

Beery:
But for truly 'great' shows/movies with REAL badass, heroic or even simply 'human' women characters I'm afraid we have to go to anime. So far, western cinema has not even approached the likes of anime such as 'Elfen Lied', Makoto Shinkai's 'Voices of a Distant Star', Yoshitoshi Abe's 'Haibane Renmei' or even Hayao Miyazaki's 'Princess Mononoke' or 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind'.

Speaking of strong female "mother" characters, you should check out the anime Seirei no Moribito. It's the story of a strong woman warrior in her mid 30's who is tasked with caring for and protecting a young prince from a number of monsters who seek his life. They do an excellent job of showing the battle-hardened warrior side of her personality in conjunction with her soft "maternal" side. Check it out.

But I agree. The Japanese have a keen talent for appealing and realistic female character development, whereas American media tends to simply place their women into a feminist stereotype and be done with it. By American Hollywood standards, all women are fashion models who are sexually demanding, hold high positions of authority and have no problem physically holding their own in a fight with one or more well-built men at one time. Japan doesn't have the same kind of aggressive feminism that we have here, therefore they tend to have a better chance of creating female characters that don't fit into a particular stereotype.

PS. I'm not saying that anime doesn't have it's own female stereotypes, it DEFINITELY does, it just seems that their ratio of well-developed female characters to simple stereotypes is higher. Every culture has it's own stereotypes, creativity is a culture's ability to create characters outside of standard stereotypes and give birth to a living, breathing person, figuratively speaking.

After 24 years of holding out, this article is what finally made me rent Alien. (I'm following up with the sequel later this week.) Thanks, Ray!

@krans: Right on. Starship Troopers is an excellent science fiction book. It is well-written, contains some new technology and reasonable uses for it, and the main hero is a believable and three-dimensional character. (Not to mention it's free of the sexual repression that plagues so many of Heinlein's works.) Although I may disagree with its ideology, that doesn't mean it's "terrible" by any sense of the word.

Unless, of course, Ray is a Marxist and thinks entertainment has value only insofar as it is correct, in which case I wonder if he also thinks Wagner is terrible music.

@Jordan Deam: Alien != Aliens. The original is actually a really good horror movie, and the action parts are almost incidental to the storyline. One of the only successful instances of a sequel changing genres that I know of.

Beery:
Dogstar060763 wrote:
"I remember listening to a programme on the radio here in the UK quite a while ago - the subject under discussion was 'women and power' and it was a prety well-informed and intellectual examination of what happens - and what has happened historically - when women have access to great power,"

Whenever someone says there was a "well-informed and intellectual examination" why do I get the feeling that what the writer means by "well-informed and intellectual examination" is that the 'examination' in question merely mirrored the writer's own deeply held prejuduces - in this case the prejudice being that women are inherently more destructive than men.

Just because some 'expert' agrees with you, it doesn't mean the expert's argument is well-informed, intellectual or even correct. All it proves is that bigots tend to like people who agree with them.

Actually I think that's unfair. The discussion was well-informed by a variety of academics of both sexes and the exchange of views was frank. Most of all, the programme got me thinking again about some of great historical female figures and how we view them and their actions next to those of their male counterparts.

I could never put my finger on why I found Ripley such an unsympathetic character, but I began to see it might be because (for me at least) she becomes gradually less and less emotionally connected as the quadrilogy progresses. Even in the very first movie, we were all left with little doubt this girl was a kick-ass kinda chick who took no sh*t. Whereas later female characters encouraged sympathy, even some comedy, Ripley remained throughout coldly aloof and hard to connect with.

Anyway, forget all that: ask the average young male gamer whether he'd rather play as a 'fighting mom' or a 'badass Male marine' and I think I know which way the numbers would go...

Beery:

Heck, Paul Verhoeven's 'Starship Troopers' was a better film - at least that film tried to make a real political point

In my opinion Vernehovens Starship Troopers sucked, what was his political point? The Film was originally going to be called bug hunt on planet *insert number here* (I can't remember the exact title), he then heard of the starship troopers book and ripped the title away, heard Heinlein had what could be seen as a 'radical political view' nowdays (really he was just a man of his time), then without reading the book he went on to 'satirise' it, missing out the key concepts of the book and one HUGE fact, it was the first one to introduce the idea of powered armour. The troopers arent ill equiped in the book, they just came up against an enemy theyd never seen before, just like aliens. However in the book officers are required to have done at least 2 years as a ranker, so are combat tested, aliens runs on the real life system where and officer is commisioned after doing the basic training of his juniors and then a little bit of leadership training. Anyway if Vernhoeven aimed to put people off from joining the military he failed, his only success was making a cinematic joke of a film that was so awfully acted that it is funny.

Back to a point i touched on a minute ago, isn't the shit useless Lieutenant a stereotype from the vietnam war, sure when their new hteir not going to be the best but that doesn't mean their as much use as a chocolate teapot. When starship troopers was written the vietnam war had properly begun so world war 2 and korea was their main war experience of the era, world war 2 most of the US army was inexperienced. Vietnam for officers would have been a baptism of fire whilst napalm was poured on top. They had to deal with draftsmen that didn't want to be their, insubordination, drug abuse and sergeants that instead of trying to help the lieutenant and improve them would rather shove a bullet in his back and keep run the show himself, forgetting that he was a shit useless recruit once too and it was partially pure luck he'd survived that far.

The problem with bringing in female characters to games (unless their Lara croft) is gaming is still a male dominated medium, so no matter the groundbreaking heroine in Aliens and all the games following its lead on everything but this, males just aren't going to relate in general to a female character. Lara Croft was only really accepted because she had big boobs, all the others are either exactly like her, i.e Jill Valentine or are some form of tomboy so its alot like playing as a male emotionally but physically their slightly differently built.

I really enjoyed the article, but the closing argument for a game whose story is based on the maternal protection instinct is flawed. While the protection of your civilization or species is justification enough for the whole sale slaughter common in video games, a mother's desire to protect her child is not. Perhaps a game that emphasizes danger over violence like Prince of Persia would be a good match for the story, but the average space marine game would not.

There was a game released in 1999 called "Drakan: Order of the Flame" whose driving plot point was a strong (scantily clad) female character trying to rescue her brother. The game play was good and the sub plots were compelling but after the 5th kill I lost all interest in saving my brother and continued the game for the joy of the game play. The "save your brother" plot kept emerging to string the player along but it felt artificial and forced.

I am not saying the protective instinct is not a good instinct to harness for games. Ico being the prime example of a game where it worked, to a degree. I have heard many complaints of "let the stupid girl die she deserves it". However there are more ways of getting it wrong than there are of getting it right. After all most players don't mind charging into battle screaming "for king and country!" but when the battle cry changes to "for little Billy!" a lot of players will start wondering who is this Billy and why should I kill 1000 people and die 100 times for him.

Ray Huling is a freelance journalist living in Boston. He would like to dedicate this essay to the memory of Sarah Palin.

whats all that about?
And good article.

Beery:

True, but movies like 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' and 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes' also left a permanent footprint upon cinema and the public imagination (and even on some godawful games), but leaving a footprint doesn't mean a show is great art. Aliens is hardly of the same calibre as its own predecessor (which might just be a 'great' movie). But James Cameron is no Ridley Scott, and Cameron's best movies sit squarely in the B-movie category.

It's true that "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and other movies like it have left imprints on cinema. But look at how those movies have left imprints.

Movies like Plan 9 and even "Manos: The Hands of Fate" are constantly held up as examples of how not to do cinema. More importantly, they are decidedly not ripped off or paid homage unless it is to make some kind of comedic statement. For example, Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks" or "Ed Wood".

Look at the movies and video games that either pay homage to Aliens or rip it off. They aren't comedies. They aren't played for laughs. Since this is a video game board, look at Halo or even Doom. Are those games built-in with a sort of "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" look how bad this is?

Also, look at how cinematic canon views both movies. If you go out and buy "Plan 9" today, you'll most certainly get a commentary somewhere on the disk about how bad the movie is. Not so with Aliens. The "Alien" made AFI top list in 100 Greatest Movie Villains of all time. Guys from "Plan 9"? Not so much.

I'm not going to argue that Aliens is art. It's not. It's a great narrative whose narrative economy is quite excellent. But it's not art, just in the same way that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is not art. Both films are cinema, but they set out what they want to do quite well.

I mean seriously - 'Aliens', a great movie?

Absolutely.

Mainly, Aliens is a great movie because of the landmark it put in cinema. If you got on the internet and asked people to list the Top 20 Sci-Movies of all time - my bet is that you'll see Aliens on there quite often. Not so with Plan 9.

And look, if you don't believe me: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1000617-aliens/

Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie 100%. That's quite high. Much higher than just about any movie in recent history. And then, look at the reviews. Do the critics call the movie one of the worst films ever made? No.

Anyone looking for contemporary version of the "Space Marine" should read Old Man's War by John Scalzi. It's witty, entertaining and not some authoritarian military fetishist dream. The hook for the book is that old people are given a chance at life in cloned bodies working for the military. One of the ideas in the book is how traditional military training is not useful with the technology and challenges in the novel.

There are action game characters out there who are not carbon copied from Ash from Evil Dead or the Aliens Space Marines. I think that demanding more are female and copied from Ripley is missing the point somewhat. How about something original or at least looking past the DVD collection of horror, action and fantasy movies.

Jordan Deam:
After 24 years of holding out, this article is what finally made me rent Alien. (I'm following up with the sequel later this week.) Thanks, Ray!

Wow! I actually envy you. I'd love to see both of these movies with fresh eyes. I do have a recommendation for you about Aliens: don't watch the extended version. If the disc advertises extra footage, turn away! Or choose the cinematic release option. This is one movie where the streamlined cut is actually better.

At any rate, I'd be very interested to hear what you think of both films.

More Fun To Compute:
Anyone looking for contemporary version of the "Space Marine" should read Old Man's War by John Scalzi.

I seccond that, "Old Man's War" was a fun book to read.

hamster mk 4:

More Fun To Compute:
Anyone looking for contemporary version of the "Space Marine" should read Old Man's War by John Scalzi.

I seccond that, "Old Man's War" was a fun book to read.

If you want to see someone's critique of 'Starship Troopers', Joe Haldeman's 'The Forever War' is a provocative portrayal of how meaningless the role of the returning soldier was in society and how disenfranchised it left him. It deals with time dilation and how every time the protagonist returns home, centuries have gone by and society has continued to change and lose all interest in him. Haldeman wrote it to describe what it was like coming back from Vietnam.

And good article.

We've got a live one!

Hi All,

I'm glad that the piece is inspiring comment. I want to clarify a few things here, in something of reverse order.

Tabloid Believer: I'll go further. I'm actually one of those people who doesn't quite believe movies can be art. But your argument for Aliens is sound. I'll just add to the list of institutional acclaim: Sigourney Weaver was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Aliens--an unthinkable accomplishment for sci-fi at the time.

Johnman: I'm actually hoping that Sarah Palin's candidacy will inspire some tough, mother figures in gaming.

Hamster: you're right that a mother's protective instinct is not justification for video game levels of carnage, but since when do games ask us to be rational? I actually find it fun to play games I have a moral disagreement with. All space marine games would be an example.

Obliterato: The Starship Troopers film was an anti-militarist, anti-fascist parody. You're right that no one got the joke, but I'm not convinced that's Verhoeven's fault, so much as the audience's.

You're also right that games use femininity as a mere skin. In this regard, games follow the depiction of Private Vasquez in Aliens, a character I didn't have space to explore in this essay.

Robyrt (and others): actually, I'm an Anarchist, and, yes, my political views led me to choose the word 'terrible'. I choose my words carefully! From the OED: 1. Exciting or fitted to excite terror; such as to inspire great fear or dread; frightful, dreadful.

Starship Troopers is a frightening book, especially when you consider that Heinlein intended it to inculcate militarism in young boys.

But, yes again, I also meant the word in the following way: c. As a hyperbolic term of depreciation: of shockingly poor performance or quality; incompetent; defective.

Heinlein is bad writer, and Starship Troopers an especially bad novel of his. The main character is a patsy, a vessel to be filled, a tool. Much of the text consists of screeds against caricatures of democracy and pacifism. The book has as much charm and subtlety as an Afterschool Special.

Shalkis: you're missing the point but in an important way. First, check out the exploded text on the first page. I'm not saying there are no examples of powerful mother figures in gaming, for one thing. For another, the TVtropes examples are weak: Samus had one semi-matronly storyline among her dozen games. Beyond Good and Evil sold something like a few hundred thousand copies. And Sophitia, one character among many, stars in a fighting game--not exactly much on motivation.

You could have linked to the Space Marine entry on TVtropes: way more titles, way more popular games, way more story.

TVtropes is misleading in this way, which is why you have to be careful about citing it. It's sloppy and doesn't really trace lines of influence. It's just a list.

The point is not the mere cliche itself. It's not interesting to ask 'Gosh, why don't games pay more attention to the myth of Hera, the original Fighting Mom?' The answer is obvious: no one cares about that crap.

Games do care about Aliens, however. Game developers have watched and made use of Aliens as they have no other movie. Of course, they're going to extract the boyish material first and put it in their games. But it's been more than twenty years now. Surely, by this point, someone should have noticed that Aliens is against indulging boys.

What's surprising is that the single work most used by games to indulge our craving for paternalistic militarism is a a movie that rejects paternalistic militarism.

Whew!

Thanks, everybody. Dare I say, 'Peace out'?

Very great article, this.
Always been a huge fan of Aliens and other SciFi (as my screen-name totally doesnt support) and am always happy to read articles like this that express how I feel about a movie and where people take the ideas from it in future endeavors

Good article overall, but it sucked at interpreting Starship Troopers, and even more at Heinlein.

Heinlein liked to write books about societies which worked differently from ours. In ST he explored many things, but as far as society goes, the idea was exploring the concept of a society where only people who put their lives at stake, not necessarily in the military!, were enfranchised.

The society he put forward was NOT a fascist one, but a democratic one. But the army, of course, is not run as a democracy. So, please, do not confuse the goverment with the army.

But even if the society in ST was a fascist one, it would be wrong to attribute that view to Heinlein. He cheerfully went on to write books about anarchic societies and so on. If you really groked Heinlein, you'd see that (pun intended).

So, good post, and either go reevaluate Heinlein (perhaps without a preconceived bias, or with an adult, instead of teenager, worldview?), or leave him out of reviews. Or, at the very least, do not misrepresent him or his books.

And, btw, while I find Heinlein very good at working up concepts alien to us (no pun intended), I find his writing style boring.

On the topic of Heinlein, I agree with dcsobral on your false impression of him. You may look at Starship Troopers as advocating a fascist government, but if you read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (which I'm not done with myself), you'll find more thoughts on how to run a successful revolution to overthrow an oppressive regime. It is the exact opposite side of the political spectrum as Starship Troopers, which advocated some of the ideas being overthrown in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

Personally I like the book and think it does have a lot of good points, but if anything makes Heinlein a bad writer it is that he writes 200+ long essays instead of stories. He writes to get ideas across, not to entertain, and if you walk away hating all of it, then you simply went in with the wrong mindset. I don't like everything in Starship Troopers or The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, but the man is smart and I feel a lot of his points are very, very valid.

In terms of mentioning Gears of War, that is a game that is often misunderstood. If you want to get a real idea of the game, check out some of the commercials and trailers released for it. The 'Mad World' trailer released for Gears 1 wasn't about being macho, it was about being outnumbered and facing impossible odds. Plenty of the trailers for Gears 2 reflect this, and many other things. The macho attitude is certainly fun, and the games aren't at all the deepest, but they aren't about being bad ass and taking names. That is just the fun. The real story is about how frightened humanity is in trying to overcome these impossible odds.

As for "the military answer is always the right answer", I must wonder if you stayed until after the credits of Gears 2, where the lead up for the concluding game is that Marcus' big plan to save humanity might have just damned them all.

Overall it is a good article, but you really should have left out your misunderstood criticisms of Starship Troopers and Gears of War.

I don't really agree with the statement about Alien's influence on sci-fi games. Yes, sci-fi games borrowed heavily from Aliens, but I don't think this is because Aliens stumbled across subjects that appealed to humans; rather Aliens presented the best sci-fi form of various archetypes.

Let's look at some of the the main aspects of Aliens:

The aliens themselves- for generations, humans have feared the idea of an entity that can "get inside us," and alter us in one way or another. i.e. Vampires and Werewolves, creatures that feed on us, alter us, and repurpose us, using us as cattle, stripping away our percieved superiority in the food chain.

The space marines- every society is fascinated by its warriors. Knights, Samurai, Paratroopers...all of them were depicted and romantacized in the fiction of their day. In the 1970s, our warriors were soldiers who fought in Vietnam. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are similar to Vietnam, as such, our warriors today are similar to the warriors of the Cold War era, and they recieve similar treatment in modern works of fiction.

My point is that, yes, Aliens is borrowed from shamelessly, but only because it had the best sci-fi versions of pre-existing concepts. The only thing original about the movie itself is the presentation and combination of the concepts it uses. Somebody else would have eventually come up with much the same ideas.

Playing Jade in Beyond Good and Evil sparked my child protection reflex. When the DomZ kidnap the kids at the start, you see them taken inside the baddies and thier eyes glaze over...then it puts you in control for some righteous ass-kickery! As a parent myself, I'm a sucker for anything with kids in peril.

In fact that first opening fight in BGaE is friggin' awesome. Halfway through the battle it kicks into slow motion, and the dramatic music builds up...I was like 'holy shit! That was EPIC and the game has just begun!" I'd just picked up the game so I was just button mashing frantically, but it made me feel like a badass.

In a world where Girl Gamers continue to be a myth (not for much longer, I predict), the developers of these games must provide for their target demographic - the young/adult male.

This involves men with gigantic, bulky super-suits, a big gun (with chainsaws attached, looking at Gears of War) an American accent (guess why), and an obligatory scantily-clad female character with no genuine purpose but to be eye candy. You can see this in many games, such as Halo, which involves our faceless, fearless and smart-talking hero with a 'woman' (seemingly wearing nothing) breathing instructions into his ear at every turn. Which leads me to my next point: is this all the sci-fi heroine good for?

Half-Life and it's sequels take a spin on this, and while it still involves a robot-suit and a hot sidekick, they twist the stereotype around a lot. For example, Gordon Freeman never speaks, so he isn't as profane and full of smarmy one-liners that other heroes in his demographic are. While he wears his suit, he wears it because he's a scientist dealing with hazardous materials, not for the purpose of killing aliens. Alyx Vance, however, while good-looking, is not scantily-clad, and actually helps you out in your fights, providing extra firepower where needed. Valve utilises her as a person who can do what you can't very nicely, and she becomes a valuable asset to the story. The only time when she actually puts on a 'damsel in distress' routine is when she 'dies' in Half Life 2: Episode 2.
Dr. Judith Mossman is a shining example here of a woman, and arguably 'mother' who betrays everyone she loves most. What she's really doing, however, is plotting elaborately to get herself closer to Dr. Breen, the 'Big Bad' of Half Life 2.
She is a shining example of how women should be portrayed in gaming; cunning, smart and independent. She did what an entire rebel force could not in the space of 20 years; a fine feat for a woman her age. She takes a more active role in the sequels, furthering my respect
for Valve.
Also, you might notice that she certainly does not wear skimpy clothing.

Destroy All Humans! also takes a spin on this as well, making yourself the alien invading our beloved Earth. There is only one robot-suit in the game (which is used by an enemy for a boss-battle), and the 'hero' (if you twist things back around to the cliche of most sci-fi games) just happens to be a woman. While scantily-clad (for the final boss battle - she wears a suit and gas mask to hide her femininity throughout the game - a bit like Samus Aran from Metroid), she fends for herself, and does her duty in defending the world effectively.

My final point is that while these games are made to suit the target male demographic, movies can not be so biased. They have been around a lot longer, and people have been able to study the audience a lot better. Therefore, movies, in order to please this broader community, must add these little twists and gender equality. It's all tactics; what gets the best sales wins.

As my closing statement, as I have mentioned above, women do tend to leave the limelight, but there are some shining examples which defy this stereotype. Originality is not dead; it's alive and kicking.

EDIT: Another example of the 'Fighting Mom' in movies would be the militant Sarah Connor from Terminator.

I have been doing more thaught on the Maternal game protaginist and I still don't think it is a good idea. A child is not an abstract concept like a princess and thus should not be used in the same way. However the protective guardian instinct which is at the core of the "Fighting Mom" can be harnesed in other ways. Homeworld for example made me feel very maternal to my ships. I felt this to the point where no losses were acceptable and I would go back to a save at the moment one of my ships was lost.

I could see this being instinct being harnesed in other ways. For example if they ever get arround to making a good Battle Star Galactica game. Imagine if each ship in the fleet had a unique face and voice that went along with it. Even if the responses were always the same the fact you would never see that face or hear that voice again if you allowed that ship to be destroyed would cause a great attachment between the player and that ship. It is not exactly maternal but the core emotion would be the same.

I enjoyed your article, up until you spewed needless bile upon Heinlein's Starship Troopers. I'm rereading it as we speak, and if you're looking for militarism, you'll find that, no denying it. It is a system where ultimately the soldier benefits the most while the people go on with their lives disenfranchised.

Take a closer look, and you'll see more than warmongering: you'll find the themes of sacrifice and service: of what truly defines sovereignty. The book makes it clear that war is unfortunately necessary, that violence understands nothing but violence. When protagonist Johnny is asked is it worth it to sacrifice a thousand Mobile Infantrymen (not Marines) for the sake of rescuing 1 soldier, if one potato is worth just as little as another, he answers yes. Why? "Because men are not potatoes!" It also argues that this is not a war of us against them, but a war between two inherently savage races which kill and destroy in the name of self-preservation. Hell, Johnny himself argues "Fight because I'm an MI? Brother, you're drooling like one of Pavlov's dogs. Cut it out and start thinking" These themes are more than man like Cameron could comprehend, despite the fact that it garnered such critical acclaim.

Your argument, however is invalid. According to your logic, since videogames have failed to account of the strong maternal figure in Aliens, then the true predecessor is, gasp, Starship Troopers! If it wasn't for Bioshock and it's clear literary influence, we'd stil porbably discredit books as a source for inspiration within games. Even Blizzard did a shout-out for Heinlein and ST in Starcraft, and that game and it's expansion were nothing short of epic.

Maybe if you dropped your Rage Against the Machine ego at the door and read it for what it was, hell, if you actually read it, then we wouldn't be having this conversation, now would we?

It seems a bit much to claim that Aliens is one of the greatest movies ever. The original Alien was really brilliant. I find that its sequel doesn't really draw me in emotionally like the unbearable suspense and technical virtuosity of the first does.

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