-By Gabrielle Friesen, student staff
About a month ago, video game developer Quantic Dream released a video showcasing its new engine for Playstation 3 at the Game Developers Conference. The video, entitled Kara, presents a gyndroid being assembled, showing sings of sentience, being disassembled for the sentience “glitch” while screaming for mercy, before being re-assembled and released. The demo is not part of an upcoming game, but is a standalone piece to demonstrate the capabilities of the new engine, specifically to show off how well the new engine portrays emotion.
Although the Kara demo was released about a month ago, I’m just now getting caught up on videogame news. And although the short film has been out in the world for almost a month, there has been little criticism of it so far. One of the few bits of criticism for the demo has come from David Houghton at GamesRadar.com, who forwarded that the narrative was a bit stale, and highly evocative of Bjork’s All is Full of Love music video. And the narrative in Kara is stale, run-off the mill sci-fi gyndroid fare. But it’s also stale in how male gaze-y it is.
Just to start with, this video would never have been produced with an android (male robots, as opposed to female gyndroids) as the protagonist. A man being assembled for use as a household cleaner and sex-toy. A man screaming and crying as he is dissembled, begging for life. In most sci-fi fare in fact, if the sentience debate is brought up around the android, it usually plays out with the android arguing calmly and rationally for his existence. And of course, as the demo seeks to show off emotion, an android is out of the question, because the stereotype is that women are emotional, men are rational. And a man being an actual sexual object just would not happen within a mainstream video game, or demo produced by a mainstream company. The demo’s desire to show of emotion, combined with the narrative of a gyndroid gaining sentience, hinges on the stereotypes of women as emotional, but also plays on how those stereotypes manifest in the viewer: it was likely thought by the developers that an emotional response for a woman in distress was a given, while sympathy for a man, especially if he was visibly distressed, or heaven forbid, crying, was not assured. The narrative shorthand is stale and mired in sexist stereotypes.
While the viewer is obviously supposed to feel for Kara, and want her to live and be free, there still seems to be a small invitation to inhabit, to some extent, the sexualization that is apparently written into her programming. She’s pretty, childlike, and naked. The man assembling her, who is the audience conduit into the demo, calls her baby, and other pet names. Kara is sexualized, even as the viewer is hopefully supposed to be repulsed at her designated use as a sex toy.
The engine is impressive, crisp and cinematic, but the narrative itself is really lacking, because of both the overused, sci-fi tropes, and in the casual, creeping sexism that dots the demo. The demo is a standalone, so while a whole game featuring Kara as the protagonist could potentially redeem or subvert the male-gaze surrounding Kara, as good gyndroid fiction is able to do, the 8 minutes of the demo are all that Kara gets. Even these 8 minutes, however, her narrative, while being infused with the male gaze, is not even entirely her own within the narrative itself. At the end of the 8 minutes, Kara gets on the processing line, which, without a game continuation, could go anywhere, from a liberation narrative, to her taking the promise she made to heart, attempting to forgot her own sentience and become a (sex) object in someone’s home. While the ending is open, and could allow for a redemptive note, the last voice heard is not Kara’s, but the unnamed man’s. Instead of leaving the viewer with a note of Kara’s potential autonomy, the male voice is privileged, and we are left on a note of his thoughts on the situation, of his thoughts on Kara’s sentience, instead of Kara’s.