Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Women That Make Resident Evil Great

At the recent 2011 Tokyo Game Show, Capcom showed off a new trailer for the upcoming Resident Evil Revelations for the 3DS. This trailer puzzled me, not only because this trailer mainly starred a new character, but because this new character, named Rachel, is incredibly incongruous with the way the Resident Evil (video game, not awful movie) series has portrayed women up to this point. I'm not sure if Capcom is aware of it, but up until this point the series has had a great track record of featuring strong, (mostly) non-sexualized female characters, and Rachel appears to be the antithesis of this.

At first, Rachel appears to be some sort of special ops agent, not unlike the ones that Resident Evil often employs as main characters, but then the camera pans around to show her face and chest, a lot of her chest. What the fuck? Is this some sort of tie-in character from Dead or Alive? So, her hair covers up her eyes in a style I might refer to as a Shermie, and her clothes expose her breasts in a style I might refer to as a LienNeville. Tactically, she is a baffling character's appearance is baffling.

Even more baffling is the way she acts. I mean, presumably she has had some sort of training because somebody must have given her that gun and sent her on that mission, but the way she handles the situation implies that she's a weak little cheerleader running from a dude with a mask and knife. I understand that they are monsters and they are scary, but it just really bothers me that the people making Resident Evil would stoop to this. I mean, when she runs out of ammunition, she throws down the gun like an angry child.

By contrast, there is Jill Valentine in the original Resident Evil. She has practical short hair that is kept out of her eyes by a beret, practical military-style clothing that covers up the sensitive parts of her body, and when she see zombies and B.O.W.'s she doesn't run away from it crying. Okay, sure, after encountering the first zombie in the game, the player can return to the room that Barry is in and have him shoot it, but it's not some automatic scripted cutscene. Jill deals with the horrors that come her way with a cool head, uses her training to handle the situation and get shit done, and the fact that Jill's scenario is easier than Chris's sort of implies that she is more capable than Chris. This is the sort of strong female character that is sadly incredibly rare in video games, and it is characters like her that make the Resident Evil series great.

Granted, the series doesn't have a perfect track record with this sort of thing. In Resident Evil, Rebecca acts girlish and young, and is sometimes played off as a bumbling rookie. In Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Jill herself dresses a bit on the impractical and trampy side, and “dress up” game of getting various outfits is a bit offensive. In Resident Evil 4, Ashley is safest when stuffed into a trashcan. In Resident Evil 5, Excella and Jill both dress in questionable attire, and some of Sheva's alternate outfits go far past questionable.

Still, I believe that the good outweighs the bad. Sure, Rebecca is girlish and young, but Resident Evil Zero proves that she is a lot more capable than she appears, never mind the fact she saves Chris's ass twice. Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica have Claire, a badass that goes from being a college student to someone that flies around the world assaulting Umbrella facilities, and while Ada and Annette may be sneaky and conniving, but are anything but weak. Even if Jill was dressed impractically in Nemesis, she still had the wherewithal to throw an oil lamp into a room full of gas in order to take the Nemesis down, and that's pretty fucking cool. Not to mention that she constantly confronts the giant killing machine. In 5 it seems like she only wore the Zero Suit because she was under mind control. In spite of her embarassing extra costumes, Sheva is a really strong and capable character. Even though Ashley's portion of 4 was mainly about running away from danger, she could still German suplex some dudes.

This is what was so confusing about Rachel and this trailer in general. Resident Evil has such a large amount of strong female characters, and even though most of the games are focused on horror, it never pandered to the lowest common denominator that most horror movies do, with overtly sexualized girls running from big, strong, male killers. The series is not about being completely powerless, it is about being a capable person in an extraordinarily bad situation. The player is supposed to be scared, but all the while aware he or she has the tools to get out of the situation.

Rachel is the opposite of every Resident Evil female lead that has come previously. She's useless, scared, overly sexualized, and is like every stereotypical horror film cheerleader that has ever existed. Seriously, who gave this person a gun? Apparently there was some degree of backlash about the character after the initial trailer was released, and a bit later Capcom released an extended version of the trailer that explicitly shows her being murdered, writing “. . . if by chance you weren't a fan of Rachel, I'm happy to report that she's dead! See for yourself in this extended version of the trailer, wherein Rachel dies horribly.” So, a useless stereotypical character is killed off, making way for Jill to return and be badass by contrast. I'm not sure if I'm giving Capcom too much credit if I applaud them for taking on the standard fare of the horror genre, or if I'm giving them not enough credit if I call them ignorant of the things that make the series good.

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