Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

Diamond in the Rough Article: Sexualization in Prince of Persia

Posted by deckard47 on November 25, 2009

I am still a bit embarrassed about that title. Oh well, I’m sure it pleases a small subsection of my audience.

So there is a new Game Set Watch article up (by me!). It’s about the new Prince of Persia, sexualization in games (but especially Prince of Persia), and it is the lead-in for two more articles, that will follow shortly in its wake. I do hope you will be entertained, at least, while reading it. Here, for you reading pleasure, is a bit from the article:

But that’s just the beginning of it, as shown in the above quote. People really don’t like the Prince because he’s a dude. Now, I don’t mean like The Dude. I don’t mean like Dude Where’s My Car. I mean he’s the kind of guy who (when he isn’t philosophizing with a princess or being chased by evil gods) wants nothing more than money, drink, and companionship of his preferred sex.

And this pisses off a lot of people. It doesn’t piss them off because the hero is a heteronormative jerk who spends the first few hours of the game mocking someone who saves his life at regular intervals. Likewise, no one speaks out about the game’s simplistically written, stereotypically plotted Concubine, a woman scorned, of course, who takes her revenge in the throatiest voice possible. Is this what a powerful woman in a game is, especially when compared to the far from reprehensible Elika?**

This last should not be taken as a statement that the Prince is not an attractive (potentially) character to some players. In fact, to simply say that the Prince is an ass, therefore he is not worthy of the story/Elika/our time is reductive and misleading. It may be a common, annoying trope that the asshole is really a Nice Guy (and stems from a problematic assumption about male relationships with perspective female partners), but that, again, is not what people find alarming.


3 Responses to “Diamond in the Rough Article: Sexualization in Prince of Persia”

  1. Alex said


    Great points about the Prince. Saying NOW he’s “not Persian enough” is really silly. Although one thing I think made Elika more palatable to the people complaining about the Prince was her manner of speaking… she spoke formally, even in a slightly archaic manner befitting a princess. Apparently.

    One thing I love about the game is how it’s obviously about BOTH the Prince and Elika. She’s not a sidekick or a plot point, she’s his partner, an equal protagonist, which is really interesting considering almost all games by nature focus on a single character. The only thing I don’t like about Elika is how her waist is smaller than her head, which freaked me out the entire game. What the hell.

    I freaking LOVED the ending, it was a seriously bold move, I thought. You might be interested in this thread on the Iris forums: ReiSilver and I discuss the ending and she brings up some background info for the Concubine. Some people also discuss the Epilogue but I haven’t played that yet (?!? I know! I downloaded it and everything!) so I haven’t read those.

    • deckard47 said

      I had a huge long response to your response, but it was wayyyy too long, so maybe I’ll just post it later (mostly about the Iris thread and the articles you linked to).

      So I’ll boil it down here, because I’m supposed to be working right now :(. I’m glad you linked the thread to me, it was nice to see people arguing about the game in that way, because most articles (as the EXP post and its own links showed) are about “agency” and “difficulty,” and tend to stick firmly to “Brainy” territory (if I may be reductive and generalizing). I’m glad they’re discussing those things, but most of them didn’t talk about the other aspects of the game I’m interested in, as the Iris thread did.

      Oh, and just from skimming that thread, you _must_ play the epilogue. As I recall (played it almost a year ago), it really shows you what a lot of trouble the Prince just unleashes upon the world, and just as satisfyingly, Elika’s fury at his betrayal of trust and complete lack of faith in her decisions (things that the EXP article used to damn the game… But he hadn’t played the Epilogue yet) is great.

      So this is still long (and I just saw the second page in the thread). Oops. I’m glad that people outside of the (markedly) “Brainy” groups the EXP post linked to are writing about this, because it seems to me that the game’s ending and its vague relations to Bioshock’s “hijack” moment are overpowering the more “public” discourse on this game.

      I’m trying to work on another Prince article, just for my blog, and I want to read everything I can, so I don’t say dumb things, or things other people have said. It seems like that thread alone links to all of that mainstream “Game Crit” stuff through the EXP article, but I’m hoping I can find other stuff. I was considering creating a Wave to talk about it, but it seems like most people have moved on.

      Also, I think the fact that the Prince/Elika are both their own people and each believe that they are doing the right thing should really be explored more (as was done in the thread). People obviously got angry at the Prince for what he did, because they were nervous about the game’s use of player action to imply complicity on the player’s part. Why can’t we play as the Prince and still judge him? That’s what I loved about this game! I love that the characters (if you carefully examine the conversations in the “right” order) have consistent, powerful character arcs. Most games _never_ have that.

      Ok, this needs to be a post. But thanks for reading the GSW one!

    • deckard47 said

      Upon reading the EXP post by Scott: I think that he conflates trees and fertility, women and nature, in a pretty presumptive way. I also think that he makes _huge_ unprovable assumptions about authorial intent; he essentially unproblematically associates the male characters in the game with the game designers’ and their intent (for what the story “meant”).

      He writes this: “Initially, it seems the Prince will avoid her father’s mistake as he helps Elika collect the light seeds. Ultimately, once the Prince realizes that Elika has made the choice to sacrifice herself, he chooses to overturn her decision. In doing so, he renders their previous work, along with Elika’s intentions, meaningless. The Prince chops down the trees, symbolizing the destruction of nature and the final shreds of female agency. The game ends with a distraught, yet powerless Elika asking “Why?” The Prince offers no verbal answer, and even though Elika spurns his conciliatory glance, proceeds to carry his prize away from the city.”

      Even if you don’t count the Epilogue (which basically cuts the legs out from under his argument), he is still too quick to associate women with sex and women with nature. I think he also falls into the trap (that so many do) of assuming that because the Prince is “bad” or makes “bad” decisions, that the narrative and game itself are complicit and bad. I think only a fool would uncritically play out the game’s ending and assume that the designers all “think that the Prince is right.” The sign of a strong narrative is a character whose motives and actions do not necessarily dovetail with those of the reader, the author, or the narrative. I don’t think he makes a strong enough point to convince me of any of these things. This really all needs its own post, along with the stuff in the Iris thread. Exciting.

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