It was the millennium, gamers were aging, video games growing more sophisticated, and sex was, well, still very much taboo. The same old digital mores continued to hold, despite demand for more mature games growing.
Of course, as in any regulatory situation, the hypocrisy ran deep. While, for example, an examination of sexual interaction between mature characters exploring themes of human experience was strictly off limits, having every female character in the game show more cleavage than common sense was basically mandatory. Suggested sex would sell, actual sex would doom us all to an amoral purgatory. It was that ambivalent line that Fear Effect 2 attempted to straddle.
Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix – 2001
Released on the Playstation as a prequel to the original survival-horror title Fear Effect, Retro Helix told the story of a band of outlaws coming together to resist a massive sinister conspiracy. Three of the main characters from the original game returned with the addition of a new accomplice, Techno wiz Rain Qin.
Rain is the vessel through which controversy was injected into the game, as she became the lover of returning cast member Hana Tsu Vachel.
Nothing gets past the sexual gatekeepers like a harmless bit of lesbianism. Still, their relationship wasn’t just some oiled-up slumber party; these were serious outlaws with dire business at hand. The game features just two scenes that could, at a stretch, be called sex scenes and none of them involve Rain and Hana together. The most physical these women ever get is a brief kiss, and even then it’s in service of work; just long enough to distract a guard.
It almost sounds like their lesbian relationship isn’t just a tool to titillate a plump male teen audience, right? But it is not like the marketing department were going to pass up a chance like that. In the lead up to release publisher Eidos took out magazine advertisements depicting both women in their underwear (and gun-belts), Rain straddling Hana as the two frolic about in what we can only assume is every lesbians’ sexy daily routine. Just to really hammer home the game’s unwavering commitment to plot, character, and the human condition, of course.
A few cheesecake ads aren’t the game’s only shortfalls, sexually. You can’t really say that Fear Effect 2 is any less exploitative in its depiction of female characters than any other male-centric game. Director Stan Lui liked to talk in interviews about the title as though he had done something somehow more sophisticated or subtle than had come before, but none of his ambiguity changed the fact that his busty heroines tended to traipse about in outfits that would make Madonna blush.
In fact he even back-peddled away from the one area where he might have been awarded some kudos - in actually depicting queer characters as positive lead roles in the game. However Stan was soon bellowing to anyone that would listen that ‘Hana is not a lesbian!’ She’s a hot-blooded heterosexual female that just chooses to go to bed with women sometimes. You know, like in college. He admits the real reason he had Hana and Rain hook up was so an interesting (read: male fantasy) love triangle could emerge down the road.
Oh well, so much for progressive representation. In one final point of sexual befuddlement I should probably mention what may or may not be the game’s most explicit bit of sex play. At one point Rain manages to get herself captured, stripped, and strapped upright to some sort of S&M platform. Her arms are bound above her head, her legs spread-eagle and tied at the ankles. Affixed about her breast and groin areas are, I don’t know, some kind of pulsating tentacle tubing device, rhythmically pumping away on top of the submissive heroine.
When asked what exactly was transpiring here, Stan Lui refused to distinguish it as interrogation, torture, or rape. Instead it’s up to the gamer to interpret what the ‘message’ is on a personal level. Art masquerading as tentacle rape? Only in video games, baby.
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