[Talking to Women about Videogames is a series where Jonathan Holmes talks to different people who are women about the biggest videogame news of the week for some reason.]
In this, the second part of a two-part series about Lollipop Chainsaw, we'll be talking about zombies, psychology, how Juliet compares to Bayonetta and other female protagonists in gaming, why upskirts are a thing and what effect a male's gaze has on both creating and playing a game about a cheerleader with a chainsaw.
So without further adieu, let's get kicking. [Warning: Spoilers Ahoy]
Juliet Vs. The Zombies
Lollipop Chainsaw's take on the zombie concept appears pretty traditional at first sight. The majority of the zombies in the game are expressions of the Freudian concept of the ID. They do not value other people's existence, and their psyches have no filters. If they want to fuck your father, they'll feel no shame in telling you so. They are animals, chaotic and evil, ready to kill and hump and destroy.
The main thing that makes them different from a lot of other zombies is the amount of shapes and sizes they come in. They come in all forms of mindlessness: mindless sports fan zombies, mindless suicide bomber zombies, mindlessly territorial farmer zombies, and even mindlessly videogame-addicted zombies are all part of the show. People often think that pornography is only sexual content, but by my definition, it's anything that speaks to the animal side of us. These zombies represent all that.
The arcade zombies are probably my favorite, as they don't even notice Juliet at first. They're too preoccupied with their games. As someone who's achieved a zen-like mental emptiness on many occasions while high score hunting, it was easy for me to laugh at both those zombies and at myself. It also says something about videogame fans in general. Overall, our brand of mindlessness is lot more harmless than the kind you may find on a football field or the sharp end of a backhoe.
That said, even the arcade zombies are pretty violent once they get going. All of the game's zombies are aggressively, relentlessly attracted to Juliet (except for the zombie chickens), which is a pretty accurate reflection of our culture's mindless and idiotic love/hate obsession with the "all-American babe" archetype. The world loved Britney Spears, then loved to watch her suffer after she fell from grace. Either way, we focused on her. The zombies in Lollipop Chainsaw suffer the same compulsion.
So where does the compulsion come from? Probably from a lot of places. Some of it is sublimated rage that comes from being spurned by a woman that's "out of their league." That's what drives Swan, the game's evil ringleader, to create the zombie epidemic in the first place. Having always been mocked and rejected by "normal" people, he's always felt that the world was filled with hostile, dehumanizing bastards. The zombie apocalypse is just a manifestation of how he always saw the world.
All of the game's bosses (with the exception of killabilly, the game's final boss) represent resentful outsiders who have been taught by our society that beautiful cheerleaders like Juliet are more valuable than "ordinary" people, and resent Juliet for her privileged existence. Killabilly is different in that he represents the gigantic, endless appetite of American culture. He actually wants Juliet to love him, but he also wants to eat her alive. Either way, it's all about him, and nothing is ever enough.
Regardless if they are angry punk rock zombies or simple, cannibalistic zombies, they're still zombies. It doesn't matter if they see Juliet as an object of lust or as a symbol for everything that's wrong with pop culture. Either way, they're still objectifying her. They're still treating her like a piece of meat.
Thankfully for Juliet, there is an upside to being objectified. Being treated that way gives her full license to treat the zombies with the same level of insensitivity. They see her as a piece of meat to be sexually or philosophically destroyed, and she see them as pieces of meat ready to be carved for fun and profit. The difference between the zombies and Juliet is, she didn't start this fight, but she sure as hell knows how to finish it.
In a world where so many videogames are about men who treat sex like a self-interested mini-game, and treat all women like either prostitutes and/or potential murder victims, it's nice to see a game about a women who takes great joy in beheading anyone who would dare to take that tact with her.
[Original Art by Sarah T.]
Upskirts Vs. Plumbers Butt
So what makes Juliet more capable than the zombies? I think a lot of it is due to how much she enjoys expressing herself, and how little she suffers from being self conscious. She's turns the act of slaughter into an art, but it's not performance, as Juliet doesn't care who might be watching her. She's doing it for herself. The opinions of others don't matter. If a punk rock zombie calls her a "vanillaslut," she'll cut the words in half with her chainsaw, and cut him in half next. Their words can't hurt her and their "objectifying gaze" doesn't matter, which brings us to the upskirts.
While the majority of Lollipop Chainsaw is made up of gameplay which features very little in the way of sexually charged content, the game's cut scenes do have quite a few blatant upskirt moments. I didn't notice this at first, in part because I played a lot of the game with Juliet either dressed as Ash from The Evil Dead, or as a giant stuffed rabbit. That's just part of it, though. Another reason I didn't notice all the upskirts is that, like Juliet, I just don't care about upskirts.
Upskirts are a fetish that doesn't appeal to me. They play on society's notion of a woman's sexuality as being like candy (or in this specific case, lollipops); it's both sweet and bad for you, and you shouldn't give into your urge to have some. Making a woman's sexuality forbidden makes it all the more exciting to some when some of it slips out. A woman in a bikini has very little fetish potential, but a woman who is fully dressed who accidentally shows you a glimpse of her underwear causes some people to flip out. Add the idea of the woman in question being in high school, and the "I want it because it's wrong" fetish factor shoots straight through the roof.
Juliet knows this, but for the most part, she just don't care. She'll cover up if the player intentionally moves the camera to try to look up her skirt, but other than that, she's not concerned either way about who sees her bloomers. Like a plumber who carelessly unsheathes his ass crack while bending over to get at your sink, Juliet is unafraid of anyone who might see her buns as she she bends over to allow her boyfriend Nick to make eye contact with friends or family. Also like the plumber, it doesn't occur to her that she could or should be treated as a fetish object. So why bother covering up, especially when the world is mostly populated with a bunch of soulless zombies?
It's an awesome idea, one that someone such as myself, who had a scant 15 minutes of fame at one point in life, can very easily relate to. There was a time when I had to completely reject the idea of caring if people were objectifying me or intent on metaphorically "eating me alive" if I was going to get anything done. It was a lesson I took with me and have tried to harness in my videos for Destructoid, which often involve trying to prove a point by casting myself in the part of the fool.
So it's easy for me to put myself in Juliet's shoes. Lollipop Chainsaw works as an excellent metaphor for what my college and high school experiences often felt like. The fact that the game pulls this off with a female lead is good thing, right? It shows that gender isn't always a barrier, and that men can relate with aspects of femininity and vice versa, right?
Maybe that's true. The other possibility is that I'm just playing another game created by a man, made for a primarily male audience, and that's why it's so easy for me to relate to Juliet. Like so many of today's female videogame characters, she's a metaphorical man in drag -- the representation of a man's idea of what a woman could be, and not an expression of the experiences that women have had.
Juliet Vs. A Male's Gaze
As much as I love the character of Juliet, and feel as though she is a valid virtual extension of myself, I would still never pronounce that she's "a great woman in gaming." That's really not for me to say either way. As I am not a woman, and have never been a woman, I have no idea if she does a good job of giving women a voice in the world of gaming. That's up for the women of the world to decide.
From what I've heard, some women have told me that they were immediately annoyed with Juliet, and were sad that she didn't "own and enjoy" her sexuality like Bayonetta or Lara Croft did. I've heard other women say that they absolutely love Juliet, and can deeply relate with the fact that she's partially ashamed of her love of zombie slaughter. They've told me that it's exactly how they feel about being gamers -- that they've often been afraid to tell people that they have a side to them that loves games packed with wanton violence, but that it's a side of themselves that they can't ever keep in the closet for long.
Still other women have told me that they think it's quite clear that Lollipop Chainsaw is a game created by a man for other men, but that doesn't disqualify the game from offering a badass portrayal of a woman. One friend told me -- "Sure, Juliet was clearly created by a guy, but unlike a lot of games, she was created by a guy that thinks femininity is pretty awesome. They also hired a woman to do her visual design, which is a good sign. Considering how many guys refuse to play as a female character, and how many developers won't include the option to play as women in their games, I'd say that Lollipop Chainsaw is a step in the right direction."
Hopefully I got the point across that in our current culture, where female protagonists are still in the minority in gaming as a whole (even in games based on movies about women), an empowered tribute to traditional concepts of girlhood like Juliet is something we'd do well to consider (even if she was created by men). So that's enough about Lollipop Chainsaw for now, though I still have plenty more I wish I had the time and the space to talk about. That might have to wait for the sequel, assuming we ever get one. Regardless of whether you like the game or not, I think it's clear that there are still plenty of stories that could be told with a character like Juliet.
Boy would it be interesting if it turned out that Juliet had a detachable penis the whole time.