The Awful, Sexist Plot of Starcraft 2

"Hell, it's about time" to call out the Starcraft 2 story for being awful and sexist.

The single-player campaign storyline for one of 2010′s best-selling PC games stands at the intersection between awful writing and awful social politics. It’s a terrible story with terrible things to say that is stupid and offensive. Nobody really likes it, although in the testosterone-filled world of hardcore PC gaming, most people haven’t taken too seriously just how sexist it is.

This isn’t a secret — among the millions of Starcraft fans, the storyline of Starcraft 2 is widely mocked and insulted. It’s bad even for video game stories (which are generally pretty bad) – and it’s bad enough that it’s high time people outside this niche gaming community saw exactly what sort of narrative is being foisted on gamers. Everyone deserves better – we can send a better message, and we can do it by writing a better story. It’s an interesting, niche situation where making the story better would also make it more socially progressive (although this isn’t always the case, or life in general would be a lot simpler).

Starcraft 2 is a tremendously popular multiplayer strategy game, the long-awaited sequel (13 years long-awaited) to the crown jewel of real-time strategy gaming, the game that became the de facto national sport of South Korea, with pro players earning six-figure salaries and multiple television channels showing professional matches all the time. And the single-player missions are generally well-designed and fun, anyway. So, people are still going to play it, even if the single-player storyline that frames the missions is awful. But there is definitely something to be learned from looking at how and why the story is so bad.

Warning – there will be spoilers throughout, along with a rundown of how to go about making a good Starcraft story, and how to expel nova pulses from your Xel’naga penis.

SPOILERS – Beginning at the End

The best way to get a sense might just be to watch the end cinematic, which is by far the worst part of the story, bringing together all the mistakes and missteps it has made along the way. (I’m curious what people’s reactions to it are, with the rest of the game sight-unseen. Let me know in the comments.)

Okay, so what happened here?

The naked girl is Sarah Kerrigan – a main character in the original Starcraft and the central antihero/villain of the Brood War expansion. She is the ascendant ruler of the Zerg, a species of alien monsters that operate through a hive mind and sweep through the universe destroying civilizations, taking over planets, and subsuming the genetic material of other organisms in a quest for perfection. They are known to “infest” their enemies, exerting a sort of biological mind control on them while turning them into monsters. They’re a lot like the bugs in Starship Troopers with a dash of the Borg or Species 8472 from Star Trek.

Sarah Kerrigan is a former human special ops solider (called a “ghost”) with powerful psionic abilities who is left for dead in an act of betrayal by her commander and captured and infested by the Zerg. Once she becomes a Zerg/Human hybrid, a series of events unfolds wherein, rather than being rendered a zombie monster slave, she seizes control of the Zerg, becoming one of the most powerful individuals in the known universe. Here’s the cinematic of her betrayal that they made for Starcraft 2, although the events it portrays actually took place during the original Starcraft. (It’s a mark against Starcraft 2 that its coolest scenes have more to do with the storyline of the original than its own storyline.)

She is also the ex-girlfriend of one of the human heroes (the guy with the space helmet and the mustache in both videos), a space marine named Jim Raynor. A big part of the plot of Brood War (and really what makes Kerrigan’s character interesting and notable), is that Raynor always holds out hope that this ruthless interplanetary tyrant who is killing people by the billions, deep down, still cares about him and wants to be his girlfriend. Of course, he is totally wrong, there are bigger things going on than their relationship, and he is continually disappointed by the fact that no, this woman does not exist as an erotic object, but is in fact a totally legit badass who is playing him like a fiddle because he is dumb and sexist and keeps underestimating her.

The Starcraft 2 betrayal cinematic really hammers in on the new, retconned, damsel-in-distress Kerrigan that has in Starcraft 2 replaced the one we know and love from Starcraft and Brood War. Look how helpless she is without the men in her life, despite her being a special-forces soldier with psionic powers and a personal cloaking device! The sequel is trying its best to recast Kerrigan as a vulnerable innocent the player needs to save, not a powerful rival or somebody you yourself would want to play as in the game (People really like playing as the Zerg – unlike, say, the pre-Voyager Borg, they’re quite sympathetic among players and aren’t always seen as villains. Starcraft 2 doesn’t even have any missions where you get to play as Zerg, a major expected feature from players that Blizzard is holding back to push an expansion next year, for which it will charge the price of a full game, because they can.)

The Queen of Blades, before her debasement in Starcraft 2.

Granted, as a female villain, it’s reasonable, at least at first, to claim that Infested Kerrigan, the self-styled “Queen of Blades” is herself a sexist type. She is, after all, out to kill and dominate humans, and the human soldiers in the game are often, but not exclusively, portrayed as male. And of course, we on Overthinking It are suspicious of female characters who are merely powerful or capable, without being interesting or fully realized. But if you follow the female character flowchart for Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades does well:

  • Can she carry her own story? Yes. (It’s called Brood War)
  • Is she three-dimensional? Yes. (Although I tend to not think this is very important.)
  • Does she represent an idea? No. (She’s pretty complicated.)
  • Does she have any flaws? Yes. (Oh yes.)
  • Is she killed before the third act? No. (She hasn’t died yet in the story.)

The result from the flowchart?

CONGRATULATIONS: STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER!

Prior to the release of Starcraft 2, Sarah Kerrigan had been voted in reader polls at places like IGN and GameSpot as among the top video game villains and the top female video game characters ever. She is powerful, intelligent and ruthless, sexual without being a sex object, part friend, part foe, part girl-next-door, part something else entirely. The site Tom’s Game calls her one of the “most fascinatingly complex and memorable characters of all time.”

Although the story wends through distractions and changes direction awkwardly, the ultimate goal of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty is to redomesticate Sarah Kerrigan — to reassemble an ancient patriarchial artifact, which looks like this and floats, erect, when powered up:

Ancient glowing alien penis.

And subdue her, take away her power, and leave her helpless, naked and wanting to love you and be your girlfriend again.

If you’d like, go ahead and watch this clip of the final mission of the game — note how Kerrigan actually emerges from a vagina dentata, how she is impressed and sounds sexually excited by the prospect of this artifact, and how the artifact periodically erupts in a flash of energy that destroys all nearby enemies, but then needs to rest for a little while before it can stand up and erupt again.

I know in the past I have written on this site that one ought not to consider as a creator of art a singular element or an individual creative act as “sexist,” because such labels depend on a full understanding of the real-world consequences of art, which artists can never achieve and should not aspire to. But under this same setup, we as critics are of course free to call it whatever we want, with the understanding that our terming an artistic piece as such is at least partially an act of our own creation and a collective act of the readership — one that is not justified out of the context of real-world, measured material consequence and never wholly found within the art object in isolation.

That all being said, sometimes a phallic symbol is really a phallic symbol, and somebody needs to call it out, because it’s ridiculous.

Furthermore, somebody needs to call out that this whole gross and unnecessary humiliation of one of the coolest characters in the history of video games is misogynistic and disgusting — and that it’s a really dumb goal to put at the end of a Starcraft game in the first place.

Let’s go into why Starcraft even has a storyline, and what that storyline needs to accomplish.

84 Comments on “The Awful, Sexist Plot of Starcraft 2”

  1. Sara #

    My reaction, with the rest of the game sight-unseen: How is it possible for Scarface to smoke a cigar with his helmet visor down? (Probably a stupid reaction.)

     
    • stokes #

      I’m right there with you. I was like, “Ok, first of all, his suit is going to fill up with smoke. And aren’t burning chunks of cigar ash going to fall back onto his face?”

       
  2. NMirra #

    Thank you for shining a light on Starcraft 2′s terrible writing (the hokey, inane dialogue could also use its own article). The game’s reliance upon characters who don’t appear in the game is a strong point (their eventual appearance in sequences notwithstanding).

    I disagree that the plot needs to entirely justify the multiplayer experience, however. I think the single-player campaign could convey a story, interesting on its own, which defines the game’s universe and places the units within a context. That would be sufficient for me. Just as I don’t need a backstory to explain how the Yamato Gun works, so I don’t need a backstory to justify the factional arrangement of my multiplayer games. Such a synchronicity doesn’t HURT, but it isn’t necessary. Still, better unrelated than insulting and counter-productive.

    Incidentally, if you read the “StarCraft Lore” for Starcraft 2 posted on the Blizzard site, you’ll realize that the embrace of sexist, cliched, pointless storytelling seems to be a fully realized marketing strategy.

     
    • fenzel #

      Yeah, there’s definitely room for a whole article series about all the things that are terrible about the Starcraft 2 writing. I kind of hit the wall after the first 4,000 words (as you can tell because I start getting sloppier and my own writing starts coming apart). Glad the comment thread is already firing up :-)

      I totally agree that you don’t need to know the full details of the multiplayer experience and that shouldn’t dictate the story – but I definitely think you need to know from the get-go who the Protoss, Terrans and Zerg are and why they are fighting each other. The game kind of takes for granted you already know this, or somehow thinks this really basic information isn’t important.

      And yeah, this clearly isn’t a “oops, we put Sarah Kerrigan in a love story, didn’t realize it was a mistake. Our bad.” situation. They really seem to be trying to appeal to a hyper-macho ideal here. Why exactly that is probably does deserve its own article, because it is pervasive across certain genres of video games right now.

       
  3. Tom #

    It’s a symptom of our culture’s messed-up attitudes toward sexuality that there’s no problem with this terrible plot line and writing, but in the cut scene Kerrigan’s arm just happens to cover up her breasts in a really unnatural pose.

    Also, I feel confident guessing that at some point during the writing of this material, somebody said something along the lines of: “No, it’s okay, this isn’t sexist because we’re subverting ‘bros before hos!’” Which just goes to show that just because you avoid one stupid sexist trope doesn’t mean you’ve avoided them all.

     
    • fenzel #

      Yeah, the whole “it’s okay to exterminate an entire planet of people but not okay to show a boob” thing is _still_ ridiculous.

      And yeah, the working title for this article was “The Ridiculous Misogyny of Starcraft 2″ – because I really think the sexism isn’t just political or about archetype in this game, it really comes from contempt. I’m not sure exactly where the contempt is coming from — my working theory is it’s contempt for the collaborative creative process (supposedly, believe it or not, the early drafts of the story for Starcraft 2 were much worse and had to be redone fairly last-minute), which gets translated into contempt for the villain of the story and mapped onto some sort of underlying contempt for women.

      I’d have much less of a problem if Kerrigan were just a type (like she is when she is a ghost). That’s part of a collective problem but not originally all that bad. But it’s a basic respect thing that they drop the ball on, a basic attitude thing – what is their intention? – and that’s more important.

       
      • NMirra #

        The Onion nailed an aspect of video game sexism with their recent article, “New Video Game Technology Finally Allows Rendering Of Smaller Breasts.”

        I do suspect that we are engaged in a critique of an aspect of the game that Blizzard just isn’t that concerned about. It’s akin to complaining about the scripts of Star Wars or Transformer movies. People buy Starcraft because of the multiplayer, not because of the script. Bad games with good writing don’t sell. It probably just isn’t a company priority. I also suspect, based upon the results of the Blizzard fan fiction story contests, that Chris Metzen, one (maybe THE?) head Blizzard writer, is just a terrible writer.

        Still, as consumers, we’re allowed to critique and complain, and maybe as gamers get older and more diverse, demographically, studios will start paying more attention to game writing. Until then, we’ll take the balanced gameplay and bemoan the tired motifs.

         
        • Tersa #

          I don’t think Blizzard should be held to the same standard as Michael Bay. The campaign for Warcraft 3 proves that Blizzard is more than capable of making better stories than Michael Bay they need to have their feet held to the fire on this.

           
        • Lisa #

          I’ve seen a recent string of complaints about the sexism in World of Warcraft related to a particular quest chain in the new goblin starting area. While I didn’t notice it myself (it seems to play better if you’re playing a girl gobbo), I can certainly see why people have a problem with it. Add to that other problems the game already has drawn fire for (from chainmail bikinis to the lack of female characters in the Lich King victory statue) and then throw this on top, and what do you get?

          I’m sorry to say it, but I think it ends up with something like “a game company just like every other game company out there.” Despite the large number of female gamers, especially in WoW, there’s still a perception that only teenage boys who are only going to play hot female toons or hyper-steroidal male toons.

          Even if that were the case, is catering to that good? What are we teaching boys? Not only that women are an object only of sexual desire etc, but also that the only way to be a real man and get respect is to be totally muscle-bound and able to tear people apart with your bare hands. Even if the boys are lucky enough to avoid the anti-female messages, what luck do they have accepting their own bodies and place in a peaceful society without a lot of mental hang-ups?

           
          • Tersa #

            Yeah there is a whole lot of poison in the entire package for young people to get stuck on. But if Blizzard a company that actually cares about quality and writing good stories (well at least they say they do) can’t be prompted to change than who can? And sure in wow there are quite a few things that are sexist but there are things that are subversive and positive. Like in twilight highlands there’s one quest chain leading you to save a dwarf maiden who’s been abducted by ogres but when you get there she’s already defeated her captors and leaves you following behind her. I just hope that the people who write those kinds of quests are the ones that get promoted with in the company for their originality.

             
  4. Redem #

    Good article, reflect some of the thought I had about the Starcraft II plot (along with with some other trend in writting) although the sexist and the awful plot could have been two separate article all together because they don’t quite manage to feel like they are the continuity of each other.

    Now if there one thing I was to see get rid off (or at least put on the shelf for a while) are any recombinaison of “Ancient aliens left artefact, backroom manipulation, cyclce of destruction, humanity special!” In the last decade pretty much all the Sci-fi set video game had some variatio on it along (and BSG can be include in this)

    For some reason everything goes back to ancient alien and I’m sick of it because it make for Sci-fi univers that have no real dynamic of their own and are mostly dependent on plot coupons. This article comparing Starcraft I and II I think make a good exemple of my point.

     
    • fenzel #

      Yeah, I liked Babylon 5 as much as if not more than the next guy, but it seems like every single other frickin’ Sci Fi property out there is now Babylon 5, with ancient semi-mythological aliens setting the unnecessarily complicated wheels in motion for people in the world to follow either blindly or melodramatically rebel against.

       
  5. K. Cole #

    Brilliant! Loved your points on how video game writing should be linked to the game play. Seems like no one knows how to write for an empathetic medium.

     
  6. Sean Nixon #

    It is incredibly premature to assume that Jim actually shoots his friend. I think we’ve all watched enough bad sci-fi to know what it means when you hear the gun shot but don’t see the bullet wound.

    I’m fairly sure that Tychus Finly (spelling?) is one of blizzards mascots. I feel like they might feel bad shooting their mascot off in game canon.

     
    • fenzel #

      “Incredibly premature?”

      I mean, I wouldn’t be that surprised if they retconned it and brought Tychus back through some crazy contrivance (like Raynor managed to precisely shoot Tychus’s suit with a revolver while spinning around during a fistfight in precisely the spot so as to disable the kill swich put there by the Moebius corporation, and then Tychus walked out of the cave ten minutes later and they decided not to show it for whatever reason), but the scene isn’t _that_ ambiguous.

      “Premature” – because of the way video games and comic books work, sure. “_Incredibly_ premature?” I don’t know about that. :-)

       
      • Sean Nixon #

        I’ll split the difference and call it “fairly premature”.

         
        • fenzel #

          That sounds fair :-)

           
  7. lee #

    “Prophesy” is code in screenwriting for: “Our characters are about to do a bunch of stuff for no good reason.”

    See also: Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III. Why does there have to be a prophecy? Who made the prophecy? A prophecy has to have a prophet, right? Does everyone actually believe the prophecy, or are there doubters? Balance to the Force? Seriously?

    Can anyone come up with positive examples of prophecy used in storytelling?

     
    • Neil #

      Minority Report? Would the precogs be considered “prophets?”

       
      • fenzel #

        Maybe. Probably not. I mean, even if they are, if the movie is actually _about_ prophesy – like if you made a movie about Samuel or Elijah or Tieresias – prophesy would probably play a slightly different role. Like, it would have a reason to exist, even if it caused people to act nonsensically.

        It’s when the existence of prophesy is just kind of ancillary to the realities of the world, when there is very little about the world other than the relevant scenes to make you think prophesy would exist or that people would justifiably take it seriously – that’s when it’s at its worst.

        Like, you can have an action movie where people fight with swords, and the only sign of the supernatural in the whole movie is a prophesy, and everybody in the know seems to know the stuff is legit – even if there’s no reason to believe it.

        It’s part of what I liked about the Dark Knight – the Joker actually lied to people (about the origins of his scars). People lie all the time in real life, but they almost never lie in movies unless they are being obviously ironic or _super_ nefarious. This is tremendously unrealistic.

        Like, if there were a romantic comedy and one character went to a psychic, and the psychic said you really need to be with person X, and the protagonist just said “you’re full of crap” and was right and it was never acknowledged again. No, that can’t happen, because if the psychic says something it’s either true because psychic powers are real or it’s true by happy coincidence.

        The laziest part of prophesy is how calling it prophesy confers authority on it, and when people question that authority in movies, it’s either an empty exercise in theatricality or an overwrought act of personal rebellion. It’s never how it is in real life – which is that prophesy isn’t real and people shouldn’t believe it.

         
    • Lisa #

      The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Fantastic twists with that one. Generally speaking, though, prophecies make for bad story-telling, even if they didn’t start that way. Harry Potter sure didn’t need one. The kid had enough motivation to tackle Voldemort without some pseudo-mystical crap thrown in.

       
      • Tersa #

        Wasn’t the prophecy in Harry Potter motivation for Voldemort to attach Harry’s family instead? But then again the whole prophecy as a justification for attacking a baby is kind of over used. i think the Bible used that one a few times.

        I did like how in Harry Potter real prophecy was treated as a rare commodity and everything else was treated like fluff well at least by Hermoine.

         
        • Gab #

          Yes, the prophesy in HP was a somewhat convoluted motivation for Voldy. Part of the “big deal” with the prophesy was that it could have been either Harry or Neville because they were both born under the right conditions, but Voldy, for whatever reason, picked Harry. I haven’t read the books dealing specifically with it in a while, so I can’t remember if it’s ever revealed whether Voldy had intended to kill both babies to cover his bases and just happened to stop by the Potter residence first, or if he just assumed it was Harry and not Neville.

          There are at least some “rules” with regards to prophesy in those books that at least make it a little less arbitrary and more plot-pushing. The fact that only certain people can touch the balls they are contained in, for example.

           
        • Mark #

          The sheer number of illogical decisions made in the Harry Potter books is staggering. While I am not typically an advocate for fan-fiction the story told by Less Wrong in a href=”http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/1/Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality”>Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is actually considerably more consistent than the one told JK Rowling.

           
    • Hazel #

      Ooh, ooh! I know this one!

      “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter” from Good Omens. Also partially answers the question of, “If you’ve got such great vision in your Third Eye, then why are you dead?”

       
    • Leo Khan #

      This was really ruined the story for me in the Starcraft 2, the whole prophecy bullshit though I still enjoyed playing through the campaign very much. The second thing was pretty almost everything about Raynor especially when he choice to save Kerrigan instead of killing her….wow Blizzard really screwed that up…what ever happend to his promise to kill her after she killed Fenix. After the ending I could only thing of one thing…Fenix must be rolling in his grave. Good job, Jimmy-boy.

       
  8. Adjectivist #

    If you don’t understand why Raynor shot Tychus at the end, I recommend going back and playing through Zeratul’s campaign.

     
    • fenzel #

      Well, I obviously know the justification they offer for it. The justification is that that Raynor should shoot his best friend in the face because a virtual-reality crystal relayed to him a story about a prophesy that if he lets the person who has hurt him most in the world die, then an unnamed evil villain will bring about the end of the universe. To somebody as sentimental and invested in personal relationships as Raynor, this seems like inadequate reason to murder your best friend – especially before even making an attempt at reasoning with him or coming to a different solution, especially since Tychus doesn’t really have a choice and thus doesn’t really deserve it.

      Raynor is a white-hat cowboy. No matter how bad things get, white-hat cowboys don’t like to solve their problems by shooting their best friends. It happens, but rarely with such gusto and lack of hesitation.

      For an allegedly character-driven piece, it feels really out of place.

       
      • fenzel #

        How about another point of view on this -

        A few missions before they get to Char, Tychus gets rowdy in his robot suit in the bar, and Raynor kicks his ass, country style, without power armor. There are all sorts of innocent people around, and Tychus could have very easily killed a whole bunch of Raynor’s soldiers. But Raynor basically just shows him what’s up and shuts him down – while at a tremendous tactical disadvantage.

        At the moment when Raynor shoots Tychus, he has already deflected the bullets with his power armor, flipped around, and has him taken by surprise. The more in-character thing for Raynor to do is _clearly_ to kick Tychus’s ass twice as hard as he did in the bar and disable his power armor. He clearly is capable of it, especially since the odds are evened up at this point. Yeah, maybe eventually he’d be forced to kill him, but it didn’t seem necessary in that moment.

        It’s not like shooting Tychus is a last resort. He had all sorts of options. But he goes right for the bullet in his best friend’s face. That’s not what a hero does.

         
        • Dan G #

          Technically speaking, we don’t know for a fact Tychus is dead. Just sayin’.

           
      • Dan G #

        I would say that you’re drastically oversimplifying his relationship with Kerrigan. Additionally, his relationship with Tychus has been strained repeatedly, and in the moment he’s got a chance to finally save his Sarah, his “friend” betrays him and reveals he’s been working for Raynor’s archnemesis, Mengsk himself – I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that would push ol’ Jimmy over the proverbial edge.

        I’d classify Raynor as a gray-hat at best, given his history. Maybe aspirations of white hatting it one day, but it’d be a very dirty white.

         
  9. Dan G #

    I feel like this is a case of “OH NOES, THE SEQUEL DOESN’T REHASH EVERYTHING FROM THE ORIGINAL SO ITS BAD!” combined with a little “OH NOES! MALE CHARACTER DEFEATS FEMALE CHARACTER! ITS SEXIST!” hysteria. I usually enjoy you guys, and I can agree with you that the writing wasn’t as good, but complaining that you don’t understand why the races are fighting after the full story of the original Starcraft is a strange complaint, and to call it sexist is straining pretty hard to the point of almost being some sort of meta self-mockery of the very concept of overthinking a video game.

    Or is that the point? Did I miss the joke here? Hmm.

     
    • John Perich #

      I don’t know the SC universe/metaplot as well as Fenzel. But whenever a powerful female character’s “redemption” involves her being carried weak and naked in the male hero’s brawny arms, the argument for sexism isn’t “strained.” There’s at least a case.

       
      • Dan G #

        Given that the character is naked at all times, being a Zerg, it’s hardly unusual that the reversion would result in *gasp* nudity. If anything, I would think that the rape and dominance subtexts of the Zerg infestation of her body and mind would provoke cries of misogyny, not the freeing from said alien influences. There are also a couple instances in the original and SC2 where the original Kerrigan shows through briefly, to ask Jim, her former love, to save her in one case or showing uncharacteristic mercy, so it’s not even a case where you can claim he’s really doing her harm or overriding her true self.

         
        • fenzel #

          “Given that the character is naked at all times, being a Zerg, it’s hardly unusual that the reversion would result in *gasp* nudity.”

          This is a big stretch, and I’m not really willing go here with you. Sarah Kerrigan lying there naked is not presented as a neutral circumstance. It is heavily symbolic.

          I mean, if this were real life, and somebody was invested by Zerg and turned into a monster, and then they turned back, and they got arrested for being naked, I’d be like “Cut that person a break! Of course they were naked!”

          But this isn’t real life. Writers don’t stand in opposition to their story the way people stand in opposition to reality. They choose what exist and what to show and what does not exist and what doesn’t show.

          And it certainly isn’t portrayed neutrally, as just a natural consequence of being de-zerged. It’s presented as a sexual reunion between a He-Man and a helpless, supplicating woman. The way he carries her is right out of a romance novel or a Clark Gable film. It isn’t neutral at all.

          And Starcraft 2 doesn’t depict her infestation as something that happens to her unwillingly. She submits to it willingly – it’s clear from the look on her face that her greater disappointment is to be abandoned by the men.

          Now, _if_ the infestation were depicted as a rape, and _if_ the nudity were depicted as neutral and just a consequence of de-infestation, _then_ you’d be on-point. But they aren’t, so I don’t really agree with you. Like, I can imagien an SC2 that works the way you describe, but it isn’t this one.

          I think the moments of mercy are interesting — and that’s why I brought them up in the article — the times where Raynor thinks he can save her, but he ends up being manipulated. It’s not clear at all that Kerrigan isn’t just tricking him. I think that’s part of what makes her character interesting.

           
          • Dan G #

            Starcraft 2 portrays her submitting to her oncoming death in the wake of betrayal by her captain, Mengsk – it doesn’t really touch the issue of her infestation, that’s all covered in the original Starcraft.

            I think the bit about it being “straight out of a Clark Gable film” is probably deliberate, but I don’t think the core of that moment is a sexual reunion. It’s a rescue, with a twist: for the first time, the indestructible Queen of Blades is vulnerable, and Raynor finds himself in the position of having to kill his old friend to save her from his exploiting that vulnerable moment. Where you think I’m not reading enough sexuality into it, I think you’re reading too much.

            As an aside, personally I wish they’d kept her around as the Queen of Blades a bit longer, as I definitely think that her character was more interesting in that role than as a flirty ghost. However, I give Metzen and Co. a fair bit of credit for past work, and I think they’ll manage to do something pretty cool with this in Heart and beyond.

             
    • fenzel #

      This really is two articles: the “here’s why the story for Starcraft 2 fails and what I would keep in mind if I were writing a Starcraft story” and the “Sarah Kerrigan used to be an awesome feministic character and the new game debases her and makes her look a lot more passive to a degree that makes me uncomfortable” story.

      I lumped them together because I tend to do this – I make my articles too long and cover too many topics. Would have been smarter to separate them.

      And I focused on the Kerrigan stuff first because I think it is somewhat more interesting to people who don’t know or care about Starcraft at all, and because I want to be gutsy and post controversial opinions (though sincerely held ones) in the hope of driving discussion and excitement.

      Did I make the whole thing a little bit too angry on purpose and oversell my case a little bit? Yup. That’s sort of the joke of the site – overdoing things. So I did that on purpose.

      Do I think this stuff is _actually_ important? That’s a hard question. I think the Kerrigan stuff is important, yeah. I think Starcraft is more important than people often think it is because it is so central to the lives of so many people. It isn’t just a normal video game.

      I mean, if you knew enough about Counter-strike to track its influence on culture, I think you’d get some pretty impressive results. These phenom-games that transcend regular amusement for more than a decade are important. They’re more than just the latest thing.

      As for complaining that I don’t know why the races are fighting, two things:

      1. I think the complaint is justified. Brood War came out in 1998. It has been a _long time_ since we have heard anything from any of these characters, and the situation at the end of Brood War was complicated, unstable and in flux. I think 12 years between an expansion and the next sequel is long enough that you owe it to everybody to check in again and explain everything.

      Plus, the game ought to be able to stand alone, and it really doesn’t.

      This doesn’t take much – just think of it in Mortal Kombat terms — “We’re having another tournament, and everybody is showing up!” is probably good enough to at least cover the basics. But they really dropped the ball on this, especially with the Protoss.

      2. The fact that the story doesn’t deal with why the races are fighting each other is part of what makes the core of the story bad, which then manifests in other ways. If you fix that, all of a sudden a lot of the other problems in the story start to go away – the missions against Protoss don’t feel as irrelevant. You probably have to replace Kosh ad the doctor lady with characters who actually matter.

      So it’s not that this complaint is in and of itself a huge deal, it’s that it’s the core issue of a larger series of complaints about the story that I could have gone into in more detail but I didn’t want to whine for another thousand words.

      I wanted to save that for the comments :-)

       
      • Dan G #

        The only time you really run into the Protoss in the campaign is the mission where you’re violating their shrine, or where they’re trying to purify the Zerg infestations and your friends happen to be in the way. In both cases, the motivation is pretty clear as to why you’re in conflict with them.

        As for saying it should stand on its own – well, as a game, sure. But as a plot, this is the 3rd in what will be at least 5 parts of a larger story – the story of Brood War certainly didn’t stand on its own without the original Starcraft, and I wouldn’t expect the sequel to Brood War to stand alone in that regard either.

        Before you compare it to Warcraft 3, realize that War 3 took place 20 years or so after War 2, and shares no main characters with its predecessor. Starcraft 2, on the other hand, centralizes its story arc around the same protagonist and antagonist from Brood War, only about four years after the defeat of the UED.

         
        • fenzel #

          Brood War was an expansion pack, though, and it came out a year or two after the original. This is a whole new game that came out 12 years after that.

          The UED is barely mentioned. There’s every reason to believe we don’t know who they are at this point. We barely find out who the Dominion is, and the Confederacy is mostly mentioned in the mercenary flavor texts.

          The Protoss missions aren’t difficult to grasp, that’s not the issue. The issue is that, if you treat it like a standalone game, the Protoss have very little reason to be in the game at all. They’re positioned like being able to play them in multiplayer is some sort of fun bonus, like playing the people other than Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Pod Racer for Super Nintendo.

          But the Protoss are a huge part of multiplayer. They cost a lot of money and time to develop for the sequel. They are a big selling point for the game. It doesn’t make sense that their participation in the storyline is so tangential.

          I guess I don’t like the “one race at a time” model for releasing these Starcraft games. The way I see it, if you’re doing that, do it Matrix-style, where you make the games simultaneously and release them in quick succession. It really doesn’t feel like a complete game if Terran is the only race you play a lot and the other two are afterthoughts.

          And I think the shortcomings this creates are really apparent if you play bronze league multiplayer on battle.net. The story totally affects the level of fun and participation in the multiplayer experience.

          Thanks for commenting, by the way :-) Part of posting this was to start conversation, and I want to let you know that I don’t mean anything serious by riffing on this stuff. I definitely appreciate the candid criticism from somebody who knows what they are talking about regarding Starcraft.

           
          • Dan G #

            See, I totally disagree with you there. I view the multiplayer as totally separate from the single player. You use different units, different races, different maps, and have only one objective ever – kill everything on the map that isn’t you. Yes, they’re the same mechanics and visuals, but that’s about it. From that standpoint, the presentation of the Protoss and Zerg is not problematic at all for me. Maybe I’m jaded from being so into the Pro scene in BW and SC2, but the mutliplayer is totally detached from the story practically speaking, and viscerally I don’t feel any sort of attachment to the story playing multiplayer – I just want to DT rush and laugh as the other guy calls me things I won’t repeat. Also, I’m not sure what your comment about the Bronze League meant. Are you suggesting I would find the supposed shortcomings more or less impactful as a higher ranked player?

            As far as the multi-part game goes, I didn’t like the idea but so far I’ve liked the execution. In the original Starcraft, you had 3 10 mission long “episodes,” one for each race, each telling part of the story, chronologically following each other. Think “movie trilogy.” Brood War did the same with 3 more episodes. Now Starcraft 2 brings a single further episode, but it’s three times as long and gets further into the individual characters. It’s a stylistic change, but I kind of like it. You get to really see Raynor fleshed out in a way the original game only sort of touched on.

            It was certainly a surprise seeing this show up today. You’re completely correct in your earlier statement that Starcraft is more than just another video game; it’s been a significant chunk of my life for the last 10 years that no other game can compete with. So, sure, I get a little ornery when people start throwing words around like sexist ;) But aye, it’s been fun talking about it at least.

             
  10. Tersa #

    Okay so it ends with Raynor carrying naked Sarah away to be his girlfriend again, and she’s done all these terrible things while she was with the zerg and she’s just going to get away with it? Even if she wasn’t in control she should still have an epic case of survivor guilt and probably need a lot of therapy.

    This storyline seems way too much like Jaina and Arthas in Warcraft, only reverse the sexes and this time one is saved instead of finding redemption in death. Nobody would have bought it for one minute if the Arthas fight had ended with Jaina teleporting his naked body out of the frozen throne into the sunset, but the other way around it’s considered believable?

     
    • Eduardo #

      Other side of the coin: Nobody would have made a fuzz if Jaina had teleported Arthas’s naked body out of the frozen throne into the sunset, but the other way around, it’s considered sexist?

      Let me tell you what I see: I see an ex-zerg badass quite weak and exhausted. Barely able to even focus on the world around her. Then there’s the guy who, at some point in the storyline of the games, loved her. Please, do tell me how you’d carry her. Slumped over your shoulder? Or maybe Raynor should have brought a change of clothes for her in case he succeeded. You know, so she can cover herself up.

      I agree the world of videogames is incredibly sexist, at times, but in this last scene, I don’t see it.

       
      • Tersa #

        The issue isn’t with how he carried her. If the genders were flipped and she was a he I think the whole scene would have probably been considered emasculating.

         
        • Eduardo #

          Guess we’ll have to disagree with that.

           
          • Tersa #

            So woman rescues vulnerable man and rides off into the sunset is something that happens alot in movies and games????

             
  11. Sean Nixon #

    One thing to consider: For Jim Raynor, the original story wasn’t so great. I haven’t played it in a while, but I remember him as being whiny and generally useless. I would not have wanted to play for 40 hours as the the bald guy who’s mouth was constantly writing checks that his ass didn’t have the funds for.

    So, Jim needs a little retconing. If the voice actors weren’t the same, there’d be nothing the Jim from SC 1 and the Jim of SC 2 had in common. He doesn’t look at all the same and generally doesn’t act the same.

    New Jim is by one idea, “I was responsible for the genocide of an entire planet” and since this is a lot to deal with he’s reduced the response to, “If I save Sarah, everything will be fine.” Piss on protoss religious shrines? Fine. Make a deal with the very government (Mensgk’s Son) that he’s supposed to be fighting? Show me where to sign. Take your men on a suicide mission to the alien stronghold? Only after I’ve had my whiskey.

    Jim’s salvation is so wrapped up in saving Sarah, shooting Tychus seems perfectly rational to him. He’s Ahab (maybe, Moby Dick is still on my to do list). “It’s a damn shame.” Tychus sees the madness in it. Tomorrow when Jim wakes up, he’ll still have helped murder a planet. Man, it would have been a lot cooler without the prophecy crap. Then all we have is a guy who’s become so deranged with guilt that he can’t see anything wrong with one more death on the pile.

    The short version? This ain’t Sarah’s game. It’s Jim’s. I think we’ll see a lot more of the Sarah fans want in the sequel, if for no other reason then Blizzard sad stories full of woe. There’s nothing sad if Jim’s attempt at redemption actually worked.

     
    • AlexN #

      Wow, I’m showing up quite late after the battle, but I just wanted to say that as much as I agree with Fenzel’s article, your post here is a great analysis. It’s really obvious when you point it out, and it is true that the prophecy crap just blocks the saving-Sarah-obsession. Awesome.

       
  12. Cimmerius #

    I will agree that the writing in Starcraft 2 is quite bad but I don’t think it was any better in the original. Back when the characters’ faces were little more than looping animated gifs it was not as noticeable.

    I’ve always considered the single and multiplayer aspects to be separate. I can’t think of any multiplayer games outside of an MMO that have any real story outside of lore on a website or in a manual. Why are the terrorists trying to bomb this empty desert town? Why are Red and Blu fighting over the barn and train station? In Street Fighter you’re fighting against another player just to see who wins, but in single player you’re climbing a ladder to face Bison and whatever end to the flimsy story for your character.

    I would also disagree that the New Gettysberg cinematic makes Kerrigan look weak or like a damsel in distress. The dialogue is taken pretty much directly from the original game and Kerrigan fights until she realizes she is surrounded with no hope of escape or survival. She looks up to the sky with a defiant “f**k you” expression it’s a heroic death a la Vasquez and Gorman in Aliens.

    Though I do wish they had left Kerrigan as she was so we could play as her being, to use her words, “pretty much queen bitch of the universe” in the next game.

     
    • fenzel #

      Yeah, it’s very possible I have “Thundercats Syndrome” and am holding newer stuff to a higher standard than I ever held higher stuff.

       
  13. Ezra #

    Instead, the writers decide to do what all sci-fi hacks do these days when their story is too goddamned complicated and they can’t figure out how to fix it – they “focus on the characters.”

    Thank you! I keep trying to tell people this, who sanctimoniously promulgated that line about the finale of Lost, that it could either be about the island or about the characters (with the clear implication that people who like a finale that, however sentimentally, wrapped up the characters’ stories were morally superior to those who were annoyed that so many of the show’s questions were answered only with “Because it’s magic.”) That division only points to the failure of the writers to properly integrate characters with plots. They should be inseparable. Is it possible, for instance, to imagine a version of “Silence of the Lambs” where instead of it being Hannibal Lector that Starling visits in that prison, it’s Stephen Dedalus from “Portrait of the Artist as Young Man”? Or Holly Golightly, or Yossarian, or HAL 9000, or Napoleon the pig from “Animal Farm”? (Although the latter 2 are murderers, so maybe Starling could indeed interview them in prison someday.) It’s just like Henry James said: “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”

     
  14. Eric #

    Points are all well taken about the generally lazier/shoddier/more sexist writing in the game. I think it says something that I didn’t really care about the cutscenes this time around and was just trying to play through all of the missions. It made me like Jim Raynor a whole lot less. Also, I think “focus on the characters” plural is a mistatement of what Blizzard did here. They focused on one character, Jim Raynor, to the detriment of every other character in the Starcraft Universe.

    I do disagree that Blizzard needed to somehow justify the multiplayer via the single player. Starcraft multiplayer has taken on a life of its own over the last however many years and it’s pretty much an end in and of itself at this point. There’s no shortage of people on the ladder (in all leagues, even up to diamond) that don’t have the achievement for finishing the campaign. This is especially true with the advent of all the shoutcasters on YouTube, the pro scene in South Korea and the burgeoning pro scene in the North America and Europe.

     
  15. Redem #

    Say could Valerian Mensk provide a better POV character for wings of liberty? Raynor going against Mensk could have still be there, but Valerian has reason to fall either way from what I gather

     
    • fenzel #

      That’s a cool idea. I remember reading that the writers didn’t want to finish the rebellion story because the last game was about Arcturus, and this one wasn’t supposed to be. So making it more about Valerian would have been pretty cool. You could have started doing missions on behalf of your dad, shutting down smugglers and rebels and stuff. But eventually you’d figure out shady shit was going on, when, say, Zeratul let you know he was using the Zerg against people.

      Wouldn’t sell as well, though. You’d have to redesign Valerian as a character. Make him a little bit less effete.

      But hey that’s doable.

       
      • Redem #

        Plus a valerian as protagonist kinda ease meeting him, he only show up in the last part of the game and I don’t think he’s even mention till there. While Starcraft (and blizzard game in general) often have a “all in the manual” thing going on. Only playing the game the guy kinda come out of nowhere.

        Plus he didn’t really leave a good impression when he explained the reason for his plan

        “I’m going head first with a pretty big bulk of the Terran armies, in the middle of both Zerg invasion and pratical civil war to decapitate an ennemies no one was able to beat on an inhospitable planet teeming with the most violent and viles creatures in the galaxy mainly because I have a good impression thoses ancient aliens artefact no one used will work”

        “so why do you do this?”

        “Cause I want to reassure people I’ll be a good emperor! What do you say guy who want to abolish the system”

         
        • fenzel #

          Yeah, Valerian’s plan is kind of stupid. Okay, really stupid. And poorly timed. And it involves the totally wrong people.

          I like how when you meet Valerian you have the option to do other stuff than help him at first, but eventually you have to help him. Ah, the illusion of nonlinearity.

           
          • Redem #

            The high priority he gave to the plan Probably show how much faith Raynor had in Valerian

            Hell he probably left him around the Char in the hope the zerg would take care of him for him

             
      • EZ #

        “I remember reading that the writers didn’t want to finish the rebellion story because the last game was about Arcturus, and this one wasn’t supposed to be.”

        Wait, both the first and third installments will have a Terran main character? I thought the third campaign was supposed to be a Protoss campaign?

         
        • fenzel #

          Oh, no, didn’t mean that. I mean that the Terran political plotline of Starcraft 1 is about Arcturus Mengsk and the Dominion. They didn’t want to make Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty about Arcturus Mengsk also, which is why they make Valerian an important character – read that in an interview with Blizzard people.

          Supposedly, the second and third episodes of Starcraft 2, which are called “Heart of the Swarm” and “Legacy of the Void” will be a little more outside the box than Wings of Liberty was. “Heart of the Swarm” will supposedly be about Kerrigan and have RPG elements where you play as her and build up her stats and mutations so that you can lead bigger and better armies.

          And “Legacy of the Void,” which is way off at this point, will supposedly be about Protoss internal politics – factions and gaining influence and stuff. For example, in Starcraft 2 you’ve got a bunch of units that are Protoss from Aiur (like high templar, zealots and immortals) and a bunch of units that are Protoss from Shakuras (like stalkers, dark templar, and void rays).

          Supposedly in the expansion there will be more divisions like this — you will play as Zeratul, and you will have to make choies that make friends or enemies with the different factions, which will change which units you can use – with the goal being to eventualy unite all the Protoss – I guess against the Dark Voice or something. There aren’t any reports I know of that say the game is even in development yet.

          I think it was the same interview where I read that they want to think about the Zerg and the Protoss more differently from Terrans than they have in the past – that it doesn’t really make sense for a Protoss story to be so similar to a human story.

          The different single-player campaign design concepts will probably also be used to help justify the full-game price tag they’re putting on each game, rather than the expansion price tag. Hopefully they will be worth it (While it’s hard as a working adult to really care that much about the extra $20 – I know I would have cared when I was younger.)

          Of course, a lot of this info is probably outdated – I think a lot of it came from the 2008 announcement of Starcraft 2 in the first place, and a lot has changed since then (like the expected price points). So who knows how things are going now.

           
  16. Eduardo #

    @Tersa: Sorry, It seems we reached maximum depth with respect to comment replies, as I can’t seem to find a ‘reply’ link until your last comment. Quoting:

    “So woman rescues vulnerable man and rides off into the sunset is something that happens alot in movies and games????”

    Happens a lot? No not at all. Is it emasculating? No, not at all.

     
    • Tersa #

      Okay so if a woman saving a man isn’t emasculating then why did the makers of Salt feel it was necessary to make changes to the script so that Salt’s significant other wouldn’t need saving after Salt’s lead was changed from Tom Cruise to Angelina Jolie? http://jezebel.com/5523000/salt-a-pro+woman-flick-with-a-sexist-twist

      Our culture seems to think it’s emasculating. In an ideal world I agree that it wouldn’t be emasculating. But unfortunately we don’t live in that ideal world. There still seems to be a lot of baggage with these types of story lines.

       
      • Eduardo #

        Sounds to me like you hit a really good example of sexism in films. Does that make the concept *itself* sexist? As in, is a man getting rescued emasculating, by its nature, sexist? I’d say most people would respond ‘no’ The director of that movie, who is obviously rather sexist, responded ‘yes’.

        Let me make myself perfectly clear: Yes, western culture is rife with sexism. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t many people out there who aren’t. Noyce made his position stupidly clear, by stating his actions were to prevent emasculating his character (even though, in both of our opinions, getting rescued would not, in fact achieve such a thing). The problem in the case of Warcraft, is that the scriptwriter didn’t go off and say “Hey, if Arthas is rescued by Jana, it’s emasculating”. Ergo, both of our positions on the subjects arise from our own perception. I choose not to look at it in a sexist way. Likewise, I choose not at the last scene of Starcraft II in a sexist way. I see what I see, and I interpret it as I see it. If The people at Blizzard were to walk up to me and say “dude, rescuing naked chicks is like, totally hawt”, then I’d have to change my stance on the subject. In the meanwhile, I guess I prefer to believe people aren’t that misogynistic until proven wrong.

         
        • fenzel #

          Not to be a boor or anything, but the formally stated intentions of the people doing it are among the worst barometers possible of whether something is good, bad, right, wrong, in pursuit of one political agenda or another, reinforcing of a prejudice or exacerbating of a social problem.

          What the person talking prefers or is more comofortable with is one of the other worst ones.

          Healthy skepticism of the political effects of creative speech is important, but I don’t think your stance here is robust enough.

           
          • fenzel #

            Comofortable? wow, I fail at typing life.

             
  17. David #

    I do think you are underplaying the Fool/Magus archetypal relationship between Raynor and Zeratul post BW. That then lends more credence to Zeratul’s word over the actions of Tychus, a known thief and liar.

    As to the “prophesy”: I think this was an attempt at foreshadowing events in the last 2/3rds of the narrative. In building up some anticipation for the Hybrids and perhaps the return Samir Duran, this will help propel the plot toward a climax where the original races are nearly defeated, The “Tower” archetype. Just keep in mind that the story is far from finished. Criticizing it now is akin to the Boeing designers calling the stealth fighter mock up the hopeless diamond. Yeah its ugly, and a bitch to handle, but it’s form did prove to be an essential part of its function once flight testing began.

     
  18. JT #

    I haven’t played SC2, but nod in agreement about your statement. I actually did a write-up on sexism in SC1, and I think the trend of sexism in StarCraft really hasn’t changed. It’s just that 2′s story hasn’t completed and/or isn’t very good in comparison in to StarCraft 1. Anyways, the write-up was originally posted on tvtropes Forum, so there’s going to be some links to their articls, as well as SC Wikia, which I used as reference:

    https://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AUsl5lUr65aYZGNocm5wOGtfMTQyOWNrNDZjZmQ&hl=en&authkey=CM3E2PsG

     
  19. km #

    you have a lot of nerve condemning one of the greatest games of all times. If Starcraft 2 is dissapointing to you storywise you must hate everything. It doesnt have one of the highest pc game ratings of all time for nothing. I give this a huge thumbs down

     
    • AlexN #

      Thank you for this brilliant peace of rhetoric, wherein you make your case clearly and address relevant arguments with relevant objections and references. Keep it up!

       
    • David Koontz #

      Allow me to paraphrase: “I like Starcraft and you’re a big doodie head, waaaaaaaaaaaah!”

       
    • SkyHawk #

      Wow, I’m a fan of Starcraft II, and this comment is really stupid. I think you paraphrased it the best, Dave.

       
  20. SkyHawk #

    While you do bring up some good points, you’re taking apart a story that’s only 33% complete. Blizzard still has yet to release the latter 2/3rds of the story. Not that I’m saying it will make it better. I just hate to see people go off half-cocked.

     
  21. Rake #

    I liked this article. I am a big fan of both Starcraft 1 and 2 and a big part of why I like the first game was the story (I didn’t have internet at the time so no multiplayer for me). I was particularly disappointed with the inclusion of prophesy (totally unneeded) and the deinfestation of Kerrigan. Also, the dialogue was often clumsy.

    The reason they felt that they had to deinfest Kerrigan was because they wanted her to be the character for the second part and so they needed her to have a giant reversal so that we can build up her forces (no point in playing a character that can destroy everyone at the very beginning). But why couldn’t they have diminished her power some other way? Have a hybrid take control of the swarm from her? Have a massive hybrid invasion destroy most of her forces? They we could have played a baddass villan for the second game instead of a disturbed daddy’s girl. The answer is probably that neither of those options involve her being saved by good ol Jimmmy. :(

    Well I still have hope that they second part will be good. Hope springs eternal.

     
  22. FlakMeister #

    A very nice write up of some of the major contentions I share with you in regards to the narrative and characters of SC2.

    Reading the discussion here, especially the Valerian part, I came to an epiphany about the whole misdirection of the story of SC2 and the mussed opportunity of what might have been.

    Character driven narratives are not necessarily a bad thing as long as the development is intertwined with the progression of the plot, the major mistake was having the focus being on Raynor.

    Wings of Liberty was 12 in tbe making and by now even veterans of the originals are hard pressed to remember the intricacies of the plot and relationships between the characters. Raynor is especially burdened with the events of the previous games, but WoL picks up like nothing has happened, as if we’ve all played the games, read the manual or some of the god awful books. That’s a big no-no.

    Raynor’s goals and motivations seem arbitrary if viewed through the eyes of a newcomer. Too many characters and concepts of the universe are pilled on too quickly so that you’re left confused and disinterested.

    Enter, the Valerian character. Valerian in WoL is horrible fucking schlock, the way his background and looks match that of Arthas is laughable, but the concept of his character has potential.

    Imagine if the game started with a young, naïve female Princess being given her first commission by her dad, Arcturus. She has lived a sheltered life because of her background and she experiences the universe and its characters gradually alongside the player.

    Throughout the story of the game she comes to learn the real nature of her dad by meeting Raynor and eventually is convinced by him what a horrible A-hole her father is, that the Dominion is a sham and that she has been manipulated by Dad all along.

    She takes control of her fate and works to overthrow Arcturus with the help of Raynor. This development sparks an interest with another former pawn of the Emperor who also took control of her own fate, the Queen of Blades. There would be an interesting relationship between the Princess and the Queen, the first rising to wrong a right and set free her people the second using her won freedom to enslave and dominate. It’s almost Shakespearean.

    This is obviously only the frail skeleton of a narrative, but if properly written could have proven a great way to start off what money-grabbing Blizzard intends to a three parter.

     
    • Hepburn #

      This sounds great. I suggest you get writing, good Sir!

       
  23. Wordman #

    “I’m curious what people’s reactions to it are, with the rest of the game sight-unseen.”

    OK, so I’ve never played either of the Starcraft games, and know nothing about the backstory. Here is what I saw:

    Two guys find a naked woman. They seem to recognize her. One guy smokes a cigar inside a closed helmet, making him obviously the “bad cop”. The “good cop” wants to save the woman. The bad cop is under orders from the nebulous Authority to kill her, though he seems sort of ambivalent about the act either way. Good cop shoots bad cop, good cop takes away naked woman.

    There is not really enough information here to make a conclusion about the scene’s meaning. Interestingly, the most important missing information has nothing to do with the woman, the good cop, or the bad cop. It is the answer to the question “what is the nature of the nebulous Authority?” Clearly, the Authority is brutal, but why?

    There are two choices that matter for interpreting the scene without any other context. The first is that the Authority is corrupt and evil (and this is the more heavily implied, thanks to the “deal with the devil” comment, even though the source of that comment is suspect). In this case, the Authority wants her dead for a nefarious purpose, so the good cop acts heroically in saving the naked woman.

    The other choice is that the Authority has a really good reason for wanting the woman dead, that this is the “lesser evil”. If this is the case, then the good cop is actually selfish, saving the naked woman for his own purposes, while ensuring that the “greater evil” occurs (though he may not be aware of it).

    So, when you supply the actual context of the game, does this become any clearer? Well, the storyline you mention strongly suggests the latter. Regardless of how this woman was betrayed and captured, if she really becomes “one of the most powerful individuals in the known universe” and controls an entire race “known to ‘infest’ their enemies, exerting a sort of biological mind control on them while turning them into monsters” then it seems extremely likely that the Authority has a great deal of moral ground to stand on by thinking that killing her is the “lesser evil”.

    In particular, if there is even a slight chance that “rescuing” her and bringing her into human space is part of some elaborate trick to “infest” humanity, then any government would have to be complete idiots to allow her to live.

    So, given that, it seems likely that the good cop is “getting played like fiddle by a totally legit badass because he is dumb and sexist and keeps underestimating her”.

    I suppose the point here is this: the ending to Starcraft 2 is sexist if and only if you assume that the naked woman is exactly the victim she is presented as. But making that assumption is, itself, sexist.

    If, instead, you assume that the naked woman remains “a totally legit badass”, playing the victim to further her own hidden agenda by taking advantage of the misplaced compassion of one human dumbass, you see a much different ending.

    But what do I know.

     
    • RAD #

      You misunderstand completely.

      She was “one of the most powerful individuals” up till about five minutes before that scene, when she got blasted with the alien artifact and rendered powerless. She is no longer a threat.

      And up till then she’s been such a badass that it takes all the bad guys in the game working together and manipulating the good guys to help in order to bring her down, and they only win by a narrow margin.

      As for the betrayal cut scene, it would be more impressive if you knew that she had just led a ragtag army in fighting off two massively superior forces at both fronts before being abandoned at the last minute.

      She only loses when the odds are impossibly, overwhelmingly against her.

       
  24. RAD #

    Wow.

    There are just so many things wrong with your analysis. Or else just distorted.

    Most have been addressed already. I might comment more at length on them later, but I’ll acknowledge your most valid point: the penis symbolism of the artifact. You’re right, that was unnecesary.

    Let me ask you one question: if the artifact had been an orb or a ring, would you have had a problem with it? I think it would’ve been an improvement.

    There are indeed a lot of cases of sexism in games and they need to be addressed, but this isn’t one of them.

     
  25. RAD #

    What the heck, a couple more points.

    The storyline makes perfect sense if you pay attention (and aren’t too busy complaining about xel’naga penises – penisi?). The characters’ actions play a vital role in the way the action plays out – you see the on-the-ground action rippling in the corridors of power via news broadcasts. None of the missions are just about about collecting money. They all advance the story in different ways.

    SPOILER/SPECULATION

    It’s obvious the people behind Mobius are working for the Dark Voice and are breeding hybrids. It’s also obvious they’re playing the Mengsks against one another and against Kerrigan, Arcturus is financing their breeding plans (as revealed in the secret mission) probably because they promised him an invincible army, Val is assembling the artifact as part of his ego-boosting victory, and they all want Kerrigan out of the way. They chose Tycus for their trigger man because Raynor would trust him. He was to insure Kerrigan was not just de-powered, but killed.

    In short, yes we’re only given one perspective, but it makes the intrigue that much more exciting.

    Here’s a tip: try imagining that alien super penis as a ring. You might actually start to enjoy the game.

     
  26. RAD #

    Now that I think about it, this discussion has made me all the more excited about SC2, when you consider that Raynor and Co are being used as a tool by the bad guys to destroy Kerrigan.

    I imagine Heart of the Swarm will be a fun ride. I’m hoping for flashback missions with her as a playable character in full Queen of Blades mode as we see some of the new Zerg invasion from her point of view. We’ll get to know why she wanted the artifact and what she wanted to do with it.

    Then we’ll get to play her as she regains her Zerg powers and continues her missions, but with a new consideration for Terran and Protoss life.

    She’ll be a genuine hero. A sci-fi Xena without the campyness. How’s that for character development?

     
  27. Confanity #

    “Adding sex to a story in a lazy or contemptuous way more often than not leads to adding sexism, as the contempt for the subject matter translates into contempt for women and progressive gender identity in general.”

    -I’m a bit put off by the implication that “contempt for sex” translates into contempt for 1. women specifically and 2. “progressive gender identity in general” (which… I’m not entirely sure what you mean by it) but NOT 3. men in any specific way.

    At the end of the article there’s even an allusion to the way the story’s sexism is also specifically contemptuous of men, in the implication that they have nothing better to do with their time, or aren’t psychologically strong enough to do anything other, than obsess over women, fight and kill each other over women, etc. Why focus on the insult to women and act as if it were the only noteworthy part, when bad writing and writing infused with bad attitudes harm everyone?

    I’m still waiting for the mainstream womens’/gender/queer studies contingents to really realize that sexism etc. aren’t a patriarchal conspiracy to keep The Woman down, that it’s a remnant of old survival techniques that are no longer necessary in our society and hurt everyone, male or female, who remain bound by them.

     
  28. grinningloki #

    As a feminist I feel, really, really horrible saying this but I think you’ve over-thought this one. You have two arguments which have very little to do with each other. Your first argument is that the story in Starcraft 2 was poorly written. Agreed. Your second argument is that the story is sexist. I disagree. The in-game “banter” between Raynor and Kerrigan in Starcraft is indicative of mutual attraction, perhaps but it’s never stated if they’re even dating or intimate much less if Raynor, or Kerrigan, want to settle down and start having kids. This makes your comment about the game’s message being one of “wives submit to their husbands” an incendiary red herring. There’s nothing to suggest that Raynor want to do anything more than save someone he cares about and possibly stop a dark plot for galactic domination by evil (again, I agree, poorly written story). In your synopsis of Brood War you admit that he’s been trying to help Kerrigan for a long time before she became a mcguffin.
    I agree that it was a spineless move to make the whole and game about saving Kerrigan and even worse to have Raynor succeed in doing that. It’s trite, it’s cliched, and it’s cowardly on the part of the writers. But it is not sexist. Raynor clings to the notion that Kerrigan is not acting of her own free will as the Queen of Blades. He believes that she is either still suffering the effects of the Zerg infestation or that she has been driven insane by the traumas she’s suffered (the Zerg infestation was basically a rape). Raynor wants to deprive her of her powers not because she’s a woman but because she’s become a homicidal maniac. He goes up against several male antagonists for the same reason. She spent most of Brood War using her Zerg army to try to get revenge on all humanity for being abandoned to the Zerg. She also tried to carve out her own empire using methods that would make Catherine the Great cringe. Brood War seemed to suggest that Raynor was wrong. Kerrigan had decided that she was going to parley her betrayal and violation into becoming one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy. For better or worse, the woman Raynor knew was dead. So, once again, there’s bad writing in Starcraft 2 with a retcon, or an example of willful ignorance, to make Raynor right. But it doesn’t change the fact that he believes he’s trying to save someone he cares about. He might be wrong, doomed to tragic failure, or blinded by emotion but he’s not being sexist. He wants her to stop destroying worlds, not get back in the kitchen and make him a sandwich (although we all know that psychic super-soldiers of the future make amazing sandwiches, sex notwithstanding).
    You say that she’s been retconned from strong, female character into damsel in distress and offer the clip of her betrayal as proof. She’s a super-solider but she’s facing down an entire army of Lovecraftian horrors alone and she would like to know when she can leave. That she’s trying to crack a joke in that situation is cliched but anyone else would curled up a fetal position long ago. Being a strong female character does not mean being a woman alone.

     
    • RAD #

      There’s another issue I’m glad you brought up: the biggest reason this had to be Raynor’s story and not Kerrigan’s was the simple fact that, no, Kerrigan does NOT have free will.

      Although the Overmind which serves as the loci persona of the Zerg biological imperitive is dead, that imperitive still exists and utterly dominates Kerrigan. It’s not a question of whether she’ll try to take over the universe, only what methods she’ll use. One could argue that her human personality and experiences would influence those methods, but she does not have the choice to NOT try to infest the universe and carry out that imperitive.

      It’s why Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer could not have had his own series while he was still the soulless Angelus. He didn’t have the choice to not be a mass murderer. Kerrigan did not have the choice to not be a genocidal tyrant.

      And if you ask me, that’s the real cop-out, since it neatly absolves her from all her actions as a Zerg. Yet it’s still and interesting storyline and I eagerly await the continuation.