Does Parody Translate into Pixels?
Published Aug 12, 2012Self-styled punk game designer Suda51, the brains behind iconoclastic Japanese studio Grasshopper Manufacture, likes to take the piss out of gamers and game makers for their juvenile desires, while simultaneously delivering exactly what he's mocking. It's a fine line, which he gleefully blurs, on efforts like his latest, the glitter-soaked zombie-killing cheerleader opus Lollipop Chainsaw.
Though (purposefully, punkishly) lacking the exquisite polish of Quentin Tarantino, Suda51 revels in a similar love of over-the-top low culture, and his work is akin to QT's cannon, which applies an auteurist aesthetic to the trashy b-movies of his youth. Though admittedly, Suda's games are often more along the lines of Grindhouse than Pulp Fiction.
Gaming has often been accused of being ultraviolent and uber sexist. Suda51's shtick is to make it even more so, so much so that its absurdity is brought to the fore. But is self-awareness enough to give him a pass here?
Lollipop Chainsaw, a collaboration with similarly inclined horror hero James Gun of Slither fame, seems like what a non-gamer imagines all videogames to be ― bloody lurching zombies being sliced and diced by a scantily-clad blonde teenager with bouncing digital boobs.
So what exactly makes it different from, say, Duke Nukem Forever, which trafficked in the same sort of extreme sexism and violence? Intent has a lot it do with it. Duke felt grotesquely misogynistic in a way that Lollipop's mostly cheerful cheesecake doesn't.
Also, Duke Nukem is the exact sort of super macho game that Lollipop is lampooning, except that San Romero High cheerleader Juliet Starling is a Buffy-like zombie-slayer who doles it out rather than takes it. Yes, she's objectified by the game, but the player can't just pretend it's not happening because they're controlling her and thus on the receiving end.
Not to mention that the game's grindhouse gore is juxtaposed against its super girlie aesthetic. When a zombie is dispatched by a pink chainsaw and explodes into rainbow hearts, you realize there's something more going on here.
Suda51, whose real name is Goichi Suda, used to be an undertaker before getting hired as a designer at Human Entertainment where he worked on Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special, a Super Famicon game infamous for having its lead character commit suicide at the game's end after realizing he was only wrestling to stave off depression. Not surprisingly, it was never released outside of Japan.
But it made clear that Suda's aesthetic was to bring gaming's unspoken subtext to the surface. He followed with a series of cult-establishing Japan-only games like The Silver Case, and Flower, Sun and Rain before his GameCube effort Killer7 finally brought his skewed approach to our shores. That game was best known as the most adult-oriented on Nintendo's otherwise kid-friendly last-gen console, but it was also a surrealist game that used stylized art design, neo-noir plotting, moody atmospherics and, yes, lots of sex and violence. The latter is what sets apart Suda's art-games from others like, say, thatgamecompany's Flower and Journey, that try to take gaming as far away from sex and violence as possible.
Suda, instead, dives right in, revelling in the ridiculousness of it all and satirizing the game makers who treat this sort of content so seriously.
His most famous entry into North American gaming was No More Heroes, again a game that could claim to be the most adult-skewing on a Nintendo console, but this one actually made fun of gamers almost as a dare to see if they'd notice. The game's not-hero Travis Touchdown was a parody of a typical Japanese-obsessed American otaku, and it never stopped mocking his obsession with girls and his desire for violence for violence's sake.
So is the game's hyper sexualized head cheerleader a strong enough character to carry off a similar satirical conceit? Not really. Making Juliet a bimbo was too obvious, and the misogyny spewed by the zombies hits a little too close to home (except for the boss whose insults become actual spelled out letters that must be dodged) even if the game was saying something about how women are treated in society.
Not to mention that, as Destructoid's Jim Sterling points out, the fact that her boyfriend is a disembodied head (done to prevent him from becoming a zombie) who is abused, degraded and robbed of free will, also offers a nice gender-reversal on the game's theme of objectification.
But those who dismiss Lollipop Chainsaw as mere mindlessly violent sexploitation need to realize that those traits are unfortunately all over gaming ― and that Suda51's send-up is ultimately intended to make sure that you do.