I've been waiting to post this article. It's really fucking awesome (but I'm biased).
Basic marketing tactic to get your attention (You're Welcome):
Today we're going to talk about Atlus' Catherine, why it gets so much negative press and what the game is really about. Enjoy the gorgeous imagery because I'm about to put your mind to work. This game is totally about sex, but probably not in the way you thought it would be. Ignore everything you've heard about the game before now because I'm going to be the Morpheus to your Neo. Take the blue pill.
First off, I apologize for lapsing in my posting. My priorities were:
1) Beat Tales of Graces before Diablo 3 comes out.
2) Play Diablo 3 without sleeping.
3) Get ready to move to Korea.
All of those were getting done fine, so blame Diablo 3 mostly for this.
BUT!!! I can tie this in what I want to talk about so let's just chalk it up as "research" and everybody wins, sound good?
Diablo is a series heavily based in Western mythology. I'm not trying to say your Christian God isn't real, this isn't a theology lecture, I'm just saying that there are certain myths within Christian "lore". A myth is defined as a sacred narrative, usually explaining how the world/humankind/religion/region of land came into being. It's a story with no concrete factual basis that explains the unexplainable.
So yes, that includes angels and demons and all of those symbols heavily rooted in Western Mythology. Eastern relgions have their own conceptions of such supernatual entities, but the ones in Diablo are a very stylized take off of a Westernaesthetic.
This directly correlates to the story development and our personal understanding of thematic context. These aren't some cute Miyazaki demons, there are badass motherfucking End of Days demons.
We all really love Spirited Away, but I doubt anyone without a background in Eastern history and mythology understand 30% of the symbolic overload in that movie. Similarly, I doubt anyone in Japan is going to connect with the content of Diablo in the same way we do. We both come from very opposite pools of knowledge from which we can associate these images and make them fit. (This is called a Schema for all you non-Psych majors =P)
How does this relate to Catherine, you ask? Good fucking question!
Because WITHOUT FAIL, I see blog articles like this piece of shit from Alex Cranz over at Fempop.com and this less enfuriating artlcie by Emily Short over at Gamesutra, that constantly reinforce discussion on Catherine in the generalistic tone of it as a misogynistic, hedonistic, unrealistic game that reinforces gender stereotypes and oppression. This has become the staple watercooler talk on the game because people just like to regurgitate bullshit without thinking about what they read critically.
Now don't get me wrong, Emily Short's article is awesome and a really good starting place for thinking critically about gaming in some respects. Peter Mai does an even better job and I'm solidly convinced that everyone writing along these lines deserves a hug and a fruit basket for not contributing to the typical idioicracy that typical applies to writers in this field.
But both of these articles deal with very surface level concepts. Yes, Emily Short, this game seems to be misogynistic and pandering to adolescent males and yes, Peter Mai, the game is full of symbolism about maturation but fucking WHY?!?!?! All you're telling us is the shit that, as basic human being and intelligent gamers, we can see with our own two fucking eyes.
Let's see if we can combine these two perspectives and see if we can't go a little deeper. But first, we must address the elephant in the room. Alex Cranz, the prototypical feminist that gives all feminists a bad name by hollering the loudest instead of using her fucking brain, makes many offensive and blatently WRONG remarks in her article on Catherine as a "game full of rape".
^Been playing too much Katawa Shoujo.
Now again, a disclaimer here. I don't hate feminists. I don't agree with much of it in actuality because it tends to be somewhat hypocritical in its agenda and there are some crazy sects of it, but feminists do a lot of good just by challenging the status quo. ENLIGHTENED feminists, that is. Alex Cranz is the other kind. The kind that gives a bad reputation to all the intelligent feminists out there. The reason I say this is because you can't talk about a subject solely through Feminist lenses all the time, and she never took hers off. She also didn't bother to do a lot of serious research.
As I mentioned before, the "feminist" perspective is not necessarily wrong (as Emily Short reveals in her Gamesutra article) it's just very rudimentary and surface-level. Yes, overt sexuality and apparent misogyny are very blatently present in the game. You would have to be deaf and blind to miss it. What IS wrong is when there are statments made such as this trash by Alex Cranz: "While Atlus always has stellar game mechanics their stories come off as juvenile and sexist."
Really? That the same team who developed Persona 4 only three years prior to Catherine in 2008, a game lauded for its explorations into gender roles, sexuality, and their societal implications/pressures on the psyches of various LGBTQ characters, would do a complete 180 and make a game that ignores any basic considerations of male-female relationship dynamics or female psyche seems to teeter on the brink of impossibility.
There must be a reason to go from this ^This...to this:
There has to be a point. And, just like we saw with our Diablo example, meaning differs from society to society depending on the knowledge base we have to interpret the information with. Blizzard is based in America while Atlus' Persona Team is Japanese. When they create games, that knowledge base serves as the foundation for any inspiration they have. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Aum Shinrikyo's terrorist activities in the '90s did a lot to shape thematic content in video games, anime and manga even to this day from Akira to Cowboy Bebop. We are typically much more aware of these events and not so much in tune with the silent social, psychological and economic pressures that hover in the atmosphere of Japan.
Perhaps the best paper I have ever read on the subject was by Matthew Taylor titled "Strategies of Dissociation: A Mimetic Dimension to Social Problems in Japan" in which he highlights the crucial elements to my analysis of Atlus' Catherine.
Okay...this might be a lot to take in at once. Basically the paper is talking about how society is putting so much pressure on Japanese citizens right now that their response, rather than to rebel, is to say "fuck that" and withdraw from society.
What has been severely misinterpreted as Vincent shirking responsibilities due to his role as a “man” in a relationship with a “woman” is an oversimplification of a very complex problem in Japan where many members of society, regardless of gender, use this hysteric disassociation to cope with these very real social pressures. If we look at the trends of these dissociative natures in relation to the members of society they are typically attributed to, “it appears that many of the dissociating people are responding to psychosocial distress in connection with their most definitive social roles” (Taylor).
Prime examples of this being NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), who are individuals who have collapsed under the pressures of an oppressive Japanese work or school environment, and Hikikomori who have become hermitic due to overarching social anxieties. Both of these types of individuals are severe concerns for the Japanese government and general public because of the severe drain they have on the economy and, more importantly for our investigation, the declining population of Japanese youth. In such a male-dominated society with such massive lines drawn between gender interaction on a social level, many women (and men) are becoming androgyous over the failed dating/marraige dynamic they currently operate under.
Atlus’ Catherine acts as a social commentary on this phenomenon in all aspects. It is a story of forced maturity as necessity, which is something many Americans have a difficult time relating to. Katherine (Vincent’s long-term girlfriend committed to marriage and/or children) acts, not as a negative stimulus as many believe, but as a societal litmus test for Vincent’s potential for propagation.
Thomas Mutton, the owner of the “Sleepy Sheep” bar, is a deity later known to be Dumuzid, an allusion to the Sumerian mythical deity who was damned to the Underworld for failing to respect his wife, Ishtar. In repentance for this, Thomas Mutton now separates the worthy from the unworthy through a very Swiftian methodology. People cannot be allowed to sit in societal limbo eternally and must be pushed toward maturity if they will not mature on their own. Failure to mature is a failure to provide any real use to society, so death is the only “logical” recourse to get Vincent/Japan back on track.
What part of this isn't Swiftian? lol. You have nightmares where you have to climb up a perpetually falling tower. If you don't have the will to progress and push on, you're unfit for society and should fall and die in your sleep. Don't feel bad if you didn't see the satire. Neither did the English in Johnathon Swift's time and they were pretty pissed about the barbaric stuff he was publishing.
This manifests itself through various gameplay mechanics and illusions of liberation or oppression inherent to the game's structure (which are even pointed out to you by Ishtar in the game) but I won't dwell on those here because this is already long enough and I could write a whole seperate paper exploring how the game mechanics support the thematic content. Basically, the game forces the player (Japanese audience) to realize that not choosing is not a choice. Nothing will progress. And if you flipflop between choices, you're fucked. This game is all about decisiveness. Now...before we get into the specifics of that...
What's important to this analysis thematically is the various endings. You can choose Katherine, Catherine, or Neither (True, Good or Bad) for a total of 8 endings (there is no Bad ending for either).
Population Stimulation - Katherine represents choosing the traditional route of marraige to a (Japanese) woman for the purpose of propogation. The Stray Sheep Bar represents Japan and, through most of the game, it's relatively empty and in shambles. Once Vincent and Katherine conquer their seperate anxieties (Katherine may reprerent a Parasite Single, another problem in Japan) and decide to get married everyone starts finding their "true love" because they've been inspired by Vincent and Katherine. Orlando even makes the remark that the bar is more successful than ever now (K and V host their wedding at the bar) and may not have to shut down now. How much more obvious an analogy do you need?
Economic Stimulation - If you choose neither, Vincent bets all his money (that he borrowed from Thomas Mutton) on a wrestling match. If he wins, he literally "reaches for the stars" and gets into space tourism. If he loses, he's still okay with it. He's finally putting money back into the system and has a new, positive perspective on life now. Living for himself (and the benefit of society economically) has no "bad" outcome. Sure, he isn't making babies, but at least the economy isn't collapsing from him sitting locked up in his room. This is seriously a HUGE issue. The Japanese Prime Minister has gone on record and claimed that if the NEET issue isn't fixed, they could see an economic collapse by 2040.
Get Teh Fuck Out - This is perhaps the swiftian conclusion to the swiftian situation. You choose to live with Catherine (who turns out to be a succubbus) in the underworld. You both become lusful, promiscuous demons of the underworld who have sex with alllllll the demons. It's a good life. Catherine here is representive of the Other or "non-japanese". Essentially it is a Japanese man choosing a non-Japanese woman and living somewhere other than Japan (the underworld). Japan has the one of the lowest immigration rates in the world and they like it that way. There stance is that you can go be a hedonist somewhere else with those hedonistic Westerners. But that's still a "Good" choice, because Vincent has made a choice, gotten active and moved away, no longer an economic drain on Japan. Not to mention a Japanese audience wouldn't really view this as a real "option" since this takes place in a realm of fantasy where Vincent grows demon horns and copulaes with harpies.
It is of the utmost importance to realize that this is not a “good/bad” ending either, but arguably a “marriage for country/marriage for love” scenario. The first concept holds little meaning to an American audience, but to a Japanese audience this is the standard of which they seek to return. In Katherine’s ending, Vincent realizes his faults as we have elucidated as negative traits of Japanese society, and has learned to properly exercise his freedoms for the good of his relationship. He loves Katherine, but it is a love out of duty, which is not by any means to be taken as a negative thing.
All of the True endings, as well as the Good endings, seek to reinvigorate the Japanese population in some way, shape, or form, while the Bad endings reinforce the idea that any hesitation or indecision on the part of the performer is damaging. In a game where confinement and oppression are the status quo, the player learns to take advantage of the minute decisions they can make to affect the outcome of their world, and as Ishtar reveals: “After all… Nobody has their future already laid out for them.”