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Monday, July 10, 2006

The Problem With Superman

I haven't seen the new Supes in action yet ... but Keith Stuart talks about the problem Superman has with games and himself:

As far as the traditional videogaming demographic goes, Superman also has an image problem. He's too nice, too pure, too unreconstructed for our post-modern tastes. Batman is a goth (although admittedly he's had his fare share of stinky games), Spider-Man is a confused adolescent with a hot girlfriend, Wolverine has claws and mental health problems, but Superman wears blue and red lycra and stands resolutely for truth, justice and... well, that's all now. He belongs to a different era - an era that wasn't embarrassed about 'the American way'.
-- Superman, poor games and the collapse of Western civilisation

That "American Way" tidbit is apparently a reference to some furor over dropping that from a catchphrase whose origins I can't even remember ... but I'm guessing it's from the 50's TV serials (i.e. pinko commies beware). Apparently it's not even Clark who makes the statement in the movie, but Perry White ... but facts never got in the way of angry conservative pundits before, so why start now? These people won't be happy until they get a superhero flying off crying, "For Rush Limbaugh!"

Well, maybe not now that Rush is a euphemism, but you get the point.

I would argue with Keith's point, though. As a character for both film and games, Superman has potential. The point has been made elsewhere that unlike most superheroes, Clark Kent is the real identity and Superman is the secret. Not necessarily in the same way as like The Hulk, where the "hero" figure is an outcast or Batman where it's a dark aspect of one's personality. Clark has an identity ... Superman is just an ideal figure. As a hero, he is more icon than persona. One of Smallville's more poignant successes is drawing out Clark as a figure almost embarrassed by his potential.

For games, Superman could show us that you don't always need to have lives and a health bar to frame the content. Superman can have challenges far removed from simply surviving. For him ... the loss of any life, even that of a criminal's, is a horrible failure. It's not what Superman can do which defines him as a hero, but what he restrains himself from doing. It provides developers with a completely new strategy for desiging a game.

And what could be more post-modern than that? Well ... don't answer that actually ... I'm not sure we're ready for that just yet.

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1 comment:

3nki said...

i agree with your comment about superman being essentially a reverse of the typical hero in that his secret identity is a normal person and his "real" identity is a supehero. also your point about the potential for a new style of game.

another old hero with a similar problem is Captain America - he has some great story background, but i think it would be very challenging to make a decent movie. perhaps a global version of batman's late-in-life disillusionment with his city (and "the system"). i can imagine Captain America taking on the military industrial complex, big oil, etc. ;)