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June 1, 2009

Left 4 Dead, Race, and Gender


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOQu0B7hejk

Some warning, if you guys decide to watch it's a little violent. If you get scared of horror themed things, don't watch.

So I never really thought about the things I watched before, but after being in this class I started to think about things in our culture and some things I passively accepted before. For example, the above link leads you to the trailer of one of my (currently) favorite games, L4D. Basically the idea is this, the zombie apocalypse has come and four survivors are desperately trying to get to safety. You go from point A to point B as best you can while defending and fighting against those who are infected. Of course, there are the normal zombies (which can run and flank you) and the special infected which you have to watch out for. When I first saw the trailer for this game I just thought it advertised the game and gave you some basic ideas, such as what certain infected did and what to watch out for. Then I looked at it the way this class told me to.

I recognized some basic elements in other media in terms of gender roles and race. Bill (old war vet) leads the way as Zoey (college girl) takes the rear. Already the female character is pushed to the back as the men take the lead. Zoey continues to let the men take the lead as she acts as the support. Notice how she is always using pistols, guns being common phallic symbols. Her use of the small guns puts her in a position of inferiority. Bill warns her of danger as she doesn't notice anything amiss. This signifies that she is incapable and needs a man to protect her. The first person to make a mistake is the black guy, Louis. Luckily he is able to fix it by killing the witch, which shows that he is at least capable unlike Zoey. The uzi he uses is bigger than Zoey's pistols, but is smaller than the guns handled by the white males, his phallic symbol is lacking in comparison to the other two. Francis (white biker) is also competent as he saves his fellow survivors. He's masculine, he uses a shot gun (sometimes with one hand) and has huge biceps. Louis makes a second mistake by running out and isolating himself from the others. Zoey asserts herself by saving him, but while she uses two pistols, one shot from Louis's single pistol is enough to finish off the threat. The woman is unable to do a man's job and is only able to support him. That single shot from Louis, however, sets off a car alarm and alerts the horde of zombies, Louis's third mistake. When the survivors go back to back, Francis is the one most prominently shown, the most healthy white male. Louis asks Bill for orders when they face a zombie bigger and more dangerous than the rest. The oldest white male has power to lead the group since he is the most experienced and wise. As they run Zoey acts as support, though her efforts seem mostly futile. She loses one of her pistols, so she is further reduced in power and has to rely on the strongest white man to save her from falling to her death. The trailer ends as we see them from above, surrounded by infected.

The men are often shown in darkness while Zoey is shown with light shining on her. Her jacket is pinkish red, a feminine color. Her clothes are tight fitting and her hair is in a cute little pony tail. Even in this zombie infested world she is tailored to be eye pleasing for the men. She cannot take the lead and can only act as support. All of the warnings the trailer shows to the gamers has Louis making mistakes. Don't startle the witch, don't stray from the group, don't shoot cars with alarms. The black guy is shown as incompetent at times, though always more powerful than the woman, Zoey.

Even in this game trailer the characters act in the roles assigned to them by our culture, following the values set by a society dominated by white males. It follows the formula seen in much of the media today. Ironically, it doesn't matter which character you play as they are all capable of doing the same things. They are only different on the outside, their capabilities depend on the player. I didn't notice this the first time I saw the trailer or even the couple of times after that. But I noticed after I was shown what to look for. It really is there, even if we don't realize it.
Posted by      Kathie N. at 11:10 PM PDT
Tags: 4, dead, gender, l4d, left, race
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