So without further ado, I’m going to talk about my favourite computer game moment of all time. It comes from a lovely game called ‘Earthbound’ on the SNES, so if you haven’t played it and don’t want it spoiled, don’t read on. At the very end of the game, during the final battle against Giygas, the evil alien that is threatening the future of mankind, it isn’t some kind of macho brutality that ultimately wins the battle in the end. It isn’t overlevelling your characters, min-maxing, getting the best weapons or ‘rescuing the princess’ that destroys evil. It’s cooperation. And fittingly, it’s cooperation that is brought about by the power of a woman: Paula, a party member who joins Ness on his journey early on in the story and remains at his side to the bitter end.
When I think of strong women in gaming, I don’t think of Lara Croft, or Samus Aran, or even Bayonetta. I think of Paula. Paula possesses a unique ability known as ‘Pray’, which during the game serves only to heal everyone’s health a little. A little morale booster. It’s an ability that most people forget about by the end of the game (at least I did) and certainly not a power that you would be worried about using against the ultimate evil. But in order to defeat Giygas, you have to Pray. You have to Pray so that all of the characters you have met on your journey, some of whom may have even antagonised you, lend you their strength. You have to Pray because outright aggression simply will not work. You have to Pray because you can’t do it alone, no matter how strong you think you are. And when you Pray, all of the people you have met on your travels hear your plea, and you become united.
This iconoclastic, doomsday rhetoric will only serve to copper-fasten the boundaries that have been thrown up between ‘misogynerds’ and ‘social justice warriors,’ two utterly fatuous labels. Journalists, instead of dividing up your audience and stoking the flames of conflict, you should be bringing people together. It’s disingenuous to stereotype gamers just as it is disingenuous for gamers to attack women. Whoever sent out death threats to a woman just because they disagree with her should be arrested and jailed, not used as a springboard for an intellectually dishonest whitewash.
All of this toxicity, this rhetoric, this bile, is our Giygas. We can’t beat it by infighting. We can’t do any side quests for some ultimate weapon in the social justice crusade. I have tears in my eyes as I write this because the answers have been around for years. I saw them in the soft glow of an old CRT television all those years ago, when Paula, near death and without any apparent hope, sent out her plea:
"Please give us strength, if it is possible. Please…somebody…help us…"
not only is it spot-on, it’s also the most amazing use of Earthbound as a metaphor I’ve ever seen