Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #16: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Sony Computer Entertainment/Naughty Dog (2009)

Spoiler alert

There are two things I really love about Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The first is its spectacular rendering of an ersatz Kathmandu, which brings back a lot of memories of the time I visited the (real, not war-torn) city back in 2007.

The second is its treatment of Chloe Frazer, who has the distinction of being one of the few women in a video game who is allowed to show sexual interest in a man without being either fetishised or punished as a result.

Generally, sexuality in a female character is synonymous with either a dehumanising availability or a malevolent power. In the former camp we have the disposable topless prizes of Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War and Heavy Rain, while in the latter stand the bikini-clad dominatrices of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Dante's Inferno and Soul Calibur, whose sexualised appearance and manner signify them as a threat.

Even comparatively well-written women such as the protagonists of Fear Effect and Bayonetta use their sexuality as a weapon to dupe or destroy their male adversaries, with the former receiving punishment for their troubles.

Of course, there are plenty of non-sexualised women in video games, and some of them are even allowed to be protagonists, but their lack of sexual desire and behaviour makes them safe. If you remove certain games from the mix (the oeuvres of Naughty Dog and BioWare, for example), the medium's overall message is that female sexuality is to be either abused or feared, and only those women who exhibit none are to be trusted.

Chloe Frazer's attraction to Nathan Drake is a major plot catalyst; it's her desire to be with him rather than the sniping Harry Flynn that leads the two of them off in search of Marco Polo's lost fleet. Her desire is made clear to us very early on when she knocks on the door of his hotel room and - the two are ex-lovers - initiates sex.

He likes her, she likes him, they have incredible chemistry, and if it wasn't for the international warlord racing them to the treasure, they might have lived happily ever after. But not only does Zoran Lazarević's arrival mean Chloe has to pretend to switch sides to keep Nate safe, it also brings another old flame back into his life.

Journalist Elena Fisher is on Lazarević's trail when Nate and Chloe run into her, and the reunion makes the contrast between the two women clear; not just in terms of their own personal differences, but the effect they each have on Nate.

The series' writer Amy Hennig makes use of non-playable characters to highlight certain aspects of Nate's personality, and nowhere is this clearer than the scenes he shares with his two love interests in Uncharted 2. While Chloe, a committed and cocksure underworld dweller, brings out his more mercenary tendencies, the more moral Elena brings him back down to earth.

The eventual resolution of the triangle sees Nate return to Elena, but it's because he loves her, not because Chloe doesn't deserve him.

In a lesser game, Chloe's early seduction of the hero and her apparent side-switching would foreshadow trechery, instead of just being understandable behaviour (because Nate is dishy and/or her life is in danger). In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, these actions don't prevent her fighting to bring down Lazarević or save Elena's life, and why should they?

At the end of the game, she is neither forced to repent her wicked ways nor change who she is to get the man. When he admits that he loves someone else, she accepts it with good grace. "My turn to walk away," she says. "But admit it... you're going to miss this arse."

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