Gender Inequality in the Beauty and the Beast Video-Games

By Abe Rose

Beauty and the Beast is perhaps the greatest of the animated Disney films, and remains the only traditionally animated film to ever be nominated with the Academy Award for Best Picture. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time for the video-game company, Sunsoft, to release not only one, but two Beauty and the Beast games for the Sega Genesis in 1993. The two games were Belle’s Quest, a game predominantly aimed toward girls, and Roar of the Beast, a game predominantly aimed toward boys. What they may not have realized, however, is that by splitting the story into two gender-specific story-lines, it would draw a comparison between the way they had intended girls to play a video-game and the way they had intended boys to play a video-game. Based on the baffling inequalities of the two games, I don’t know if the designers at Sunsoft ever got the memo that, you know, feminism is a thing…FEATURED

Both games have some similarities in play controls. The B button will make both Beast and Belle jump, and the directional arrows makes them move. But that’s where the similarities end. The C and A-buttons provide entirely different abilities for the two lovers. The C-button makes Beast roar to stun his enemies, while the C-button makes Belle pick up books. Not exactly equal treatment, but the A-button makes an even worse case. The A-button makes Beast punch, while that same button makes Belle stick out her booty.

twerk

Belle, the original twerker since 1993.

Both games have enemies that will try to attack the hero, but the developers only gave Beast the option of fighting back. Belle is defenseless. Whenever she gets attacked, her only option is to crouch in a desperate attempt to avoid bats flying into her hair. You’d think that they’d at least give her a can of pepper spray, or allow her to take up a Tae Kwon Do class, or something. Maybe they thought that a Disney princess learning to defend herself was unseemly, that it’s improper for someone like her to take down attackers, as it is the “Beast’s job” to do that sort of thing.

But on the other hand, the game designers provide you with the opportunity to play through an entire side-scroller video-game non-violently. It would be a unique experience to go through Mario without harming a single enemy. But in Belle’s case, I don’t think this unique aspect is justified, because it comes at the expense of not providing her with the same opportunities that Belle’s male video-game counterpart has.

punch a bear

Let there be a game in which both genders can punch bears in fairness and equality.

The Beast makes great use of his attack button. In fact, pretty much everything in the game must be punched. His levels are long, repetitive, and he is not able to interact with his environment in any other way except for violence. Punch the bat, punch the bear, punch Gaston. Punch, punch, punch. While the developers might have thought that they were creating game-play that utilizes the masculine and vigorous features of the Beast, the game instead exemplifies his short-comings. Most enemies require at least five punches to defeat, whereas Beast is easily taken down by being poked by a few rodents. Rodents are stronger than him. He is not as strong as any other enemy in the whole game. You can still use a manly roar to intimidate others, but mostly, it only serves the purpose of a facade. Looking tough and roaring is a strategy to mask the Beast’s weakness and fragility. Because the game is crushing in its difficulty, the major theme that emerges from the game-play is desperation and fear.

It’s important to take thematic notice of what different games use as health points. Belle’s health points are books. Every time she is attacked, she uses books as defense. To progress through the game, you must always be on the lookout for books, because in many cases, you won’t even be able to advance to the next level without first expanding on her literary knowledge. Even though the game blunders critically by not giving her a means to physically defend herself, this is a very interesting twist, for it makes education, itself, her defense. Her game is not nearly as physically demanding as the Beast’s. She doesn’t have to brawl in every altercation with her fists. She has more defensive books than the Beast. Belle is smart enough to avoid the most dangerous roads, and she has interactive choices in dialogue that she can make in conversation with the town’s people.

gastonbigstrongman

She also has to ask Gaston, the big, burly man to move a boulder for her, as she is unable to move it by herself. She’s smart and cunning in manipulating Gaston with his fragile masculine ego into moving the boulder, but the game is sexist because it doesn’t even provide the option of trying to move the boulder, herself. A lot of these criticisms would go unfounded if the developers had at least provided her with the same opportunities as the Beast character. At least give her the ability to punch her enemies, for cryin’ out loud! This is a video-game! Belle can’t even take a swing at those lecherous, blonde triplets.

girlfriends

But they do give you option of going, “Heyyyyy girlfriends.”

Beast, on the other hand, has a very different defensive set-up. He doesn’t have the educational background of Belle, and he does not carry any of Belle’s books that comes as her defense. Instead, his defense comes in the form of magic mirrors. Once all the mirrors breaks, Beasts collapses like a sick dog. If you remember from the film, what the Beast fears is not being able to find love in time before his enchanted rose wilts.After being cursed, his mind and body slowly rot away in his great Xanadu-like tower. His humanity is being consumed by his ugliness, and his torment is making him lose all contact with the outside world. His magic mirror is his only real window into the human world that he has left. If his mirrors break, what does that mean for the Beast? The world of the humans would be lost to him, and all that’s left is to die as a beast in the natural world of dog-eat-dog. Because the enemies break the Magic Mirror, they turn him more and more into a beast. The beast is punch-punch-punching his way into insanity.

While the game-play itself provides thematic insight on both lovers, the games do not provide any type of character arcs – or great changes within the characters, except through brief exposition and still-shots from the movie.

typo

It’s = It is. Come on, Sunsoft.

In the film, Beauty and the Beast, each of the two main lovers have great, dynamic story arcs. Belle learns to love a monster that she initially prejudged. The selfish Beast learns to care for others and becomes gentle. The scene in which he learns to eat food with a spoon is a comedic gem. The Beast is a compelling character that is constantly evolving and growing. None of that is reflected in the video game about punching bats.

beastattack

Punching everything is the wrong approach for depicting the Beast’s character change. The most memorable moments of the Beast from the film are not the parts in which he punches wolves. The best parts are when he has to learn to dance and become pretty. If there ever was a time for a “boy” game to use “girl” game mechanics, this Beast game would benefit from including extreme make-over mini-games and levels in which you dress up Beast like the prettiest girl at the prom.

SLIDER

The Beast is not exciting as an action character. The game-play gets preposterously repetitive, while Belle is at least allowed to explore new avenues of game-play. It could have been interesting to slowly morph the Beast game into a game of fashion and grooming. And as for Belle, why not have her game-play slowly become more violent like the Beast’s? Aren’t they trying to learn new things about each other? She could be chopping off wolves’ heads and her violent ways might be a kinky turn-on for Beast. It certainly would make him see her in a new way, adding a new twist to that scene in which he sings, “There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

One game has too much punching, and the other has no punching at all. Had the developers opted to combine elements of both games into one, this could have been a great Beauty and the Beast game. We would have the ultimate video-game version of Disneyfied Stockholm Syndrome.

 

Originally posted on alternativechronicle.com Oct, 2013

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