Revisiting Final Girls

Today Jaylee takes a second look at Final Girls in games with Heavy Rain’s DLC “The Taxidermist.” How does Madison fit in with the likes of Laurie?

You can see our original Final Girls episode here.

Transcript

Last year we looked at Carol Clover’s Final Girl, a staple in the horror genre that doesn’t just survive until the end of the film, but does so by appropriating both the antagonist’s gaze as well as his power. It’s not the most straightforward concept so feel free to check out our original episode now before continuing with this one.

In our previous episode we had trouble pinning down a Final Girl as defined by Clover’s essay, and wondered how long it would take to find one. Apparently 6 months. So, this episode we’re going to be looking at a heroine who fits the mold much closer than Lara Croft or Jill Valentine do. Madison Paige from Heavy Rain as she appears in the DLC episode, “The Taxidermist.”

The Taxidermist is the first and only standalone DLC episode for Heavy Rain and works as a prequel to Madison’s story in the main game. While attempting to break the story surrounding the Origami Killer, she follows up a tip that leads her to the house of Leland White, an ex-taxidermist. It doesn’t go well for her.

As soon as Madison breaks into Leland’s home, it’s obvious that something is amiss, but it isn’t until she explores the second level that those fears manifest. It turns out Leland didn’t just apply his taxidermy skills to animals.

Much like the Final Girl, Madison is given authority in her inquisitive gaze. While her male colleagues might be dismissive of Leland based on his lack of a criminal record, Madison’s investigative authority ultimately ends up cracking the case. She asserts this authority early in the game when she and the player breaks into his home.

In a film like those studied by Clover, the Final Girl’s investigative authority and gaze would be communicated through the direction of the camera. Here, players control what amounts to the camera, using the directional buttons to look up and down and control Madison’s gaze. Through this method, Madison’s authority is communicated to players in part by empowering them to explore the home. Especially observant players might uncover evidence such as burnt clothing in his fireplace or a bloody chainsaw in the garage, having a direct effect on Madison’s skill as an investigator.

Once Madison and the player discover Leland’s prior victims, he returns home, initiating the stalker scenario.

The screen then splits and we are shown both the killer’s point of view as well as our protagonist’s. This feels like an adaptation of the horror film’s use of the i-camera to align the audience’s gaze with the monster’s while also identifying with the Final Girl victim. In horror films we often root for the stalker to kill their victims, but this is more difficult to do when you are playing as the victim. This feels like the closest approximation, giving us a look through the eyes of the stalker without taking us out of the shoes of the protagonist.

What’s more, Madison endures the opposing registers that are crucial to the Final Girl but absent in most games. Where Jill Valentine doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger in Resident Evil, the Final Girls of Clover’s films often do–enduring the “deepest throes of ‘femininity’’” through stereotypical displays of hysteria while eventually emerging victorious through violence. In “The Taxidermist,” this is represented in the GUI. Once Madison stumbles on the stuffed victims, button prompts shake to reflect her hysteria. Her first instinct–and thus your first action–isn’t to fight back, but to hide. From this sequence, the DLC can then branch out to its multiple outcomes. You can escape from Leland, become one of his newest creations, or end the nightmare once and for all yourself. In the latter, Madison truly embraces the title of Final Girl.

Once Madison and Leland meet face-to-face the perspective merges to be wholly Madison’s. At this point she and the player flee to the garage where she can then use the very chainsaw used to dismember the victims on the monster himself. Like Clover’s Final Girl, Madison uses his own weapon to kill him. In Clover’s essay this transfer of power is more than just an appropriation, but a symbolic castration of the monster. In “The Taxidermist,” Madison quite literally castrates Leland . . . with a chainsaw.

So while this might not be the perfect representation of Clover’s Final Girl, it feels the closest approximation we’ve seen in a video game so far.

Now you may be asking yourself, what’s the point? Why does it matter whether video games have Final Girls? And that’s a fair question, one we were asked after posting our first video on the subject. User SixCubit brought up some great points in their response. They point out that, while the idea of the Final Girl is empowering, the road to that empowerment is often paved with female victims. These victims usually end up on the chopping block because of their sexuality and femininity, and that doesn’t lend itself well to a feminist reading. That said, it doesn’t necessarily need to be feminist. The question we’d instead like to pose is why doesn’t this trope common in films appear in games.

Around the time of our first episode, the term was being applied to characters like Lara Croft. In this case, any playable heroine who survives a harrowing experience was mislabeled a Final Girl. This reading glosses over the nuances of the trope. In exploring the term’s roots, we set out to discover if Final Girls actually existed in games, and what sort of medium-specific barriers were in place. While our investigation continues,  we now feel like we’re much closer to a definitive answer than when we first discussed the topic.

“The Taxidermist” sidesteps some of the barriers we found in the previous episode, such as the presence of a father figure, and the cool, confident protagonist. However, it still struggled to navigate the relationship between killer, protagonist and player.

Do you think this is something intrinsic to video games? Weigh in in the comments section and don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on all our latest episodes and water cooler discussions.

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