Are We Ready For Catherine and Real Life?
“Oh, you’re looking at that again.”
It’s said with such disdain, you’d think I was looking at dead orphans or something, but no, it’s my friend, and I’m looking at Catherine trailers. Commonly known as “The Sex Game That Patricia Wants,” Catherine has become rather…infamous amongst my friends. Incidentally Persona games are often seen as “dating simulators,” instead of the high school simulators with dungeon crawling RPGs they are–fact is, the second that a game showcases a semblance of sexuality, it’s like being back in kindergarten and discovering cooties. But can we see past that?
I do not mean to belittle Atlus’ choice to focus on the sexual aspects of Catherine: a big part of Vincent’s problems deal with sexuality. Sex is a healthy and normal part of our everyday lives, and it is paramount that they adress the subject to show an accurate portrayal of an everyday life. Moreover it’s refreshing to see a game that wants to address sexuality in a meaningful way.
Still, most people will look at a trailer of Catherine and come to the same conclusion: it’s “the sex game.” And, sure, it is…but that’s not all it is. The marketing for the game, however, would tell you otherwise. The issue I have with Atlus’ choice to focus on the sex of the game instead of the Things That Actually Matter is that a good deal of players may feel too uncomfortable in giving Catherine a chance. The idea of playing a game where sexting is a mechanic, for example, may seem too “sleazy” to take seriously, despite it being a real, everyday practice. But if players are sometimes too embarrassed to play “kiddie games” because of what it might reflect on them, how will people feel about playing a “sex simulator”?
If there is a time when our distinctions between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ are pronounced, it’s when dealing with sexuality…in that sense, I suppose I can’t blame anyone for feeling uncomfortable exploring the subject of sex in a virtual place. If intimacy has a place in our society, it’s not considered to be found within a joystick…but that’s exactly why exploring it in this medium might be an interesting and revealing exercise.
Still, let’s not even think about the sort of bad press the game might get if mainstream media gets a wind of this game.
Maybe, the gaming community isn’t particularly ready for game that seriously deals with sex: what we experience in games are one-note caricatures of ‘love’ and lust. Not only that, we tend to be appeasers…it’s okay if a game falls short of exploring anything meaningful if it plays well, so games do not need to take risks in making meaningful experiences if we’re satiated with technical/mechanical decency. However, Atlus has to rely on the sex to get people to take notice..more on that in a second.
I bring this up because of how often games deal with the extraordinary individual as the protagonist…but in Catherine, you’re a normal guy. Not like, ‘normal guy finds out about his hidden power to save the world’, but ‘normal guy who is unsure if he should marry his partner, is unsure of what he’s doing with his life, and he’s having something of a midlife crisis.” On a less esoteric level, all Vincent is concerned with is eating, sleeping and having some orgasms. You know, the everyday sort of problems–real problems–and concerns that we, as adults, might encounter. Issue is, we all want to be Orpheus…the desire comes with the medium itself, which is interactive. If a game does not place the player as the centerpiece, if it does not give the player ample control (even pseudo-control, for linear games), then a player may feel cheated about their role. Moreover video games have an obsession with the idealized man/woman, either games give us perfect looking characters, or we tend to project what we consider to be appealing onto character creation. Normalcy does not seem fit into that picture.
So, how do you effectively pitch Catherine, then, a game that means to explore “everyday adventure scenes” (Japanese Heavy Rain, perhaps?)? Truth is, it’s hard. It’s a game that deals with subjects most guys are touchy about dealing with in actual life, much less through what is supposed to be escapism. It’s easier to frame it all as a risque game with major sex appeal. It’s not just Catherine, just take a look at how Atlus framed Persona 4: the murder mystery game. And yet I’m sure that anyone will tell you, the reason they enjoyed Persona 4 so much was because of how down to earth it was, how its characters had to deal with every day problems. Problems that most of us could relate to: not wanting to follow the paths your parents lay out for you, dealing with a father who was absent most of your life, choosing what career to follow, finding out who you really are, etc. Too often these everyday problems are framed under fantastical situations, when the basis for, say, why John Marston’s search for redemption touches isn’t because we relate to having the government hold our family for ransom.
So why do most games frame everyday problems under fantastical situations? A game like Heavy Rain means to explore the ‘everyday,’ but it had to frame it under a Saw-like premise to make it all “interesting.” Even Catherine’s decision to deal with the everyday has a fantastical aspect to it, players will be able to navigate Vincent’s crazy dreams…but so far, from what I can tell, the nightmare segments serve as a literal psychological backdrop for what is going on in Vincent’s head, so I’ll cut it some slack.
I just hope that people who look at Catherine give it a chance. That’s all. A game that aims to look at sexuality in a meaningful way and isn’t afraid to make you a normal guy to do it, is a game worth paying attention to.