Where do you draw the line between art, entertainment, sexist nonsense and porn? It is a rather fine and difficult line to walk, particularly when the definitions of all of those terms vary enormously from person to person according to their open-mindedness, experience with various works, gender and general social attitudes. It’s a particularly pertinent question with regard to the genre of games that I seem to be spending a fair amount of time with at present — the ol’ visual novel.
The current game I’m playing is called My Girlfriend is the President. I will refrain from talking about it in too much detail as 1) I haven’t yet finished it and 2) I will be doing a READ . ME column on the subject for Games Are Evil this Sunday. Suffice to say, however, it is utterly bananas — and yet, there is a slight sense of discomfort while playing. Not enough to prevent me from enjoying it, but just enough to make me think that it might, in fact, be deliberate.
The tension stems from the game’s protagonist, whom in TV Tropes terms is probably best described as a Chivalrous Pervert. He openly admits to sexually harassing women and getting turned on by ogling his female peers in a less than honourable fashion. He takes every opportunity to make a smutty comment just to “try his luck”. And he’s a peeping tom. In short, he should be an immensely dislikeable dick whom any self-respecting player wouldn’t want to spend any time inside the head of whatsoever.
And yet he’s not. At least part of his perpetual horniness can be attributed to the fact that he is a teenage boy, and consequently subject to the same hormonal urges that all teenage boys find themselves afflicted with. His supposed sexual harassment never leads anywhere, as his female peers are all well aware of the fact that he is a wannabe pervert and thus make sure he doesn’t have the opportunity to do anything truly inappropriate — not that he actually would given the opportunity. Several of them even take every chance they get to toy with him, making him more and more wound up and frustrated while at the same time making it clear that they are the ones with the true power in their relationship.
And alongside all this perversion comes the fact that, at heart, he doesn’t want anything bad to happen to these girls. He takes every opportunity to attempt to prove his “manliness” and “protect” them, even if they don’t really need protecting. He gets embarrassed, flustered and overexcited if anything actually does happen, and when it comes to his adorable childhood friend (the titular President) he is — for the most part, anyway — respectful and sweet.
It puts the player in something of a quandary. Since the game takes place from the perspective of this horny young gentleman, we’re frequently subjected to his male gaze sizing up the bodies of the people he’s with and pondering what’s under their clothes. If he thinks there’s the chance he’ll see something naughty and the girls in question aren’t in any actual physical danger, he’ll stand by and watch rather than preventing something embarrassing happening to them. But when the chips are down and Bad Things are happening, he’s the first to spring into action in an (often misguided) attempt to keep them safe — usually with hilarious slapstick results.
So what does all this mean? Is the game itself sexist, or is it simply putting the player inside the head of a protagonist with definite sexist tendencies? Or is it somewhere in between?
I don’t know for sure. Whatever it is, My Girlfriend is the President is most certainly a gloriously guilty pleasure that I have absolutely no shame in saying that I am enjoying a great deal right now!