The Wallpaper is (Burning) Red: A Feminist (?) Reading of Crimsoness

It's Rule 34 of the Internet: if you can imagine it, there is porn of it.1

If that is Rule 34 of the Internet, then Rule 34 of literary studies must read something to the point of "if you can imagine it, there is an angry feminist reading of it". In my time, I have seen such readings of just about everything: from the usual suspects ("The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman must, for instance, be used to this abuse by now2) to comic books3 to video games4 to anything and everything in between. These readings have more in common than they like to think: they are all remarkably similar to each other in their manufactured outrage against some supposed patriarchal hegemony that supposedly controls the world — and all remarkably boring in their utter lack of imagination. Let us therefore critically examine the short novel game Crimsoness by Porn from a feminist perspective, and see what we learn — or don't — along the way.

At the beginning of the piece, we are introduced to Bakumi Moriyama, your average high school girl. She is taking an exam, which will be over in three minutes. When her teacher tells her this, she flares up in anger for a moment, but then calms down, telling herself "no, no ... gotta do the test". She then speeds along, almost finishing her test before she realizes that somewhere along the line, she transposed all her answers on her answer sheet — leaving her in an impossible bind. Her rage flares with the destructive force of an atomic bomb at this point, and after smashing through a classroom door, a creepy senior boy who wants to rape her, a crocodile, and a demon statue, she destroys the world5.

The feminist reading of this piece virtually writes itself. Here we have a girl in an oppressively male-dominated culture6 who is being subjugated by a male teacher administering a male-designed test in a male-led school system. For a time, she willingly submits to this, thinking it is the best way; however, when she realizes that this puts her in a lose-lose situation, she snaps and goes on a murderous rampage. Her new liberation has a short duration — perhaps symbolic of the elusiveness of the thing that feminists call equality but any sane person would recognize as fear-based gender supremancy — and usually ends badly: she might be eaten by the crocodile (male? female? does this matter?) or her soul might be eaten by the (clearly male) demon statue in the art room. The only other woman in the game — a girl at the library named Iteko — is a weak submissive collaborator in the patriarchy7, attempting to bring Bakumi's newfound freedom down by any means necessary, even if the only weapon she has at her command, as she herself puts it, is that of "literary analysis"5.

Even the clock is against our intrepid heroine; indeed, it is difficult to "win" this game by abiding by its limit. No — the only way Bakumi can possibly see things through to the end is by shattering the glass ceiling8 that the hourglass represents. And once she does that, she has one thing left on her plate: to take on the world. She does so, splitting the Earth in two and ending the game for good. But what has she done? She has freedom, certainly. She has become so free, in fact, that she can traverse tens of thousands of light years of space at the same time5 — as a monolayer of dead cells. The supposed collaborator and traitor to her sex, Iteko, was right after all: as predicted, the thing that awaited Bakumi in the end was not a freedom she could live with, but the destruction of the only habitat in which she could possibly have survived.

So how are we to take this? As a cautionary tale about the evils of feminism? As a sarcastic diatribe about how insidious and deep the roots of the "patriarchy" are? As a male fantasy about the punishment that awaits a woman who dares fight for her freedom?

All of the above?

Try none of the above.

Imagine, if you will, that this game were entirely the same, except with the sexes reversed. Would anyone be laughing anymore as our protagonist smashed his way through "defenseless" women and other cultural constructs toward his goal of destroying the Earth? Maybe someone would. But I think — hope, even — it's more than likely that people would find a protagonist like that to be a pitiful excuse of a human being. But somehow, because the protagonist of this story is a woman, and somehow, because she's causing physical harm to men, that becomes not only okay — but a thing worthy of approval.

That isn't equality. That's a double standard so obvious that a blind man could see it.

Crimsoness is an enjoyable novel game, and one that is designed to provoke laughter, not the unthinking rage that the protagonist of the piece demonstrates so well. From conversations with the author of the piece, I know very well that he had no intention of broaching any of these topics — indeed, he would roll his eyes at anyone who seriously read Crimsoness in an analytic manner. And at the end of this exercise, so would I.

Requiescat in pace9, Andrea Dworkin: sorry, but not all intercourse is rape.

And sorry, but sometimes a game is just a game.

Even Especially if it is written by someone named Porn.

28 November 2008
Seung Park
Festival Coordinator, al|together 2008

Works Cited

  1. Munroe R. "Rule 34". xkcd 305: 20 August 2007.
  2. Wahlpart J et al. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Yellow Wallpaper". American Literature and Analysis Website: 27 July 1998.
  3. Ebihara A. "Japan's Feminist Fabulation". Genders 36: 2002.
  4. Fantone L. "Final Fantasies: Virtual Womens' Bodies". Feminist Theory 4(1):51-72.
  5. Porn trans. Keyes E and Park S. "Crimsoness". al|together 2008: 2.
  6. Bardsley J. "Japanese Feminism, Nationalism and the Royal Wedding of 1993". Journal of Popular Culture 31(2).
  7. Dworkin A. Intercourse. Secker & Warburg: 1987.
  8. Toussaint J. "The Glass Ceiling". 12 April 1993.
  9. Young C. "The Misdirected Passion of Andrea Dworkin". Boston Globe: 18 April 2008.