Against my better judgement, I’m excited for Forspoken. I’m not sure it will be that good, but with its much healthier January release window and funky looking gameplay, I’m on board. I’m expecting to like it in the same way I like Agents of Mayhem or Sunset Overdrive. Forspoken appears to harbour some Control-shaped ambitions, but a layered, intelligent experience already seems beyond it. Mindless fun is Forspoken’s sweet spot and I’m not giving up on it. But boy, does the latest trailer want me to.
The most influential piece of media over the last decade has been the MCU. Its power is so vast that the DCEU, Marvel’s closest rival, has just burnt itself to the ground in order to rebuild and replicate what Marvel is doing. The idea of a ‘cinematic universe’ has been pushed into the mainstream by Marvel, and for all Marvel’s faults, there has been a huge upswing in the quality of nerd cinema post-Iron Man. That video game movies have found their feet after Marvel set a baseline for adapting geek-fuelled source material is no accident.
The MCU has been a huge and near-unbridled success, but its influence hasn’t been all positive. When the MCU first appeared, it was a little all over the place. Iron Man was fairly on the money if a little melodramatic, while Captain America was over-serious and Thor dull and overwritten. Things weren’t quite stitched until Avengers Assemble, written and directed by Joss Whedon. So successful was the team-up that Marvel leaned heavily on ‘Whedonisation’ for all subsequent movies, even giving Whedon the second Avengers film to further imprint his style.
Though Whedon moved on after his second outing, Whedonisation was now a firm pillar of the MCU. A few other directors were able to impress their own styles onto their own projects (James Gunn and Taika Waititi spring to mind, as does Sam Raimi’s recent Doctor Strange), but the golden rule remained: when in doubt, Whedonise.
Whedonisation is something you’ll be acutely aware of even if you haven’t heard the term before. Whenever a character undercuts a tense moment with a bland and stupid joke? That’s Whedonisation. Whenever a Marvel character makes fun of another Marvel character for having a silly name? That’s Whedonisation. When characters say ‘so let me get this straight’, ‘you’re probably wondering how I got here’, ‘so… that happened’, or ‘oh boy, he’s behind me isn’t he?’, that’s Whedonisation. Joss Whedon didn’t invent any of those lines, but that’s kind of the point. Whedonisation involves taking existing stock catchphrases and playing them off as jokes, over and over again.
The Forspoken trailer starts with ‘so let me get this straight’, before listing the basic premise of the game in a very ‘oh boy, how did I get myself into this mess?!’ tone, which screams Whedonisation. Audiences seem to be growing bored of this style (hence the poor reaction to the trailer), but so long as Marvel keeps seeing success with it, others will continue to copy it.
There is, however, another slice of Whedonisation that I’m more fearful of than just some overused bad jokes. Prior to the MCU, Whedon found fame as showrunner of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and subsequently made a career off the backs of creating badass, quippy, smartass female characters – much like Forspoken’s lead. Buffy is a legendary character, but I’m fearful for what it could mean for Forspoken.
Whedon was for a long time defined as one of media’s greatest feminists, which showcases how low the bar was – especially when it was all a lie. Michelle Tratchenberg claimed Whedon was “not appropriate” with her on the Buffy set and there was a rule that he was not allowed to be in a room alone with her. She was 14. Another of Whedon’s shows, Firefly, is also rife with allegations. Writer Jose Molina claimed Whedon used to revel in making female writers cry, even boasting about his skill at the art of being mean.
Of course, I don’t think that poorly written Whedonised quips means the Forspoken studio was a hotbed of abuse, but I do worry about the character’s direction. Whedon’s women were badasses, sure, and pretty progressive for the ‘90s, but they were also defined by sex appeal and seemed built for male desire, even as they provided a platform to young women. Alien Resurrection, written by Whedon, has one of the most iconic women in cinematic history in Ellen Ripley say “so who do I have to fuck to get off this ship?”. I know it’s technically a Ripley clone and it’s to show the change in her nature, but it’s also incredibly lazy and incredibly on-point for Whedon’s writing. Video games are a little more skittish about sex, so Forspoken might avoid that pitfall by accident, but Whedonisation and a female lead makes me very nervous.
So, let me get this straight. We have a game with a cool concept, launching with little competition, that has sensed a gap in the market, and they’re promoting it not with the unique gameplay, but the corny dialogue? So… that just happened.
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