Falling Upwards: Gravity Rush as guide for the complex intersections of women’s lives
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Standing on the edge of Hekseville I can see the sepia toned open air below me, stretching downward until a storm of blackness devours what would have been a strange spherical horizon or at least sky-box edges meeting in an awkward patchwork. The city is built on scaffolding clinging to the World Pillar. A large, seemingly stone, column that goes up and down forever. I step off the ledge and quickly press a button to float in place. I spin gently around, a point in space. I turn the camera to look at the sky, I press a button and my body, Kat’s body, falls towards the sky. A line with a vector.
Kat isn’t always a great protagonist but I really like her. I like how she has real world problems like finding a place to sleep and aesthetic decisions about her bedroom. Gravity Rush is a complicated matrix of lines, a graph of intersecting realities. It doesn’t let the player play peacefully. Its always agitating. I am falling headfirst towards the sky in my sepia toned anime with my galaxy colored cat. But I’m also thinking about that quest where I found out about the man who has been stalking me. The game made me forgive him. Apparently Kat should have payed more attention to him. I reach the zenith in the open air far above the city which from this angle is the sky. An endpoint, finishing off the line. A strange town situated on a strange line.
I would love to say the game is earnest, that I believe it wants only to empower all women but that would be a convenient lie made by a white trans girl who too often likes to see the best in things. Kat, a woman with a dark complexion, gets told by a random boy her age that she would be prettier if her skin was lighter. The player can unlock fetishistic outfits for Kat while men catcall her to fill out the soundscape. Its not here for you.
However in the jumble of lines of feminine representation it draws you can find the unfinished lines of what could have been and what can still be in the minds of players. Lines poking out at odd angles. You can see the points where the game materialized but you can also imagine your own. In such a chaotic work the arbitrary choices reveal a system for graphing points ready for new inputs to create a thousand slightly different games. The developers have failed many women and only truly empowered a small subset but in the process of decoding media we do not have to fail ourselves. Gravity Rush is weird and conflicted about women and femininity, that’s a feeling I can relate to. Gravity Rush complicates the form of being a game about women. Its implicit narrative of white feminism remains but its explicit lack of a singular cohesive narrative about women leaves the lines half drawn, unfinished.
Gravity Rush is a female power fantasy. A young woman streaks through the air stylishly, her heels piercing the red orb of another weak point on the back of a shadowy creature attacking a towns person. Just another day for Heskeville’s Gravity Queen.
The developers shift the male power fantasy in a way they judge to be feminine aligned. Kat doesn’t fly, she falls arms flailing. She gives up her agency to receive her power. And she is powerful. Falls of any height don’t hurt her, she can fling and carry object with levitation, cling to any surface that she can manage to plant her feet on, kick things in the mouth at 75 MPH. But falling can be hard to control, I can easily recall all the times I flew right past enemies or platforms and had to make a visually engaging but infuriating u-turn. In the minds of the developers female power comes from weakness inverted to become power.
The source of the game’s capacity for personal interpretations and projections is its conflicted nature. The game shows the imprint of what I can only imagine to be some spirited debate about female power. Kat cuts off people who babble on too long but she also gets heckled and the player has no ability to respond. Then you have Sea Wasp who is a powerful jetpack equipped soldier; her power and effectiveness is never questioned. Another female character is a student who becomes possessed by one of the game’s shadowy enemies. The chapter ends with her best friend, a boy, confessing his feelings towards her. The tone here is that this resolves her problems. There are people in this team with the desire and know-how to tell meaningful stories about women. There are others clearly stuck in mindsets of old prejudices. Gravity Rush has preserved for our consumption these conflicts.
Gravity Rush is full of moments where as opposed to a male power fantasy Kat is made to deal with mundane situations. She begins the game homeless and must soon find a place to sleep and, after a rather rude girl informs her of her smell, shower. Once the location is found a mission prompts the player to find furniture and decorations for Kat’s room. Here is Gravity Rush’s good side. A superhero/anime action style game giving you errands and a shopping list. Gravity Rush is wise about its peers. Its goal of a more feminine aligned power fantasy often is a repudiation of the typical male power fantasy where all bodily concerns are forgotten. Gravity Rush knows women are often asked to take note of their physicality in a way that men are not.
This focus on the mundane and personal is important. Gravity Rush through these channels sheds its guilt. Any complicated view on femininity will be viewed as problematic by someone. This is always true and so Gravity Rush poses to us the physical lives of our characters. A reminder. All these discussions be they game, vocal, cinematic, or written are secondary in importance to the lived experience of women. They are theory, important theory, necessary even, but theory. Gravity Rush grabs hold of the strange line that is putting mundaneity in a modern action adventure videogame and twists it away from what I assume were its developers intent and suggests to the player to remember women. Real complicated women. We disagree, we conflict, we blame, and we do not always seek the solidarity that is our only way forward. But we are all women, and through our mundane lives we each define what that means; words do not, Gravity Rush is suggesting. There are an infinite number of lines and each line an infinity of points. There are no truths here only perspectives.
Gravity Rush is discussion as opposed to statement. The method style of meaning found in much of our media wont be found here. This discordant game finds peace by allowing itself to reside in its own nature. No, I don’t know what to say, I don’t have any answers. This game is not woke, but neither is anybody all of the time. During its production I imagine an unconscious decision happening among these discussions. To allow them to come to not come to consensus. Gravity Rush at one point decided that no answer at all was perhaps the better answer. What is feminine power? It doesn’t know but it’s down to discuss it if you are.
Gravity Rush is a strange confluence of overlapping lines but it’s also a cipher for interpreting those lines as they flow out and away from it to spill into our lived experiences and other media. Make meaning from it to interpret the lines of games, women, and power that intersect all around us. Fixed, ordered, or intentional meaning falls by the wayside in this messy graph of points and lines but in its depths are feasibly much more than whatever singular “feminine” narrative more rational heads could have created.