Dad vs. Unicorn is evidently a piece that wishes to explore gender stereotypes. Its claim is that the father cannot love his son, because he expects his son to be like the stereotypical male; and when this turns out not to be the case, he is disappointed and stops loving his child.
In my original post, I suggested two reasons why the game's exploration of this theme isn't particularly successful. The first is that the father is an unloving egotist, and we do not believe that he would have been capable of loving a more stereotypically male son any better. The second is that the game's use of the unicorn -- evidently meant to symbolise stereotypical male violence -- changes the message to something it was never meant to be: namely, to the message that men need women to function properly. The unicorn is a symbol of male power that can only be tamed by a female virgin; Dad vs. Unicorn goes out of its way to portray the unicorn as untamed male power, and emphasises the destructiveness of such power; and thus we cannot avoid the interpretation that what is missing in this dysfunctional family is the metaphorical virgin. Without mum, dad cannot become a loving person. Traditional family values, and therefore gender stereotypes, are reaffirmed by a game that sought to question them.
I still believe that all of that is correct. But I now think that I've actually been too easy on the game -- for it is more, and more explicitly, sexist than I originally thought. Its treatment of dad is, of course, an affirmation of precisely the gender stereotype that it wants to question. And when we get to the unicorn ...
... but I need to discuss something else first. What do I mean when I say that Dad vs. Unicorn is sexist? I do not simply mean that it contains sexist claims; I mean that it contains sexist claims in a way that affirms these claims. To clarify the difference, I'll make a comparison to my own game Nemesis Macana. (Using one of my own games as an example of how to do things right is perhaps the epitome of arrogance; in my defence, let me just say that I believe this game to be particularly suited for making my point. Perhaps that is a flimsy excuse. Or perhaps it is a good excuse, and I'm still a monumental egotist. Who knows!)
Nemesis Macana is full of sexist claims, stereotypes, and whatnot. At one point the narrator/author, Herman Schudspeer, has told us that his girlfriend doesn't always do the morally right thing, namely, abstaining from all sexual activity (including masturbation). But, he condescendingly explains, we shouldn't blame her too much:
It is harder for women. They are so physical.You can't get much more sexist than that. But Nemesis Macana doesn't affirm anything that Schudspeer says. On the contrary, it portrays its fictional author as delusional and neurotic, as addicted to totalising theories, and as unable to enjoy life precisely because he cannot overcome his loathing for sex and his fear of the feminine.
It is clear that Dad vs. Unicorn contains some sexist content that it does not affirm. Dad's thoughts, which are full of gender stereotypes, are evidently not affirmed by the author; on the contrary, the loveless portrayal of dad, and the suffering of his son, are meant to undermine the believability of those thoughts.
But it also contains sexist content that it does affirm. In portraying dad as the stereotypical male -- unable to create real relations, unable to really feel anything -- it affirms that stereotype. For we are not meant to believe that dad is impossible, or even unlikely to exist. We are merely meant to believe that he is wrong. But that wrongness, at least where emotional matters are concerned, is part of the stereotype.
The game's sexism is even clearer when we come to the unicorn. Here, maleness and unremitting violence are non-ironically equated -- thus affirming the worst of all stereotypes about men. There is no doubt that the violent unicorn is meant to symbolically stand for masculinity:
Your deadly forehead penis is your scepter!Now, in my previous post, I said I loved that sentence. But I was reading it ironically; I was reading it as if Schudspeer was saying it. Now that I have thought about Dad vs. Unicorn some more, I have come to realise that the game does not contain a framework that makes this statement ironic. On the contrary, if we take the game's theme and message seriously, it seems that masculinity really is violent. Dad is violent (in a non-physical) way; the unicorn is violent; and the son is only saved from being violent by not partaking of stereotypical maleness.
(Which, incidentally, seems to make him totally passive. Violence vs. passivity is not a particularly compelling choice, but it is a choice that fits stereotyped thinking about gender, and especially about sexuality.)
And if the portrayal of masculinity as violent is not meant ironically -- and again, I do not see how it could be meant ironically in this game -- then it is deeply insulting. The suggestion that there is an essential relation between being a man and being violent is unacceptable.
Using the penis as a metaphor for violence is, unfortunately, quite common. Many feminist writers have done it, linking a biological fact to a moral fact in a way that we must object to. Much pornography goes further, and attempts to make the metaphor as literal as possible ("she gets her pussy destroyed by a big dick!"); but then, much pornography is insultingly sexist.
Within this cultural context, a context that Dad vs. Unicorn is part of and affirms, I have to consciously remind myself that what the cultural stereotypes suggest to me is false. I have to remind myself that my penis is not an instrument of violence.
Because it's not. It is an instrument of love. Its rightful use consists in achieving that kind of physical union that is at the same time emotional and spiritual union. And when I'm doing that, I am not overcoming my essentially violent maleness; I am celebrating my essentially loving maleness. Because all men were made for loving. Just like all women.
I guess that what I'm trying to say is this: I never want to see anyone use the "penis = violence" metaphor non-ironically ever again. We're not doing anyone any favours by keeping that association alive. On the contrary.