Catherine (Gender Issues + Review)

With all the attention Catherine had gotten when it first released, I found myself really wanting to play it. I heard several people talking about how good it was. I was pretty excited. I knew a game by Atlus would let me down in some ways but I didn’t know I’d find all of these problems.

catherine

The Girlfriends:

The game’s two love interests, Katherine and Catherine, as characters, really lack any sort of depth. This is possibly due, in part, to the fact that the characters aren’t really given many scenes or much variety in the scenes they are in.

Katherine and Catherine come off as archetypes. There is the nagging girlfriend (K). Then there is a flirty/crazy one (C). Because those seem to be C’s two modes, she’s flirty and naked or she’s crazy and threatening Vincent. These personality traits even carry over to their text messages—there is the sound of K sighing when Vincent reads her text messages while C’s texts are all giggly.

That’s all there is to these characters. As my roommate said, they are two dimensional characters.

To add to their poor portrayal, Vincent always seems to be written as the victim being overwhelmed by these two forces. The women, then, are shown as antagonists, to the point where they are literally a few of the bosses.

Then in most endings, he is never punished for all of his poor choices. Everyone decides to ignore the fact that he actively lied to his girlfriend, and actually did cheat because the succubus was, in fact, a real person, even if they couldn’t see her.

Erica

Erica:

Then there’s Erica, the most disappointingly handled character in the game.

Even from her first interaction with the main cast you can see questionable choices. Similar in theme to Persona 3’s trans woman, Erica’s introduction as an important character is her flirting with the boys and referencing kink.  In the scene, Toby is complaining about never getting girls, saying that he wants an older woman and mentions adult fun. Right on cue, Erica shows up saying, “Hmmm? So, did I hear someone call for me?” followed shortly by, “I’ve got a nice pair of stiletto heels I know how to use.” Because, of course, a trans woman in an Atlus game will immediately flirt with the inexperienced, eager, young man.

Throughout the game every major male character says things that are transphobic. First, when Toby starts to develop a crush on Erica, everyone starts to tell him he can’t date her. Before he asks her out, everyone at the table wonders aloud whether they should “tell” Toby. This, of course,  hints at the fact that Erica is trans, and that the characters are thinking about outing her.

In another scene, Toby declares, “Got rid of my V-Card, Boom!” and Orlando looks shocked and concernedly asks him, “with who?” Then Orlando looks clearly bothered by learning that Toby had slept with Erica.

Immediately after that, Toby says there was “something weird about it,” after which Orlando quickly and nervously changes the subject.

Erica2

Later in the game it’s discovered that Erica started having nightmares, too. Toby says, “I thought only men had that dream… So maybe gender doesn’t matter, huh?” to which Orlando replies, “W-Well, I’m not so sure…” suggesting that Erica isn’t a woman.

Near it’s end, the game explicitly states that only men are the ones to have the nightmares with such lines as, “I have these hesitant gentleman climb that…” and other similar lines, but Erica still had the dreams, even though she is a woman, which tells the player that the writers thought of Erica as a man and therefore think of all trans women as men.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, in one of the game’s endings it is revealed that Erica is trans in possibly the worst way. During the game’s ending, Toby is upset because he’s never “gonna win big”, to which Erica teasingly hugs him, saying they’ll always have each other. Then Toby complains that “The other guys knew [Erica] as ‘Eric’ back in school” and that he wants his “damned V-Card back…!” To this, Erica just smiles, winks and says a wordy version of “Nope.” Then the cut-scene shows another character video-taping the interaction and enjoying Toby’s misery.

This scene continues the transphobia, because Toby seems really concerned that “The other guys knew,” showing that he feels ashamed/embarrassed by having slept with a trans woman. By recording and enjoying his misery, the other character is confirming that, yes, sleeping with a trans woman is something to be ashamed of.

Furthermore, Erica’s taunting and gleeful manner, coupled with her eagerness to flirt with Toby at her first opportunity, paints the horrible cliché of trans women as deceivers trying to lure men into bed. And with that, Erica is one of the worst portrayed trans characters there is.

Review:

So, despite all the flaws in the female characters, how is the game? Well, you spend most of the game playing uninteresting puzzles, in which you have to push around blocks in order to climb a big tower of blocks, most of which aren’t hard by themselves, but then you get to frustratingly cheap boss levels where the boss is set too close behind you and you get killed a few too many times. To make this worse, the dying screen is fairly long and annoying to watch every time and some of the boss’s make noises that are abrasive to listen to. I actually had to mute the game on two portions because the noises coming from the boss were much too irritating.

The other portions of actual game-play include walking around a bar, talking to people, answering text messages and drinking. This part could almost be called fun if it weren’t for the fact that, as you heard before, the characters are badly written. You won’t have to look too hard to find a sour NPC sitting in the bar, uttering something misogynistic. Furthermore, the text message choices were not very good. Each time I found myself thinking, “OK, which is the least bad of these choices?” Despite that, this actually was the best part in the game. A game that was so bad, I actually looked forward to these segments, if for no other reason than that I could see more of Erica, who, despite her poor portrayal, is still my favorite character in this game. That anticipation, however, started to wane as the game continually made transphobic comments.

But surely a game with so much hype has a great story. Nope. Unfortunately I found that the story is at best silly and at worst really kinda stupid. Vincent, for one thing, makes unbelievably poor choices and he’s a pretty terrible person. It makes me feel like all I could do was try to salvage what I could of his pathetic existence so he could continue to be a bad person. To make this task worse than it had to be, none of my choices felt like they impacted anything major in the game’s events, and all the choices I made weren’t actual interactions between characters. I had to answer some of the worst questions they could have possibly thought up like “Are all men stupid?” After playing this game for a few hours, I found myself picking “yes”, because if these male characters I encountered represent men, then yeah, they are.

As I told my friend, the story shouldn’t have lasted more than 20 minutes: Vincent would accidentally cheat, I should have been able to make him break it off with the crazy succubus girl and confess to his loving girlfriend, Katherine, and then she’d break up with him and he’d die alone. But the game didn’t give me any satisfying choices; instead, I had to choose who Vincent ended up with by answering questions that seemed random, and sometimes unclear as to which way they’d cause the in-game morality meter to sway.

I don’t even want to bring up the sociological inaccuracy that is the premise of the main plot twist, if for no other reason to prevent me from spoiling the horribly stupid surprise that you will encounter if you are unlucky enough to decide to play this game.

Then at the very end, in the most condescending way, Catherine (the game not the girl) explains all the themes and metaphors in the game through a chesty girl with an afro.

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19 responses to “Catherine (Gender Issues + Review)

  1. An interesting take on Catherine – I heard good things about it from one of my housemates but he has… questionable tastes, and wouldn’t have picked up on any of the transphobic themes/events.
    I think most people were interested in the game itself because it was portrayed in trailers and advertisements in such a sexual manner. Despite the large number of games which represent women poorly I don’t think there are many “mainstream” games which are sexualised to such an extent as Catherine.
    And that would be enough for most people who don’t appreciate 3D character designs.
    So…. I think I’ll give it a miss (even though my housemate owns a copy) because I’m not THAT bored with life yet. I’d rather go read a book or play through a cute VN than turn to a game which has nothing to offer me.

    • I think you’ve made a good choice. It’s not a game I’d recommend and a good book or a VN is always fun.

      Thank you for your comment. I like longer comments like yours.

      • Hey. I just read your reply because I forgot to check your site for a couple of weeks.

        But… I’m really sorry to hear of the crappy things that have been going on in your life and I was hoping that by posting a reply (to your reply?) that I could do my bit to cheer you up a bit.

        I’m sorry to hear you never got to finish perfect dark together and I must admit I am horrible at Goldeneye so have never even finished that (although I watched a very skilled friend finish it once).

        As for what I did instead? — I played Magickal Diary: Horse Hall. It was cute and I thought the magic system was kinda cool although most of the spells seemed fairly pointless.

        So… I hope you get this comment and it can cheer you up, because i know that when you finish your TMNT colouring book the world will be paradoxically a more colourful place, yet a sadder one as well.

        xx HUGS!
        Amy

        • Goldeneye is fun. I’m only decent at it because I played it so much as a kid. It takes a while to get used to though, I’m sure you could get good if you tried hard enough.

          You’re right, a lot of the spells are useless. If you play through more than once you can learn what level you need to be at certain parts of the game in order to pass the tests. And actually, you can neglect a lot of the magick. I focused a lot on Blue Magick and Suddying on my second/third play-through. I liked it though, it was fun. I hope they make a second year. or something.

  2. It’s bothersome for me personally because I always loved the Trauma Center series as a child, and never found any cissexism in it. Then a bit later on I moved onto other Atlus games without knowing or even expecting them to be as poorly handled as they were. The whole thing with the beach scene demonizing a transwoman and making her look like a lying pedophile in the third made me drop the game for months and I couldn’t even play past the 4th game after Naoto’s dungeon that forced him to drop his male identity for literally no other reason than ‘it’s wrong’. I can’t believe they even let you force him to wear a skirt and be called by feminine pronouns later on. Atlus is so creepy on these things, and it’s depressing because the actual games would be amazing if not for the bigotry and misogyny. Sigh.

  3. The puzzle was uninteresting…? Did you get the game without knowing remotely what the bulk of the gameplay would be? It shouldn’t have taken more than a few glances to tell if the game wasn’t for you.

    I enjoyed it however and liked how this game required some actual cognitive ability unlike the bulk of games out there.

    Honestly if you’re making your mind up about the puzzles I hope you did so after beating the game unassisted on hard. It certainly wasn’t easy, I’ll say that much.

    It’s unsurprising how your review came out. It’s so clear that you didn’t like it as you chose to focus most of your review on talking about transsexualism and a side character.

    The game gave you three legitimate choices. You go with Catherine, Katherine or neither. Do I need to explain why the game is like this? There’s an obvious reason why each choice is so very different and extreme.

    Also I can’t believe you were making choices on the basis of what was least “bad”. As the game mentioned several times there were no right or wrong answers. You were suppose to do what you truly felt and believed in. The meter itself did not represent good or bad.

    Or did you actually think the meter represented that when choices like picking golf over baseball titled the meter to the “bad” side.

    These seemingly random questions were meant to discern your preference and match you to the ending that matched it most closely. I thought that was obvious.

    • I beat the game, it wasn’t on hard, and I certainly wasn’t going to go back and beat it on a harder difficulty when I found it so difficult to motivate myself to make it through once.

      I’ll admit the puzzles were hard, but they weren’t enjoyable for me. I don’t even dislike puzzles. I just didn’t like those puzzles. And yeah, I knew there was a big section of the game that was puzzle, but still didn’t enjoy it. Simply put, the puzzles weren’t fun or satisfying.

      I run a gender/video game blog. When it comes to atlas games, I love that I get to combine the two. My reviews are often more of an analysis of gender issues with a small mini-review thrown in at the end.

      I understand the meter just fine. I can see what the developers were trying to do, I just don’t think they did a good job of it.

      I hope that satisfies your complaints.

  4. I get a lot of what you are saying about this game, but I don’t see the problem with Erica. First, what is the problem with Erica being flirtatious and attracted to younger men? Is it an Atlas thing? I am not familiar with the company I admit, but who a character is and isn’t attracted to shouldn’t be a subject of controversy. Second, about the trans-phobic things you thought the men were saying, Erica has been their friend since childhood. They’ve clearly had enough time to get used to Erica being Trans as they still maintain a friendly relationship with her. I personally think that a character of Erica’s strength would drop a friend who didn’t approve of her gender-identity. Third, the game says not that it’s all men who have these nightmares but quote, “Men who waste a woman’s fertility.” It is possible that, by being trans she has “wasted fertility” in the eyes of the villains of this story as she is not using her biologically male body to take advantage of a woman’s fertility. I personally do not agree with them. (She was always female so she wasted nothing) As for Toby “wanting his v-card back” Toby is very likely just prideful and ignorant, also after reviewing the scene it appeared as though they were punishing Toby for his Trans-phobic comments (as well as filming Jonny). From what I saw in the game the majority of characters are supportive (or Indifferent) about Erica’s Gender-identity as is often the case in real-life. (As for why Erica wouldn’t dump Toby for his trans-phobic comments, call it Pride of Conquest)

    Aside from that paragraph, in my opinion the game-play was fun, challenging, and satisfying.

    Also Vincent cheating was, in fact, not his fault. It is revealed late game that Catherine uses some sort of Mind-controlling ability to seduce men under the curse (this explains why Vincent can never remember inviting her over and why he had such difficulty breaking up with her)

    I liked the meter in that the questions did not have a clear answer, it dug more into your actual opinions rather than what ending you would rather get.

    • What bothers me about the way Erica was presented is not that she’s just flirty, but the way it’s handled reinforces the stereotype of trans women as seductive perverts trying to seduce unsuspecting straight men.

      I don’t know about the gameplay, some people seem to like it, but I couldn’t get into it.

      I just didn’t like the questions/answers for the meter; it was a good concept overall, just not handled right.

  5. For someone who chides the game for being condescending and stupid, you’re clearly not interpreting it from every angle.
    The fact that Erica is flirty is irrelevant. If she were a woman or biological man, it wouldn’t be any different; she’s a waitress at a seedy bar. Regardless of gender, these characters tend to be flirtatious and a little seedy, too.
    Secondly, Erica is not transgender: she’s transsexual. Her biological gender is male. She hasn’t gotten a sex change, as Toby elaborates on in his description of their relations. Therefore, when he thinks he was having sex with a biological woman, which was his desire, he found out he slept with a transsexual, contrary to his desire. Is this wrong? Is that what the game is saying? No. It’s simply not what Toby wanted, and the guys wanted to lead him on, as well as Erica.

    The game is about misogynistic men getting their what for. Vincent is not a good guy; it’s about getting his retribution by going with Katherine, going further down the rabbit hole by going with Catherine, or forging his path in the true ending. The bosses represent his fears — being a father, marriage, losing his girlfriend through cheating, cheating itself — and overcoming them is symbolic. If you weren’t aware, the story is based on the Lovers tarot card story, as Atlus does so love their tarot cards. It’s love vs. lust, a powerful message that gets lost if it goes over your head.

    This is all coming from a trans woman: I l love Erica’s character and her dynamic with the group. I love the puzzles; they’re intricate and challenging. I love the story; it’s a wonderful blend of caricature and reality. So, I’m very disappointed that you were unable to enjoy it. I hope you can step back, look at the bigger picture and really appreciate this game for what it is. 🙂

    • Your very first sentence starts out as an insult: “For someone who chides the game for being condescending and stupid, you’re clearly […]”

      This isn’t how you talk to someone respectfully. You’re condescending to the author and implying they’re stupid.

      Second sentence: “The fact Erica is flirty is irrelevant.” No, it’s not. Seedy bar or not, trans characters in Atlus games tend to be predatory, flirty, or sexually deviant.

      Third sentence: You said, “biological man”. I consider this transphobic language, sorry.

      You said: “Erica is not transgender: she’s transsexual. Her biological gender is male. She hasn’t gotten a sex change […]” This makes no sense whatsoever. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term that applies to many different gender identities. In fact, transsexual is considered out-of-date as far as terminology goes, but its usage is retained by some to refer those who have received or seek to receive medical procedures to alter their bodies. Read this if you want clarification: http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender

      Also, the narrative that a cis man slept with a trans woman and regrets it (to the point of sometimes murdering or assaulting them) is a real-life issue that is further perpetuated by cis-centric media, and is played for laughs in the videogame. The game treats sleeping with trans women as a practical joke you’d play on your friends. Erica tricks a virgin cis man into sleeping with her, further perpetuating the transphobic myth that trans people are deceitful.

      The game isn’t about misogynistic men getting their what-for; it’s about a man committing adultery, and it focuses on his tribulations rather than his girlfriend’s. It works on a moral system comparable to and as complex as Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, it’s less complex than even D&D’s simplistic morality systems.

      Just because a game is based on transplanted motifs doesn’t mean it’s deep; it’s usually something gamers on the internet fall over themselves trying to celebrate, attacking other people in order to prop up a corporate product and defend their beloved brand.

      The author of this article could’ve gone even farther and took Catherine’s racism to task: Black sheep roam certain puzzle areas, speaking in African American Vernacular English.

      Also, in a secret ending to Catherine, the condescending post-credits lady sporting the afro is presented as more beautiful once she doesn’t have an afro. Her hair now flows over her shoulders in waves and sparkles, and her skin tone is a bit lighter, implying she’s more beautiful because she doesn’t resemble a Black woman.

      I’m trans, too, and I think Catherine was a disgusting game.

    • Making Erica “lead him on”, as you said, just plays into a common trope in media of trans women as deceivers. That’s what I presented in the article.

      The themes of the game didn’t go over my head, I just didn’t like the game. Just because it has a point, doesn’t mean it’s well delivered. In my opinion, it’s still a bad game. And worse than that, it’s offensive.

      It was obvious by reading your first 2 paragraphs that you love the game – you didn’t need to state it. Someone who doesn’t love the game wouldn’t come insult me for no reason. But that doesn’t mean I have to love it too.

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