I’m Sure You’ve Got Plenty to Say

by Guest Contributor Calabar, originally published at Girl in the Machine

Natan: …

Remember the good ol’ days after the first world war when European vampires still embarked on sabbaticals to the American south-west, cat-people ran Hollywood from behind the scenes, and cheeky teenage detectives could break into high-security compounds like Alcatraz without consequences?

Oh wait—that’s not real life. It’s Shadow Hearts: From the New World (thank goodness).

There’s something about this irreverent video game series that I find incredibly appealing, but sometimes it leaves me scratching my head. The way the developers choose to represent characters can be a little disingenuous. In particular, minority characters have their differences from the mainstream magnified one hundredfold. Whether it’s the swishy Magimel tailors or the so-Mexican-it-hurts mariachi singer Ricardo, everything is so overblown that it’s difficult to take it seriously.

While discussing the game with BomberGirl and PlasmaRit, we became interested in the “strong and silent” Native American character Natan. We wondered how much he actually had to say throughout the course of the game, and I honestly couldn’t recall. It’s been a while since I’ve played it.

To investigate our suspicions, I combed through one hundred and ten pages of the Shadow Hearts: From the New World script. From beginning to end, the script is 30,324 words long.

Natan says 768 words. Let’s break that down further.

Of those 768 words, about 573 of them are related to the storyline. The other 195 words are spoken during dungeon exploration when Natan offers suggestions on how to complete the puzzles.

Throughout the entire game, Natan is represented through a mere 2.5% of the dialogue. This number isn’t fully accurate, though, because the script I used doesn’t include the short snippets of conversation shared with party members during side quests, including Natan’s UMA side quests.

That doesn’t make it any less problematic in my eyes. Natan first appears when Shania is explaining the Malice to Johnny within the first hour of the game. He watches their entire conversation, including their decision to travel to Arkham University together, before introducing himself with a simple, “I am Natan. It is my honor.” We move through another two or three hours of gaming before he says, “We’re wasting time. Let us go,” during Frank’s introduction scene.

This pattern continues all way through the entire game, with Natan’s voice entirely absent from a few chapters. On the one occasion that he speaks up and explains the source of Shania’s blind desire for revenge (eighty-eight words, or 11.4% of his total—the most he speaks at any one time in the game), she puts a cap on him with, “Well, aren’t we in a talkative mood today…”

The treatment his character receives perpetuates the strong, silent Native American stereotype. At the very least, he’s not quite Tanto from The Lone Ranger. He rarely speaks, but he uses good grammar throughout the game, with one strange exception. After the party has been captured in the Caribbean, Natan lifts the gate from its hinges and says, “Long time no use… so gate was warped.”

The only quality of the Shadow Hearts series that makes this passably acceptable to me is that no one is safe. The developers must have had a Big Book of Stereotypes when they were drafting the characters. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, it’s not a game to take seriously.

Still, while there’s certainly nothing wrong with being quiet, I feel like a character who has been present for the whole game would have more to say.

I wanted to get some more insight into other Native American characters in video games, but I’m currently without reliable internet access. I invite all of our readers to comment and share their thoughts. Who are some of the other Native American faces and voices out there? How do they compare to one another?