Relationships are Hard Work, or Earning Your Eye Candy
The French are glad to die for love.
They delight in fighting duels.
But I prefer a man who lives
And gives expensive jewels.
—Marilyn Monroe, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”
Tomonobu Itagaki, the creator of the Dead or Alive series, has said before that he does not see sequels as a chance to make new games but to create more “polished” versions of his previous efforts. This idea is most cetainly true of Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, Itagaki’s sequel to Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball.
Xtreme 2 is undeniably similar in game play, game mechanics, and theme to its predecessor, with most of its differences largely lying in the visual “polish” of the game. Better character models, amazing water effects, and, heck, even tan lines all make the appearance of the game much shinier and more provocative.
Provocation is part of the appeal of the game, which, again, like its predecessor presents the player with the opportunity to choose to take on the role of one of nine women from the Dead or Alive fighting game franchise and embark on a fourteen day vacation on Zack’s Island. Each of the girls is clearly designed to serve as eye candy for the player and the main goal of the game is to collect a host of more and more provocative swim suits (of which each girl has access to a unique set of suits) to dress your character and the other girls who are also visiting the island.
Most reviews categorize both games as falling within the “sports” genre (which I myself have done as well) because the dominant means of collecting the suits is by raising money for both the suits and gifts (that, when given to the other girls, cause them to like you better and, as such, cause them to become more likely to don slinky suits that you may want to gift them from your own collection). The money is raised by playing a number of sports mini games scattered around the island’s environs.
In the first game, beach volleyball was one of the only available games to play to gain money for suits and gifts, but the sequel contains a number of additional “sports” like jet skiing, a water slide, and even a “butt battle,” in which two girls attempt to “butt” one another off an inner tube in the middle of a pool.
I have always been a bit skeptical about the game really being a sports game at all given that the game’s chief concern is the suit collection whose rules and intricacies are both extremely involved and really more central to the game’s goals and probably its chief allure to its rather cult-like and hardcore following. While a moderate commercial success the first time out, Beach Volleyball was considered by many to be too time consuming to be that much fun. However, a few who maintained a love of the game, its hardcore nature and its goals, and found puzzling out the rules of relationships to be its primary draw. Thus, to me, and likely to other fans, too, the game is less a sports game and more a complicated relationship simulator.
Most critics of the game seem most critical of the game’s simplistic volleyball and jet skiing events in addition to its extreme difficulty and very time-consuming gifting process. Again, though, this may be exactly why the first game, while not a hugely commercial success, drew an extremely fanatical base of aficionados. It is also why I am pleased that the sport of Volleyball has made its way out of the title to make way for the more vague—but extremely more accurate—Xtreme appellation.
This is a game of extremity. The commitment necessary to resolve this simulation of women’s wants and desires (represented through the gifting process) is both extreme in its diffculty as well as its stereotyping of the “feminine mystique.”
The game would seem to want to require you to “think like a woman” or, perhaps, more accurately “think as a man assumes women think” in order to master it. This latter idea may be more fitting given that female relationships in the game are actualized through property. In other words, what encourages women to bond with others is possessions. Thus, much of the game is spent testing out which gifts have either a positive and negative effect on your relationship with the others in order to make them like you well enough to slip into something really sexy. In a nutshell, the basic philosophy is that women are willing to give it up for enough bling.
I suppose this description may sound extremely simplistic and altogether too obvious for a game made largely by men about women in sexy bathing attire. There are additional levels of complexity to these women, though, that also have an effect on how they relate to one another. Some of the characters are not morning people, thus, gifting them something that they love in the morning will produce an adverse rather than a positive reaction. Christie, the most misanthropic of the group, dislikes being visited by anyone more than once a day, etc. Thus, the gifting process becomes an intricate dance of selecting the right gift at the right time and even in the right manner. Such intricacies kept message boards dedicated to the game buzzing for years after the first game’s release, with players speculating about how to most effectively gift their favorite lovely in order to get them into the most provocative suit as possible.
Indeed, my wife and I similarly would make observations about this game and the prior one, regarding how women thought about one another and how men think women think about one another as I tried to gift various women in various ways. When I had been avoiding playing Volleyball against women who I was trying to gift (assuming that they would be unhappy if I beat them), my wife pointed out that women frequently simply like to play together, regardless of whether they win or lose, and that playing against them actually might—even if I beat them—be pleasing simply because I had chosen to spend time with them. Curiously, this theory seems to have paid off, especially in the case of that aforementioned aggressive misanthrope, Christie. She wants to play—no matter what the outcome.
Likewise, when I observed that one of the women seemed to get irritatable at night, and I wondered whether or not a gift might alleiviate this irritability, my wife assured me that “she’s gonna be pissed at you no matter what if she’s always pissed at night.” She was right.
Whether Itagaki has captured a subtle sense of psychology or is simply capitalizing on female stereotypes, the game is still fascinating in its ability to at least propose an interrogation of how relationships work. Many players, however, may be put off by the difficulty of earning their eye candy in this manner. If nothing else (while Itagaki has often said that Beach Volleyball and Xtreme 2 are intended to emphasize “relaxation” through its vacation narrative and various sequences of the women lounging on beaches and by the pool) in Itagaki’s mind, “relaxing” with women seems to require a substantial relationship to work.
While the heart of the game is collecting suits and getting the opportunity to ogle the ladies in them, much of this “vacation” is spent working to raise money to achieve the end of relaxation and enjoying the view. In order to raise the millions of Zack dollars necessary to purchase a full swim suit collection requires literally hundreds of hours of this kind of work. This, again, though, reinforces the stereotype that underlies the game’s premise: relationships with women are hard, not because they require difficult emotional commitment but because women require of those who wish to have those relationships hard economic currency, which can only be won through a daily grind.
In Itagaki’s world, diamonds will always remain a girl’s best friend.
Oh, and men will always have to live for giving them expensive jewels.