header is screenshot from Resident Evil 2
Her Body, Herself
Astrid Rose

The Raccoon Police Department is housed in an old art museum, but you don’t know that when you first arrive. It just looks strange, in the way all survival horror games look ornate and unreal, with a vast three-story Art Deco main hall gilded and marbled into oblivion. It’s difficult to imagine how day-to-day operations were conducted at the station, so abstract and disjointed are its spaces. There’s a massive library on the second floor west, with a wall-sized painting set against deep green and wood. The implication here, that cops read, is staggering.

Rookie cop Leon Kennedy, who here looks like a cross between BTS’s Jungkook and a young Leonardo DiCaprio, bumbles into undead-clogged Raccoon City thinking he’s showing up for work. He picks up Claire Redfield on the way. Leon is pretty whitebread, although he has a nice butt; it’s Claire that interests me. She has an actual motivation—to find her brother Chris—whereas Leon is just bounced from place to place trying not to die.

Claire is also small. When she runs she leans forward, putting her weight into the motion; her head dips down like she’s trying to get going through pure momentum. The way Claire is animated is magnetic to watch. She loses her breath when she’s wounded. Her gait gets labored. The difference between playing Leon and playing Claire is that Leon feels solid but Claire feels like she could break; both scenarios are virtually identical in terms of mechanics but Claire’s comparative physical fragility (this is still a Resident Evil game, meaning the protagonists can shrug off inhuman amounts of harm) comes with way more tension.

These two characters are neatly fitted into binary gender stereotypes; I’ve just said the guy is sturdy and the girl is fragile. I haven’t stumbled upon some great mystery here. RE2make seems aware that players are likely to respond to scenarios differently given the gender of the protagonist but doesn’t push it to the extremes of older survival horror like Haunting Ground or Rule of Rose, where vulnerability and sexual violence were explicit threats. Of course the original game also let you play as both Leon and Claire, but the remake intensifies each character’s particular physicality as part of its drive toward total visual realism.

Claire ends up helping a kid along the way, which initially seems like it needlessly, even predictably maternalizes her in opposition to the ostensibly monstrous mother figure of Annette Birkin. But Annette is not exactly what she seems, and Claire never monologues about losing a baby or anything that would really overdetermine this choice. Instead it’s used as texture to Claire’s character the same way Ada is used to play off Leon. The game fills in just enough around the basics of its scenario and protagonists to send the mind associating in all directions.

As far as outfits: Leon wears a bulletproof vest, elbow pads, and gloves. Claire is wearing the kind of red moto jacket (half-zipped over a tank top) you can definitely get from Amazon for $29.99, jeans, and boots. Neither costume is notably outlandish in any way. Ada shows up in a dumpy tan trenchcoat, sunglasses glued to her face, before she doffs those to reveal her trusty, wonderfully incongruous crimson minidress. The 2019 model is detailed with a ruched seam up the middle, while Ada has boldly accessorized it with a thin velvet choker and a black strapless bra with a small bow between the breasts. All courtesy of the Umbrella expense account, I’m guessing.

Claire reminds me a bit of Heather from Silent Hill 3; or at least a cutting-edge Heather, a woman remastered. Heather had more pluck, more teenage bile that fit nicely in a story about a teenage girl trapped in a gynocidal nightmare. Claire is harder; she snaps into competence immediately and never lets up. But she also reminds me of myself—though I wish I were Ada. Maybe I just relate too much to Claire to mount the necessary steamed-up broadside against the retrograde ways in which the game surely depicts women. Her deep-set eyes and plump cheeks; my own baby-fat face fed daily by fresh hormone intake. Her relentless head-down trudge through whatever’s behind the next door. With respect to Claire’s “classic” costume: I also love showing off my legs. I’m small, too, and I frequently feel small. Am I wrong? Am I retrograde?

I think about this kind of thing a lot when conversations pop up around fictional videogame characters while actual creators and workers—women of color, queer women, trans women—are still boxed out of the mainstream conversation by active systemic forces and concerned passivity. Better to handwring according to some tired Feminist Media Criticism script about whose tits are too large or who’s being objectified (surely a far more fraught concept in these waters than we give it credit for). I fear walking backwards into second-wave myopia, terrified into submission by the supposedly all-seeing male gaze into anti-sex, anti-sex worker, anti-expressive timidity, all in the name of some nebulous hegemonic feminist good with little basis in anyone’s material reality.

The image of the zombie—a shambling revenant driven by protozoic impulse, slavering for coils of gut and pink fistfuls of brain—is what dominates the Resident Evil games. It’s also a tempting parallel to the kind of attention-hungry take-spinning that has diluted media criticism for the past decade. But in Resident Evil 2, the real threat comes from the seemingly indestructible T-00 or “Mr. X”+: a towering granite brute who follows the player virtually everywhere, his great stomping footfalls bashing her nerves without respite. Mr. X—the any/everyman, anonymous and faceless—makes for a compelling metaphor, especially when playing as Claire. Internecine conflicts seem petty while he stalks you, unstoppable. He’s like a mutant street harasser, a relentless pummeling masculine presence, the guy who follows you for a few blocks yelling obscene shit and you’re wondering if you run will he start running too. It’s too on-the-nose that he actually wears a fedora.

But despite Mr. X, Claire has a job to do. She has a reality to contend with; a world to navigate and solve as best she can. We know the boogeyman is out there. Putting it behind you and moving on with your life is the real work of living; of surviving.


  • Mr. X outfit rundown: Umbrella gave your man an all-black fit starting with the fedora, down to the oversized fetishwear leather trenchcoat, buckled gauntlets, and finally the tall boots of indeterminate origin.

Astrid Rose writes about movies and videogames on the internet. Follow her on Twitter.