Ico: Lost, Waiving a Stick, and Dragging Your Girlfriend Around Town by the Hand Is No Way to Go Through Life, Son

I think Ico may be the first game Tiamonster and I split on for Gaming Graveyard (Uh-oh, mommy and daddy are fighting!). While I have minor complaints about the mechanics, I’m going to focus on the love story. The lazy, misogynist love story.

Ico is like a Hayao Miyazaki film without any characters. The setting is beautiful and mysterious with a dash of supernaturalness to spice it up. It’s also empty. It felt like running around someone’s Minecraft castle. This undoubtedly adds to the mystery, but this puts a lot of pressure on Ico and Yorda’s love story.

Before going further, let me say if you evaluate this game on its ascetics and gameplay alone, it’s a classic, almost a masterpiece. I’d say Shadow of the Colossus, Ico’s sequel/prequel/sidequel/who-the-hell-knows-quel, is Team Ico’s masterpiece (Team Ico is the name of the development team, not to be confused with the name of this game or the main character. Ugh.). So if you don’t care about story, feel free to ignore the rest of this post. That said, it’s clear Team Ico wants and expects you to become emotionally engaged with Ico and Yorda’s story.

Ico could use a little more of this...

There are only three characters in this game, Ico, Yorda, and her mother, the Queen. Evil Queen is evil. Not much to say about her. She wants to kill Ico and possess Yorda. You don’t learn much about her so she’s more of an obstacle than a character. I’m OK with that, it’s not her story.

Ico has a little more substance. I guess you could say he’s determined though I’m not even sure about that since his only other option is to go back to his cell and let the Queen absorb his essence or something. He meets Yorda, saves her from a shadow monster, and away they go through the castle, Ico leading her by the hand.

Yorda is the problem. She’s not a character, but a thing. This game would not be different if you replaced her with a gem or magical key. She’s just an object Ico’s infatuated with because of its beauty. He can’t even talk to her. He drags her around and basically uses her as a key to open doors. This is her only purpose. I had a healthier relationship with my horse in Shadow of the Colossus.

...and a little less of this.

The sacrifice at the end is supposed to be the emotional culmination of Ico and Yorda’s love, but it comes off flat. Emotionally reacting to that moment is predicated on the player being invested in their relationship, but the problem is it never progresses beyond the initial meeting. We never see them learn to communicate with each other. We never see Yorda lead, only follow. We never see any change in their behavior at all really. You could reorder the entire game up to the final showdown with the Queen and it wouldn’t make a difference. I doubt you could even tell.

Their relationship is underdeveloped at best, and frankly sexist at worst (seriously, do a Google image search for ‘yorda’ and almost every image is Yorda being led by the hand, in her cage, on her hands and knees, or things, uh, much worse). I’m just not buying it. If the focal point of the game is a burgeoning love between two strangers, you have to actually show the burgeonation! Don’t just say it happened between scenes and hope the gamer fills in the blanks themselves.

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About Stylist

Poet, librarian, and video game enthusiast.
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10 Responses to Ico: Lost, Waiving a Stick, and Dragging Your Girlfriend Around Town by the Hand Is No Way to Go Through Life, Son

  1. Alurius says:

    I didn’t play Ico, but I fail to see how the story is sexist in any way. Yorda could certainly be more than a ball & chain, but there’s no connection to it just due to her gender.

    Also, I disagree that you need to show outright that the character is developing through some sort of action. Finishing a hostile adventure with only one companion by your side would bring you closer with said companion, and it’s something that can be said without a single cutscene or line of dialogue. It does seem a bit lazy, though I suppose it’s for the best since Ico isn’t supposed to be a Bioware dating simulator.

    • Stylist says:

      I agree that it’s possible to have character development without cutscenes or even dialogue, but they still have to be a character. Red Letter Media uses a simple metric to discern whether a character is good or not. Can you describe them with talking about the way they look or their occupation. Yorda fails this test. She’s just a pretty girl to be rescued, a damsel in distress, and that’s what I find sexist.

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  4. Dawson says:

    This was a very interesting article. However, in my opinion, Ico is one of the most beautiful love stories ever told. Certainly the most beautiful game ever created, right there with Shadow of the Colossus. They’re not necessarily my overall favorite games ever, but they’re up there, and hold a very special place in my heart. Here’s why.

    Its so simple. You’re a small boy, perceived as a curse, and left to die in a castle. You escape your coffin and try to find a way out. And then you find the cage… and you realize you aren’t alone. You’re not the only one who’s been abandoned. The moment I first saw Yorrda step out of that cage and approach frightened Ico, I knew this game was something special in a way that few are. There are few cutscenes beyond that point. But used sparingly, they become that much more effective. It was mind-bogglingly refreshing to see a story able to be told so simply. No excess of characters. No constant dialogue. You and Yorrda have to escape. But the Queen is trying to stop you. Its a story of two young people, abandoned by the only worlds they ever knew, but they have each other now, and with that, hope.

    Yorrda is as developed a character as any in my opinion. The game is not sexist at all– granted, I sometimes cringe from the way I occasionally jerk Yorrda around when I take sharp turns =P. Simply because Yorrda does not share Ico’s physique does not make her a weaker character. She can’t climb or fight or do the things that wiry Ico can. Who knows where Yorrda has been kept her whole life? Its clear she’s frail, but that’s not because she’s an inherently weak character– its because of her circumstance, and that’s what Ico is trying to rescue her from. I actually happen to be a fan of RedLetterMedia, and here I think I can prove that Yorrda indeed passes that character test with flying colors:

    She is caring, inquisitive, and gentle. This is made clear in the way she approaches Ico in the beginning. She wants to get to know him, and is concerned for his well being. Its also clear that she is hurt, lost, and up until then, probably hopeless. Meeting Ico fills her with a strength she probably hasn’t known in a long time. She is also trusting. She doesn’t know this boy at all, but is willing to follow him wherever he goes, and she trusts in him to lead her. That’s not a woman simply being “put in her place” and dragged around– it takes courage to put your life in someone’s hands. Its true she has little choice… but to not hesitate, to not doubt that a little boy will catch you when you make a leap across a bottomless chasm? Yorrda will go above and beyond what she’s probably ever experienced before, because she believes in her friend. Ico has an incredible responsibility. That’s why (and this is different from almost every game I’ve played) my heart practically breaks every time I have to reload because Yorrda was captured. I feel genuinely as though I failed her. She is also selfless. In the end, when she carries Ico and sends him away… its a hope. Its a thank you. She went through this whole ordeal and cared for him equally as he cared for her. She sacrificed herself, because she loved. I find it hard to imagine someone playing through this game and not seeing her character clearly revealed. And one of the beautiful things about her, and about the game, is this– you don’t have to know everything about her. Mystery is a vital component to the game’s intrigue.

    Few cutscenes. Not much talking. The bond with the characters develops simply from what you go through, as you play the game and experience the adventure. A game where the development and bonding takes place actually during the gameplay! The game starts off brilliantly, and you become familiar with each other a bit, and then there’s that cutscene smack where it needs to be as you run for the gate. From there, Ico and Yorrda belong to each other, heart and soul. Its the only way either of them can survive. Its why I think everyone who ever loved Twilight needs to sit down and simply play this game through to the end. Then maybe people will get a new perspective as to what true love ought to look like, and I’m not talking about the perilous circumstance or dragging your girlfriend around by the hand everywhere. Its not about obsession, infatuation, dating schemes, wanting to be turned into a vampire, sex, anything physical in general, or anything superficial…. Its so simple. So subtle. But so profound. Love always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. In doing so, it never fails. Its friendship. Its undying loyalty to each other. It doesn’t demand… it only gives. Its the quiet smiles. Touching hands. Moments that require no words to express. That tells as powerful a love story as any amount of dialogue or complexity can.

    Sorry for the long winded reply. I respect and am interested in your opinion, but what this game showed me… the experience I had… I know its just a game, but art can change people. And I’m writing this pretty late, so it probably sounds a LOT sappier than I perceive it to be at the moment, but, hey. God bless.

    • tiamonster says:

      I brought up many of these points at our meeting, and Stylist and I still had to agree to disagree.

      Yorda and Ico are developed in a way that uses both story and interactivity, which means, if you see those two mediums as mutually exclusive of each other, it won’t affect you. In that manner, I think Ico appeals to a certain type of player, and Stylist isn’t that type.

    • F-Dragon The Wanderer says:

      🙂 you said it, Man.

  5. Dawson says:

    And I consistently misspell her name every time… no idea how that happens. *yawn*

  6. Emma Richey says:

    My thought is that Yorda isn’t really a girl, but an allegory of Ico’s hope and will to survive. Without Yorda he can’t go on and the darkness will take him forever.

  7. F-Dragon The Wanderer says:

    Shadow of the colossus is my favourite, but I wish I had this game too. It’s one of the best love stories. The most emotional Game I’ve ever seen. nothing sexist at all, just a beautiful piece of art.

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