If I were to tell you that the sickeningly vapid personality of Selphie Tilmitt, arguably the most despised character in all of Square's oft-criticized Final Fantasy series, is a perfect spring board into a comparative examination of sociology in Japan and other industrialized nations, I would completely understand if you jabbed both my eyes repeatedly with a rusty spoon handle. But, please, put that jagged silverware down and bear with me for a moment while I try to explain.

For those who are unfamiliar with Selphie, let me explain. She's a supporting character in the 1999 Playstation console RPG, Final Fantasy VIII. Clad in a bland yet painfully yellow dress, she joins your party as a peppy, cheerful 17 year old school girl relatively early in the game and spends the next 20 to 30 hours of plot and game play doing nothing but babbling obnoxiously, hitting things with Nunchaku and striking goofy poses after battles.

Selphie adds very little to the game. In fact, many would argue she takes quite a bit away. She's a throw away character. Her cutesy dialogue hints that perhaps she's supposed to be some kind of comic relief... but she's not funny at all. Her flirtatious attitude indicates that maybe she's a romantic interest for one of the more important characters... but she hooks up with another inconsequential supporting character, so that never pans out. There's nothing entertaining, meaningful, useful, constructive or really even all that tolerable in just about anything she does the entire game.

There is a consensus she is an incredibly unappealing character due to her curiously vacant role... or at least to North American and European gamers. Why is this? I believe it's because we Western gamers don't see any purpose in Selphie's existence within the game. She doesn't mean anything to us on any level; she's not entertaining, funny, dramatic, stylish, or instrumental to the plot. All in all, she's just unnecessary.

However! If the players of Final Fantasy VIII that found Selphie annoying would have had a proper level of Japanese socialization, perhaps a more forgiving even affectionate attitude would be adopted to Selphie's seemingly useless presence. Without enough Japanese socialization to generate the cheerful school girl Japanese stereotype that Selphie represents, she doesn't fulfill any cultural expectation and is likewise perceived as a bizarre and annoying faux pas of the game's designers.

Basically, the idea is that a certain level of socialization is needed to generate a stereotype, therefore a certain level of socialization is needed to actualize Selphie as a legitimate character. Gamers of different nationalities obviously have a different social upbringing from each other, including Japanese gamers. Since Selphie is a Japanese school girl stereotype, her character isn't legitimized in non-Japanese societies without a certain level of Japanese social comprehension.

See my point? It's all relative. Selphie is most certainly a terrible character for someone socialized into a society that holds Lizzie McGuire or Clarissa Darling or the girls from Saved by the Bell as possible images of a school girl's social role. However, to a Japanese child socialized with media like Sailor Moon or Naruto where the school girls regularly break out a pair Nunchaku between bouts of giggling and flower arrangement, Selphie works fine as a legitimate character. This doesn't necessarily mean she's likable, but her purpose within the game is definitely more tangible.

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