Kotaku’s Jason Schreier does not like the art of Dragon’s Crown. There are several posts over there detailing his problems, and if you want you can go over there and search them out. Specifically, he doesn’t like the design of the game’s sorceress character. For me, though, I’m sick of hearing about it. This controversy is dumb.
Here’s Schreier’s complaint in a nutshell:
Why complain? Because it’s embarrassing. Because I wouldn’t want to be seen playing it in public. Because I love Japanese games and Japanese RPGs and I don’t want them to perpetuate the ugly “boys’ club” mentality that has pervaded gaming for almost three decades now.
Look, the video game industry has a sexism problem. This is not very difficult to prove. Head to E3 and watch hordes of sweaty male attendees trample one another in order to get the best photos of booth babes. Read about “one reason why.” It’s tough to find a woman in gaming who doesn’t have a story about that one time someone said something way over the line, or the industry event that made her feel like she didn’t belong.
Yes, that sucks. It sucks that people can be unpleasant, and sometimes you get treated like an ass. Why are we pinning this on Dragon’s Crown?
My take on this issue:
- Artistic intent is less important here than what actually goes on in the game. I seriously doubt designer George Kamitani intended to promote the exploitation of women with his character designs. But let’s ignore artistic intent; we have to see what the sorceress actually does in the game to gauge whether or not she perpetuates sexism in gaming. Unfortunately I can’t say much about that because all I see her doing in trailers is killing monsters. You can’t make a snap judgment about a piece of design taken entirely out of context.
- Drawing large breasts does not constitute sexism. Yes, the sorceress has big breasts. Is that inherently sexist? Does the mere reminder of secondary sexual characteristics instigate sexism? Sexism is about subjugation, about treating people of a different sex disrespectfully. It is not about showing that men and women are different. Moral guardians also have the phrase “objectifies women” on a hair trigger. The sorceress doesn’t objectify women any more than Takashi Murakami’s “My Lonesome Cowboy” objectifies men (don’t look that up in public, though). They are both pieces of exaggerated design, meant to convey a message. Murakami’s message happens to be deeper than the one conveyed by Dragon’s Crown, but as far as I’m aware, neither of those messages say “treat members of this sex like property.”
- How morally vacant do I have to be to be so easily swayed by video games? Honestly this is the kind of thinking a religious zealot would throw at someone. If you’re not reminded to be good 100% of the time, you’ll become evil! It’s insulting, really, that someone out there thinks I would become a misogynist exploiter of women because my games feature characters with big boobs. If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know I deal extensively with big floppy tits. And yet by some miracle, I’m able to have normal, respectful interactions with women. And I’m not constantly plotting in secret to subvert women’s rights or subjugate them to my power trip fantasies. I even have female friends!
- Making a character with big breasts is exclusionary too? You know what’s a real indicator of sexism in the games industry? The fact that Western game developers prefer to put males in leads because they don’t think gamers would relate to female leads. The fact that popular titles like Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War (until the third one) never gave you the choice to play as a female is exclusionary. I’m a guy and even I don’t like playing as muscle bound space marines all the time. Dragon’s Crown, I would say, is on the inclusive side. There are six playable characters: fighter, dwarf, wizard, amazon, and elf. So this game actually represents females better than many triple A blockbusters. The cartoonishly stylized sorceress is not the only representative of women; you get the hulking amazon or the finesse-oriented elf as well. That’s not too bad a spread in terms of archetypes.
- That said, you do not flip the argument around by pointing to muscular men. Pointing to the game’s dwarf as a counter to the sorceress is flawed because he’s also, to some extent, the representation of a male fantasy – just one of a different nature. Penny Arcade provides a better analogy. And I have actually seen this analogy played out in the manga Battle Angel Alita: Last Order. In it, there’s a creature from Mercury that takes the shape of a gigantic penis. I didn’t feel outraged or uncomfortable. I thought it was an appropriate way for an over-the-top manga series to show a creature driven by libido. Similarly, I didn’t freak out when I saw Theon Greyjoy’s gigantic dong in Game of Thrones. I have to imagine that the average woman has a similar ability to put things in perspective, so who exactly is Jason Schreier crusading for?
- You also don’t negate the argument by pointing to other works that weren’t complained about. This should be a basic principle of argumentation, but I see people get it wrong all the time. You can’t say “well Resident Evil has fanservicey character designs and you didn’t complain about that, so you can’t complain about Dragon’s Crown.” There are ways to address the criticism of Dragon’s Crown, but pointing out additional examples is counterproductive.
- We just don’t need to revisit this argument every six months. Sexism is as big a problem in gaming as it is in any industry or media. There are legitimate cases, and there are cases where people who want to be offended find stupid reasons to be offended. I don’t think Dragon’s Crown‘s sorceress should count – more generally, I don’t think character designs should count. They can be silly, unrealistic, weird, or dumb, but in the end they’re just pieces of design serving a means to an end. That end is usually to allow gamers to live out a particular fantasy, and I doubt very many of those fantasies are structured to systematically reduce the social status of women. More than that, you can’t just single out one work, say it perpetuates this or that, and totally ignore others that might negate your point. Mass Effect‘s female Shepard got a tremendous reception. Tomb Raider sold 3 million copies with a tough, gritty heroine at the forefront. Uncharted and Half-Life 2 feature respectful, nuanced depictions of their female leads. Even George Kamitani and Vanillaware’s own Odin Sphere has very deep, relatable female characters despite also having them in skimpy outfits and idealized physiques. You can’t just have a kneejerk reaction to one design while completely ignoring context and history. That’s lazy journalism. And if you judge the entire gaming industry with that one design, it kind of makes you a pretentious asshat.
(Admin Edit: I’d like to apologize for there being no pictures of boobs in this article about boobs. We’ll do better next time.)