Dragon’s Crown: It’s Not For You

On Dragon’s Crown, sexism, Penny Arcade, and the gentle art of video game criticism.

Nine years ago (wow, right?), Penny-Arcade posted the following comic strip on their site:

twisp-and-catsby

While longtime fans of the PA canon will recognize it as the strip that introduced Twisp and Catsby, the context (as the first box makes clear) was Kevin Smith’s cloying Jersey Girl. They sardonically noted in a news post that making a movie not for critics was a “rock-solid stratagem.” Hence the nonsense imp; hence the cat in the derby.

Critics take a lot of grief from creators and their supporters: parasites, snobs, nitpickers, jaded haters of all things passionate. “It is not the critic who counts,” Teddy Roosevelt said, “not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.” Composer Jean Sibelius remarked that “there has never been a statue erected to honor a critic,” which wasn’t true at the time and has only become less true since, but is a popular enough sentiment to get recirculated.

But if you consider the role of the critic, this sentiment goes too far. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. One person may create it alone, but it has to be perceived and shared in order to exist as art. Part of that perception and sharing involves classification. Someone sees Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, recognizes its potential, and mentions it to a friend. “What’s it like?” the friend asks. In that moment, if the initial audience isn’t equipped with the language to convey the meaning of the piece, what can they tell their friend? “It’s, um, some shapes? Kinda womanish? But, it just, man—wow!”

The discovery of any form of art requires an informed audience member, who understands genre (and revolutionary works that transcend genre) and can convey that understanding in clear language to others. We call these people critics. If your work isn’t for critics, your work isn’t for an audience. It’s indulgence. And while all creation requires indulgence, artists save their indulgent exercises for the studio or the scratchpad.

Nine years ago, Krahulik and Holkins got that, as evidenced by the laugh they had at Kevin Smith’s expense. Today, though?

Earlier this week, Jason Schreier at Kotaku wrote a post expanding on some earlier comments he’d made regarding the Sorcereress character in the upcoming Dragon’s Crown PS3 game. Even by the hypersexualized standards of female characters in videogames, this Sorceress is particularly cartoonish. Schreier pointed that out and expressed his misgivings:

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.

So, no, I don’t want to look at this game in a vacuum, or laugh off the sorceress as harmless sexual exaggeration, or accept that this is just Vanillaware’s style (which is typically gorgeous). Not when so many women still feel so uncomfortable playing games, or working in the video game industry, or attending gaming events. Not when so many games seem designed for men and only men.

Objects not drawn to scale.

Objects not drawn to scale.

Jerry Holkins, over at Penny Arcade, responded as follows (maybe not to the Kotaku piece directly, but to any number of pieces that shared its sentiment):

You probably don’t have to guess how I feel about this latest round of compulsory swaying and fainting, so much like an old timey Tent Revival, complete with its hopping devil and its perpetually put upon holy warriors. But let’s try to look at what’s actually here on the plate.

[…]

The only characters here who aren’t fucking mutants are the Elf and the Wizard, who are there to calibrate the player; everybody else is some fun-house exponent of strength or beauty stretched into some haunted sigil. Iconic isn’t even the word – they don’t evoke icons, they are icons. They’re humans as primal symbols.

It’s very weird to pull up a story about a game with frankly visionary art and hear why it shouldn’t exist, or to hear what I supposedly fantasize about, or what kind of power I supposedly revere, and any attempt to defend oneself from these psychotic projections or to assert that creators may create is evidence of a dark seed sprouting in the heart. It’s an incredible state of affairs. They’re not censors, though – oh, no no. You’ll understand it eventually; what you need to do is censor yourself.

So Schreier (or people who share his sentiment; again, I don’t know that Holkins was addressing the Kotaku piece directly), by responding with disdain to the game’s art, is a censor. Or an ersatz censor, anyway; a passive aggressive tyrant who’s trying to sneak one by us by suggesting that creators “censor [themselves].” I’ve discussed that sort of sentiment before, how privilege views any surrender of ground as an attack, especially in the context of video game sexism. But that’s not what I want to touch on here.

Schreier, in writing for Kotaku, is a video game critic. He got some preliminary looks at the art for Dragon’s Crown and expressed frank misgivings, just like Guillaume Apollinaire did of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. He grounded these misgivings in the cultural context (growing number and awareness of female gamers) in which the work of art would be received, just as Roger Ebert did of The Doom Generation. He obviously had an agenda, but so does every critic: the preference of one style over another, a sense of taste cultivated by exposure to a large roster of submissions, a desire to give voice to an Idea, etc.

Holkins writes this off as “compulsory swaying and fainting.” He doesn’t engage with it as criticism. Dragon’s Crown, it seems, is clearly not for critics. Or at least not for some of them.

To his credit, Holkins does offer an alternative theory as to why the designers of Dragon Crown would make a peninsula-chested ingenue as a playable character: art that exaggerates for the sake of genre excess. The characters are “fun-house exponents of strength or beauty.” Looking at some other preliminary game art – such as the baroquely-muscled Dwarf – you see what he’s getting at.

How does this man tie his shoes?

How does this man tie his shoes?

Here’s the problem, though: Holkins’ counter-theory doesn’t counter Schreier’s. Both of them can still be right.

Let’s say that the Sorceress in Dragon’s Crown (and the Dwarf, and the other characters) are in fact hyperstylized caricatures, the sort of deliberate cartoonish excess that we recognize in other artforms. Let’s say this was an aesthetic choice, not a hormonal one. Okay, then: what features did the designers choose to exaggerate? Japanese art, especially in the context of manga, anime, and video games, has plenty of examples of exaggerated characteristics. Sometimes girls are depicted as having gigantic saucer eyes to emphasize their innocence. Sometimes their voices are depicted as being impossibly high. Sometimes their movements are erratic bursts, bouncing off of walls and ceilings in spastic glee.

Who, me?

Who, me?

So what did Dragon’s Crown emphasize? Her breasts. If Holkins’ critical theory is accurate, and the designers meant the Sorceress as a “fun-house exponent of […] beauty,” then the essential trait of beauty is large breasts. The “primal symbol” of beauty, then, would have impossibly large breasts. Not impossibly blue eyes or an impossibly large smile, but breasts like mortar shells.

Oddly enough, that in no way contradicts Schreier’s assertion that this sort of art makes women uncomfortable. In fact, it helps prove Schreier’s point. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting, Tycho!

Viewed in this light, Holkins’ alternative theory feels less like a critical analysis and more like a rationalization. It doesn’t address Schreier’s charge head-on. Yes, it’s hyperstylized for the sake of art: so is an airbrushed picture of Kate Upton. That doesn’t mean it’s not sexist. Both things can be true!

And when viewed in the context of Holkins’ other assertions – calling critics of sexism “holy warriors” – it doesn’t seem like he means to enter a critical discourse. He just wants people to stop complaining. This is a work of art that’s not meant for critics, or at least for some of them. Some critics’ complaints, if they touch on sexism, are “compulsory swaying and fainting.” They don’t even need to be rebutted – Holkins can make a number of aesthetic assertions that dodge the point like a toreador, throw in a few sneering asides about censorship, and consider his job done.

Unfortunately, as I observed above – and as Krahulik and Holkins seemed to understand nine years ago – no work of art is beyond criticism. No art exists in a vacuum. Art that’s not meant for critics isn’t meant for an audience. It’s an indulgent fantasy, rather like the Sorceress character in Dragon’s Crown.

dragons-crown-sorceress-banner

78 Comments on “Dragon’s Crown: It’s Not For You”

  1. Armadillo #

    Every gaming news website on planet Earth will be quick to point out that there’s no evidence whatsoever that violent videogames cause people to become violent, but none will admit that there’s no evidence to suggest that sexism in videogames causes sexist behavior. The problem with Kotaku/the videogame feminist movement is that they believe all men everywhere are incapable of separating fantasy from reality. Is it a really a problem for a man to look at a virtual sexy woman? Who is it hurting? People in the feminist movement want to see more realistic women in videogames, but does every single videogame have to conform to fit their ideals? Dragon’s Crown is hardly a AAA blockbuster release.

    Reply

    • Wendy #

      I think the A and the B of the equation are mixed up here: it’s not violent video games lead to violent behavior or sexist video games lead to sexist behavior, but the other way around. Sexism leads to sexist video games, and that’s the problem with a man looking at a virtual sexy woman. And it’s not just one single man looking at a virtual sexy woman once, privately, it’s that this is multiplied over and over. We don’t discuss the hyper-masculinity of the male hero because men and women tend to agree that that’s desirable. A man is a doer and the muscles are a physical representation of a man’s ability to “get-her-done.” Women, however, are constantly sent to the sidelines; even in that phrase: “get-her-done,” women are the ones that are desired, endangered, saved and finally done. The male hero gets the girl as the reward for a job well done. The problem isn’t the sexist video game, the problem is that this inherent sexism is compounded a million times so that women are treated as second-class citizens. I don’t know that changing the media is the answer though, and I’m not trying to insult all men by saying this, but I think male hard-wiring is the issue. Sorry, dudes of the world, it’s clear that you so often don’t get it. And the problem is that women, as a minority (50% is somehow a minority) need you to start getting it.

      Reply

      • Armadillo #

        Women are very clearly taking charge and doing things. Having muscles and doing physical labor are great, but real positions of power in the modern world are political and economic. There are loads of smart women doing important work everywhere, we’ve made a lot of progress in just a few hundred years. I agree with you that trying to change the media is probably not the best idea, and will likely only result in horrific backlash. I can’t help but feel like the entire movement here is nothing more than a premature witch hunt that doesn’t reflect the will of society as a whole (right now) and is mostly just an excuse to generate pageviews and donations to causes that will ultimately solve nothing and help nobody. Nobody complaining about Dragon’s Crown on the internet is going to convince Sally to become a mechanical engineer or a doctor or a lobbyist. Nobody complaining about videogames solved anything, ever.

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        • whisp #

          A bunch of people complaining on message boards is unlikely to change much of anything, true. At best, maybe an aspiring indie designer will take these ideas to heart and do something with them, but even then that will only be just another progressive videogame or just another feminist essay drowned in an ocean of normalized sexism. However, what is the alternative? To do nothing at all? If “complaining never solved anything,” then the idea that we must show results for our criticism, that we shouldn’t complain because nothing will change, is ludicrous.

          There’s a much better chance to actually change the culture for the better if we continue speaking out against normalized sexism, however small the forum, than if we just sit on our hands and do nothing, waiting for a “bigger” opportunity to come along.

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          • Orion #

            The great trouble with purely cultural problems like sexism is that there is nothing more that can be done but to speak out against it wherever it appears. To complain, assert that this is not okay.

            A task that to any individual can seem like cutting the heads off the hydra, insurmountable and offering only the most temporary satisfaction.

          • Doctor Watkins #

            You still have to prove whether it’s sexist in the first place.
            Fascism has arrived in a westernized flavor with a friendly face. It labels all of it’s adversaries who create culture beyond their echo chamber as “racists” and “sexists”. Once the accusation is leveled, it’s deemed by it’s religious adherents as unquestionable fact, and legitimizes frenzied attacks on the alleged perpetrator.
            Sexist until proven sexist.
            It’s a cultural artifact, and if you think that censorship is a credible solution then you’ve lost the debate.

          • Gab #

            Doctor Watkins:

            To whom must whether it’s sexist be “proven,” though? There’s a huge difference between the criminal justice system and the court of public opinion. And pointing out sexism (or any other misconduct) is not the same as demanding censorship- that mis-categorization is precisely the sort of tactic used most often to undermine any sort of effort at speaking truth to power. “You’re saying what I’m saying is bad, which must mean you’re trying to remove my free speech rights.” No, that’s not it- it’s just saying what you’re saying is bad in the hope that 1) you’ll self-reflect and not repeat, and 2) others will self-reflect and not emulate.

    • starbot #

      I have never heard the arguments ‘men are incapable of separating fantasy from reality’ or ‘it is wrong to look at sexy women’ in the context of video game criticism. This post doesn’t address or even touch those issues either.

      It is possible to criticise instances of sexism in videogames without making those arguments, and indeed those arguments are largely irrelevant.

      “People in the feminist movement want to see more realistic women in videogames, but does every single videogame have to conform to fit their ideals?”
      Of course not. Videogames are as diverse a medium as painting or literature, or at least they have the potential to be. I would love to see more realistic portrayals of women in videogames but not every videogame, or story, or artwork has the place for such a thing. Michelangelo still has an important place in art history, despite the fact that he couldn’t draw women well. Super Mario Brothers is still an excellent and important videogame despite its simplistic use of gender roles. At the same time, that’s no reason not to do better.

      And to your last point – Dragons Crown is not an AAA release. But as a piece of art, it is open to criticism. That’s kind of the whole point.

      Reply

    • John Perich OTI Staff #

      Every gaming news website on planet Earth will be quick to point out that there’s no evidence whatsoever that violent videogames cause people to become violent

      Are we a gaming website? We talk about gaming. Anyhow, I’m speaking only for myself here, but I haven’t closed the book on that debate yet. I could certainly entertain the argument that hours of soaking up hyper-violent entertainment are going to incline people to, if nothing else, speak in a language of violence (“p0wn3d, bitch!” “head-shots!”).

      This isn’t to say banning violent video games is a good idea, or would even solve the problems its proponents think it will. But I have a hard time believing violent video games have no effect. Pop culture affects and is affected by mass culture; that’s what we talk about here at OTI.

      But that’s not what the comment was really about anyway. Sorry to digress.

      but none will admit that there’s no evidence to suggest that sexism in videogames causes sexist behavior

      There’s loads of anecdotal evidence that this is the case; Schreier points out plenty of it in his Kotaku piece. If you want your own examples, look at any female gamer or game designer’s blog talking about the challenges of sexism. Then look at the comments.

      Now, your argument might be that these are people who would be sexist trolls even in the absence of sexist videogames. And that’s plausible! But by echoing the sexism of mass culture within the sphere of videogames, designers create the impression that video games and gamer culture are a “safe space” for sexism.

      Very few misogynists would feel comfortable saying “get on ur knees and suck it” to a woman on the street, or in a crowded subway car, or in a letter to the New York Times. But they expect that this is an okay thing to say in response to a woman asking why women in video games have to look like cartoon pool floats. I suspect they feel this way because video game culture has, up until recently, given them the impression that it’s trying to keep women out.

      Is it a really a problem for a man to look at a virtual sexy woman? Who is it hurting?

      It hurts female gamers, who make up 40 to 50% of the gaming population (depending on the study you cite). It hurts any male gamers who don’t want to feel like perverts when they talk about the games they play. That may not be the majority of gamers, but I think it’s enough that it’s worth addressing.

      Reply

      • Redem #

        There’s been a lot of noise lately on the question of sexism in gaming lately and I think what might be pushing it was changing demographic with women being more and more present both as player and worker in the industry.

        Although I’m not sure things will ever reach a sastifactory conclusion (especially on the question of cheesecake) although we can hope women get more respect.

        Reply

    • ahoyhoyable #

      If you think someone – most probably a female – can comfortably wear such an outfit while fending off beasties in the wilderness, then yeah, I think you do have a problem separating fantasy from reality.

      I also can’t believe that you’re not satisfied that there’s already an entire separate industry that caters to your need to look at sexy ladies that you need such representation to spill over into the gaming world as well. And that you can’t play without your female comrade’s chest jiggling in your periphery. Your question, “Who is hurting?”, that’s already enough evidence for me that you cannot separate fantasy from reality. Perich already noted in the article that there are a growing number of female gamers. It is not FOR only you. It’s for them too.

      Reply

    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      LOL I love this argument. “There’s no proof the media has any effect on my beliefs or actions! I are completely rational!” (runs off to buy something an advertisement told him to)

      Reply

      • Bishop #

        So then you agree with the critics who say video games cause violence? You can’t have it both ways. Either both violence and sexist portrayals cause people to be violent and sexist, or it doesn’t.

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        • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

          I find it somehow comforting that in natural language, a tautology can express a falsehood.

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        • Timothy J Swann #

          I think that’s a question to be decided by evidence, isn’t it? It’s not axiomatic, it has to be investigated. http://www.nouspace.net/dene/475/videogames.pdf for example does combine them, finding violence and sexism leading to thoughts and behaviours of both supports (especially sexist violence). By contrast, http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/special/5561402.aspx found that violence in video games wasn’t especially problematic in behaviour. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103108001005 found that experimental exposure to video game sexualisation impacted sexual harassment far more than rape acceptance. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2807025/ also showed an impact on sexual harrassment.

          It doesn’t really matter what the results are – these things don’t have to work in the exact same way and, excitingly, we can investigate and try and find out!

          Reply

        • An Inside Joke #

          I don’t think violence and sexism are necessarily comparable in this analogy.

          Violence is 1) readily identifiable 2) apparent and 3) has strong deterrents. It’s easy to tell if someone is behaving violently. If you punch someone in the face, you’re being violent. If you walk away, you’re not. Also, if you are violent against another person, you run the risk of public censure or legal repercussions, depending on how violent you are.

          Sexism, on the other hand, is elusive. Nobody can tell what another person is thinking or feeling, and two people can have very different reactions to the same stimulus, and nobody knows the wiser. One person could look at a photo of a sexualized woman and appreciate it for its artistic merit, while another could appreciate it from a more misogynist perspective, but no one can really know which perspective the appreciator would come from.

          So, whether or not video games make people feel more violent isn’t as much of an issue as whether they make people take violent action. A video game could make a person feel violent without that person following through, as they could be deterred. A video game (or any art piece) that influences a persons feeling towards the other gender, whether that results in action or not, is problematic because the inherent problem of sexism comes as much from how someone thinks as from how they act.

          Reply

  2. Mecha-Shiva #

    Escher Girls is a great tumblr that addresses this whole thing all the time, mostly in comic books, but video games as well. And they discuss that defense, which is *always* the defense, that it is fantasy. And it is. But it’s an entirely male fantasy. Then men are designed to be big and strong because men want to be powerful. The women are sexy to the point of absurdity because men want to look at sexy women. What women might want doesn’t enter the thought process.

    If women are let in on the fantasy as well, it would be reflected in the design. The female characters would still mostly be beautiful (just as the bulk of male characters in games tend to be attractive), but they would give you a sense of strength or power or something besides (or in addition to) sex. They may want the option to be muscular like a fitness model or a cartoonishly musclebound hulk of a woman, but they’re almost never given the option. The female characters in games are virtually always busty, thin waisted, pouty lipped, reavealingly clothed, male fantasy objects. They might offer you character options with different hairstyles, wardrobes, or skin colors, but the body type is almost always exactly the same.

    Reply

    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      “The female characters would still mostly be beautiful (just as the bulk of male characters in games tend to be attractive), but they would give you a sense of strength or power or something besides (or in addition to) sex.”

      You know, I wonder. I’m sure that the female characters would not look like the Sorceress up there, and I’m sure that they would give you a sense of SOMETHING other than sex. (The two halves of that sentence are redundant, which might demonstrate something about what’s at stake here.) But there’s no one monolithic female fantasy, just like there’s no one monolithic male fantasy. Consider the Bella Swan/Anastasia Steele archetype, just for instance. I’m NOT claiming that this is THE female fantasy, “what women want to be.” But in that these characters are part of wish fulfillment fantasies written by women, surely we have to acknowledge that they represent one specific female fantasy that does exist in the world, and which has very little to do with strength or power. (They still aren’t anything like the Sorceress, though… neither character is a cheesecake pinup. They are defined by being intensely desired without being particularly desirable, right? There’s page after page of “is he really that into me?! But I’m so ordinary!“)

      Just so we’re clear: I totally agree that Dragon’s Crown’s character designs are based on male fantasies, and that on the whole if more female fantasies were built into game design, the world would be a better place. I also agree that this would result in a wider range of designs for female characters — and for male characters as well, no? But I don’t think we can assume that this would necessarily result in more egalitarian depiction of male and female characters… at least not in any one particular game. You’d probably get that in some cases, but I’m sure it’s not the ONLY thing you’d get.

      Reply

      • BastionofLight #

        I challenge the premise that the designs of the male characters are based on male fantasies, or at least that insofar as they are that it is not also problematic.
        The Dwarf is at least half torso, and the Fighter’s shoulders are bigger than his head, neither is a healthy image for men.
        This gives men the impression that they are valuable only as far as their capacity for violence.

        If this is men’s fantasies, it is terribly unhealthy for them.

        Reply

  3. ahoyhoyable #

    You put something out in public, it’s viewable by everyone and hence subjected to scrutiny. I think we should define critics here. That is, “people who do not support and call out the sexism in the game”. Perhaps it bothers people that the criticism might just be valid and might just have a point to make.

    Note: they didn’t just exaggerate her breasts, but her hips as well. So basically, her sexual characteristics.

    As to the challenge question of the day, “How does this man tie his shoes?” I vote that he probably gets the Sorceress to tie them for him.

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    • slims #

      I have the best mental image right now of the Sorceress leaning over to tie the Dwarf’s shoes, naturally finding herself off balance, and falling flat on her face.

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      • John Perich OTI Staff #

        All the characters rolling around on the floor on their distended anatomies, clawing feebly at the air.

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        • The Commons #

          Meanwhile, the elf just shakes her head and sighs.

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    • atskooc #

      “Note: they didn’t just exaggerate her breasts, but her hips as well. So basically, her sexual characteristics.”

      Also note: the placement of her staff in the publicity photo at the top of this essay.

      Reply

      • whisp #

        And the (presumably undead and/or reanimated) skeleton she’s pulling into her cleavage.

        Contrast with the image of the dwarf. Sure, he’s exaggerated. Sure, he’s nearly naked, wearing only a belt, a legionnaire skirt, gauntlets, and boots. But he’s not flaunting himself. He’s flaunting his victory over what seems like a giant golem soldier he just wrecked to bits. He’s flaunting his power and his skill, proportional to the physical strength required by his role. The physicality of his presence matches his purpose perfectly.

        The Sorceress? She’s rubbing some dead guy against her nearly-exposed breasts so hard his skull is lifting them. She has contorted herself into an impossible pose to show off her cleavage, her leg, her hips, and her butt. (And as flexible as one may be, it’s still a bad pose. The way her weight is distributed, she’s balanced entirely on her left leg, which means her right leg is extended for no good reason… unless she’s mid-pirouette?) She’s also rubbing her staff between her buttocks as if she were a pole-dancer.

        How, exactly, does her physicality match her role in the game, or her archetype as a high-fantasy sorceress? The only indication we have that she can toss a fireball is that she’s wearing a witch’s hat and has a gnarled wooden staff, but those are props. We only recognize them as “belonging” to the magic-caster archetype because of Merlin and his cultural descendants. Why not show her in an equally-improbable pose, but gathering flames in her hand?

        Sexuality can have a place, even in a Vanillaware beat ’em up. They could have used the same artwork, sans hat, and said that her character was a “Temptress” or “Dancer” and, while the hyper-sexual display would have still been sexist, it would have at least made sense. But nothing about the current artwork says “this is a powerful Sorceress people will want to play as and identify with because she can fry enemies with a thought” and everything about it says “this is an oversexed woman dressed as a sorceress that people will want to play with because she’s hanging out all over the place.”

        And THAT’s what the problem is: it doesn’t matter who or what the character is supposed to be, all that matters is that she’s sexy.

        Reply

  4. whisp #

    According to Holkins, these characters are “icons” in and of themselves. Fair enough. The dwarf is an icon of primal, physical strength, which is often represented with exaggerated musculature (particularly in the chest, arms, and fists like cinderblocks. Legs and feet don’t usually get this sort of treatment unless you’re Chun Li.) However, his own thesis also raises the question: what are the Amazon and the Sorceress icons of? You don’t need torpedo chests to be a magic-caster; on the contrary, if the treatment were truly “iconic” of someone who gained power through severe mental discipline, then her physical depiction should follow suit. Likewise the Amazon, whose primary traits are speed and flexibility. Anyone who has stepped foot in a gym even once will tell you that fast, flexible people are usually wiry and well-toned, not over-muscled or heavily-endowed. So Holkins’ idea that these are “icons” rings false right from the start.

    All other things aside, someone explain how the art style is supposed to be “visionary.” It’s pretty darn cliche, not unlike what you’d see in the millions of porn doujinshi that the most basic internet search would yield.

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    • An Inside Joke #

      I don’t mean to defend the artwork, but when I read this analysis, my first thought was of literal icons – i.e. fertility icons used in some polytheistic societies. I remember seeing pictures (can’t remember where) in the past of goddesses and artwork meant to represent fertility that involves similar imagery: swollen/enlarged breasts, wide hips, etc.

      Of course, that doesn’t necessarily help the case for this video game art, as this character doesn’t seem to have any relation to child-bearing.

      Reply

  5. Paul #

    Thanks for this article, John. You thoughtfully consider the competing arguments and offer a salient synthesis with which I wholeheartedly agree.

    Reply

  6. Justin Mohareb #

    She’s also got one of them hyper flexible torsos that let you point your breasts AND buttocks in the same direction.

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  7. Crystal #

    I agree that sexist games are a product of a sexist world. But those sexist games, in turn, cause people to internalize sexism and misogyny.

    We all like to believe the media has no effect on us–that is what advertisers want us to believe. But it’s ridiculous to suggest that thousands of hours watching films, seeing advertisements, and playing games has no effect on us.

    Our ideas of all the things we don’t know are shapes by the media, especially when we are young. For men, these unknown ideas often include women. Do we really want men growing up believing women are cartoonish toys designed for their amusement? That women are a thing to look at or a prize to be won? And, do we really want women internalizing this message?

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    • Linden #

      Of course the media influences what people think. Otherwise, all those advertisers would be stupidly spending their money on something that doesn’t work. Therefore, sexist media images must influence what people think as well.

      My 10-year-old daughter would like the option to play a girl character in her video games, but most don’t have one. She’s noticed this. What would she think if her girl option in a game was the Sorceress?

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  8. Charred Knight #

    Gabe never stated that “Dragon’s Crown is not meant for critics” what he stated is that art can not be constrained by telling the artist how to draw. You can critique that art all you like but saying that it shouldnt exist is when he has a problem.

    Tycho is simply giving his opinion that he finds it weird that people are making an arguement that liking the art somehow makes someone a sexist.

    The argument is that George Kamitami is a sexist because he made a game with large breasted women. Now George Kamitani is a veteran so has made several games having made 6 games as a director (Princess Crown, Odin Sphere, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Grand Knights History and now Dragon’s Crown).

    Is Vanillaware known for sexism? Not really, most of their games star woman portraying them in a fairly strong manner. In particular we have Odin Sphere where out of the 5 parts 3 of them star women and are generally about their growth in character (Mercedes story for example is about how she must grow from a spoiled child into a Queen able to defend her people after Demon King Odin kills her mother).

    Is Vanillaware known for their large breasted women? Once again not really, in previous Vanillaware games the women generally had modest breast sizes outside of one or 2 characters (the fox spirits in Muramasa, and Queen Odette, ruler of the Underworld in Odin Sphere). The female leads of those game are for the most part modestly endowed with only Velvet being considered large (and realistically so) breasted. http://odinsphere.wikia.com/wiki/Velvet.

    So why the change in this game? Was it a cynical cash grab to use people like Jason Schreier for fame and fortune? While its certainly true that Dragon’s Crown is getting far more publicity than even Odin Sphere got(which was the game that won awards for Best story) Its also not likely considering that Kamitani is obssessed with his art rejecting 3D completely.

    So what do I feel like the answer is?

    Its an exaggeration (something Kamitani loves to do, Odin Sphere in particular was full of top heavy men with small legs) of the typical fantasy depiction of women (in particular Frank Frazetta’s work). Here’s an example from a previous game he made Muramasa the demon blade http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Momohime_VS_Orge.jpg we see the Oni (which is generally portrayed as muscular http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oni) made into a grotesque creature with a small lower half and a massive upper half.

    As for the claim that you can find this art in any number of hentai doujinshi. I doubt you are going to find a hentai doujinshi that references all the stuff we have seen from Dragon’s Crown, such as the work of Pieter Brugel (a favorite of Vanillaware) and certainly you are not going to get the Muramasa artwork in a hentai doujinshi because the average one doesnt try to look like an 18th century wood block print.

    Reply

    • whisp #

      Who ever said that the art of Muramasa resembled hentai doujinshi? It was Holkins who said that Dragon Crown’s art, and specifically Dragon Crown’s, was “visionary.” You’ve only explained that some other artwork in Vanillaware’s portfolio homages or references other artists, but mere “references” aren’t “vision.” And in regards to that… Frazetta? Perhaps, in that these are scantily-clad, well-oiled people with exaggerated features, but even he stayed within the limits of realistic biology. Pieter Bruegel? You’re kidding, right? The Renaissance painter? His artwork is nothing like the human characters which are being criticized here, so if there’s a different Pieter Bru[e]gel who depicts humans with hyper-exaggerated features you’ll have to be specific.

      The argument posited here isn’t that the artist, or the audience, are sexist for painting/liking large-breasted women. The argument is that the art perpetuates sexist imagery by reducing women to highly-sexualized features, and that Holkins’ argument about “icons” only bolsters that view. One of the tragedies of society is that sexism doesn’t need to be acknowledged as such in order to be perpetuated.

      Reply

      • Charred Knight #

        Except I wa refering to art as in the whole game. The influence with Pieter Brugel is in the architect, Vanillaware’s character designs are nice but rarely inspired (Demon Lord Odin being an exception). The place where Vanillaware achieves greatness tends to be in boss battles, and the background. Hell I would place Vanillaware’s ability to draw food over their ability to draw human beings.

        The problem I have is that the discussion is being limited to the character designs itself and not discussing the game itself. There is more to a character than how they look, yes you can make a female who looks strong, and looks like she can take care of herself but if you write the character as someone who just stands by as the hero does everything than its a complete waste of time.

        Reply

        • Gab #

          The problem I have is that the discussion is being limited to the character designs itself and not discussing the game itself.

          That argument is actually quite the opposite of what a lot of sexism-in-game apologists throw out there. Often times, pointing out one sexist element gets equated with declaring an entire game sexist. “It’s just one character! That doesn’t mean the whole game is bad for women!” But in the end, you’re getting at the same thing they are.

          The fact that it’s one character is part of the point. Letting it go just because it’s the one character is tacitly accepting the sexism of that character’s portrayal- so thus there would be no reason on the part of game developers and character designers to stop doing that. What you’re asking for is for someone that thinks the Sorceress is weird to say, “So her boobs are each larger than my office chair, but hey, the boss battle looked pretty, so ain’t no thang.” That just doesn’t fly. Pretty architecture in the background doesn’t make a grossly disproportionate, semi-pedophilic (like the Kotaku author says, her face is rather pre-pubescent)-looking character okay.

          And even if she did happen to be extremely smart, strong, and independent, why oh why do her yabbos need to be so big? Her hips so large? Her waist so tiny? Her hair so flowy and silky? Why does she need a staff in her buttcrack and a skull in her underboob? Sure, she’s a character and fictional and in a whole made-up world- but that means someone made her up, and thus chose to make her look that way. Whether it was to satisfy their own fantasy, or to satisfy what they conceived of as their customers’ fantasies, that really doesn’t matter. That image is plastered all over the ads, and those do nothing to tell us what she is or is not capable of in-game. All we’re given in the ads is that she holds her magical instruments in highly suggestive ways and that she’d need probably need a walker with a tray on it to hold up her chest if she was to step out of those impossible poses.

          Reply

  9. Blade Runner #

    I am afraid I don’t quite agree with some of the arguements in this article.

    You mention the picture of a male character or dwarf and then say ” “The characters are “fun-house exponents of strength or beauty.” Looking at some other preliminary game art – such as the baroquely-muscled Dwarf – you see what he’s getting at.”

    So you admit that the dwarf is exaggerated, but then go onto to say that the only part of the sorceress that is exaggerated is her breasts. This isn’t true, all of her is exaggerated from her legs to her hair. You claim that the artist is saying “the essential trait of beauty is large breasts.” This doesn’t work as they clealy took steps to make all of her look attractive, she is not a rectangle that has two impossibly large breasts popping out them.

    That said, the sorcessess is obviously sexualised and your main argument is that this style of art makes female gamers uncomfortable. Again this does not quite work. Females are not some seperate homogenised group. They are people, and some people found this art style uncomfortable. They don’t all think alike.

    So if you happen to be female and find this art style appealing because you find it funny for example, then you are doing something wrong? How do you think a tall person with large breasts feels when depictions similar to them or exaggerated are called unwomanly or purely male sexual fantasy?

    And the depiction of the dwarf is not exaggerating what people look for in males either? The dwarf’s muscles are just as rediculous and as the sorceresses’ thighs and breasts. Neither is more over-the-top than the other.

    And so any female character that is not sexual in any way is perfectly acceptable? Her ACTUAL character is unimportant? Admittedly I don’t know much about the story of Dragon’s Crown, or if it even has one, but isn’t instantly assuming the sorceress is going to be some vapid male fantasy solely due to her appearance somewhat sexist? From what I know of the company, their actual characters are generally quite good, and so for all we know sorceress could be a well-written character in an exaggeratted style.

    Or the sorceress could be completely vapid. This is beside the point; it is perfectly fine to find Dragon’s Crown’s art style sexist or unappealing. The problem lies in telling other people to be offended or lumping all the people who like the art style together as sexists who are juvanile and like hentai and lumping all the female community together as some seperate entity. As you say in a comment, 40-50% of the gaming community are women, and some of them on a personal level dislike the style as they think it does harm. Fine. A female friend of mine commented a while back that she liked the design of the Amazon character as it reminded her of Conan. Neither side can claim to be correct. However one side will buy the game and the other will not.

    Although I suppose this was not the main point of your article, as it was rather a reply and criticism of other people’s criticism and not specifically video games.

    Reply

    • Blade Runner #

      And your criticism of the arguments I generally agree with.

      Reply

    • AnneBonney #

      If we’re marking down and trying to make hay out of anecdotal accounts, I’ll weigh in as a tall and big-breasted woman: that character design sucks. It feels like a caricaturization of a body more similar to mine than most. It upsets me that you look at the Sorceress and think that she looks like someone like me, tall and with large breasts, but with a little bit of “exaggeration”, when it is obvious that that drawing depicts a human body in only the loosest terms. It embarrasses me and makes me (once again) consider my second-class status as a gamer, makes me worry what other gamers may think of bodies like mine. I hate it with a fervor you may not understand, because it twists things I love (my own body, other women’s bodies, and female mages) into something grotesque and for others’ enjoyment, comedic or sexual or both.

      But how this game and its art makes me feel is not really the topic here, no more than your friend’s positive Amazon/Conan free association is. Both opinions exist and are free to be expressed, shared, negotiated, defended, reconsidered. I bet your friend and I would probably agree on several points about sexism in gaming, if not this particular one; if I were talking to her instead of you, I would look forward to hearing her reasoning, presenting mind, and finding common ground. But, again, that’s not the point.

      This is: Everyone gets to be a critic. Even women. Even women, even feminists, even sexists. It’s what happens after the criticism is where things break down, I think.

      When women who find these kinds of images demeaning say so, to be heard or taken seriously or even accepted in good faith, they are often met with a litany of “why? why do you think that? (and where do you get off?)” and are forced to present a burden of “proof” that is extraordinary. And there’s lots of answers, from personal feelings to demographic concerns, the worry over harm and connection to other sexist acts, even aesthetic and anatomic and practical reasons why character design like this is worthless. But I’ve never seen the discourse go very far into the other side’s whys, beyond “It’s fake so it’s fine!” and “I just like it!”

      Maybe that’s because those whys are entirely based on assumptions of men’s desires being more important that women’s. No wonder there are so many “free speech!!11” and “PC Police” smoke screens: if we subscribe to a marketplace of ideas, far fewer people are buying what the sexists are selling, because their chief export is an irrational, bigoted mess.

      Reply

      • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

        Somehow apologists for prejudice never seem to put together that if “I just like it” is a legitimate defense, “I just don’t like it” is a legitimate complaint.

        Reply

      • Blade Runner #

        Forgive me if you thought that I was impling that the character looks in anyway like a person, we obviously don’t take the word exaggerated or ridiculous to mean the same thing.

        I was not trying to imply that you should not find the depictions disgusting or offensive or that “I like it, leave me alone” or “I dislike it” is a justification for something. These kind of responses are rather pointless and just block-off any chance for meaningful discussion. Somebody liking or disliking something is just that, and has no relevance to the quality or worth of the thing in question.

        The point I was trying to make(although considering how poorly written my first response was, I realise I may have not been clear) is that people seem to put too much into how the character looks rather than what the actual character is, and I personally find the latter to far more important and potentially helpful or harmful than the former. To use another high sexualised character as an example, I don’t think people would become more or less bigoted simply by looking at Jessica Rabbit, whereas her actual personality and how she acts could.

        Again, worthwhile criticism, such as you finding it offensive, is a good thing, however a problem lies in when others tell people to be offended for a personal response or making assumptions about people who think otherwise. The people who like the art style to this game are going to be both male and female and most of them are not horny sexist teenagers, to assume otherwise is sexist. They are likely adults who have come up with reasons for liking the style just as intelligent as your reason for not liking it. Them liking it for whatever reason will not lessen your place within the community, nor take away your right to criticise. This doesn’t make your view point incorrect, but neither does yours make theirs. Personally I found the book Brighton Rock to be sexist in a way far more harmful than this game will ever be, but I don’t think the book should not exist nor do I think those who enjoyed the book should be labelled and berated for it.

        As I said before, you will not buy the game and those who don’t mind the style might. There is far more than the art style that goes into a game, and its other elements could still be enjoyable. Perhaps that is why they will buy it, rather than because they are indulging in their juvanile fantasies.

        Reply

        • AnneBonney #

          It wasn’t owing to a divergent definition of “exaggerated” or “ridiculous” that I thought you were talking about real bodies in the context of this character design; it was your choice to invoke a hypothetical “a tall person with large breasts” and the assumption that they would feel bodyshamed by disagreement with this character design. I am a that kind of person, and so I felt the need to offer a counterpoint to your hypothetical. Why bring up tall, large-breasted women if you aren’t comparing them to the Sorceress’ depiction?

          While you make several points here that I disagree with, the biggest problem for me is assuming that I or other women/people who find this character design objectionable won’t buy the game, and by doing so will end Dragon’s Crown’s encroachment into our gaming lives. First of all, the option to “just not buy” games that have sexist elements is barely even there. The games that are made, historically and even contemporaneously, overwhelmingly contain sexualized or victimized female characters (when present at all!), harmful perpetration of gender stereotypes and a bunch of other shit I’d prefer not to patronize. But women often buy them anyway, because, like you say, maybe they like the play mechanics, or the story is right up their alley, or any of the other reasons a person might purchase a game.

          I still got a copy of FFX-2, because I loved Spira more than any other of SquareEnix’s fictional worlds, even though I was pissed that they wasted the opportunity of an all female playable cast by basing their abilities on changing from one skimpy outfit to the next. It made me feel as if this possibly progressive title wasn’t “for me”, but rather for men to ogle, or to teach little girls to feel “empowered” by dress-up.

          If there was a way to play an RPG that had three developed female characters as your default party with out that crap, I would have done so. Often buying a problematic game isn’t endorsement of the sexist parts of it, it’s having to swallow down negative aspects because there is no other choice. (Besides stop playing at all. Which almost seems like the point, to get girls to stop playing games.)

          At any rate, no, I’m not going to buy Dragon’s Crown myself, because I don’t like fighters, but you have no data and no way to conjecture how many people who object to the art will, because they have other compelling reasons to want to play a game. The ubiquitous sexism is continually limiting what we can buy, what we can play, and even sometimes what we can say about it. Strides have been made, but I don’t things like the Sorceress rolling them back, ass-first.

          Reply

          • ._. that other villian #

            Soooooo from what I am reading here people are going at it over a games artwork. If that is really the case don’t buy the game, complain about it, get it out of your system, and be glad we live in a country where we can complain about how someone likes to have fun with his job! :D

  10. Charred Knight #

    One more thing I will add

    Why the breasts? Why not instead impossibly blue eyes or an impossibly large smile? Because it would be hard to show the latter two. What is an impossibly blue eyes? How do you show that especially when you have to keep them small on screen because you are making a beatem-up as opposed to a game were you can show them more upclose like an FPS? Also large smiles are generally not equated with beauty, its pearly white teeth that are and once again something that would be hard to show given that the game is a beatem-up.

    Reply

    • Timothy J Swann #

      Neonatal features! Waist-hip ratios! These are the (uncomfortable) things that emerge for research into attraction to females by males. I think the former might be easier to show than the latter in stylised characters. If one thinks one should.

      Reply

    • whisp #

      And why does a long-range, presumably of average strength/endurance, but mentally-powerful character need to emphasize “beauty” in the first place? She’s a Sorceress, she should emphasize her inner power and her intelligence, and there’s dozens of ways to display that on sprite art. She could be encased in a magical aura, she could have a giant hat, she could be covered in gems, she could still wear a slit-skirted dress with a navel-level neckline but have sigils and tattoos all over her skin, instead of battleship-sinking artillery attached to her chest.

      But all right, let’s say that she needs to be beautiful. She could still have more natural proportions, and her beauty could be depicted easily, and with the most minute detail, in character portraits. That first image of her seen above has her actual sprite next to the hand-drawn artwork –it’s so difficult to spot her *head* in that sprite, she looks like a large-breasted torso with long legs and a hat. There’s “oh, it’s hard to show her beauty any other way, so we’ll exaggerate this bit” and then there’s “reduced to the most basic sexual characteristics, even if we have to eliminate the rest.”

      Reply

      • Charred Knight #

        Except out of the three other exaggerated character no one is exaggerated “a bit”. None The designs of the figher, dwarf, Amazon and sorceress are not supposed to be realistic (the Wizard and elf are). The Dwarf is simply a pile of muscle that by all means shouldnt be able to walk. The fighter’s head is dwarfed by his massive shoulders. The Amazon muscularity is possible (on a body builder level) has really huge legs. You can argue that its bad game design but I think it helps it stand out.

        Reply

        • Gab #

          There’s a difference in functionality between hips/breasts and legs/arms. Legs and arms are symbols of strength in men. What are breasts and hips in women? They certainly aren’t usually equated with high int or wis, I’m pretty sure… And that Amazon may have large thigh muscles, but 1) she’s in a bikini, and 2) her poses all emphasize her crotch and breasts- they’re all poses you’d never see a male character in. Take a look at this, it’ll blow your mind:

          http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/

          Reply

        • whisp #

          “Exaggerate this bit” is not “exaggerate this a bit.”

          Reply

  11. BastionofLight #

    Jason Schreier said “[T]he video game industry has a sexism problem.”

    Is there a facet of the culture, a medium, that does not have a sexism problem? Is he saying that the video game industry is incapable of producing a video game that does not display sexism, (excluding games that lack anthropomorphic characters)? Or is he saying that the sexism permeating the culture is merely particularly apparent in video games?

    Reply

    • Charred Knight #

      I am pretty sure he just means the latter.

      Reply

    • John Perich OTI Staff #

      I can’t speak for another writer, but I’d guess the latter. I would say that this is an egregious example of sexism, not a watershed moment. And my objection isn’t even so much to this particular title as it is to the way certain parties (Holkins, for instance) are defending it from criticism. I want to focus more attention on the conversation around the art, rather than the art itself.

      Reply

      • BastionofLight #

        Is Holkins attempting to insulate the work from criticism in the same way as Kevin Smith was?
        I see Kevin Smith as attempting to insulate the film from criticism about its global quality–a critic who will say “Don’t watch this film because it is bad.”
        I assume Holkins would be fine with a variety of criticisms about Dragon’s Crown, if the controls are terrible, the story is nonsense, or if the art style does not end up being quite as visionary as is his current impression.
        I think Holkins is attempting to estop the criticsm “Don’t play this game, or they shouldn’t have made this game, because it will make you a worse person.”

        Reply

  12. Stokes OTI Staff #

    By the way, I hope everyone reading this has also looked at the actual Penny Arcade comic attached to the news post in question.

    Three points to be taken from this:
    1) The dwarf’s musculature is NOT the equivalent of the Sorceress’s chestculature. We’ve seen the equivalent of the Sorceress, and may have some difficulty unseeing him. (And thank you, Gabe, for that.)

    2) Just like Perich said in the (excellent) OP, the fact that the art is exaggerated, and what it chooses to exaggerate, are two completely different things. It’s the second one that people are angry about.

    3) The argument in the comic, at least, really does seem to be “It’s not FOR you.” The message here is “hey, I’d be annoyed about the Sorceress too, if I was a chick! But I’m not, so I’m not.” Which is just a whisker away from “Ladies! Go play a different game, please, this one is boys only.”

    Reply

    • Charred Knight #

      There are alot of games that fit that bill, I cant even get into third person shooters or FPS so the amount of games I can enjoy are already pretty limited. The thing is though that you cant force a developer to make a game they dont want to make. If you do then the game is going to be terrible because the developer doesnt have a clue what his trying to accomplish.

      Just because I have no interest in FPS doesnt mean I am going to insult Infinity Ward and tell them their games are aimed at right wing gun nuts.

      Reply

      • Charred Knight #

        and that last line was referring to Jason Schreier whose been pretty insulting to people (though he claims to have been mistaken when he stated that the Sorceress was aimed at Lolicons).

        Reply

  13. Gab #

    Anecdote FTW: There’s a reason I picked a gender-neutral name and icon for the PSN. If there wasn’t sexism among gamers, I would have felt safe enough to be girly about it. (But at least my background has hearts and butterflies.)

    I think that a big problem with the discussions is that the people defending the art with sexist aspects mischaracterize the criticisms as attacks on them, rather than attacks on the art. Or perhaps misinterpret. Granted, some critics may jump to the conclusion that anyone liking the sexist thing is thereby sexist, but not all people saying it’s sexist do. Myriad commenters above have done this, so rather than calling them out individually, I’m just going to blanket argue against and say no, you’re doing it wrong, both in how you defend the art and how you defend others defending it. Using softer language to try to hide the real thesis of the anti-criticism people also mischaracterizes the anti-criticisms- they aren’t just pointing something (criticism) out and pondering it, they’re telling the critics to stfu, that they have no say in the matter, and that they aren’t the target audience, so their opinion is of no consequence. And also that the critics are hyper-reactionary and out to get them, sniffing around for the first opportunity to call foul.

    And comparing pseudo-anime to, like, Renaissance painters is like comparing Twilight to Paradise Lost*. But even so, trying to do that is still amenable to the criticism. After all, the overall range of Michelangelo’s work is fantastic, but it’s not without flaws (as was pointed out already); not having a reputation for sexism doesn’t preclude a designer, studio, etc. from doing something sexist. And by the standards of anime, the art design of this Dragon’s Crown is pretty friggin’ horrendous, anyway. I think the animation in Pokemon looks better than that “sylized” stuff.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    *That one’s for you, Wrather.

    Reply

    • pws #

      It’s just prudery, there’s nothing more to it. The equivalent of Mrs. Bates telling her son Norman, “She’s a whore, Norman, kill her.”

      Pretty typical of America, and a poison exported to the entire world from these shores. The gift of shame.

      When they couldn’t sell anyone that their sexual psychosis was dictated by some miserable old man that lives in the sky (God), they came up with a new basis for suppressing art that makes them uncomfortable. “Feminism” became the excuse. A really weird form of feminism that seems to go right along with Saudi Arabian “feminism,” or fining women for showing to much ankle on the beach back in Victorian times.

      Reply

      • Gab #

        Oh! A White Knight! Please, by all means, do tell me more about what feminism REALLY looks like, and what should ACTUALLY make a silly woman like myself feel empowered!

        ::waits with bated breath::

        Reply

      • Gab #

        Oh, but I do think you’re slightly misinterpreting the Psycho reference.

        See, that whole relationship was one based around pervasive interdependency and an identity formulation process that is so reliant on the Other that it can’t exist without the self- hence why Norman eventually dresses like his dead mother. It wasn’t about sex, but rather the power dynamic between Norman and his mom. Another person represents a threat to that power dynamic. And given the strength of sexual desire and erotic tension between Norman and Mrs. Bates, the amount their relationship relied on that- well, the potential for another women of sexual desire had to be stomped out. So it wasn’t really that she was a whore in itself, but rather that she had the potential to get between Norman and Mrs. Bates.

        Are you watching Bates Motel? It’s pretty cool and does an excellent job in delving into that weird relationship between Norman and his mother. I’d highly recommend that- it may help you understand what I’m getting at better. I don’t think all of the episodes are still available on A&E’s website any longer, just the most recent ones- but I imagine you could find them somewhere. You seem pretty darn smart, after all.

        I’m glad we can help each other understand such complex theories and paradigms, though!

        Reply

        • Gab #

          *exist with only the self

          Reply

    • Femgame #

      I think the problem with the argument when it comes to is this games sexis?t and is the art sexist? is that there’s never any real proof other then someones perspective.
      There’s nothing actually sexist beyond”Well that females breast are rather large and on display” or “Why are those bad guys using bad words against those women?” or “Why isn’t the female character the player character?”
      It’s never”Why is this game’s overall theme that women are stupid,idiots and beneath all men?”
      There is also this preconceived notion that all female gamers think with one brain and thus are not ok, with seeing other women in revealing clothing or can’t see that bad guys treat everyone like crap or that the female character who is a npc is just as important as the player character.

      Reply

  14. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I’m late to the party here, but this is a great article. I totally agree that when Holkins refers to the character as a “fun-house exponent of… beauty,” he seems to completely miss the point that this is a VERY particular viewpoint on “beauty.”

    This surprises me, because I read the initial comic and I thought it was a clever attempt to step outside this bubble of male privilege. Contra Stokes, I don’t think the comic was saying “this game isn’t for girls.” I thought the point was to see this art through a different lens and understand why some people would find it distasteful.

    But now I’m confused, because the text commentary that Holkins wrote to accompany the comic seems in a different spirit.

    Reply

    • Gab #

      I agree, that textual elaboration really does seem to be in a different spirit, and that’s, to me, disappointing and unfortunate.

      I take a lot of stock in when he says, “They don’t like the game’s ridiculously, freakishly, borderline scarily rendered “woman” and to a certain extent I can understand why.” And what I emphasized there is the key- whenever that phrase gets used, it’s an intro to disagreement. So taken with the comic, I’d say the message is that yeah, the differences in what’s emphasized are obvious, but simply because they’re different, it doesn’t matter. And I take from it an implication that the way his comic emphasized the package on the dwarf is being acknowledged as something that would never actually happen in a video game- and I think that’s what makes it different for him, not the hyperrsexuality itself, just that one type of character (female) will certain characteristics that happen to be sexual emphasized, while another (male) wouldn’t. If he only understands “to an extent,” then, well, the comic has to mean something more (or perhaps less) than it seems to on first glance.

      So this actually goes back to what Schreier was saying about his games not existing in a vacuum- the comic doesn’t exist in a vacuum, either, and the fact that the text is so contra to the comic is a larger indication/ easier connection of/to Holkins than a general societal context would be- it’s a context he created himself. His own commentary influences how the comic is interpreted, and creates confusion about meaning at best. And perhaps that was the intent? I dunno, I’m with you in that it seems rather inconsistent. The cynic in me is screaming that the comic is meant to be snarky and ironic, but the more positive part of me wants to think that he just doesn’t quite get it for some reason or another (and thus feels ever so slightly concerned for his cultural awareness).

      /end rant

      Reply

  15. pws #

    Typical garbage article by small minded American prudes.

    It’s not really new. The only difference is that I’ll probably get to play Dragon’s Crown intact, when back during Final Fight’s heyday they got the character of Poison removed from the game. (That used to happen a lot with videogames, you were lucky if the only thing they did was butcher the cover art due to all the Margaret Whites out their empowering women by forcing them to cover up their “dirty pillows.” Usually you’d get entire characters excised from the games, due to America’s ghastly puritanical leanings.)

    But that wasn’t censorship back when they did it with Final Fight, that was feminist empowerment of women… you know like Burqa’s and Scarlet Letters are.

    Newsflash: Puritanism isn’t feminism. Historically it’s been used to suppress women, deny them access to health care, birth control and jobs. Puritanism is just one more version of sexual harassment, and I’m disgusted that we are still having these sickening arguments in 2013.

    Reply

    • Amanda #

      Dear pws,
      you don’t seem to understand one tiny fundamental thing, so let me make this easier for you:

      covering up actual women’s bodies is one thing,

      depicting “women” characters (and I use quotation marks the thing depicted obviously doesn’t resemble any actual living, breathing woman) as having bodies that, if real and made of flesh, wouldn’t be able to physically stand up and move, is another thing entirely.

      Arguments could be made that they are connected in some ways. But the one you’re trying to make is just plain false. Also, obvioulsy entirely made up in your mind, with no research of any kind behind it.

      If you wanna participate in the discussions that take place in this site, you gotta know what you’re talking about. That means having a valid argument, and facts to back it up. Sorry to break it to you, but you can’t just go around telling people they’re wrong about stuff they know very much about because, um, you think they’re wrong.

      Also, I’m not american and I’m not a prude, so that’s yet another argument of yours that’s invalid.

      Reply

    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      PWS –

      I think at the core of your argument is the idea that games are art, and game designers are artists, and any outside factors that attempt to compromise the vision of the artist are Bad, full stop. In your view, taking some of the sex out of games is no different than Michelangelo being forced to put pants on David.

      Games, undoubtably, ARE art. But so what? GI Joe: Retaliation is art. Bazooka Joe comics are art. Everything creative is art. What is more important here is that Dragon’s Crown, and Final Fight, and nearly all video games are commercial products. They are produced by companies in order to make money. The goal is to pull in as large an audience as possible. You act like when Capcom decides not to allow players to beat up women in Final Fight, it’s some unethical encroachment of business interests upon the realm of pure art. But I assure you that the game development process is highly driven by business concerns.

      And there is nothing wrong with this! In fact, I would argue this is at the very CORE of what pop culture IS. Pop culture is the intersection of business and art. Whatever your favorite movie is, it was almostly certainly partially created by business decisions.

      All this is to say that if some people have a problem with aspects of a game, and they make those concerns known, and the game designer responds by changing the game, there is nothing wrong with that. Games are created to compete in the free market, and women are a growing share of the gaming market. You may want companies to ignore the female perspective, and they have every right to do that. But if they choose to alter the game to make women more comfortable with the content, they have every right to do THAT.

      That’s not censorship. That’s the invisible hand, baby.

      I think the second part of your argument is that people should NOT get offended by certain things. But with all due respect, you don’t get to decide what is offensive and what is not offensive. I actually think that by DEFINITION, you can’t tell people not to get offended. They either will be or they won’t be. It is hugely personal! Everybody gets offended by something, and they have the right to complain about it on the internet. This doesn’t make them censors – it makes them people with opinions.

      – Matt

      Reply

    • mim #

      That hing up there isn’t breaking any norms. Want to challenge mainstream prudishness? Try a human body that isn’t sexualixed all the time. Try a few hundred pound to go wit those boobs and sexualize that. Let her have some armpit- and leg hair and make that sexy. Why not age her up by half a decade and make that sexy? Then we can get back on what puritanism is.

      Reply

  16. mim #

    Loved the article! This is a very different perspective of looking at it from how you usually debate these things, and much more elegant than the usual long winded explanations of how male idealized characters have different impact from female ones. Well done!

    Reply

  17. Linden #

    I suspect the game creators would be much more receptive to criticism if they chose to portray a black fighter in a stereotypically racist way, such as exaggerating his facial features or making his body look similar to that of a gorilla’s, as in white supremacist literature. They would get called out, and they would deserve it. It’s only when women are involved that we must bring out all the complicated arguments about why obvious sexism isn’t really sexism at all.

    Reply

  18. Femgame #

    I think the statement that the sorceress physique supports the kotaku’s guy argument that her body will make female gamers uncomfortable can only be found true if you actually ask female gamers.
    I there has to be a actual message of sexism within the game, as in the woman is actually being treated as a lower class citizen. I don’t understand how the design of the character advocated for it when the character isn’t actually treated that way at all. Also not every female character has the same physique either sorceress design does emphasize her assets, but amazonian her muscles are obviously the key player there and for the archer it’s her legs.
    So you can’t say because of the design of one character the artist thinks all women should look like that either.
    I also don’t like that most people go to the “this game isn’t for girls” and the counter argument is” well it should be” as if there aren’t girls who actively don’t care the character designs or either actually like them but still focus more on the game play then anything else.

    Reply

    • Gab #

      Femgame, respectfully, this (and the statement you made above in response to me) both make assumptions based on nothing being said, which is, again, a usual tactic of apologists for this sort of thing. The article and the statement being made are about the visual portrayal of Sorceress- they aren’t saying the creator himself is sexist, that the other characters are sexist, or that a person playing it is sexist, either. And when counter-arguments go along the lines of, “Well, not everyone sees it as sexist, so if you do, it doesn’t matter,” those arguments do imply it’s not for the people objecting- the underlying message of that counter is that only the opinions of the target audience matter, and that the target audience wouldn’t say it’s sexist. So by saying the opinion of the people saying the character is sexist don’t matter, they’re saying the game isn’t for those people.

      Also, when you say that the size of her breasts is the only “evidence,” that is, as you say, your particular perspective. The particular perspective of lots of other people takes the size of her breasts as problematic, and for reasons mentioned ad nausium above- if you don’t see her breast size as a problem, that’s fine, but remember you yourself are talking about how “evidence” comes from perspective, and yours is interpreting said evidence differently than people in disagreement. Perspective isn’t wrong or right, it just is- the important thing, then, is to respect other perspectives and not try to invalidate them- which is the tactic of most apologists when an “ism” is presented, be it sexism in a single character design, racism of an entire portrayal of a people, or ableism in a pervasive treatment of the body.

      As for the Amazon, this was discussed already, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll repeat myself. She twists and contorts in ways that are unnatural, angling her body so that her breasts and bottom are the most prominent features of the images- even though she is, in fact, quite muscular. If you look, the bulk of those muscles actually makes some of her poses seem even more impossible, as those muscles would probably get in the way. And again, as reference to why this is a systemic problem, I give you this link: http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/ – you’ll see how ridiculous it looks when dudes are drawn in the same bodily positions women that women are. Now if you don’t think any of those positions are sexist, sure, that’s fine, but keep in mind those positions aren’t drawn when it’s a dude- just a woman. And think about what aspects of their physique are being emphasized by the angles and way their limbs and spine are positioned, and think about why it’s kind of funny to see dudes like that, instead. It’s a lot like the exaggerated scrotum in the Penny Arcade comic (if we ignore his textual commentary.)

      Also, the existence of one character doesn’t negate the existence of another, in re: Amazonian. There can be a TOTALLY AWESOME female character in a movie that is like the best portrayal of a female character ever in a work of fiction. But if there’s also another character that is presented as being worth no more than her sexual capacity, that specific character is still done poorly. And it wouldn’t mean the whole game/movie/whatever is sexist.

      But then the next step is removing oneself from that particular example and thinking about it in the aggregate. There are societal factors playing into why some (and again, not everyone) thinks a picture like the one of the Sorceress is holding the staff with the skull is entirely non-problematic, just as there are societal factors contributing to why some people think it entirely is.

      Lastly, I do agree that there’s a tendency to believe all girl gamers think the same, and that very much bothers me. However, because the “group” of “female gamers” is extremely heterogeneous, there are some that do, indeed, think the Sorceress (and the Amazonian and Archer, too) are portrayed in sexist ways, and yes, some that don’t. So if you “actually ask a female gamer” and it’s me, I’d say hell yes, it’s sexist. But does that invalidate a female gamer that disagrees? No, of course not. And I think you’re inadvertently making the mistake you’re deploring, by which I mean since you don’t think it’s sexist, you assume every female gamer agrees (and whether you’re a female gamer or not doesn’t matter- you’re still assuming a homogeneous group of female gamers that are in-line with you). Like you said before, it depends on perspective, sure- but as I said before, it’s about respecting differing perspectives. The problem being discussed here is how the opinion that something, anything, in a game is sexist is always, always, always invalidated- not just disagreed with, but invalidated. Misnomers and straw men and extrapolations having nothing to do with the original argument are postulated and negated, the original position gets contorted into something it’s not; outcries of First Amendment rights and the fear mongering of proposing the potential censoring of artists gets tossed in- all with the goal of concluding that the original argument about the thing being sexist is incorrect and thus has no basis. It’s often tautological.

      Reply

      • Gab #

        And it’s also often recursive, too.

        Reply

        • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

          You’re totally right, Gab. This isn’t an argument about whether the game is sexist or not. This is an argument over whether people are ALLOWED to say the game is sexist and have other people respect that opinion.

          Because in the end, we will never all on what is sexist. Years ago on this site, I infamously made the argument that Showgirls isn’t sexist, but I am TOTALLY FINE with people disagreeing with me!

          Incidentally, I think it needs to be clearly said that depicting a sexy, beautiful woman in a sexy way is NOT inherently sexist. Amanda Marcotte wrote something recently about Beyonce. Just because she dresses in a sexy way doesn’t mean she can’t also be a strong female role model. Women are allowed to be sexy! The issue here is the extreme lens through which the game depicts female characters (and indeed, all characters).

          Reply

      • femgame #

        i guess i can understand where your coming from but when you say apologist do you mean a sexism apologist? if so doesn’t there need to be an actual consenses on it being sexist for that to work not just what someone feels is sexist.
        Also quite frankly i’m basing my percpective on the actual definition of sexism. Female characters drawn in sexy poses while might be morally precieved as wrong need an actual stigma towards them from the artist and the characters in the world to actually fit the definition.
        The amazonian being so muscle bound i can’t see anything but power in here i don’t know anyone but males who enjoy being the bottom and/or enjoy female body builders would be attracted to her. I don’t see how that could be remotely sexist at all. Since her doing poses yet being so powerful and not being put in a lower standing then another gender do not fit the actual definition of sexism. Yes the males characters are never shown bending over backwards but again if all your going by is sexy poses it doesn’t fit the definition of sexism.
        Unless you are getting into her being in a bikini as opossed to her being covered like one of the male character demeans her character which i must aren’t you the one focusing to much on her physique and not her overall character.
        As for the sorceress much of the same a sexy seductive women who does magic and looks like she could get person to do what she wants with a bat of an eye.Not really seeing the definition of sexism there.

        I can understand that you want to have your own opinion and such but the way most sexism claims are said suggest that they believe it’s more then an opinion and that the industry needs to change to fit their desired vision. From seeing how elizabeth from bioshock was treated i really wish opinions would stay opinions. Artist shouldn’t have to change or be afraid to do what ever they want just to please a vocal minority who swear their opinion above all else.

        If it didn’t seem like this issue was trampling on ground it shouldn’t i wouldn’t have a problem but the growing number of articles and comments on the game is a growing concern. Also I’m not talking about just feminist,but religious groups, countrys, national anyone who feels offended by something and thus it must change for them. Makes me a very sad girl.

        Reply

        • Gab #

          Okay, while I usually ignore semantic debates, I think you’re still misunderstanding what I said before for two reasons. 1) Getting caught in my word choice; 2) Ignoring some of the things I said. I’m going to keep going back to the perspective thing, because that’s still the foundation of what you’re saying, and I’m hoping that’ll help clarify or get you to understand what I mean better.

          So yes, it’s obvious you know we disagree, but I’m still seeing you as trying to delegitimize my opinion,and those of anyone sharing it. As that’s the basis of the article, I’m going to say, you’re proving the point of Perich’s pondering. Because now you’re saying that since it’s based on perspective, it doesn’t matter. And that anyone with a different perspective is wrong and needs to be quiet.

          “Apologists”: Okay, maybe that isn’t the right word. But even so, basing your argument on the definition of sexism still leads to competing perspectives. And as I’ve been saying, the issue here is that people thinking this particular character, or any other character, or any particular aspect of a game, is sexist, are told they are not allowed to say so. Plus, there are multiple definitions of sexism, one of which involves stereotyping or devaluing on the basis of sex or gender roles, or objectifying on the basis of sex characteristics. So whichever definition of sexism you’re using, that’s fine, but because of differing perspectives, other people, myself included, are using others. So you focus on your definition and, as such, aren’t seeing it as sexist, but there are other definitions out there being taken into account that are directing other people to differring opinions.

          Amazonian: I already said what’s wrong with her poses. Her breasts and vagina and bottom are emphasized. So from my perspective, sure, she has huge muscles, but she’s still being twisted and contorted into positions that minimize those muscles and that women in cartoon-type situations (comics, games, animated movies) are put into all the time, regardless of how much muscle they have. Look at this: http://www.h90.org/_images/d25cb432db26f113c09873fc186210c8/2482%20-%20abs%20amazon_(dragon's_crown)%20armlet%20armor%20axe%20bikini%20bikini_armor%20blonde%20boots%20breasts%20circlet%20dragon's_crown%20feathers%20gloves%20green_eyes%20lack%20large_breasts%20long_hair%20muscle%20pantsu%20sitting%20swimsuit%20tattoo%20thick_thighs.jpg

          Or this:

          http://www.theroughsketch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/q_AmazonSan.jpg

          Or this: http://oyster.ignimgs.com/mediawiki/apis.ign.com/dragons-crown/4/4d/Dragons-crown-amazon-468.jpg

          Her muscles bulk and are emphasized, but there’s almost nipple showing; her vagina or butt is the focal point. And yeah, the bikini. I’ve heard the arguments about “Amazons” in other games and comics that say, “Well, it’s part of the culture!” Well, someone designed that culture. Why does the culture need bikinis? She’s still being advertised for her tits and ass. And it’s stereotyping (and thus sexist) because, again, men aren’t drawn in those poses.

          And when all that’s being advertised is the character’s physique, I have every right to criticize of focus on that. Now you’re trying to imply I’m being sexist. If you see me as such, fine. That’s your perspective.

          I’m going to draw on Matt Belinie’s above comment, here. There’s a difference between sexy and sexist. What some people may see as the former, others may see as the latter. Perspective. There can be some awesomely gorgeous and sexy portrayals of women that aren’t sexist. When sex is charicaturized and over-emphasized so much, and when that’s all that’s really given much attention, I take that as sexism. And you don’t. Okay. But I’m allowed to have my opinion, just as much as you’re allowed to have yours.

          And your last paragraph gets at the last article Perich wrote about sexism and gaming. Because you’re basically saying people making claims of sexism are demanding censorship, and that the resulting “growing concern” is something society needs to be aware of. Well, here’s the thing. People are allowed to say they’re offended. Demanding they stop expressing themselves is demanding they lose that right. So it’s cool to disagree, but it’s unjust to say people that disagree with you shouldn’t be allowed to say anything.

          And again, “trampling on ground it shouldn’t,” is based on your perspective. As I said above, you’re saying your perspective is there’s no sexism. But you’re then projecting that perspective as a realm of fact. Thus, to you, any differing perspective is incorrect and “shouldn’t” be given the time of day. “Shouldn’t,” though, is indicative of a set of normative values and assumptions. Yours are based on your perspective, but you’re asserting them as universal truth. So you’re doing what you’re saying the people you’re complaining about are. You’re claiming your perspective is the only one that matters, and implying other perspectives just don’t get it, or need to be monitored, or… something. Whatever it is, there’s an underlying assumption of illegitimacy of the opposition.

          Reply

  19. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Here is an article about Dragon’s Crown that appeared on IGN yesterday:
    http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/05/02/dragons-crowns-fighter-sorceress-shine-in-two-new-trailers

    Notice how the MAJORITY of the comments are about the Sorceress’s boobs. Many of them I would categorize as inappropriate. That doesn’t prove anything but I think it’s important context.

    Honestly, if I was an game designer and I saw comment threads like that, I would change the art just because it’s overshadowing (PUN INTENDED) the rest of the game. Every comment thread about Dragon’s Crown, forever, will probably involved some kind of crack about these boobs.

    Reply

    • Gab #

      I just made the mistake of watching, thinking okay, maybe it’s just the artwork and it’s toned down for in-game. Nope. She doesn’t ever stand in a remotely normal position or one that doesn’t show, like, all of her leg and her underbutt, her breasts move independently and in ways one wouldn’t expect, given the direction the rest of her body is moving (and as a busty gal, I can say that some of the things her boobs are doing are just flat-out impossible), and she has a pseudo-schoolgirl anime voice. Also, some of the adjectives used to describe her powers are questionable, given the context of the ad, as if they’re saying her REAL power is seducing people.

      I was also hoping the fighter would have an oversized cup protecting the noble package. Alas, it’s as if there’s nothing there at all. Highly disappointed in Atlas for that.

      Reply

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