Unless you’ve been living under a rock you have no doubt noticed the sudden escalation in discussion about sexism in videogames, the industry, and the community. In fact, according to Gamasutra, 2012 was “The year the discussion about equality in games began”.
No doubt you are also aware of Dragon’s Crown, the jawdroppingly gorgeous high definition, hand painted 2D brawler from Vanillaware most infamous for its chesty sorceress. Indeed it was only a matter of time before the two collided.
See, back when Dragon’s Crown was first announced, it was considered okay. We saw the over-the-top character designs and said “Wow those sure are over-the-top!” but continued to drool over the amazing game. It was the kind of thing that we always wanted but never thought could exist. Because, back in the 90s the beat ’em up genre vanished right as it was hitting it’s stride, stunting the growth of the genre. Shortly thereafter, 2D visuals in general were considered “outdated” and their growth too was stunted. So seeing such gorgeous 2D visuals coupled with evolved brawler gameplay is like a dream come true to many gamers. Especially the game’s own creator: George Kamitani. Dragon’s Crown was originally planned for the SEGA Dreamcast but the project was put on hold for more than a decade.
But now, “things have changed”. The pressure is on regarding sexualized female character design. It is apparently no longer “okay” to have such characters in your game, like it was back when it first entered development.
This leads to the embarrassing incident involving Kotaku. With the release of the Sorceress gameplay trailer, Kotaku writer Jason Schreier posted it with a short article titled “Game Developers Really Need To Stop Letting Teenage Boys Design Their Characters” The exact text of the article reads “As you can see, the sorceress was designed by a 14-year-old boy. Perhaps game development studios should stop hiring teenagers? At least they’re cheap, I guess.”
Upon hearing this, George Kamitani responded on Facebook with a post reading “It seems that Mr. Jason Schreier of Kotaku is pleased also with neither sorceress nor amazon. The art of the direction which he likes was prepared.” alongside a picture of three muscular bearded men giving each other noogies.
Suddenly the thing exploded. People were shocked and aghast that George Kamitani would kinda sorta make a gay joke and thus engage in “Casual Homophobia”.
Meanwhile, Jason Schrier posted another article titled “The Real Problem With That Controversial, Sexy Video Game Sorceress” the article takes back the 14-year-old boy crack but then proceeds to try and take a “serious” stance with phrases like “For now, I’d like to elaborate on my criticism, because this subject deserves more thought and consideration than a few snarky lines below a trailer.” and “I’m not saying this particular piece of art should not exist, but I have no qualms about saying I think it can hurt this game and gaming as a whole.” with Jason trying to take the high ground and leave Kamitani with egg on his face, dragging his name through the mud.
First of all, the opening comments were both equally childish. Yes, Kamitani’s had a slight air of casual homophobia to it but I feel it is no worse than what he got from Kotaku. Jason Schrier made a childish inflammatory comment, like Kotaku writers tend to, and he got a childish inflammatory response. This is pretty common as the tone for this “discussion” was set.
This isn’t the first time Kotaku has pulled bullcrap like this. How about that time they wrote the article “The Guy Who Made Bayonetta Is Clueless about Valve and PC Gaming” which they then retitled and altered when Kamiya told them to shove it. What about that time they whipped gamers into a frenzy over a Dad being unsure about purchasing a Wii for his sons and then acted aghast and morally outraged when they lashed out at him. Again, taking the moral highground.
This is what drives me perhaps the most insane about Kotaku. They’re the tabloid rag of game journalism. They post the most useless crap and the most inflammatory article titles to drive up hits. Then they decide to take the moral highground and wag their fingers at everyone and tell us how ashamed we should all be.
Perhaps most egregious is how Jason brings up completely unrelated and far more serious issues like “One Reason Why”, in turn watering them down and using them as a smoke screen to make himself seem like some righteous crusader.
No, fuck you Kotaku.
Luke Plunkett tried to iron over this with the article “Beyond The Bosoms, This Art Is Some Of The Best In The Business” writing “In some ways it’s a little sad that the first time many people are hearing the name ‘George Kamitani’ this week is because of the issues some are having with Dragon’s Crown’s characters, because the man is also responsible for some of the finest artwork the medium of video games has ever seen.” As one commentor wrote “You mean the issue your coworker had with said characters? The same coworker who then proceeded to highlight that solitary aspect of George’s work while at the same time calling him a child? Is that what you’re referring to?”
Indeed, it is going to take more than a post of a bunch of random George Kamitani art to iron this one over.
Penny Arcade’s The PA Report also weighed in with another article. Titled “You don’t like breasts? You must like men: The disappointing conversation and art of Dragon’s Crown” the second half of the article reitterates this statement with the line “You don’t like my art? What are you, gay?” in large bold text as though to claim these were George Kamitani’s exact words and continues to flog the point about the harm of “Casual Homophobia” casting the blame on him for a few misused (and awkwardly written) words. “If he had simply engaged with the discussion and talked about his work, it would have been great. The whole thing would have ended as soon as it began. Instead, he decided to double-down on homophobia, and only apologized when the story blew up.” Because, you see, calm rational discussion is the first thing people do when called a 14-year-old boy who works on the cheap while working on your decades long dream game. Honestly, I’m surprised Kamitani was as civil as he was!
But it is here that we get to the more important crux of the issue. We have all these people taking the moral highground and saying “This is a discussion we need to be having” without really discussing anything. They are essentially sitting around and yelling “Someone should do something!” at each other.
But at least Penny Arcade gets to the point and answers the big question: What is wrong with the hyper sexualized Sorceress character? “What’s worth criticizing is how few people are doing anything else.” Ah yes, the real issue isn’t the Sorceress herself but that she is just one of many hyper sexualized videogame women that dominate the gaming landscape! It’s a darn shame no one is doing anything else!
…except this line of thinking does not apply to George Kamitani at all.
Why? Well because literally every single game his company has ever made stars a not-particularly-sexualized female character. I would like to emphasize that again: stars. They are the lead. In Princess Crown, Gradriel was the main character and the two guys were merely unlockable extras with short side stories. There was also another girl with a sidestory as well. In Odin’s Sphere, you start as Gwendolyn and there are only two male playable to the three female playables. In Grim Grimoire you could only play as Lillet Blan. Muramasa featured a choice of male or female lead.
This right here is the problem if you ask me. We sit here demanding less sexualized female leads and that games be more welcoming to female players, and yet every time they are we completely ignore it.
It is particularly egregious in this case as here we are wagging our fingers at a man whose entire gameography up to this point has been exactly what is being demanded! In an industry where “2D doesn’t sell” and “female leads don’t sell”, George Kamitani flew in the face of tradition and delivered on both. Wether you like his games or not, he deserves a damn medal! But no, we instead shout “shame on you” and drag his name through the mud. Now the name George Kamitani is synonymous with vile sexism and homophobia.
I’m sure everyone will act shocked when they release the Elf trailer (i.e. the female character with normal body proportions and sensible clothes) and act like this is some kind of victory even though the character has been in the game for more than 3 years.
That isn’t to say that these games don’t have sexualized elements. From Gradriel’s transformation to the kitsune ladies of Muramasa, there have always been a decent number of busty ladies in these games. However they have never been playable leads until now.
See, that’s the other thing. One of the reasons I am so excited about Dragon’s Crown is that the art is so different! People act like these are the norm, that they’re so cliche. Characters like these are a dime a dozen, right? Maybe back in the 80s and 90s but these days you absolutely do not see characters like these and never to such an exaggerated degree!
More than that, it is a huge departure from what George Kamitani normally does. All his other games tend to feature shorter characters with small bodies and large heads. A cuter design style meant to evoke the feel of a fairytale. Fitting as the framing device for two of his games was a little girl and her storybook. Here, however, we see tall characters with large bodies and tiny heads! I’ve never seen Kamitani’s art style applied to proportions like these! Presumably this is to evoke the feeling of old school fantasy art in all its ridiculousness. It’s somewhat subtle because it’s the same artist but when you really look there is a distinct difference in design between Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown.
Speaking of unusual designs, I think I am most excited about the Amazon. You don’t see muscular women that often and never to that degree. When you do see them that beefy though, they usually aren’t meant to also be pretty. The juxtaposition of her curly blonde hair with her massive body is unique and fascinating to me. Especially that hair! You just don’t see a lot of curly haired women in games these days!
In being cliche, the game’s design style manages to be unlike anything I have ever seen. While there are certainly offputting elements here and there, I am overall excited beyond words.
In being so unique, it is hard to criticize it as being “indicative of a bigger problem” because that argument only really works if the designs were more cliche. Yes, Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur exists, but who else? Lulu from Final Fantasy X? Keep going and you see that characters this overtly sexualized aren’t that common. Usually one per franchise if said franchise has enough characters.
More importantly though is that singleing out George Kamitani is ridiculous as he has personally contributed more to great female leads in videogames than nearly anyone else in the industry. If you don’t believe me, go watch some cutscenes on YouTube of Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire (especially the later).
If you wanna take the moral highground and fight for better representation of women in videogames, I would like to point something out to you: Remember what I said about how Jason Schrier set the tone for their discussion when he called Kamitani a 14-year-old boy? This applies to many situations. If you act aggressively, you’ll get aggression in return. If you act negatively you’ll get negativity in return.
It occurs to me that this is the big problem with this discussion. We spend all of our time emphasizing the bad and wagging our fingers at it. We say we don’t want censorship but then go out of our way specifically to point out sexualization and shame anyone that might like it. In a way, demanding self-censorship. This approach tends to rub people the wrong way.
What we aren’t doing is recognizing the positive. We don’t look at the good. We aren’t saying “less of this, more of this” or even “at least X is better than Y”. Nope, just a lot of finger wagging and shame.
Another example of that would be the female marines in Aliens: Colonial Marines. People continually bring up the fact that female marines were supposedly a last minute feature request, citing that “female characters should not be a ‘feature’, they should be standard”. There are many lengthy articles ranting about this fact and wagging their finger at Gearbox because real Aliens fans would know the importance of female marines. What is ignored, however, is that the game shipped with female marines, there are female marines in co-op, there are female marines in story mode. The online play in and of itself was a late feature addition and perhaps the female marines barely made the cut, but they were there.
There is never any mention of the sheer amount of FPS games that do not feature female characters. Never any discussion of the other Aliens games that lacked female marines. Colonial Marines is awarded no consolation prize. No, it just gets fingers wagged at it. Not because of the lack of female marines, but because someone (who may not even be a Gearbox employee) called them a “feature”.
What we need here is less finger wagging and more promotion. Less “this is bad and you’re bad for liking it” and more “this is good and more people should buy it”. Then perhaps this discussion wouldn’t be so vicious. Then perhaps we could make progress and agree on something and have a meaningful conversation.
I mean, the problem isn’t that games with sexualized women sell better but that games with any women, sexualized or not, “don’t sell” (a complete myth but we’ll discuss that later) right? So why cast so much shame on the people who buy these games just because it happens to be what they like? We should support positive games, not declare certain things “negative” and shame them into oblivion!
But that isn’t what happens is it? Why not? Because negativity generates money. Look at what articles get the most hits, look at what YouTube celebrities are popular, look at what you enjoy reading. There is indeed something cathartic about watching a reviewer really tear into a game. As such we don’t see a lot of positivity. A list of great female leads generates far less hits than “Top 10 Most Offensive Women in Videogames”. As such, we never make any progress and the whole “conversation” that we “need to have” is stalled. Good job, team! If you need me I’ll be over here playing Rumble Roses XX and wallowing in self loathing.