August 18, 2013 by Devin
Gaming community, I want to talk about recent events, mainly revolving around the conversation about sexism in video games.
In case you do not remember or missed this controversy, Dragon’s Crown, recently released on the PS3 and PS Vita, caused quite a stir lately with its character designs. Most notably, its design for the Sorceress has gotten quite a bit of attention, for obvious reasons.
The Sorceress has breasts that seem like they are trying to jump out of her minuscule top, her hind-quarters take up a quarter of her body, and I do not even want to know what is going on with that skeleton.
That design spurred a lot of controversy when Kotaku published an article criticizing the obvious pandering to male audiences, the artist responded back with a gay joke, and then they all made up and Kotaku got an article about sexism out of it.
Now, I have seen a lot of the debate take place over the internet, and it has always been worrying and stressful to me. It seems a lot of gamers do not care that this women is sporting a ridiculously-huge rack, but if they did care, they make a point to say that this type of exaggeration is just part of the game’s art style.
“Look, it’s obviously not supposed to be taken seriously, and in reality, the men are just as exaggerated as the females”.*
(In short, it is not a problem, but if it was a problem, it would be just as big a problem for the male side, so it is not sexist)
I understand where these gamers are coming from. It is hard to take something like this seriously when it is so exaggerated, and furthermore, it is hard to understand why it is a problem when it is not directly affecting us. What is happening is that male gamers are going, “I’m not offended by this similar problem, so why would women care?”
Ultimately, like a lot of other situations, I think this disconnect comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what women want.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the design of the Dwarf, one of the male characters.
Now, the Dwarf is also exaggerated to the point of absurdity. He has muscles that look like they were built out of granite and a beard that looks like it could house another beard within it. The Dwarf also looks awesome, like he could beat the crap out of anybody that got into his way. It is almost as if the artist looked at Thor and thought, “What a sissy!”
But what the Dwarf is not is sexualized. This Dwarf looks like he was built for battle and not much else (he also seems to be missing sexual anatomy). Would women really find this appealing?
What is common between the Sorceress and the Dwarf is that they both look like they fit well into the adolescent male power fantasy, but out of place in any female power fantasy. Is the Sorceress really what little girls aspire to be when they grow up in the same way that little boys aspire to be strong heroes like the Dwarf?**
If the exaggeration of the male characters was truly just like the exaggeration of the Sorceress, I feel like the male characters would be incredibly different. There have been a lot of male figures that serve to get the adoration of the female population, but they have rarely, if ever, been anywhere close to the Dwarf.
Now I am not saying that Dragon’s Crown is a bad game. In fact, based on the reviews, it looks like a game that I would really like. But I am tired of hearing gamers stick their heads in the sand and act like there is nothing wrong with this art style. Yes, it is gorgeous. Yes, it is exaggerated. And yes, it is heavily reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons tropes that are much loved in the gaming community, but none of those things make it immune to criticism.
If we could acknowledge that we understand why people would not like this art style, that it is sexist, then we could move on and enjoy the game (or not) at our own leisure. And hopefully, this acknowledgement would lead to more games that everyone can enjoy in the future.
But as long as the gaming community continues to fight this losing battle, as long as the gaming community continues to take a reactionary approach to sexism instead of a combative approach, the community will be holding games, as a medium, back.
And we should understand that our power fantasies are not everyone’s power fantasies, and therefore we should not be baffled when they are offended by them.
Actually, this gives me an idea. Dragon’s Crown should release DLC to really appease the female populace, really show them that they want their support as well. I am thinking that they release a character shown to be sensitive, strong, and a heart throb. This character design might uninterest male gamers, but that would be the point, wouldn’t it? I am imagining a character that draws from the gothic origins of fantasy, one that is about seduction and the terrors of the night.
*Please trust me that I’m not using a straw-man argument. I have seen this argument multiple places and it is even referenced in the article I linked to.
**I’m using strongly gendered language here, but I don’t want to imply that these stereotypes are true for all scenarios. I only mean to say that the Dwarf and Sorceress fit better into an adolescent male power fantasy than anything else.