The stereotypical busty female video game character is under fire right now. It seems that ever since “One Reason Why” at GDC it is a horrible, irresponsible mistake, to make a sexy female character in a video game. There is currently a huge discussion at Kotaku right now that can be found here. It started a few days ago when a post was made concerning the sorceress from Dragon’s Crown. The president of Vanillaware and lead artist caught hold of the post and fired back at Kotaku causing Jason Schreier to retort. This has sprung up quite the debate in the comments section. I was going to add something myself when I remembered that brevity is not a virtue I possess and decided a blog post would be a better medium for my ideas on the topic.
Now, to get this out of the way, I believe in freedom of ideas. I believe the game artists should be able to make their characters, male, female, or otherwise, as sexy or modest as they wish. I also believe critics, and people in general, should be able to express their ideas about the art.
With that said, there is room for both types of characters, overly exaggerated and hyper realistic. There is also plenty of room for everything in between. My issue lies with the way Jason addresses these art designs. He openly states that overly exaggerated female characters are not OK while overly exaggerated male characters are. He also states he would feel ashamed if someone saw him playing Dragon’s Crown in public, presumably playing as the sorceress. To address the first issue, I find it odd how one can speak about gender equality and use a gender double standard in the same breath. He talks about how the sexual male is a power fantasy while the sexual female is a desire, both to men. To illustrate, he created a blanket statement saying that all men want to be ripped, muscle bound men and want to date/marry/etc a thin girl with big breasts Not only is this blanket statement an over generalization, it is a concept called Societal Expectations. These are what society says men should be. If we replaced every gender word with the opposite gender, it too would be true as a Societal Expectation. All women want to be thin with big breasts and want to date/marry/etc a ripped muscle bound man. Again, not true for everyone but very representative of social expectations. Don’t believe me? Just look at typical male and female models. Something that he fails to address is how being a powerful magic caster that is also beautiful could be a power fantasy of women.
The other issue Jason had was shame if someone saw him playing as a busty character in a video game. This has to do with his personal perception of the medium. He seems to believe that all sexy imagery is perverse in nature and is shunned in society. And guess what? That is an idea held pretty high in American society. Artists understand that art can be nude or sexy without being sexual. Would anyone ever tell David Lynch that his films are dirty or perverse? What about the Birth of Venus by Botticelli? I have been to a couple of nude art galleries and everyone there treats the art as such. It is all beautiful, wonderful, art. But if you bring a young boy he will most likely view the art as sexual, seeing them as pornographic other than artistic. This is the issue with the author. He sees a woman in an outfit that is not modest and immediately thinks of sex. This is not an issue with art designers but with society. The sorceress in Dragon’s Crown is not sexualized, she is overly exaggerated as is everything in the game. She fits the art style. She is no different than the shirtless drawf whose biceps have biceps.
The author also fails to mention the Amazon who is a muscle bound female, the complete opposite of the Sorceress. My final issue is his use of the GDC conference “One Reason Why”. I have no idea how mistreatment of women workers in video game companies has anything to do with art direction in games. Again, if gamers were more mature and could seperate sexy and sexual then the art direction would not be an issue. But the idea that women in a video game company only occupying lower level jobs, like receptionist, might still exist(I could only hope that people who were mature might break gender roles as well). Gender roles in the workforce and over exaggerated women in gaming/movies are two completely different topics that overlap a little but are based on two drastically different ideas(one on maturity and one based in history).