Dragon's Crown, Lightning Returns, and Becoming the Thing We Hate
I bet this discussion could actually go somewhere if we'd all just stop acting like children.
There's been a lot of controversy just about everywhere these days regarding how women are portrayed in video games. Frankly, I'm glad to see it. Controversy has a way of exposing us to new perspectives and fresh opinions in a way few other things can. It's given many women a platform to discuss how things like this make them feel sexualized, marginalized, and mistreated. It's also given others the chance to promote the radical idea that perhaps the size of a woman's bust shouldn't dictate how we perceive them; that big boobs don't necessarily mean a shallow character with a tiny brain. It's also indirectly fed Jenn Frank's idea (which has since garnered international attention) for a BoobJam: A call for the creative souls among us whose coding Kung Fu is strong, to create games about boobs, with the caveat that the content show breasts from a more practical or biological angle as opposed to the typical straight male gaze, or sexually gratifying perspective.
Obviously, this controversy has been used to promote many positive ideas and philosophies. Unfortunately, it has also been used as an excuse; a lame attempt by some to justify some of the most hateful, hurtful, and inappropriate things I've seen.
"Well, welcome to the internet," you might say. "Pull up a lawn chair and enjoy the show!" In the past, perhaps I may have said the same things, but things are different now. I'm married, to an actual woman, with actual breasts. I have children who are learning how to interpret the world around them, and I now, however indirectly, understand a lot of what people are discussing. On one hand, I can completely understand why one would look at a character obviously crafted with titillation in mind and take offense. I also understand why others see Lightning's new cup size or the Sorceress' dimensions and defend them as art. I will never oppose such views. This editorial actually has very little to do with this actual controversy and everything to do with how we are handling it.
Frankly, there seems to be a real lack of effort for those on either side to understand the other. This extends far further than this debate of course (the political landscape these days, for example, is extremely polar) but this was the first time I became honestly and truly repulsed by it. Video games are, and always have been, a way for me to escape drama, and writing about them was always very therapeutic; but the times, as Bob Dylan once said, they are a changin'.
I talked about this briefly on the latest episode of Backloggers Anonymous, but I'd like to take some time and elaborate a little more if I may.
It began, unsurprisingly, at Kotaku, where one of their bloggers posted not one, but two pieces addressing the Sorceress' character design. "The sorceress was designed by a 14-year-old boy," he stated, at which the designer shot back by posting a picture on his Facebook page implying the Kotaku author was a homosexual. The Kotaku author promptly posted this on his site.
In other words, we witnessed two grown adults acting very much like two 3rd graders on the playground:
"Ewww, you draw girls weird."
"Yeah? Well you're gay."
"I'm telling on youuuuuuuuuuuuuu!"
The comments in these articles quickly turned into one side versus the other. "This is art! It's gorgeous! You have to let artists express themselves!" "His art is an affront to all women. He should be taken outside the city gates and stoned to death!" "The author insulted him!" "The artist is homophobic!"
Of course, since the gaming media is mostly run by adults these days, we quickly stepped in set things straight, both sides talked it out and realized we each had much to learn from the other. Some people bought Dragon's Crown, some didn't, but we all came to an understanding about how each other felt.
Yeah, that's a complete and utter lie. A lot of us are still spewing vitriol at each other depending on what side we're on. If you bought Dragon's Crown, you didn't buy a game for fun or to appreciate the fine craftsmanship that went into making it - you're a misogynist and a bigot who never developed past being a horny teenager. If you didn't buy it and voiced your opinion (even if you did so tactfully) you're a hater and a philistine. You're the reason we can't get nice, creative pieces that push the boundaries and why we keep getting Call of Duty games instead.
Anita Sarkeesian's video series has been equally polarizing. It's not generating thoughtful discussion as we all hoped it would, instead it's turned into an insipid boys vs. girls playground game of insult hurling. We're digging trenches instead of bridges. And the gaming media? Well they aren't helping much with gems like this:
There's a lot of internalized misogyny going on in this video. http://t.co/hnfr6c4yCD
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) March 13, 2013
Yes, that's a guy telling a girl that her thoughts and feelings about a woman's issue are wrong, and that she suffers from "internalized misogyny". He's somehow managed to be a misogynist and a Sarkeesian defender at the same time. The most disturbing part? His profile:
Let that sink in for a second...
OK, let me get to where the rubber meets the road here: I desperately, desperately want to be able to discuss these issues, but I feel like the situation is too toxic now. Yes, it's true, there are women I can speak to about this (Jenn Frank, who I mentioned earlier, is amazingly approachable and if you aren't following her on Twitter @Jennatar, you're doing yourself a disservice) but there's only so much time one person has. Additionally, her perspective seems pretty similar to my own. It's the same with my wife. We should be able be able to ask each other, un-ironically, why it's OK for an actress to get her breasts enhanced for the sole purpose of being more appealing, but a company doing that to a fictional character is horrible. Is boob jiggle ever ok? Why, or why not? Why is a sexualized female an atrocity in Dragon's Crown, but not in the renaissance art that so obviously inspired it?
Furthermore, I'd like to see us get away from judging each other. It seems like, on both sides, while we're very good at preaching tolerance, we're horrible at practicing it. The tweet I referenced above is an extreme example, but I've seen hundreds of lesser ones. We shouldn't be using phrases like "a fantasy-obsessed teenaged boy's dream" to describe a game, because it's judging its fans, and the creators, as juvenile (and also because it's teenage, not teenaged, but I digress). Likewise, we shouldn't group all dissenters into a bucket and label them as haters who want to censor art, because that's hardly fair either. People have a right to be offended, and much can be learned simply by honestly asking "why?"
I want to live in a world where people are allowed to speak, and where we can just simply talk to each other. I felt that perhaps my generation, the one that seemed to protest the loudest against judging and being judged would be the one to break this trend. Was I wrong? Will we forever shout and point fingers at each other? Or can we one day all have civil discourse like this.