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Voltech avatar 2:44 PM on 04.11.2012  (server time)
What Makes a Character Attractive?

This is probably going to be the most asinine thing Iíve ever written (with the emphasis on ass), but bear with me here. What I do, I do for the sake ofÖwell, not science, but just to gauge the opinions of fellow gamers. Or writers. Or formerly-aspiring marine biologists.

This snafu with Jessica Nigri and Lollipop Chainsaw has gotten me thinking. The gameís lead heroine, Iíd wager, was designed with a specific goal in mind to convey a specific feel for the game. Say what you will about how many zombie games there are -- too many, in my opinion -- but thereís a contrast that I like in seeing rotting, moaning hordes of the undead going up against a cute, bubbly cheerleader. As if to hammer that point home, this same character attacks with a roaring chainsaw, yet fires off rainbows and hearts just as quickly as she does zombie blood.

Juliet fulfills certain requirements that need to be checked off -- and at a base level, she does so with her looks. Sheís lithe and leggy, befitting her cheerleader status, and being a blonde comes with all its own tropes (doubly so thanks to the twin pigtails). She was designed to be identifiable and quantifiable ten seconds after first meeting her, as she would if you were in high school and you cane face-to-face with a cheerleader. Granted, weíll have to see how she acts in the game proper, but in the case of ďjudging a book by its coverĒ Juliet makes an unabashed statement.

Is that a good thing? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that -- for the most part -- I can see why the developers would give Julietís design the OK. Itís all in the spirit of fun, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't think there was something attractive about her. She exudes charm and personality. Her motions are full of energy and vibrancy. She's a shot of sugar straight into the veins of modern gaming. In a console generation where armor colors and designs = personality (and bland ones, at that), itís refreshing to see someone who isnít covered in four hundred pounds of mud, metal and muscle. Someone who embraces, and perhaps even embodies a sense of joy and humor. And she SMILES, no less! Itís like a dream come true!

And then thereís the part of me that says ďNo, this is a bad idea. This is wrong.Ē Like why does the heroine have to be in such a state ofÖshall we say, undress? I know there are probably cheerleaders with uniforms like that (maybe), but that begs the question of why she has to be a cheerleader in the first place. Iím anticipating no shortage of ďsuggestive themesĒ in the game, and the fact that some of the special costumes are from Highschool of the Dead -- an anime that is a verifiable singularity of lady parts -- leads me to believe that thereís going to be some fanservice throughout. Time will tell if itís just lightly sprinkled, or added in nauseating excess. (Though some of the costumes, screenshots, and the like lean uncomfortably toward the latter.)

I know that what happened at PAX and the belief that ďmore boobs = more salesĒ in advertising are hot topics right now, but Iíll leave discussions on those fronts to smarter, less-bashful people. Iíve played my fair share of games, seen my fair share of movies, watched my fair share of anime, and more; I know that women in fiction tend to be used to induce Super-Duper-Sexy-Time. What I find confusing is WHY itís done. At times I understand why; itís sensical in Lollipop Chainsawís case, much in the same way it was with Bayonetta. And then there are other times where Iím left confused, shaking my head and asking ďWhy would you do that?Ē Creative liberties and intent can only go so far; I donít think I need to remind anyone about Ivyís Soulcalibur 4 costume.

Why? Thatís the question I keep coming back to, but I wonder if thatís really what I should be doing.

Sometimes, I sympathize with the creators of characters, be they tame or raunchy. Haters gonna hate, and creators gonna create. Thatís cool. I get that. But what decides those creative liberties? Is it an artistís passion? Is it the need to scratch an audienceís itch? A perceived notion of what a viewer wants? Pandering to an artistís own tastes? Acting in defiance of rules or perceptions? Celebrating oneís beauty?

I donít really know the answer, but Iíd like to know. Like Iíve said several times before, I fancy myself a writer, and would one day like to be a writer renowned for his high-octane stories. I know there are things that I can do, and things I shouldnít do. The phrase ďimprobably buxomĒ pops up a few times too many for comfort on my blog -- the same place where I make a list of commandments on how Iíd write good female characters in one post and suggesting that the Dead or Alive girls arenít THAT bad in another. (Iíve probably eaten several feet in the weeks since writing them.) A part of me does what he can to avoid making fanservice a premiere part of the package -- and if I must, then Iím more than willing to make handsome men as well as women. But a part of me suspects that one day, I might purvey fanservice just as readily as those I detract. I know Iíve already got at least one improbably buxom female in my files; if I have my way in the writing world, thereís a chance that I might create a character with the largest bust in the history of fiction. (Granted thatís partly a consequence of eventually being tall enough to make Godzilla look like a dwarf, but the fact that she currently looks like a cross between Christina Hendricks and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle might make me a hypocrite.)

What I do, I do because I have a purpose in mind. All my characters are supposed to have distinctive looks; from short, wiry emo-haired kids to muscle-bound bikers who canít be arsed to wear a shirt; from circus girls with lean, athletic builds from acrobatics to stooped hitwomen that look like something out of a Tim Burton movie; I want everyone to have appearances that contribute to their personalities and overall presentation. Itís like how so many characters from The Simpsons have instantly-recognizable silhouettes -- an appearance has so many variables that youíd have to be a fool to NOT take advantage of them. Compare that idea to some video game trends; would you even notice if Marcus Fenix started wearing Coleís armor, for example? Or would you be able to tell one androgynous JRPG hero from another if not for their hair color?

I want to make characters that satisfy my creative vision; even so, Iím willing to compromise on that vision if it means not irritating the hell out of potential fans. Which brings me right back to the title of this post: what makes a character attractive? Personalityís a big part of it, of course. And Iíd wager that those with certain heroic qualities -- courage, intelligence, the ability to kick no small amount of ass -- contribute as well. And no matter how much you want to argue otherwise, appearance will always play a part in how a character is perceived. Is it reason enough to hate a character? In my eyes, no. In the eyes of others, maybe so. Strange that a mere attempt at visual appeal would cause such a stir, but it canít be helped. At least, not overnight.

At any rate, thatís about where I stand. Whatís important now is that I hear from you guys and girls about what you think makes an attractive character, male and/or female. Looks, personality, ability, competency, what have you -- whateverís on your mind, let me hear it. I might add a few more thoughts in a comment later, but for now, Iíll leave it at that. JustÖplease, donít bash me too hard. Iím just a guy whoís a little bit too curious for his own good.

Wow, that sounded wrong.

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