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The Dragon Crown controversy: Why discussion does not equal change

If you haven't already heard about the controversy surrounding Vanillaware's upcoming RPG Dragon Crown, I'll give you a quick debriefing: Studio draws female characters with comically oversized breasts and hips, Jason Schreier (Kotatu) publically insinuates that Vanillaware employs 14 year old boys as character designers, George Kamitami, the artist in question, insinuated right back that Schreier's disapproval of the design must mean he's, like, totally gay and stuff. We good?

In gaming media terms, it's already fast becoming water under the bridge. That's not why I'm writing this.

I'm not entirely against the sexualisation of women in most media. I get it. Boobs are good. Ever since the dawn of time, men have been strangely compelled to look upon breasts; although I don't associate as a homosexual female, I too think tits are great. In the same way I think a well-toned arm or abdomen on a man looks good. It's nice to look at.

I like to look at nice things.

However, living in a society where the general consensus is 'boobs = good' does not give people free license to be as gratuitous - as tasteless - as one desires. Which brings us to the first argument 'for' the dubious character designs, which act no more than to derail the discussion...

1) The artist has a right to freedom of creative expression

Damn these liberal, feminazi's, censoring everything which personally offends them in the name of so-called 'political correctness', right?

Not quite. While I don't feel that censoring or banning games with such content could ever be justified, let me make one thing absolutely clear to you: Freedom of expression DOES NOT absolve you from criticism.

It DOES NOT suddenly nullify the negative impact your work has had.

It SHOULD NOT be used to undermine any disagreement or offense taken.

2) If you don't like the game, don't play it.

I'm going to put my hands up in the air and admit I'll probably never play 'Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball'. There, I said it.

While I'll profess a kindly endearment toward breasts, I'm not really into jiggle monsters made out of what appears to be silly putty pumped up with air. However, I'll also grudgingly concede that, yes, there is an audience for that sort of thing, and yes, some people are into that. I'm more than happy to get my fighting game kicks from other sources and leave things such as Dead or Alive (and other titillation media clumsily packaged as 'games') to those who enjoy them. Whatever, I have bigger and better things to care about.

At the same time however, a person should never be forced to choose between being offended by a series they enjoy and not playing it at all. Ever.

The trouble with telling people to not play a game because a small aspect of it offends you is absurd; when you do that, you create the exact kind of environment where that kind of content is perfectly acceptable, if only by the virtue of excluding everyone who takes issue with it. It's highly corrosive to perpetuate the idea that we should either accept everything in a game or shut up, lest some bawling man-baby somewhere has his video games taken away. Forever.

Bottom line is if a person likes a game such as Dragon Crown for its RPG elements, story or music, they should not be excluded just because a few character designs - which could very easily be merely toned down without causing major impact to the game itself - is found offensive.

3) The game developers have always drawn female characters that way

Close your eyes and imagine you are a 12 year old. As of right now, the shit is being kicked out of you by other 12 year olds in your class. When you go to your teacher to explain, she just ruefully shakes her head and says "well, they 'have always' been bullies" before telling you to leave.

'Have always done' does not mean 'is always right'.

...and if it were, the anti-gay brigade would actually have a point when they say 'marriage is traditionally a union between man and woman' (before going back to beating each other with rocks I presume).

The fact that a behaviour has always been engaged in is entirely separate from whether or not it has a negative impact. While I respect that the devs have a certain aesthetic style, again, that alone does not absolve them from criticism. It does not mean they can't be open to change.

I'll labour the point if needs be, unrealistic, out-of-proportion female character designs are rarely central to the character's presentation or games overall design. It's not unreasonable to at least openly discuss the prospect of them being changed.

4) I don't hear you complain about the overly muscled manly-men!

The day a person comes up to me sincerely and says 'I really don't like seeing macho muscle men in media, it makes me feel insecure' is the day I start to take that line of thinking seriously.

The fact that I've only ever seen this argument brought up as a knee-jerk reaction to its counterpart makes it slightly difficult for me to buy. Even if there were men who seriously felt that way, did it never occur to you that people aren't bothered by the idealized physical appearance of women, but rather their overt sexualisation? Which, forgive me if I'm wrong, tends to be more endemic in video game culture and other male-dominated facets? Say what you will about male portrayal in games, they are rarely - if ever - sexualized to any degree.

Besides, if you do not understand the subtle distinction between giving a character an ideal body shape and putting their sexual traits way out of proportion to the rest of their body, I suggest you go outside and buy a dictionary. Preferably to beat yourself around the face with.

5) We shouldn't 'just pick' on Dragon Crown.

...Of course we shouldn't. This may be one of the more extreme examples, however, it is still one of many.

One thing I've heard is people openly agreeing that sexism is a problem in the industry, that we need change, that is, until a property they actually happen to like is attacked. Then it suddenly becomes a matter of 'well, it's not the ONLY example of games like this, jeez, why are you always picking on it?' or 'well just banning ONE example isn't going to do anything'.

Let me make this clear to you: Dragon Crown was not cherry picked out and held up as an example. Had Scheier not taken to Kotatu, it probably would have been released entirely unnoticed, a game in a sea of others exactly like it. However, it's good that it happened because, once again, it opens the discussion on how we treat women.

Discussion is good because discussion leads to change, change is good because change leads to a more accepting community. Forgive me for not thinking I need to explain why that last one is good.

If there is one thing I have been extremely careful to articulate in this discussion is I don't agree with the content being forcefully removed from the game in question. If there were calls to have the game embargoed or censored on account of a few character designs, I wouldn't support them; in fact, if I had a big magic red button which could remove them, I most certainly would leave be.

The game is what it is. While I certainly find grotesquely out-of-proportion women highly obnoxious, I don't think getting angry at every questionable character design and trying to force change is the answer. The answer is to discuss, recognize where a game is failing it's female audience and hopefully learn from it; it's not a case of snapping ones fingers, declaring all women with wacky body proportions should be banned and then carefully vetting each game for the merest shadow which looks like a breast.

What I'll never support however, is the truly juvenile attempts made to shut down any kind of mature discussion, driven by raw fear their precious drawings of adult-women-who-are-kind-of-like-children-but-not-really-like-children are taken away.

So, I suppose that was a very long winded way of getting to my point: Discussion DOES NOT equal change or censorship. Deal with it.
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About Echidnaone of us since 4:05 PM on 09.09.2012

I would write about myself here, but I'm afraid there's nothing interesting to say on that subject.

Just read the blog.