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What Makes a Character Attractive?


This is probably going to be the most asinine thing I’ve ever written (with the emphasis on ass), but bear with me here. What I do, I do for the sake of…well, 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 game’s lead heroine, I’d 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 there’s 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. She’s 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, we’ll have to see how she acts in the game proper, but in the case of “judging a book by its cover” 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 Juliet’s design the OK. It’s 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), it’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t 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! It’s like a dream come true!

And then there’s the part of me that says “No, this is a bad idea. This is wrong.” Like why does the heroine have to be in such a state of…shall 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. I’m anticipating no shortage of “suggestive themes” 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 there’s going to be some fanservice throughout. Time will tell if it’s 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 “more boobs = more sales” in advertising are hot topics right now, but I’ll leave discussions on those fronts to smarter, less-bashful people. I’ve 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 it’s done. At times I understand why; it’s sensical in Lollipop Chainsaw’s case, much in the same way it was with Bayonetta. And then there are other times where I’m left confused, shaking my head and asking “Why would you do that?” Creative liberties and intent can only go so far; I don’t think I need to remind anyone about Ivy’s Soulcalibur 4 costume.

Why? That’s the question I keep coming back to, but I wonder if that’s 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. That’s cool. I get that. But what decides those creative liberties? Is it an artist’s passion? Is it the need to scratch an audience’s itch? A perceived notion of what a viewer wants? Pandering to an artist’s own tastes? Acting in defiance of rules or perceptions? Celebrating one’s beauty?

I don’t really know the answer, but I’d like to know. Like I’ve 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 shouldn’t do. The phrase “improbably buxom” pops up a few times too many for comfort on my blog -- the same place where I make a list of commandments on how I’d write good female characters in one post and suggesting that the Dead or Alive girls aren’t THAT bad in another. (I’ve 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 I’m 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 I’ve already got at least one improbably buxom female in my files; if I have my way in the writing world, there’s a chance that I might create a character with the largest bust in the history of fiction. (Granted that’s 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 can’t 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. It’s like how so many characters from The Simpsons have instantly-recognizable silhouettes -- an appearance has so many variables that you’d 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 Cole’s 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, I’m 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? Personality’s a big part of it, of course. And I’d 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 can’t be helped. At least, not overnight.

At any rate, that’s about where I stand. What’s 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 -- whatever’s on your mind, let me hear it. I might add a few more thoughts in a comment later, but for now, I’ll leave it at that. Just…please, don’t bash me too hard. I’m just a guy who’s a little bit too curious for his own good.

Wow, that sounded wrong.

- Thanks for reading! And remember -- if you want to see more content from me, anytime, anywhere, be sure to check out my blog. Give it a read, so we can all become heroes! http://cross-up.blogspot.com/

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About Voltechone of us since 10:40 PM on 02.06.2012

Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.

I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.

You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and a web serial novel, too. Maybe my stuff here and there will be the start of things to come. Hopefully good things, but things all the same.

Be a hero. Check 'em out.

Cross-Up -- head here for posts on games, movies, and more
My Troper profile
My Facebook page
My Twitter thingamajig

I Hraet You -- the over-the-top web serial novel...of love, maybe