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Published on August 15th, 2013 | by Christian

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The Internet Sucks – Part 2

Last week I touched on some of the problems with how the game press and their readers interact in the context of controversial review scores, and how maybe both sides can stand to be a bit more honest with themselves when it comes to raging internet shit-storms that wash across comments sections and social media. This week I want to focus on a topic that’s been the proverbial butterfly to a number of said shit-storms over the past year or two: the portrayal of women in games, and some of the problems I have with the criticisms that are hurled towards developers regarding this. Before I get started, maybe it would be useful to define exactly what I’m talking about here.

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What I’m talking About:

I’m talking about how female characters are portrayed in games, how criticism on the internet generally goes, and whether or not there needs to be some kind of industry-wide sea change so that games can move out of a perceived cultural ghetto and enjoy widespread recognition as a legitimate art form in the mainstream.

What I’m absolutely not talking about:

I’m absolutely not talking about how women are treated in the game industry. This includes but is not limited to the horrible treatment reported every year by female reporters and developers at E3, as well as the numerous stories that came out of the #1reasonwhy twitter campaign last year. That shit ain’t right.

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The internet has, for better or worse, very democratically given everybody who can access it a platform upon which they can voice their opinions. This is sometimes an awesome tool that allows small communities to spring up out of mutual interests in spite of vast geological barriers, but just as often it’s  a place for people to behave like total assholes from behind the safety of their computer screens.  It is maybe too easy for people to get into heated shit-slinging contests over issues that would not even register as problems in their real lives. Every perceived slight provokes outrage from a minority of commentators who’ve decided to become internet warriors in whatever the currently trending battle is.  This is further compounded by the fact that while not many have the ability to create art which garners attention, everybody has the capacity to critique.  Usually I don’t pay much mind when people are offended by games, but two weeks ago it was Dragon’s Crown that caught a wave of criticism, much of which I feel is misdirected and undeserved.

The basic argument seems to be that the character designs in the game (some of which can be seen above) are a lazy embarrassment to the medium, that they’re harmful to women, that it would be better if they were different or did not exist, and that if the industry wants to be legitimized it can’t keep making stuff like this.  I’ve got problems with all of that, so here we go.

The character designs are lazy, juvenile, embarassing, etc…

It pains me to read this kind of stuff about George Kamitani’s art, which should not surprise anyone considering my opinions on Muramasa.  His designs for Dragon’s Crown pay homage to a wide range of influences, from Dutch portraiture, to Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta, Walt Disney, and even classic D&D Monstrous Manual art.  They’re also entirely consistent with Vanillaware’s back catalog. I’ve seen so many criticisms of his art that don’t address any of his previous work or  any of the works he has so obviously referenced for Dragon’s Crown, and it makes me wonder whether or not these people are qualified to make criticisms about it at all.  It should go without saying that a good critic should understand the thing they’re criticizing.

These designs are harmful to women

This is my biggest beef right here. Supporting any position that argues that art can be harmful is an unabashed call for censorship.  It is also extremely hypocritical for an industry and its fan base that has fought extremely hard to keep violence from getting censored out of games for years (at least in the US).  Every time some troubled youth shoots up a school there’s a unified front of gamers who are ready to stand by and defend their hobby, but oh no too much skin and this is suddenly a war against women that’s affecting the way we treat people in real life.

This thing should not exist

I’m fundamentally opposed to any position that calls for LESS art. The idea that this niche game which will probably struggle to sell just  one million copies is somehow putting up a barrier that prevents people from making other kinds of games is mind boggling. This goes back to my advice for commentators last week, which was that their energies would be better spent promoting things they  like as opposed to tearing down the things they don’t.  Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. It’s that simple, and there’s no need to strut around with all of your indignant faux outrage.  The reality is that this game exists because there’s a team of artists who have been looking to make it a reality for years, and not because it’s the physical manifestation of some zeitgeist that’s long overdue for an exorcism. Let those guys make their art, and stop casting judgement on them and their customers.

The industry needs to stop making stuff like this if it wants to be taken seriously

Good news everyone, the industry is already being taken seriously.  If the fact that we’re even having this discussion (regardless of how poorly we’re doing it) is not proof enough, how about the fact that video games have been launching to sales that crush movies, books, music and other legitimate art forms for years now?  This is no longer a hobby dominated by smelly basement dwellers. There are retro gamers, girl gamers, elitist PC master race gamers, hipster indie douchebags, ravenous otaku, call of duty bros, footballers and fútballers, poké masters, fighting game communities, South Korean Star Craft wizards, and much much more.  It’s an incredibly diverse industry that made it a long time ago, so stop pretending that it hasn’t.

Games might just be too big for us to ever have civil discussion on the web again, especially when the internet is poorly suited for serious debate.  Even in a good discussion it often is difficult to tell who’s being genuine and who is just trolling or doing a drive-by post to add fuel to the fire.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t be having these discussions, rather, more of an explanation of why they often end so badly.  I’m not sure what the solution is, but lately I”ve found that smaller communities tend to be capable of more civil discourse than huge open forums.  For example,  I’ve been enjoying a pretty carefully curated twitter community and also the collectible statue/figure community on NeoGAF.  These things are the nichiest of the niche though, and video games aren’t anymore. They are for everyone, and that’s for better and worse.

 

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Christian



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