Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Penny-Arcade's boneheaded response to the Dragon's Crown controversy

A few days ago, Kotaku's Jason Schreier posted an excellent takedown of the absurd, ridiculous, embarrassing art from Vanillaware's newest title, Dragon's Crown. In case you're not familiar, here's some of the artwork:



In response to the criticism, Vanillaware's lead artist called him a homosexual. So, yeah. That happened.



I won't get into what a disgusting response that is. Suffice it to say it's killed what little, tiny interest I had in playing the game based on their previous titles. I would like to address some of the response to the criticism. Well, one response in particular.

Whenever this shit comes up, it seems like Penny-Arcade has to jump to the rescue to defend the masses of sexist, ignorant gamerbros. One might say it's their passion.

For the record, I'm a huge fan of Penny-Arcade. I've supported their Kickstarter, purchased their merchandise, read their comics and watched their videos. But every time they wade into the pool of gender issues or social justice, they come out blackened, like a little person carrying a cursed ring or a wizard touching the devil-tainted source of magic in one o' them fantasy novels. I might suggest that they just stop making fools of themselves in this regard, but of course, that would be (GASP!) censorship! And I wouldn't want to be accused of that.

Anyhoo, PA's Jerry Holkins posted a screed of sorts, lambasting those with the gall to find Dragon Crown distasteful. Let's unpack this, shall we?

You probably don’t have to guess how I feel about this latest round of compulsory swaying and fainting, so much like an old timey Tent Revival, complete with its hopping devil and its perpetually put upon holy warriors.

Hooray! We start out with the classic accusation: any discussion about sexism is done by prudish, weak-tempered Maude Lovejoys who swoon at the mere thought of revealed, supple flesh. Yawn. I don't even really need to address this, other than to say I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. I haven't been shocked by a depiction of sexuality in quite some time, possibly ever. And it's not even about offense, really. As one of the Twitterati put it, this shit doesn't offend me, it pisses me off. It pisses me off that this bullshit attracts legion of defenders.

You want to know why things like the attacks against Anita Sarkeesian happen? You want #1reasonwhy? Because art like this reduces women to flesh to be enjoyed by the male player. I guarantee you, I absolutely guarantee you that the character designer gave not one thought to a woman playing the game. By his response, it's evident he gave not one thought to anyone other than a straight male playing the game.

everybody else is some fun-house exponent of strength or beauty stretched into some haunted sigil.  Iconic isn’t even the word - they don’t evoke icons, they are icons.  They’re humans as primal symbols.

Seriously, the "well, all the characters are exaggerated, so it's okay" defense? Is there just a handbook of common, moronic defenses against sexism these people jump to? There must be, because they just keep coming up. Holkin's half-page rant manages to hit at least half of the checkmarks on Cracked's excellent 8 Stupidest Defenses Against Sexism Accusations article, which is, in a way, impressive.

These are not primal symbols of humanity. Or, rather, they are primal symbols reflecting a very specific human: a straight male human. The Sorceress does not reflect "beauty" -- she reflects a juvenile male notion of sexuality. The Dwarf, who looks like a roided-out bodybuilder times a million, does not reflect anything a female would actually be attracted to. He represents a male idea of what power is -- HUGE FUCKING MUSCLES. I don't know what the fuck the barbarian woman is supposed to represent, with her 8-year-old-girl head/face, bodybuilder body, bikini and giant fucking tits, but whatever it is has some giant fucking problems.

It's worth pointing out that those, like Holkins, who claim that these depictions aren't sexist because the characters are morphed past the point of recognition are just lying through their teeth. Internet commenters galore have gleefully been waiting for the chance to play as the Sorceress. Just look at her! She's wearing next to nothing, and her tits bounce! THEY BOUNCE!

Hell, even their comic makes this fucking point. Gabe (a thinly-veiled avatar for co-creator Mike Krahulik at this point) says he wants to play the Sorceress because she's a big-titted, scantilly-clad object designed specifically for his lizard-brain enjoyment, but if the Dwarf had been exaggerated in the same way, with a giant, half-visible penis hanging out of his shorts, it would make him uncomfortable.

This is, of course, played for laughs. Way to almost get the point, fellas! You know how playing that Dwarf character would seem humorous at best, and strange and uncomfortable at worst? That's exactly how a significant number of women and men feel playing as the sexed-up sorceress!

It’s very weird to pull up a story about a game with frankly visionary art and hear why it shouldn’t exist

Hahahahahaha. Yes. Visionary. Thank goodness someone is making fantasy/video game artwork featuring objectified women with giant breasts and little clothing. I was getting goddamn sick of all these copycats drawing empowered female characters.

It’s an incredible state of affairs.  They’re not censors, though - oh, no no.  You’ll understand it eventually; what you need to do is censor yourself.

This isn't on the Cracked list, but it should be. Equating criticism with censorship is a classic rookie mistake, but not one too surprising, as we've heard it from these two before. Frankly, you'd think people who make part of their living criticizing games, movies, etc., would recognize the hypocrisy inherent in this. Why did you guys put down Aliens: Colonial Marines, huh? Why did you boot Contestant Y off of StripSearch? WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO CENSOR THEM?

So, no. Calling a piece of artwork terrible, sexist, lazy and juvenile (all of which fit Dragon's Crown to a tee) is not a call for censorship. If Mike and Jerry want a second opinion on that, maybe they should ask their employee Ben Kuchera, who also criticizes the artwork (though for a different reason). Is he just a big ol' censor, too?

I'll end this by pointing out that not once in the newspost does Holkins mention one of the main points of this controversy, that the game designer defending himself by calling the accuser gay, as if that were both an insult and a conversation-ender. This omission is somewhat telling.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent and thoughtful article. I wholeheartedly agree with you.

Anonymous said...

What's left out of this article is what Jason Schreier said about George Kamitani, where he calls him a "14 year old boy that was probably cheap to hire"

George Kamitani is an industry veteran whose been making games since the early 90's.
He's been a games designer, producer, director, artist.
He founded his own company, Vanillaware, which is known for its distinct visual style, all done by Kamitani. He is a very rare breed, a man who is extremely versatile, an artist who creates games.

And Jason Schreier dismisses him as a 14 year old boy that is 'cheap to hire'... by the own company he founded.

Kamitani responded to accusations that he 'only sexualizes women!' and "dwarves aren't a sexual fantasy!" with a playful drawing of three very happy, very sexualized muscular bearded men. He then hoped Jason could enjoy Dragon's Crown.

Jason never apologized, demanded an apology from Kamitani (which Kamitani gave), and continues his attack on Kamitani.

That is the full story, the one that wasn't written on this article.

Matt Borgard said...

@Anon1: Thanks!

@Anon2: First off, calling someone a child is a pretty tame "insult," and is hardly equal to lobbing homophobia around.

Second, I might concede that Schreier's criticism was imprecise, and that, perhaps, he should have apologized. But I agree with him on substance. What he should have said was that the art, instead of the man, was juvenile. Which is an absolutely valid observation.

It doesn't matter is Kamitani has years of professional experience creating gorgeous artwork for games. It doesn't matter if he's Vincent Van Gogh reincarnated -- this specific artwork is still childish. Duke Nukem Forever and Transformers 2 both had teams of experienced professionals working on them. This does not place them above reproach.

Furthermore, calling something 'juvenile' as a criticism only makes sense if the artist is somewhat experienced. Calling a nine-year-old's drawing childish would just make you an asshole.

Paul said...

It's worth noting, for Anonymous 2 up there, that Jason Schreier did apologize in the article that's getting so much attention: "First, I should make it clear that I do not actually believe that Kamitani is a 14-year-old boy, and I apologize for the insult. My point should have been clearer."

Anonymous said...

@Anon1: I disagree, I feel like this whole article was written by some pissed off manchild who feels the need to vent about something.

First of all, I disagree with author's sentiment that the characters are both male power and sexual fantasies. Why is the dwarf a male power fantasy but the sorceress is not a female power fantasy? The dwarf has muscles but he's also short, very stocky, and honestly, not that attractive (but I'm sure he'll be fun to play). If muscles automatically equate to male power fantasy, than shouldn't the sorceress be a female power fantasy simple because she's attractive?

Also, Kamitani did not call Schreier a homosexual. He may have implied he was but nobody knows. He posted an artwork of three burly men with the quote "It seems that Mr. JASON SCHREIER of kotaku is pleased also with neither sorceress nor amazon. The art of the direction which likes was prepared." What the author instantly took as a homophobic jab at Shreier, I took as a light-hearted joke towards Shreier's distaste with overly-sexualised females in Dragon's crown.

Honestly, the author's complaints and criticism towards Kamitani and Dragon's crown feels juvenile. Instead of providing a well-thought out critique of Holkin's article and Dragon's Crown, he puts down any of Holkin's arguments as "moronic". It has the feeling of "Oh, your argument is stupid so I'm just going to make fun of it and call it stupid." Instead of discussing why Dragon's Crown art style is juvenile, he just puts it down as lazy and terrible, simply because "Hey, this chick has giant boobies, only 14-year-olds draw giant boobies."

Anonymous said...

@Anon...3?

"Why is the dwarf a male power fantasy but the sorceress is not a female power fantasy? [...] If muscles automatically equate to male power fantasy, than shouldn't the sorceress be a female power fantasy simple because she's attractive?"

whaaaa?

1 - No no no, ffs, no, "being attractive" is not equivalent to the "female power fantasy".

Having some power would be a female power fantasy! Having some agency and authority and competence and strength would be a female POWER fantasy. I think the fact that some people can't wrap their heads around this is like 90% of the problem here.

1.b - I don't see how the attractiveness of the dwarf (or it's height for that matter) has anything to do with the character being a male power fantasy. Dude is strong and tough looking and unquestionably masculine'd out to the max. Power fantasy requirements, met. If you need other examples consider how ridiculously bulked-up Batman/Superman get a lot of their comics. Is that attractive? No. It's not going for "attractive" it's going for "power," and they do look powerful.

2 - Even a female fantasy of looking optimally attractive would look nothing like those ridiculous female characters.

David said...

When an artist draws, he shows us his soul, his neuroses and his obsessions... If his mind is full of giant oversexualised amazons, he draws giant oversexualised amazons. that's all. Who are we to say :"Draw this, and don't draw that !" ?

Anonymous said...

@David

Next time, try reading the article before dropping a comment; it might save you the embarrassment of being completely wrong:

So, no. Calling a piece of artwork terrible, sexist, lazy and juvenile (all of which fit Dragon's Crown to a tee) is not a call for censorship.

No one said he couldn't or shouldn't draw anything, he just shouldn't be shocked when people respond negatively to his negative depictions of the female body.

Anonymous said...

It appears that people tend to get caught up and distracted over terms. Censorship is one of those. Even if you think that it only pertains to the government. This thing that the guys at Penny Arcade dislike and what they often call censorship is when groups of people attempt to suppress the expression of other individuals through force. Force that goes beyond just not buying the their art or reading their comic but through organizing internet users to threaten, verbally abuse, and attempt to destroy the individual/their livelihood who espouses the undesired view. Internet mobs are a negative influence on freedom of expression. Even if you do not think this is censorship, I still think it is a horrible consequence of the internet age and a culture of repressing other peoples' viewpoints.

So I perfectly understand that they have the inclination to step in lightly express their view here because they see a situation cropping up that they can recognize and that they have experienced before.

Evan Waters said...

Anonymous: There's a point to be made there, but I haven't even seen calls for boycotts or protests or anything about this. So far all I've seen is people saying "this is stupid/sexist". By and large they're not trying to get the game pulled from shelves or the company put out of business, they just want more female characters who AREN'T busty sex goddesses.

The problem is that the discourse is not equal. On the one end someone says "Hey, that's kinda sexist," and the instant response is "I'M TIRED OF YOU GODDAMN FEMINAZI ****S TRYING TO CENSOR EVERYTHING". The defensiveness makes conversation impossible.

AnonZ said...

@Evan Waters

I think you highly underrate the power of mob mentality on the internet, and controversial topics as this in general.

Sexist is not a casual description, its a claim of rejecting of a gender's equality and/or rights. Which is often an immediate threat to sales and reputation for more niche products if it spreads in the right areas.

Meanwhile, what discussion is there to be had concerning this game?
There's 3 other main characters that are just as exaggerated.
The artist has proven through Odin Sphere, Muramusa, Princess Crown, and others that this is merely an extreme of his usual art style, and his own interests.


In fact, if wanting more in-depth characters is a point, that makes your post and the article become completely irrelevant to the game, as its a niche beat-em-up where almost all characters have just as little depth.

THAT is when it becomes censorship through proxy, when damaging sensationalism is A-OK as long as its a small shuffle towards the right direction.

Even if that wasn't Jason's intent, its still just as shallow to critique a character on looks alone as it is to play as it.

Anonymous said...

@Anonz

A comment that could only be written by a white male (i.e. someone who has never felt repressed because of their gender or color). Yes it is true that all of the characters are exaggerated, but it is only the women that are exaggerated in demeaning ways. Men are not threatened or put off by depictions of men with large muscles because it feed into their fantasies of being powerful. The thing is that there is no way male equivalent to being sexually objectified. If a man has a lot of sex then he is an object of admiration, but a woman that has a lot of sex is either a slut or a whore.

The problem is that women are constantly viewed as nothing more than a walking set of breasts. There are actually studies that prove that men look at women's breasts first and their face second.

Your, and by extension, the majority of gamers who oppose any discussion on this subject (yelling censorship, etc... when no one has asked for censorship) are opposed to a change in the status quo. You enjoy being the dominate member of our society. You enjoy feeling free to ogle a woman's breasts and ignore that their is an actual human being attached.

Our society is filled with objectification from Hollywood (ever notice how actresses have shorter careers than actors) to women's magazines (19 year old girls pitching skin cream), but don't think for a second that it makes things right. These are all industries that have been shaped by men and men have institutionalized the concepts of what is or is not attractive or acceptable for women.

Once again, I am not advocating censoring anything, but I think gamers who immediately dismiss claims of sexism would really do well to try to exercise their empathy gland.

Hell, I'm all for porn but I don't think for one second that it doesn't objectify women. I don't think there is a woman on the planet that wants to have someone spit in her face, ejaculate on her boobs, while another guy takes her up the rear.

Tex said...

I'm way late to the game here, but I just wanted to add:

It's really easy for "this shit is offensive and carries all kinds of Unfortunate Implications" to be interpreted as "this shouldn't have been made, and you're a bad person for liking it."

I am a big fan of "How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things" for exactly this reason.

And I have a strong suspicion that when there eleventy-five different awesome games with non-sexified kick-ass heroines to play, the people who are currently livid about Dragon's Crown will be able to pick up a future DC-esque title, snort, and either buy it or keep on shopping. It would be wonderful to live in a world where nobody can be bothered to write big angry blog posts about these kinds of things because they are just too dang busy trying to keep up with the dizzying variety of rich, diverse, high-quality games and characters out there.

Until we get there, though - Matt, your post is the biggest, the angriest, and the best I've seen yet. Way to nail it to the wall.

Evan Waters said...

"Sexist is not a casual description, its a claim of rejecting of a gender's equality and/or rights. Which is often an immediate threat to sales and reputation for more niche products if it spreads in the right areas. "

In theory, yes, but I think criticism, even if it ends up with a negative impact on sales, is legit so long as it's not pushing for the total nonexistence of a thing.

I think there are very few voices in the argument who want cheesecake imagery entirely eliminated from all video games now and forever. I don't mind it in the proper context. But I think there's a tendency for designers to do it without thinking.

Anonymous said...

@Evan

You hit the nail right on the head with this:

"But I think there's a tendency for designers to do it without thinking."
That's the problem, they do it without thinking.

Anonymous said...

"That's the problem, they do it without thinking."
Interesting, are you a mind reader? That said, in this case, you are likely wrong.

See this post by HokutoAndy on Kotaku.
Also see here for Kamitani's explanation of his character design.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to buy this game! Looks fucking awesome :D

Anonymous said...

nobody is obligated to respect anyone else's views on gender stereotypes and sexual identity when creating a game, or anything else for that matter. if you don't like it, don't buy it. if you feel so strongly about it, make your own game.

or, to paraphrase steve hughes: you're offended. so fucking what.

Lord Littlefinger said...

I can't get over how frankly hideous this game's art style is. It's grotesque, and I'm usually pretty cool with highly stylized art. I welcome it in video games and comic books.

What gets me is the utter disconnect between body proportions. On the sorceress you have a tiny head, a wasp waist and then what look to be FF breasts that would cause her chronic back problems.

The worst offender, I think, is the amazon. Here we have a veritable Frankenstein's monster: the body of steroid-abusing ham beast with the head of a little girl sewn on.

One can not only accuse Dragon's Crown's art of sexualizing women but also of being an affront to good taste. The artist is clearly not incompetent. I am sure he is capable of creating non-ridiculous look art, but here he chose to create playable characters that look like the anime equivalent of Rob Liefeld's monstrosities.

courte said...

yummm so much tasty opinion. i'm on the pro dragon's crown side for mostly one reason. it'a a game. and it's rather fun. i find myself playing it and not staring at it thinking about heavy social issues. i do that to other things. also in the middle of battle, as people who play the game know, you don't have time to drool over the character models. you're going to be busy popping all over the screen simultaneously attacking and defending. hell less than 30 minutes into the game, it's all flavor. if ever soomeone is still agonizing over the art after playing for more than 20 minutes, that person has deeper problems they should really address

Anonymous said...

First of all, don't assume people are only white males with a singular understanding, secondly don't assume to know what is threatening to males, and lastly, don't assume what some females may or may not sexually enjoy since it contradicts your statement on males being admired and females called sluts. Also consider that females can feel empowered through sex.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone is given equal access or opportunity to the media, so the depictions of people shouldn't simply be ignored if they're disliked. When people mistreat or disrespect you based on perpetuated images that are largely fed through the media, then there is an obligation. Justice systems still account for race, sex, age, gender, and so on in many situations where they shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

Well said

Anonymous said...

It is in your opinion that dragon's crown is an affront to good taste and sexualizes women, as there are female artists who create sexualized women in anime. It's also offensive to call the amazon a monster as your claiming body building women as being incapable of displaying beauty.