Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sexualization in Fantasy & Games - PART 1

     Reading a blog discussing the notion of sexualization in an entertainment medium is nothing new, novel, or ( to be blunt ) very unique in this modern time.  I have lost count of the different blogs, articles, web-outlets, and press avenues I have scoured to find ‘research’ for this subject.

I have to begin this here by saying that my interest then in writing this is that you’ll do more than just read this, close the window, and move on with your day.

I need you to start dialogue with your friends, especially if you are a male. Talk to your older friends, or even professors or specialists who work in fields such as Sexual Health and Crisis Counseling. My intent in requesting this is not because you are unintelligent, or that you are not allowed to have your own opinions.

Be knowledgeable. Research your facts and put your opinions in the public view to be played against the opinions of others. Argue! It’s ok, so long as you are respectful. Make sure you are holding onto your opinions because of factual evidence and belief.

* * * 

The character design for Quiet
     This blog topic could be seen as having had its genesis in a few topics/sources that have come to my immediate attention over the past few weeks. This is (kind of) an off-shoot of the two blogs about Disney characters that were released a few weeks ago byJulia Bodiford and myself. This subject may/may not touch on sensitive issues for you, however I need to address them in this fashion because it is important for young, college age men to hear this. I say "college age" men because the subject I want to talk about concerns material marketed to them through different companies.

What started my desire to make this blog concerns the upcoming Metal Gear Solid game by Hideo Kojima. In a recent internet-bomb an employee of 343 Industries commented on the nature of a character's design. The character ( named 'Quiet,' either as a literal name or a call-sign ) is a female sniper who will play a role in the game's plot. The designer in question called the character designs "disgusting" and it has prompted a variety of opinions through the net-scape.

What I want to talk about concerns one aspect of this debate - I am concerned with how average college-aged males ( the target of this game ) respond to this. I want to talk about what ( in my opinion ) is or is not important to take away from seeing things like Quiet's character design in popular media. This trend has been very important recently in comics as well, especially with the back-forth issue of DC Comics and their female pants vs. no pants design issues for their characters.

When you play a game like Super Mario there is little to offer up as evidence that PrincessToadstool is a sexualized character. Her 8-Bit sprites don’t exactly hint at a nature which is demeaning to women ( however, some issues can be raised about her constant status as ‘kidnapped royalty,’ but that is another story … ). I bring up Mario as a start because Nintendo, Video Game, and ‘iconic’ game character culture is pervasive among college age men and women. I know many female friends who admire Princess Zelda and who have Tri-Force shirts/badges/pins, as but some examples.

Because of the design and character-nature of Princess Zelda, she is not explicitly a character one ties with sexualization. But when she is put next to the character Bayonetta from the game of the same name? Or Trish from Devil May Cry? It becomes evident that sexualized gaming trends have become a real, genuine issue in the 2000’s, more-so than they ever were in the genesis of video game culture which really got started in the 70’s-80’s.

The idea that “sex sells” is, sadly, a real one. The dominant culture of the kids who played video games at the inception of the culture were men. In my opinion, video game sexualization has reached a bizarre hybrid state that is stuck between being brutally offensive in some areas and yet having women be in positions of genuine power and authority in the games some of the more talked about characters appear in.

One example of a recent character in a video game that has sparked controversy is that of ‘Quiet,’ a female sniper from the next game in the Metal Gear Solid series. Quiet’s character designs have her in clothes that many consider to be highly fetishized and that Kojima himself requested this explicitly to exploit male desires. Kojima’s own tweets do indeed convey the desire to see Quiet as an “erotic” character … however, that wasn't apparently Kojima’s intent. He has designs on sexy qualities that can be applied to male characters, machinery, and even weapons. Given some of Kojima’s other designs, his words do not imply facts that has already aimed for in games past.

   Hideo Kojima’s full expansion on his ideas ( which are worth reading in full ) can be found here.

* * * 

   My reading of this situation has to raise a lot of questions, ones which might be hard to balance out. Quiet
Sniper Wolf, another character design used in the
Metal Gear Solid universe in 1998
is a mute character, hence she has a physical disability, however she is also (apparently) an accomplished soldier/warrior who will be pivotal to the MGS universe. Is that worth praising more than her outfit?

   Given that we know of no character qualities of Quiet yet, does it say more about us as gamers or bloggers that there is an outcry that her character is sexualized when we know nothing of how she will behave? Can this character design outcry be qualified as slut-shaming, or is there a genuine need to bring designs like this to public attention?

   These are questions that need to be brought up and answered, both by the college-aged gaming public and by people of both genders. Progress might have difficult issues to tackle, but it certainly does not exist in a single-gender vacuum.

   My desire to tackle this part of the topic has been prompted by my interest in Literary Research. One of the things I have to be aware of now, even in regards to pop-culture subjects like games, is to dig into all sides of issues and how they impact multiple groups and student sub-cultures.
   So where does this leave you, the college-aged gamer, regardless of your gender? Sound off in the comments section below!


Anonymous said...

I liked your point about the Princess from the Mario games always being in a sort of "damsel in distress" scenario, and how that could be seen as demeaning to women. Honestly, I feel like Mario should just check his privilege...I mean, as a plumber risking his life (disposable) for the royalty of Mushroom Kingdom (no privilege here).

Michael Hale said...

I actually wanted to talk more about that, however given that the point of that subject was her /in game character/ I wasn't sure if THIS blog was the right place to being it up?

Still, it's an interesting game dynamic that has been played up between Mario and Peach for decades now.

Michael Hale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My main comment is what do the male counterparts wear? If all the men are scantily clad, then whatever. If the men are dressed for battle and the women are given two strips of fabric, we have a problem. The developers choose to objectify and sexualize the female characters. It's silly to slut shame a fictional character who doesn't choose what she does. It's important to dissect the developer's choice of why the character is dressed they way they are and why the male characters are dressed differently.

Michael Hale said...

I think it is interesting that you brought that up on the Facebook page where I posted this - the fact the subject of this blog was because of a Kojima game is ... interesting. Kojima actually DOES have his male characters be just as sexualized as his male characters. Rather /weirdly/ too.

But yes, the idea of bringing up the designers is a good one. However, what then should be said about the (say) female gamers who want to dress up like X character? I think as a male gamer I don't care one way or the other, but I can see where opinions become complicated when extra-game designs come into play - merchandise, cosplay, etc...

Michael Hale said...

I think it is interesting that you brought that up. On the Facebook page where I posted this a good point was raised: the fact the subject of this blog was because of a Kojima game is ... interesting.

Anonymous said...

You make a good point. Female characters are, without a doubt, more sexualized as time goes on. I mean, look at the development of Cortana from the first Halo through the series. While it can be argued Halo 1's first Cortana isn't sexualized because of the inability of the original XBOX to communicate it properly (I call bull on that one; Lara Croft pulled it off just fine with her twin balloons and tight outfits), there is no doubt that the most recent version of Cortana is much more feminine and sexualized. It's hard to argue the sexualization since the women ARE empowered; it seems the more powerful the woman, the more sensual she is. I've always been of the opinion that sexualized characters help a player work harder at a game. After all, what better way to emotionally tie a player into a game than offering the possibility of rescuing or working alongside said sexual character? I don't think people would have worked as hard to rescue Ashley in Resident Evil 4 or Cortana in Halo if they weren't somehow emotionally tied to that character (we will ignore the fact that you HAVE to do that to play the game; rationale isn't really a factor in the heat of the game).

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