Two weeks ago, I wrote an article that criticized one of the characters in the upcoming game Dragon's Crown. Today, the man behind that character has responded to that article.
On April 12, I published a post titled "Game Developers Really Need To Stop Letting Teenage Boys Design Their Characters." It was a snarky, short article, written to point out that the game's voluptuous, hyper-sexualized sorceress character looks like it came out of the notebook doodles of a teenage, heterosexual male.
"As you can see," I wrote, "the sorceress was designed by a 14-year-old boy."
Today, Dragon's Crown artist George Kamitani—who is not a 14-year-old boy and in fact is the president of Vanillaware, a Japanese developer known for games like Odin Sphere and Muramasa—took to his Facebook page to respond to me.
Here's what he said:
"It seems that Mr. Jason Schreier of Kotaku is pleased also with neither sorceress nor amazon," Kamitani wrote. "The art of the direction which he likes was prepared."
The blurb was posted next to an illustration of three burly, bearded men embracing one another. The implication, as some have pointed out on message boards like NeoGAF, is that because I didn't like Kamitani's female characters, I must instead like an image of muscled men hugging. A gay joke, perhaps?
"I like Kotaku," Kamitani added later in the Facebook thread. "I will be glad if Mr. Jason Schreier is made pleasant with a Dragon's Crown."
I've reached out to Kamitani on Facebook, and hopefully we'll be able to chat about Dragon's Crown, which, incidentally, I had the chance to play last December, and I enjoyed, character design aside. Hopefully he'll clarify his response.
UPDATE: Kamitani sent me a message this afternoon, in Japanese. Wired's Chris Kohler helped me translate: "While the picture of the dwarfs was meant to be a lighthearted joke, after it became bigger than I thought it would, I reflected on the rashness of it. I am sorry. I have no hard feelings about the article."
Rest of original article follows:
For now, I'd like to elaborate on my criticism, because this subject deserves more thought and consideration than a few snarky lines below a trailer.
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.
Over the past couple weeks, I've received a number of messages—some polite, some not-so-polite—about my article and Dragon's Crown. The most common complaint: "Why are you complaining about the busty females and not the burly men?"
Another point I've seen brought up more than a few times: "Why complain about this art when you're clearly not the target audience?"
Why complain? Because it's embarrassing. Because I wouldn't want to be seen playing it in public. Because I love Japanese games and Japanese RPGs and I don't want them to perpetuate the ugly "boys' club" mentality that has pervaded gaming for almost three decades now.
Look, the video game industry has a sexism problem. This is not very difficult to prove. Head to E3 and watch hordes of sweaty male attendees trample one another in order to get the best photos of booth babes. Read about "one reason why." It's tough to find a woman in gaming who doesn't have a story about that one time someone said something way over the line, or the industry event that made her feel like she didn't belong.
So, no, I don't want to look at this game in a vacuum, or laugh off the sorceress as harmless sexual exaggeration, or accept that this is just Vanillaware's style (which is typically gorgeous). Not when so many women still feel so uncomfortable playing games, or working in the video game industry, or attending gaming events. Not when so many games seem designed for men and only men.
Some have pointed out that the dwarf character—a shirtless warrior with disproportionate muscles—is just as sexualized and over-exaggerated as the sorceress. That's true. He's also straight out of a straight male power fantasy, tailored for men just like the sorceress's skimpy clothing and ridiculously jiggly breasts. The design comes across as juvenile, like a hackneyed comic book or a God of War game.
But the dwarf isn't making many people uncomfortable, because men don't get sexually harassed at PAX East. Because male designers don't get mistaken for receptionists. Because male reporters are never asked if they really play video games.
Because the sorceress is symbolic of a much bigger problem.
Look, I'm not a censor. I'm not going to say that an artist shouldn't draw what he or she thinks is beautiful. But just as I champion an artist's right to respect themselves, I believe that it's essential for critics—and for regular people—to discuss that art. All art has its fans. And all art deserves exposure to critics. I'm not saying this particular piece of art should not exist, but I have no qualms about saying I think it can hurt this game and gaming as a whole. I think it repels more than it attracts. It doesn't challenge viewers in interesting ways. And I don't consider it beautiful.