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The Real Problem With That Controversial, Sexy Video Game Sorceress [UPDATE]

Illustration for article titled The Real Problem With That Controversial, Sexy Video Game Sorceress [UPDATE]

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.

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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.

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"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:


Illustration for article titled The Real Problem With That Controversial, Sexy Video Game Sorceress [UPDATE]
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"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."

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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?"

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Illustration for article titled The Real Problem With That Controversial, Sexy Video Game Sorceress [UPDATE]

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?"

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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DISCUSSION

Here's an interesting post from the HokutoAndy from the previous trailer giving some insight on the designs of the Dwarf and Sorceress.

HokutoAndy:
let's actually talk about the ART DESIGN of the Dragon's Crown Dwarf:


To the left are actual Norse artifacts from Scandinavia. Thor's Hammer 'Mjolnir' is a motif used in many protective amulets. You can see it's a short hammer. It's actually a norse Blacksmith hammer. Vikings didn't actually use hammers for warfare, the mythology of Thor wielding one to smash monsters is just to show what a massive badass he is.

And this Dragon's Crown Dwarf carries on that Viking Blacksmith motif of Thor, tropes that are quite popular with dwarves in fantasy. You also see fictional depictions of the hammer in various 19th century works, such as:


Thor's Battle Against the Jötnar (1872) by Mårten Eskil Winge

We've also seen Vanillaware use Thor imager in their previous work, Odin Sphere:



So the Dragon's Crown Dwarf is very much an homage to Odin Sphere's General Brigan.

I really enjoy the artistry that Vanillaware puts into their games and you can really see it in Dragon's Crown. George Kamitani is both the artist and founder of Vanillaware, so the games they make really are the expressions of an artist who is doing what he wants to do. That is a very special thing in this era of lowest common denominator games.

But instead of celebrating that, you guys purposefully insult him, because inflammatory headlines draw the hits here. Kotaku, you can do better than this...


If any of y'all have read it this far, thankyou for your time! If you guys want to read more about Dragon's Crown designs, I wrote about it here:
http://kotaku.com/thanks-for-you…
(...in that post where Kotaku calls George Kamitani, the founder of Vanillaware and artist behind Dragon's Crown a "cheap to hire 14 year old boy")

*I've gone and shown George Kamitani the art analysis of Dragon's Crown, and he approves:

Friday 9:02am

HokutoAndyZr0Kamui

Thanks, I appreciate that you enjoy my writing. A lot of it is just copy-pasted from my blog:
http://art-eater.com/

Where you can find stuff out like the Renaissance painter that George Kamitani was insipred by:


You can read it all here

We're doing this for pretty much the reasons you stated, there's pretty much no games journalist on the internet that I can agree with, so I'm doing it myself. It is our... Outer Haven hahah.


...free from Patriot control of the interwebs, a haven for those who still fight for what they believe in :0! Friday 10:19am

HokutoAndy

Ok, while I'm at it. Do you want to know why the Sorceress has large breasts?

First, let's take a look at previous Vanillaware game. In Odin Sphere, the Queen of the Underworld has very large breasts:







In Grim Grimoire, the professor of Necromancy Opalneria Rain and former Necromancy professor Lujie Piche (a ghost), are both the largest breasted women in the game:

... and in Dragon's Crown, the skeleton summoning sorceress is also well endowed:


What they all have in common, along with their large breasts is their mastery of Necromancy. All of these women of Vanillaware can raise the dead. Let me state the obvious, the functional purpose of breasts in mammals is to provide milk for offspring, they give life. George Kamitani uses this motif for his characters who give life to the dead.

George Kamitani is taking the traditional 'Fertility Goddess' motif of breasts, and applying it to necromancy. That is really cool. And to round that out, some images of ancient fertility goddesses:


Fertility goddess from the from the palace of Knossos. Heraklion, 1000BCE



Artemis of Ephesus, a fertility goddess if you couldn't tell, 100CE

Breasts are a reocurring motif of fertility goddesses, of life givers. In the world of Vanillaware, the power of Necromancy is the power to give life

But I just want to add. Take a look at that Sorceress picture with the skeleton. Look at how tenderly she is holding the skull, pressed to her bosom as the skeleton is infused with life once more.

The Sorceress is making sure to support the skeleton's head properly, which is actual advice on how to hold a newborn baby



Have you ever seen a more motherly depiction of Necromancy? THAT is just part of the many things that make Dragon's Crown amazing.


*look at how raising the dead is usually depicted in fantasy:


A man COMMANDING the dead to return to battle

Look at how Necromancers are usually depicted:


OLD MEN


George Kamitani has done something very interesting with a very classic trope of fantasy, one dominated by ancient dried up old men that command, and he's turned it into the domain of young women who nurture! ...but what does Jason Schreier of Kotaku have to say about this?"