Just Some Harmless, Sexy Fun?

Joel Couture
MASH Veteran
 
August 23rd, 2013

Dragons Jamison

Editors Note: This editorial is an opinion piece, and the opinions within are those of the author and do not reflect MTB’s feeling on the matter being discussed.  If you have your own opinion on the matter the comments section is open for debate and discussion.

I avoided all of the press surrounding Dragon’s Crown‘s depiction of women. I didn’t think people were just jumping to conclusions, as I don’t begrudge anyone their ability to be offended by something that doesn’t bother me. I just didn’t see anything in what I was looking at that bothered me. Sure, the game’s T & A was well off the charts, but to me it looked like someone had aped Frank Frazetta‘s art style and dialed it up even higher. This was somewhere beyond hard fantasy, where every physical stereotype of certain character classes was pushed beyond its limit. The dwarf was some sort of hyper dwarf, the knight was a walking pile of metal, and the amazon was…well…I didn’t know that they were composed of over forty percent rear end from any lore I read. Maybe I should have been more wary going in, but I was prepared to let its art director, George Kamitami, defend his design decisions through the work itself.

If he claims he made stylistic choices for any reason other than pandering to a creepy section of video game fans, he’s lying or needs to take a look at what he’s wrought.

The lead female characters are designed in such a way that I first took them to be parodies of what male gamers supposedly want from their female characters. This felt like the female characters were built around the belief that roleplaying and gaming nerds were all hopeless virgins, looking for the next drawn female curve to daydream about. They felt like a joke about what game designers typically think male gamers want, and went so far in that direction that it seemed like they were trying to get people to laugh. It was so sexualized that it had to be a joke, didn’t it?

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It’s hyper-sexualized, but again, the overall art style seemed to pick certain stereotypical fantasy characteristics and then just pushed them well beyond their limits, regardless of sex. When I looked at the obvious Conan rip-off that was helping me out in the first level, a gentleman who had muscles on top of muscles, I felt like the game was just goofing off with me with its presentation of all its characters. I felt the same when I saw the head of the Adventurer’s Guild, a huge man who looked to be about eight feet tall and was wearing about fifteen tons of steel armor. After that, things stopped feeling like parodies when the males were concerned, though. The wizards and villains I met were pretty standard looking, lacking that exaggerated look that the women and most of the early men had possessed.

That was when the game started to pose some of its women in more vulnerable ways. The ridiculous nature of the women’s anatomy fell away, but the game began posing them in compromising sexual positions. They were shown as weak, wounded, and imprisoned, but all with a little bit of sexual posing thrown in. The wounded female monk may have been fully clothed, but her legs were splayed wide open while her chest heaved with ragged breaths. Another captured woman moaned under a sheer sheet, only just barely covered by her position and some carefully-chosen opacity. It felt a lot less ridiculous and made me feel a little sleazy to see these depictions, but things got worse.

It was when I discovered that I could interact with these pictures that I began to feel a little sick. The game didn’t feel much worse than any other one that stooped to pandering to cover up mediocre gameplay, but all of a sudden it was providing players with a way of poking and prodding at a sexually-posed, vulnerable woman. I was not prepared for how unsettled I felt at seeing this put in as a gameplay feature, as if the ability to paw at a wounded or imprisoned woman in a compromising position was supposed to be fun for me. I felt a little insulted that a developer thought this was something I wanted to do, and sickened by the fact that someone thought it would be fun or erotic to do this sort of thing in the game.

I realize a lot of people do whatever they like in the comfort of their own home. You want to get into stuff like this with a willing partner, be my guest. What I have a problem with is the trivialization of what looks to me like rapist behavior. What I’m basically seeing is a vulnerable woman getting left lying around for a group of men to find, and the first thing you’re being given the option to do is start poking and fondling her? This was something that was put into a video game for me to have fun with, laying out a method for me to take advantage of a vulnerable woman. It never goes much further than touching, but there was something supremely uncomfortable about a game setting this up as entertainment.

This is a whole lot worse than some absurd cup sizes. This is heading into sexual assault territory, and the game just tosses the ability to do this to a woman at players without even hinting at consequences. Again, the ability to assault a woman has been put into the game as something fun to do. It’s something you do for laughs, a little side activity that doesn’t grant you in-game bonuses or anything like that. You can just go ahead and cop a feel as you go about your gaming day, never once thinking about how weird what you just did was.

It’s no different than going out and killing all of those fictional monsters a few minutes later, right? People aren’t accusing Dragon’s Crown for trivializing violence by letting you kill hundreds of people by the hour. Isn’t it far worse to be out killing all of these creatures for fun than it is to just grab some digital woman’s body? Am I being silly about being offended by gameplay that allows me to touch a picture of a woman when it’s couched in a game that promotes violence? Even if I’m not, why am I getting so bent out of shape about something that’s just supposed to titillate and entertain? It’s as silly to think this game will turn people into rapists as it is to think it will turn them into violent people, right?

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What gets me about it is that the violence is shown in connection with consequences whereas the sexual assault isn’t. You don’t just get to walk up to an orc and smack it upside the head without it hitting you back, do you? The way it works, as it does in most video games, is that there is a give and take with violence. If you go into a violent video game, you expect to hurt other creatures, but you also expect to get hurt in return. You’re being taught that there are consequences for a violent lifestyle, leading all the way up to getting yourself killed if you aren’t careful or aren’t good at it. The game makes no bones about it – get good at killing or get used to dying. Your actions, in heading out on this bloody quest, bring about real consequences in the form of violence against your character.

What happens when you start running your finger across one of these women, though? Nothing. Not a single thing happens to you, in-game or otherwise. It doesn’t show you, even in a silly way, that there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing by groping these women. It’s not like violence where there are many obvious downsides to getting in fights all the time, but rather something that can be done for fun whenever you like. It’s made guilt free, shame free, and consequence free because it has no effect on the gameplay, creating this scenario where you can feel up a captured woman in the name of fun. Nothing’s going to happen, so why not just do it for a laugh?

This is telling its players, even if it’s only subtly, that this sort of thing is a good time and there’s really no reason not to do it. It’s not outright suggesting that you should go out and start raping women, but it is taking baby steps into an area that should at least be uncomfortable for most people. I mean, shouldn’t it be common knowledge that you don’t take advantage of a vulnerable woman because you can and because you think you’d enjoy it? Shouldn’t some alarm bells be going off about the kind of person who thinks that groping a wounded woman is fun, or the type who thinks it should be trivialized into a weird gameplay extra?

For those who think I’m getting awfully worked up about being able to poke two pictures in a game, I’ll simplify things. In games, violence typically occurs between two sides that are of relatively equal strength, and it is through player skill that one side beats the other. In the case of the sexualized image, the player takes on the role of aggressor over a weak and defeated opponent. The player might have come there to help through the game’s narrative, but now the player is given the opportunity to take advantage of the woman’s weakened position. The player has now shifted into a similar role as the game’s villain, doing something to a wounded character that they don’t want to happen. If you’ve shifted to the role of video game villain, do you think you may have made a misstep somewhere?

It’s in the slight moans of the sexualized women that we get to the biggest problem of all. The poking and prodding was more than weird enough for me, but it was that the women were portrayed as enjoying it when I really started to feel sick. I had stated before that there was no consequence to the fact that you were groping at a woman who’d been arranged for you to do so, one who was obviously injured, bound, or otherwise in distress, but there could have been. The developers could have easily had the woman resist or show anger in this instance. They did it with the shopkeeper, after all, as grabbing at her provokes a response from the game telling you that she will turn your hands to stone if you keep it up (something that should have actually happened, imposing some in-game penalty for the next stage). They could have done that, but they didn’t.

Instead, the game delivers the message that these women are almost enjoying it when someone comes across them in these positions and just starts taking advantage of them. To recap, Dragon’s Crown gives you the ability to paw at a woman who’s hurt or captured and been posed in a sexualized position, and then tells you that doing so is actually encouraged by having the woman make sounds of enjoyment. So, while I said there was no in-game benefit to doing so, the game is still kind of encouraging you to it because it sounds like the characters like it when you do that. Does that sit right with you? Because it really didn’t feel right to me.

This game isn’t going to turn someone into a rapist overnight. I’m not trying to make that claim. What I am saying is that this game portrays something that happens a little more commonly than many people would want to think, and then shows it in a favorable light. How close is this content to coming across a drunk, passed-out girl at a party? Something felt eerily similar here to the rash of sexual assaults that occur around colleges and universities every year – the dark side to the party lifestyle you see in all the university comedies. It’s the woman who can’t fight back, or is in no state to even try being found by someone who might not have even known he was willing to do that sort of thing until that very moment.

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The sounds that come out of those two characters in Dragon’s Crown try to tell the player that she will enjoy this forced contact, but she just doesn’t know it yet. You may be thinking it’s a bit of a leap, but this sort of thing plants seeds in people’s heads. Given the game’s T rating, it’s also considered appropriate content for teenage boys to be playing, so it’s something impressionable boys will be seeing  not too long before they reach an age when they’ll find themselves in these kinds of situations. This isn’t a time when young men need to be told that assaulting a helpless woman is harmless fun. It’s not like it’s turning a switch in their minds, but it is sending a message that might not be completely obvious to the people receiving it.

These two scenes tell a subtle story. They offer young men a chance to grope at helpless women in a situation where there’s no consequences, and the women might even enjoy it. While you might not think of that when you come across a woman passed out a party, a part of you might think back to how that moment felt in Dragon’s Crown. You might recall how it felt for you; how harmless it was, and while it won’t completely sway the outcome, it will tap it in one direction. After all, this isn’t violence where someone died. It was just a bit of harmless fun, wasn’t it? I’m not saying everyone will change based on this, but many impressionable young men will be getting the wrong idea about something terrible that is already prevalent around the globe.

But it’s all just a game, right? Just a little harmless, sexy fun for the fellas who keep the game industry going. Only sickos and weirdos get changed by the media they consume, and we can’t hinder game development just to keep those losers from being affected. I agree. What I do think we need is awareness when something is messed up, such as we are with violence.

The game’s exposed flesh all seemed like an artistic choice, and while I thought it looked pretty stupid, none of it really bothered me. I felt they were needlessly limiting their audience with all the pandering, but the art director claimed he had a vision so that was that. This portrayal was something else, though, and took the game to an uncomfortable place that I really didn’t want to follow it to. I’m not saying that you’ll feel the same way or that you’re a bad person if you don’t, but I do want you to think about how weird it is to be able to paw at these vulnerable women. I want you to think about why someone would put this sort of behavior into a game to entertain you, and why they felt you would be entertained by something like this.

Images courtesy of pt.gameguyz.com, destructoid.com, giantbomb.com, dualshockers.com

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A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

Specialty: Horror