About a month ago, Atlus confirmed the localization of Vanillaware’s Dragons’ Crown for North America. Many gamers like myself, who loved Odin Sphere for the Playstation 2, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Wii were absolutely thrilled. Vanillaware’s character designer, George Kamitani has always had a very distinct style, which I have personally loved since as far back as Princess Crown for the Sega Saturn. Dragon’s Crown most noticeably features an evolution of his usual art style; The characters are more dramatically proportioned, with ridiculously mythologized body types. Rather than the daintier frames of Gwendolyn and Oswald, we now have the obscenely muscled Dwarf, and the notoriously buxomed Sorceress. And this has caused quite a bit of controversy amongst gamers with very vocal opinions.
It all started with Kotaku’s Jason Schrierer stating Kamitani’s work embodied the “drawings of a fourteen-year-old-boy.”
Kamitani fired back on his Facebook, with this image;
Having tracked Dragon Crown‘s development since it’s release in Japan, I looked up quite a bit of footage for it in anticipation of the combat system, and the multiplayer aspects of it as well. (A first for Vanillaware games.) I immediately noticed the Sorceress’ rather ridiculous proportions, and it didn’t impact me all that much, as a woman or a gamer. And that’s not to say that I’m a woman in favor of seeing my gender “poorly represented” or objectified in my favorite form of media. Plain and simple, I just didn’t think it was a very big deal, pun intended.
What you are looking at pictured above is the “Venus of Willendorf.” This lovely piece of art is one of the, if not the oldest sculptures in the history of humanity. Through carbon dating, it’s been deduced the small figure dates back to at least c. 22,000 BCE. Discovered by Austrian archeologist, Josef Szombathy, the figure features highly exaggerated breasts, abdomen and thighs. Considering fertility and survival was likely all that mattered to people in that time period, art historians don’t consider it offensive or degrading to women. Further, many art historians state that the figure is possibly a self portrait; the facial features aren’t depicted and the angle and proportion of the amplified features heavily supports this theory.
I can’t speak for every other women who’s ever picked up a video game controller, and while I do think gaming has always been in dire need of stronger, less sexualized female protagonists, I don’t consider the Sorceress wildly offensive or degrading to my gender as much as some seem to. Is Vanillaware employing the age old marketing tactic, “sex sells?” Yes. Is the Sorceress from Dragon’s Crown so terribly different than the “Venus of Willendorf” pictured above? Not really. I don’t think a big pair of bouncing boobs in a deeply stylized artistic context is worth getting offended over at the expense of playing a fantastic game. Both are exaggerated depictions that celebrate the female form. The only real difference is that one is being utilized to sell a game. There are plenty of other portrayals and elements/aspects of women in gaming I find far more offensive than anything George Kamitani has drawn;
Featured above is the European Collector’s Edition of Deep Silver’s Dead Island: Riptide. This is something I genuinely find not only offensive, but rather creepy as well. I have a lot of male friends I play video games with, and if I went to visit one of them and saw the Dead Island “bust” on their shelves, I would find it deeply unnerving. However, when I play Dragon’s Crown with them, if they choose the Sorceress [who I actually intend to play, along with the Elf and the Amazon] I’ll likely just laugh, shake my head, and move on with my day.
And it’s not to say that there isn’t an issue with women and objectification in the media, especially within gaming culture. Recently, at PAX East, a group of Lara Croft cosplayers were asked a very lewd question by a “journalist.” Behavior like this is deeply offensive, and seems to be a reoccurring problem for women who actively participate in the gaming community. Many people make the argument that things like this occur because of women’s objectification in games. I don’t see the correlation in this specific instance because the Tomb Raider reboot is not only a fantastic game, but features a very realistically proportioned, strong female character who survives overwhelming odds. But as the point still stands, I feel it’s more a matter of picking and choosing your battles and really assessing what’s worth getting upset over, and what isn’t. Some of my favorite characters in gaming are Agrias Oaks from Final Fantasy Tactics, Maya and Lilith of Borderlands and Rose from Legend of Dragoon. Will the Sorceress ever impact and inspire girls the way Samus Aran or Jennifer Hale’s Commander Shepard has? (Excluding Metroid: Other M, ahem.) Probably not. Is that going to stop me from enjoying Vanillaware’s latest work this August? Definitely not. If you find the Sorceress so offensive, don’t support the game. It’s that simple.