A friend of mine is playing a new RPG called ‘Time and Eternity’. The concept was very interesting – a wedding was interrupted due to an assassination, and as the bride, the player needs to go back in time, again and again, to foil the assassination plot and, well, get married. During the game you control between the story’s protagonist Toki and her alter ego Towa. Battles are in real time.
However, what I would like to talk about is not the gameplay but the graphics. And by graphics, I mean the ‘graphic’ graphics employed in the game. As my friend continues to attempt to have a good experience with ‘Time and Eternity’ she couldn’t help but tell me how disappointed she is with the in game graphics. She told me that there are so many inappropriate camera angles that the game resembles an interactive hentai. At first I thought it was just another Japanese game deploying sexual humour unnecessarily, but when she actually sent me some screenshots, I was shocked by how graphic the scenes are.
Now it is no secret that the video game industry tends to highly sexualise their game characters. This happens both for male and female characters (although I think sexualising male characters are more of a recent development, maybe due to more female gamers?) Remember the time you wondered how Tifa could be a fist fighter when her boobs extended further than her arms? I am glad that Square Enix “re-sized” her in Advent Children but probably the animators finally realised that those boobs won’t work for a fighter in reality. What about LeBlanc in Final Fantasy X? I sometimes wondered whether her deadliness came from her outfit or her actual skills. Japanese games have a long history of over-sexualising their game characters. I was quite surprised when Nintendo announced that Bayonetta 2 is coming exclusively to Wii U when the first game played like a full on action porn with all the creative angles you could or could not think of to look at a woman’s physique. I thought Nintendo was a family friendly gaming company? The new Capcom game ‘Dragon’s Crown’ is equally outlandish with female characters so unproportionally sized that you wonder how they even manage to stand up? Other “brilliant” examples include ‘Shadow Hearts: From The New World’ with the female protagonist Shania executing her fusion forms through her boobs and her nether parts. Every time she “fuses” there would be close up of those parts lighting up to ensure that you know where her power came from. I am sure those parts are truly powerful in real life but lighting them up to fight the enemies?
However, the way sexualisation is done to male characters is very different (probably because there is less “stuff” to play around with). Sexualising male characters is usually about their six packs and their great inverted pyramid physique. Capcom showed quite a bit of their new Dante in the opening scene of ‘DmC: Devil May Cry’ with nothing but a piece of flying pizza to cover his junk. Also the metaphor of the girls he slept with the night that are actually his guns, is highly sexually charged (trigger happy anyone?) In ‘Shadows of the Damned’ Garcia and his “tool” Johnson don’t seem to stop talking about how powerful his “tool” is (that is constantly on display).
The thing is, though getting more and more equally sexualised, the intention of these treatments have not evolved with time. There is no doubt that more and more polygons are now deployed to areas distinguishing male characters from female characters, but the fact is that the power structure of this sexualisation has not changed. A female character can be as deadly as she could be (as in ‘Time and Eternity’) but at the end of the day she is still a subject of sexual fantasy. A portal to satisfy some (maybe) sexually frustrated gamers. This is the same in Bayonetta’s case. She could look cool in action but it does not change the fact that she is covering her body with her own hair and her crotch is on regular display during the frantic actions. As for male characters, it is about how hot they look and how strong their body is to protect whoever needs to be protected. Or they are so strong that all females would be subject to their bodily strength and the greatness of their “tools”.
I am not a feminist and can’t even consider myself marginally as one, but sometimes it does frustrate me when you want to play a game to enjoy the experience but all you see on screen are just unnecessary display of character sexualisation. When Disgaea first joked about the sexualisation of characters in video games, I fell in love with that game because it was so spot on. However with ‘Time and Eternity’, which is another Nippon Ichi game, the developer is just committing and perpetuating the same practice itself. Maybe game development is really a demanding and sexually deprived industry, but then do we as consumers need to take the hit of that sexual frustration from them after paying AUD$100 for a game? That is the question I always have but probably will never get a satisfying answer to.