There’s not a lot to be said about the game Dragon’s Crown that hasn’t been said already – it’s one of the most transparent litmus tests for ingroup sexism you could ask for. A single look at the sorceress and amazon character classes should put an end to any argument about whether the game has problematic attitudes towards women, and gameplay videos like this should nail the figurative coffin shut, glue it airtight, then throw it into a raging inferno.
I became aware of this game through trailers and promotional art posted early last year, but didn’t pay much attention to the discussion surrounding it until Kotaku’s Jason Schreier published two now-infamous articles critical of the game’s art style. (Schreier’s articles fit into a larger trend I’ve long noticed among mainstream comics and game websites – someone will write an article that takes a gently progressive stance criticizing some aspect of the industry, and the response will be immediate, defensive, angry, and unanimous. See: ComicsAlliance* for more.)
Faced with the most obvious possible criticism of Dragon’s Crown, dissenting commenters made many arguments against Schreier’s suggestion that these characters might be just a little bit problematic.
-Shouldn’t women be allowed to dress how they want?
-Video game men are equally eroticized
-It’s an homage to traditional fantasy art, such as the work of Frank Frazetta
-Jason Schreier is a “White Knight,” only pretending to dislike the art style in order to score with women
-People who dislike this art are afraid of sex, and would ban Renaissance art if they could
-I’m a girl (or am friends with a girl), and this art doesn’t offend me
-Kotaku is making a sad attempt to “appeal to their readers” by stirring up fake controversy
-It is immature to be so bothered by this kind of representation, are boobs all you can think about?
ETC. ETC. ETC.
Instead of doing what I would have done (change from a video game news site to a site that exclusively publishes articles about rhetorical fallacy, logic, and basic feminist theory**), Kotaku backed right off, publishing an article about how beautiful Dragon’s Crown artist George Kamitani’s art is, and going out of the way to insist that there are valid arguments “on both sides.” When Dragon’s Crown finally came out, Kotaku’s review very self-consciously did not mention the issue of sexism at all (not that that stopped commenters from chastising Kotaku for ever bringing up the subject in the first place.) The backlash against Kotaku was so intense that “calling Kotaku” and “running to Kotaku” became synonymous with making a whiny, feminist argument on many corners of the gaming web.
One of the only major game review sites that had enough backbone to state the obvious was Polygon, whose review included a short segment criticizing the (AS OBVIOUS AS THE SUN) sexism. The review quickly garnered well over a thousand comments, each new one more eye-gougingly stupid than the last, but Polygon’s moderators shocked me by actually moderating their comments section, something I have almost never seen happen on Kotaku or ComicsAlliance. I have nothing but admiration for that small staff of dedicated mods, who slogged through one of the ugliest comment sections I’ve ever seen, patiently and systematically arguing in favor of common sense. In fact, the comments were so bad that Dragon’s Crown publisher Atlus’ PR department posted a comment apologizing for the behavior of their fans, saying, “I urge you to please respect the Danielle’s/Polygon’s opinion and then form your own instead of trying to force your opinion on them.”
Does any of this matter in the long run? Probably not. I’ve seen the same antifeminist, anti-common sense arguments made hundreds, thousands of times, in reference to both games and comics. Remember this article? It was great! This comic too! Too bad the “men are equally objectified” argument is still one of the most widely accepted among comics and game fans. And I don’t want anyone to think this only applies to feminism – commenters will happily make their opinions known about race or disability, as seen in this eternally painful comments section.
Do I have a larger point to make? Only that it’s very painful when I see how overwhelmingly and proudly bigoted fellow lovers of games and comics can be. These are two industries that I love more than anything, and they are bogged down in the sort of idiotic, single-minded hard headedness usually reserved for a 13-year-old, fresh out of his first apologetics class. And the worst part of all this, THE WORST PART, is that almost nobody on the publishing side is willing to really get their feet wet. Look, Kotaku, I know it must suck to have a million angry, whining manchildren on your case because you didn’t endorse their shitty garbage. But you know what’s worse? Taking tiny steps over a clear line, one way and then the other, trying as hard as possible not to offend the assholes. Polygon did it right. Polygon wrote straightforwardly about a problematic game, and worked hard to defend their position. I have enormous respect for that. I don’t have any respect for “trying to present both sides” of a clear and pressing issue, when one side’s argument boils down to comments like this.
I’m hoping that games fans and comics fans begin to realize more and more that it actually IS possible to enjoy one aspect of something, even as you criticize another. We’ll see. Until then, I’ll keep being frustrated when sites I generally respect allow and endorse shocking bigotry. It’s all very well to feel mandated to report only on comics/game/action-figure news, but when your commenters consistently re-affirm Lewis’ Law, it might be time to take some responsibility and stand your ground.
*I’d link to something, but their recent reboot erased the pre-reboot comments sections. Take my word for it.
**Not sure why I’m not the editor of kotaku.com yet…