That Gorgeous Sorceress

A big controversy on the internet this past week has been the character designs in Dragon’s Crown. (Again. These designs have been around for a while, but the game release date was officially announced, with some new trailers.) I have complicated feelings about the character designs in Dragon’s Crown.

Except that’s a lie; the truth is I love the character designs in Dragon’s Crown. If I lived in a giant bubble, that would be the end of it. I’d just buy the game and giggle all the way down.
But the internet is the internet, and it feels like I’m not supposed to love this, because I am a feminist and I am A Very Bad Feminist if I support artwork like, well… that Sorceress there on the right. Her, specifically. With the boobs-n-butt pose and the long suggestive stick and dear god, those breasts, they’re like great heavy teats. I ought to be raging about this. Except I think she’s fabulous. 
I put the male wizard here for contrast, by the way, because isn’t he also fabulous? Hey, the results are in, and some ladies really dig broody, Raistlin-type goth dudes. I bet he has such the tragic backstory.

What I find most interesting about the reaction to Sorceress is that it’s not just women who are uncomfortable (though I don’t deny that some women might be uncomfortable). A lot of men are uncomfortable. It’s a similar reaction, I think, to the new Cortana design (which I loved) or Bayonetta (who I also love).

The common denominator in all of those designs isn’t just that they’re sexy designs. It’s that they’re very deliberately highlighting something about what it means to sexualize a character. In the case of Cortana, her nakedness was supposed to make the player uncomfortable. For some, this went over their head and they just leered at her. For some players this actually worked, but they didn’t seem to understand why, so there was just backlash. In the case of Bayonetta, she’s using highly aggressive sexuality as a weapon. This is a trope as old as time (seriously, it’s Hero’s Journey stuff), to the point where lots of geeks take it for granted. (“Why the hell would they build female Decepticons” I once asked, “To distract enemy warriors obviously” Oh, obviously) But when you see it writ large, completely over the top, it’s not so much that now, now, this is a problem, as “is this how things have been all along?” 
I get that this is pretty hard for the game industry. Lots of games in this era want to engage us on the topics of how most games are immature about handling sex and violence. So, in the case of violence, what kind of commentary do we end up with? Spec Ops: the Line, Hotline Miami, games that indulge in violence while they’re saying something about violence. In the case of sexuality and objectification of women, we get Bayonetta; we get Lollipop Chainsaw, games indulging in objectification in order to say something about objectification. The message gets mixed up if you’re doing a thing while you’re subtly condemning doing that thing. I’m not sure about this, but maybe that’s really the only way games can comment on things, and it either hits or it misses. Maybe we can do better; I don’t know.
But I think Dragon’s Crown is the wrong target. The anger at Dragon’s Crown is misplaced. Those boobs are supposed to look silly and maybe a little painful. They behave in a cartoony-floppy way that’s a long way from the anti-gravity boobs in, say, SoulCalibur, and that’s a good thing to me because it kind of highlights the ridiculousness of it all.
Lots of people point to, for example, Alyx in Half-Life as an example of how a female character in games ought to be. But Alyx never clicked with me that much. She’s fine; I have nothing against her, but I don’t gravitate to her in any way. On the other hand, I like Sorceress a lot. This isn’t saying “so put more crazy women like this in games.” This is saying, “hey, put more women in games, period, with a variety of designs doing a variety of things.” Not everyone’s tastes are going to be the same. If there’s only one female character in a game, she has the burden of representing all women, and that’s kind of a problem. But if there’s three or four of them, we’ve got options.
Maybe you can even have a chubby heroine in a game some day. I mean, I’m dreaming, right?
I am at least relieved that I’m not the only woman who likes Dragon’s Crown Sorceress – in fact, there’s already cosplay. You go, girls!
I’m not trying to say, if the designs make you uncomfortable, that you don’t have the right to feel uncomfortable. But if Sorceress makes you uncomfortable (and this is a question for the men) it might be interesting to ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable. Was this design surprisingly worse than many others, or was it just “the last straw”?
(ETA: I had to edit away an image on this because someone was leeching it, apologies.)

8 thoughts on “That Gorgeous Sorceress”

  1. I am SO glad that this is where you went with this–I kind of figured this would be your take, given that we’ve talked about Bayonetta and The Witcher’s Lady Cards. I’ve played a lot of Vanillaware’s games, and they do some odd and interesting things with revealing clothing–I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the minor controversy over Muramasa’s promo art which alluded to Dream of the Fisherman’s wife?

    I read somewhere that apparently the artist responsible read Jason Schreier’s suggestion that he was a 14-year-old boy and, in response, suggested Schreier would appreciate some bara art. He responded to Schreier’s suggestion that he was a teenager by calling Schreier gay. I think that’s the most hilarious thing I’ve ever heard.

    Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been slowly throwing out the idea in the ED comments of getting together some kind of group to play The Void over the summer. I would highly recommend you join–it uses the “pick which one of these pinup girls you want to date and give her collectables” trope to one of the most interesting effects I’ve ever seen.

  2. I don’t have too much to say, because this kind of topic is not my bag. I wonder if Alyx is a kind of role model that appeals to modern *men*, the kind of non-sexualized female protagonist that men feel comfortable with – thank god there’s no boobs or thigh, we can just get along. It’s not about a female role model in games. I’m just thinking off the top of the head considering I liked working with Alyx; she didn’t annoy me. I know Pippin Barr absolutely hated her as he confessed in the video interview last year.

    I wonder when we will get to the place where we can be comfortable with all of this. I mean, as you’re sort of pointing out, a happy future is not one where every piece of flesh is covered in tape and six layers of fabric, but where characters are multi-dimensional. They are not defined explicitly by provocative attire, but that doesn’t mean they’re not sexual individuals. Obviously more complex than this but occurs to me if we force all our female characters to cover up – that’s creepily close to saying it’s the woman’s fault for the way she dresses… y’know? Again I don’t have any real point here, just writing out loud.

    But that animated image above, Amanda, I find myself horribly mesmerised by the … jounce. It’s weirdly hypnotic. Look at those things. They’re beyond real. Supernatural. Sorcery, I’d say.

    I had better close the page before I totally lose myself.

  3. Great post!

    Honestly, the most heartily I’ve seen about this topic, and others alike.

    About the last question: “why some are uncomfortable?”

    I’m sure the many people would never feel like that if they weren’t indoctrinate and lead to guilty by misguided feminists.

    Bad feminists is that ones who believes that everything it’s a matter of patriarchal oppression and even a beautiful women works for sexism just for be… Beautiful.

    Curiously, they can’t see that this way feeds the prejudice that would be fighting. So, a big breasted woman can’t do things!?

    Many women are naturally big breasted, and as everything, the game artwork exaggerates that. Why guys can have any shape, but women don’t? This game show a skinny elf, no breast, a muscular one, and a voluptous other.

    And like you, I also dreaming with the day we will have a chubby heroine.

    Marcus Valerio XR

  4. I do want to make it clear that I consider myself a feminist and I do not think feminism is bad or that it’s indoctrination. But I’m noticing a weird pattern in the kind of art that makes people mad lately.

    I’m watching a similar backlash happening now over the designs (which are from the 90s) of the female characters in Shadows over Mystara. (a very similar game to Dragon’s Crown) Maybe an elf in a miniskirt is just more problematic now than it would’ve been 15 years ago… but I like the art in these titles.

  5. Why does it make you a “bad feminist” to like this art work? That doesn’t even make sense. The feminist hive mind is not allowed to like drawings with big breasts? LOL

    The dragon Crown “controversy” is one of the reasons 3 wave feminism is considered a complete joke by the main stream. Women get upset about drawings of big boobs in a game. Meanwhile feminist protest by taking their tops off and exposing their tits. So are tits good or bad feminists? Make up your mind.

    Or is it only LARGE breasts that are bad. Could it be all this crying really just comes down to simple female jealousy? It’s really starting to seem like that.

    What about the unrealistic masculine muscles on the male characters in this game? How come no men are complaining about that? Is it because men have better things to do with their time than get upset and jealous about drawings in a video game?

    I think the feminist hive mind should try address some of the REAL issues that face women today, and stop freaking out about some tits.

  6. To break down your comment:

    No, I don’t actually think liking the art makes me a bad feminist…

    “What about the men” is kind of a common coment – people ARE complaining about it, but specifically as a counterpoint to women offended by the female artwork, and, let’s be fair – more or less every time it comes up. I broadly agree that the artwork in Dragon’s Crown is consistent stylistically, but let’s not pretend no one brings up the dudes. Ya’ll do it with some regularity.

    The fact that I do consider myself a feminist should at least prove there’s no hive mind? I have no idea if this kind of stuff is going to shake out eventually.

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