Dragon’s Crown, Sexism, and Context

I realize that this comes in light of the large controversy about Dragon’s Crown, far after anyone cares, but I figure that I am allowed to present my opinion on the subject, yes?

So we know that people complained about the Sorceress having big breasts, and the Amazon having too little clothing. Whatever, that’s fine; if you believe it’s sexualized and it negatively affects you, then don’t play the game, simple as that. But whatever you do, don’t criticize it as if the game’s design isn’t intentional, or that director George Kamitani did not know what he did when he designed these characters. We know Kamitani as a student of the art world; he’s obviously familiar with fantasy materials from a variety of sources, as this description of the trailer reveals. Honestly, the influences run so far and wide from ancient artistry to pop culture that I’m baffled. I couldn’t even comment, simply because my knowledge feels so limited in this respect. Kamitani displays a wide depth of knowledge of his craft, and VanillaWare (with its beautiful 2D animation) obviously doesn’t exist to pander. What gives, then, with the “sexism” comments and the “here’s how a thirteen year old boy would design a game“?

Did anyone expect that he wouldn’t respond to an attack on his work? Furthermore, did anyone expect that a man from a different cultural context entirely might say something offensive completely abstracted from his own volition? Everyone, by now, probably saw the art that Kamitani posted in response:

Dragon's Crown Alternate Dwarf George Kamitani

From what I can tell, the artwork already existed for the purpose of promoting Dragon’s Crown; however, in most everywhere where the game found released, nobody wanted pictures of the Dwarf without clothes (can’t imagine why). Of course, then Kamitani’s rhetorical jab turned into a discussion of “casual homophobia“. Again, we’ve misdirected the issue through the culture of offense. I’m tired of these discussions as much as you are, but the Internet literally creates these. We do not discuss; we pander to our audience, see something we don’t like, then attach a moral prescription to it. Tiresome, to say the least.

And why do game reviewers suddenly feel so puritanical? Bayonetta barely deserved a mention at all, but Dragon’s Crown represents the epitome of sexuality in games? Heck, Bayonetta littered it all over the place. I know many Christians who find the game’s hypersexualized nature extremely uncomfortable. Me? I don’t, but I see what offends others. The problem comes when the moral gag reflexes that kicks up for one person suddenly pushes its way towards everyone. Let me say that a depiction of anything in a particular way does not magically turn into a sin. Humans turn it into a sin, and furthermore into a law.

The problem isn’t Dragon’s Crown, folks. No, the problem is YOU. Some of us like it, woman included. We like the art references, we like the way everything looks, and we especially like the consistency of design. This doesn’t have anything to do with the actual state of affairs, but it DOES show that perception changes our view of things. In fact, it changes everything when we view it from this light. A quick look at the female protagonist of VanillaWare’s other games should put it to rest:

vanillawaregals

Do any of them look sexualized? Do they? To make an honest and fair criticism, don’t you need to view an artist’s work in light of all their other work? Sure, every VanillaWare game in the past contained a busty woman or two, but how common has the “sexy video game character” trope become? Japanese culture, anime specifically, always  presents this sort of character; that’s nothing new. Anyone who’s watched Tenchi Muyo should know how prevalent the tropes became. It exists as a cultural product of their media. It may not exist here, sure, but American society isn’t like Japanese society at all. Kamitani may take his influences from the outside, but it’s hard to deny Japan’s insular nature, in both society and entertainment media. Heck, they barely buy Western games at all; they like it that way. Nor do they find problems with their media’s “sexism”.

Question: should male and female standards of sexual attraction be exactly the same? Well, no, they shouldn’t. For whatever reason, science does not intersect with this debate either. It’s obvious from a cursory study of just about ANY survey regarding sexual attractiveness that men prefer what we’d call “sexual features”, while women look for the attributes of a good partner. It is why, in part, games designed for men…look like games designed by men’s interest, while games designed by women don’t tend towards those avenues. I mean, am I the only person who thinks this is obvious? Yet, of course, the moral element comes into the picture, and if it does not conform to the hidden, pre-existing standard of MY PERSONAL MORALITY, then it fails. It is sexist. Maybe the game’s not designed for you, then? Maybe you need to find a game designed for you? (The link is definitely NSFW in every way).

Don’t you need to view the Gospels in the context of the rest of the entire Bible? Do you really, or do you just say you do? The Bible contains a number of reprehensible things that, if we watched a movie, would fit under the role of “sin” or even cause us to sin. This person lays with that person, Amnon rapes his half sister, people get gutted, have body parts chopped off, get hanged, thrown into fires, eaten by crows, eaten by dogs, commit genocide against whole groups of people, lie, cheat, steal, and whatever else you could put on a list. So yes, any of these could inspire something sinful if taken from the book and transformed into some other medium.

Of course, we know that’s not the case. We know the Bible’s intent as the Word of God. We know it as a source of special revelation, and it remains authoritative in nearly every denomination. Yet, somehow, we find ourselves criticizing everything else without any necessary historical or literary context behind it. We make cursory judgments of everything as Christians at our own peril, establishing a new Law without even trying to see from whence our media came.

To take it one step further: why do Christians suddenly deserve the right to judge the world for its failings, assuming this “sexualization” is a failing at all? We should know better than to judge those who don’t know about Jesus Christ, let alone accusing them of something to which they retain zero context. To condemn an act, or a depiction, or anything without explaining your intellectual leanings or reasonings in a moral sense makes mush out of any genuine conversation. Paul in Ephesians 4 says:

17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

So how do you intend for them to understand if they cannot have the proper understanding? I am always afraid when Christians and secularists alike agree on something for the exact same reasons; the Bible tells us that we should know better. Something’s definitely wrong in our thought processes if we believe our moral inclinations come from the same mind; the sacred and the reprobate do not often associate. Jesus’ ethics came from an otherwordly viewpoint that radically changed everything, and even though he espoused the same God as the Pharisees with the same morality, it came from an entirely different perspective: of sin and grace, not law and death. How do you understand sin without the Christian worldview attached to it?

In the same way, what is needed, then, is context. Criticism requires a vast history of knowledge behind the work you judge, NOT a cursory analysis based on your own personal moral code. There’s a time and place for that, but ONLY once you’ve done the work prior to that. Otherwise, you just look ignorant to the work of a whole person, and I call that a sin just like any other. Your law isn’t any better than grace, so quit it. We know sin through the Law, but we aren’t bound to it. Context and circumstance matter if we want to avoid fundamental attribution error and confirmation bias. Get a variety of opinions on a subject, and quit just siding with those who agree. The world would be a lot better if we could just do that; Christians may as well find a moral obligation to do it.

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

Romans 7

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.