The Problem With Video Game Critics
Ladies and Gentlemen, Nerds and Nerdettes, welcome to The Basement; the segment where we discuss news relevant to gamer interests, developer/publisher screw ups, and all the wonderful information that makes us jump for joy or shout out in rage. Take your seat on the sofa, grab a slice of pizza, pick up your controller and let's get to it. Today's topic, art/character design integrity.
Video games have been fighting a hard battle to be considered a legitimate form of art. This is as it should be because video games are the culmination of various ideas created with passion by talented people who all share the same artistic vision. When creating a work of art, one should always remember that said piece of art will always be criticized by people inferring meaning that isn't there and transferring their own personal ideologies onto the work of art.
Criticizing a thing is all well and good as it aids in future improvement and refinement, but critique should always end before calling out an artist's integrity simply because one does not agree with said artist's vision. It is no one's right to state that an artist is immature, or sexist, or any other negative adjective simply because you personally feel that how he/she chooses to express themselves must have deeper psychological or sociological implications attached to their work.
Most of you reading this are likely aware of the upcoming game Dragon's Crown. It is an old school style fantasy action RPG that features some character designs that many would consider to be "overly sexualized." Due to these designs, the president of Vanillaware, George Kamitani who is also the character artist for Dragon's Crown, was attacked by sites like Kotaku as being sexist, having his personal character attacked, and his work ridiculed. This example is but the most recent, and I'm sure we can all recount other games, and other characters that faced this kind of problem.
The issue is with individuals who reach into every aspect of design to find themes and meanings that simply aren't present nor were ever intended by the designer. To call out any artist for issues that exist only in your own mind is a very dangerous disservice to gamers the world over. The issue of sexism in gaming is a hot button topic today largely due to people who don't understand the proper usage for the term and equate all instances of "sexualized" women as sexist or misogynistic.
Dragon's Crown is actually a throwback to arcade style games of the 80's and 90's that featured these kinds of designs back when gaming was a very different pastime with a very different demographic. When evaluating a game, one must always remember to take into consideration several factors. Things like cultural differences will definitely influence the design of a game, as will target audience. Even if the target audience of a game is the male demographic, one can't say that there won't be female gamers who absolutely love the game and the design philosophy as well, but the problem is that people who are critiquing these things aren't doing so with professional detachment and instead have personal agendas they wish to subtly convey while appearing sensitive and learned.
It is incredibly difficult to look at gaming journalism as a reliable and professional source of information these days. The reason behind this is that too many outlets have proven they can't be trusted to be professional, to see a game just for what it is. Utilizing the platform of sexism, many a "journalist" would hope to make a name for themselves, to appeal to a certain demographic of readers, and to generate unnecessary controversy. This is proven when you look at the fact that controversy was created because of a simple trophy name, and now because of beautiful character designs that are being scrutinized too heavily.
It's easy to gain attention for your own journalistic work if make the claim that a busty character is sexist to women. It's a safe piece of controversy to start up, but it's also a terrible attack on designers and their true vision. A busty woman does not mean that said woman is in any way "bad." Think about the type of people who would actually consider a fictional character to be a problem. The easiest case to make against those who would fall back on the sexist argument is that the problems they see, which are present only in their minds, are representative of the problems they or someone they know have had in their own lives. Just because those problems have happened though is no reason to make a connection with the real world and the physical appearance of a fictional character.
The irony of this is that, in making such criticisms, these journalists are opening themselves up to a backlash of criticisms against their own particular form of "art", as they should be. Many of these articles have the feeling of speaking with a voice that is everyone's voice when in actuality it's only one person's voice. I mentioned before that there are women in the world who have no problem with "sexualized" females in games, yet their voice is ignored due to the perception that they only have that opinion because it is forced upon them by men. Why can't they enjoy every aspect of the design? Why must it be hated, and the designers ostracized even though they aren't at all sexist and just had a particular vision in mind? Why must people who want to enjoy the game as a game and not as social commentary be labelled as wrong and part of a problem with current game design philosophy?
The Bottom Line
When it comes down to brass tacks we all have to remember that just because we can critique design, doesn't mean we understand what it is we are critiquing. None of us know what is going through the minds of the artists who are creating their masterpieces unless they tell us. It is for this reason that it is wrong to claim themes as being present without knowing if that really was the intent of the designer. We are not all psycho-analysts and we do not have the credentials or authority to call out designers for issues that have root base in personal feelings.
We all have to remember that rights and vision do not end where personal feelings begin. If designers had to worry about representing every Blank American (Ralphie May FTW) positively to appease every possible group that exists, games would be boring and devoid of personality. Art shouldn't be restricted by fear of emotional reciprocity and should exist as the pure form of expression it was always meant to be. If we are to criticize games, let us criticize actual problems such as a weak story, poor or absent character growth (if the genre of game calls for it), terrible controls and the like. Let us not slam design and designers for what are actually our own personal problems to deal with.
Well folks, that's all for this visit to The Basement. Let us know in the comments if you feel that there are certain aspects of design that should be left alone, or should everything be analyzed to their smallest details for hidden meaning that we may or may not agree with. Until next time remember, always make sure to call *SPOILER ALERT* or you'll anger people who haven't played a game that's 10 years old. See you next time.