List by Matt S.
There was one of the semi-frequent Internet blow-ups late last week/ early this week, when a games journalist decided to write a review in which he states that fans of a certain game are perverts and perverse. Naturally that didn’t go down so well with aforementioned fans of that game, or games like it, because contrary to popular belief within some circles, liking a game that has bikini girls or even (GASP!) nudity doesn’t turn someone into a ‘pervert’ any more than Call of Duty, or any of the three billion games out there that depict gun death, turn people into mass murderers.
Despite the startling hypocrisy, it does remain a fact that games, particularly those that hail from Japan, are considered to be self-evidently perverse by many journalists, as long as they contain 1) women (or girls) and 2) clothing that doesn’t rival the hijab or nun’s habit for sheer conservatism. Rarely is context considered, so anything subversive, satirical, or empowering (because in Japanese stories, sexuality is often considered empowering) is still dismissed as exploitative and demeaning.
So, anyway, this week I’m listing ten games that got slammed unfairly for their depiction of sexuality, and I love them all. If you think that makes me a pervert, then take your gun games and GTAs and stay the hell away from me, you mass murdering lunatic.
I’ll start with the most overt example of “what the hell were the other critics looking at?” Lollipop Chainsaw was an absolute masterpiece of subversion, written with the most deft touch by James Gunn – yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy dude. At every single opportunity possible, the game takes what you might expect of a game in which the lead is a big-boobed cheerleader with an uber-short skirt, and flips it on its head. Juliet Starling – the cheerleader – is smarter, stronger, and more empowered than any of the male characters, who need rescuing by her, and she is so far above their sleazy innuendos (and your ability to tilt the camera to look up her skirt) that every male involved in the game (or playing it) is meant to feel quite silly for their juvenile behaviour.
Related reading: On Lollipop Chainsaw and subversion, Matt’s analysis of the game.
Well, you could always expect that a game that Tsunako, queen of the sexy anime character designs, was going to be controversial for those designs. The Hyperdimension Neptunia games have never held back from being balls-to-the-wall ridiculous in their humour and satire of the video game industry. Despite that, a lot of people don’t seem to laugh along with it. Joyless sods.
Related reading: Matt’s review of the most recent Hyperdimension Neptunia game.
This game was considered so utterly dangerous to the health of anyone who played it that it needed to be banned in New Zealand. It makes me feel right hardcore artsy to play the game now, though, because now I know I’m living on the edge, and every time I turn this game on I take one step close to that psychotic break…
The reality is that Gal*Gun is a gently subversive game that, in an admittedly clumsy fashion, actually seeks to highlight the kind of dogged harassment that women put up with in society from men, by reversing things – now it’s a boy being harassed by perennially-horny girls.
Related reading: Matt C on why Gal*Gun is not the pervy game it’s attributed to.
Senran Kagura has become the pin-up model for what many deem the horrible exploitation that goes on in Japan’s games industry. My choice of words there is deliberate: they’re quite explicitly pin up girls, the girls in this game. The thing is, though, Senran Kagura’s sexualisation is simply to over-the-top and ridiculous. It’s got girls whose special ability causes their boobs to explode in size by a factor of ten. That’s not sexy. It’s silly and puerile, just like a game like Doom isn’t actually horrific, even though it’s set in hell and features demonic enemies. There’s a point where a work becomes so exaggerated that it becomes a self-reflective parody of itself. Senran Kagura is the most extreme example of that.
Related reading: Matt’s review of Senran Kagura: Estival Versus.
Dead or Alive (5 or Xtreme, it doesn’t really matter)
I’ll be the first to admit that when Dead or Alive went from the porcelain doll or mannequin aesthetic of 1 through to 4 to the more human-like design of 5 and Xtreme, it lost some of its self-reflexivity. Those earlier Dead or Alive games were quite effective as explorations into social and cultural expectations around beauty. Nonetheless, Dead or Alive 5 and Xtreme share the same satirical pin-up tradition; they’re undeniably sexy games in tone and presentation, but it’s light and playful, rather than raunchy. It’s also worth noting that the male characters of this universe are presented as feeble and empty shells; the real empowerment in Dead or Alive is in the women, and they are never victimised for being beautiful and sexy. As I said in the intro, Japanese culture respects female sexuality and considers in empowering. This game is an example of that.
Related reading: Matt’s review of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3.
This is a fascinating one, because I think, post release, most people who actually played the game “got it.” Prior to release, the presence of a woman in a leotard and great legs raised the usual eyebrows, but once people delved deeply into the story, it became quite clear that the entire game is a deconstruction of sexuality. Despite this, I still see the occasional comment to the effect of “this is a mesmerising game with exceptional themes. Pity about 2B and her short skirt, though.” I do have to wonder if they played the game in those circumstances. They’ll claim they have. But yeah, I’m on to them. No one can be that thick to have actually played this and still think that 2B’s dressed the way she is for pure titillation purposes.
Related reading: Matt’s review of NieR: Automata.
As with Dead or Alive, Bayonetta appropriates so many of the pinup aesthetic and tradition to empower its lead – the titular Bayonetta. So many people saw a woman clad in her own hair that would go fully naked when doing a mega-attack to kill beings as powerful as God. None of them seemed to notice, nor care, that Bayonetta’s power – enough power to be the supreme being in the universe, no less – comes from her sexuality, and none of them stop to consider that perhaps some cultures aren’t affected by the puritan traditions of the three religions of the book that mean, conservative or liberal, left or right, sexuality is still something to be uncomfortable about or ashamed of.
Seriously, people, learn something about moral relativism. Thinking is fun. Try it.
Related reading: Matt’s review of Bayonetta 2.
Ar tonelico Qoga
Ar tonelico, and Ar nosurge after it, weren’t exactly mainstream franchises, but within the small amount of conversation that they generated, the focus on stripping that is in these games was a point of contention. They’re complex games, so I won’t explain the lore in full, but basically a specific type of woman has access to incredible power, but to access that power she needs to steadily remove clothes – the closer she gets to nature the more devastating her magic.
On top of this, a critical powering-up system requires the male characters to “dive” into the unconscious of these girls and then interact with them in their most vulnerable state. The innuendo proved too much for a number of players, but people who pushed past it quickly realised that these games have such a warmth and tenderness to them, and such a powerful respect for environmentalism and preservation, that they couldn’t possibly be considered ‘perverse’.
Related reading: Matt’s review of Ar nosurge Plus, on the PlayStation Vita.
Nights of Azure
Gust was really pushing things with this one. It’s a lesbian love story, set within a gothic fantasy opera. Like with Ar tonelico (also by Gust) the women end up in a dream space stripped down as far as the New Zealand censors would allow in order to express vulnerability with one another. It was a game that was derided for these scenes, and the general tone of sexuality in the game. But, again, it’s a quite sweet love story, does an excellent job of appropriating the sex themes that were a part of the classical gothic horror that the story is based on, and again, like with Bayonetta and others already mentioned, it’s also a story about a very powerful, potent woman who is empowered further through her sexuality.
Related reading: Matt’s review of Nights of Azure.
I know this one isn’t out yet, but I think we all know what’s going to happen in the major games press when this one lands, because unfortunately it is a major release from Koei this year, so it’s going to get some real attention. Blue Reflection basically has the entire checklist of things that critics need to call fans of the game ‘perverts’: school uniforms, underwear, bath scenes and all-girl cast. It won’t matter what the plot is, because the critics won’t care. It won’t matter how good the game is, because critics won’t care. It’s going to be docked a bunch of points off scores, and all the sex stuff is going to be written up as a giant flaw in the game. The only thing worse would be if it drops from 30fps to 29fps in a cut scene once. We all know how dreadfully important those framerates are to a turn-based JRPG that puts no time pressure on players at all.
Seriously though, I know Blue Reflection’s going to be hit with all kinds of criticism, whether it deserves it or not, because there’s ample precedent for it. Any other game that’s less about putting holes in skills and more about unlocking alternative underwear colours is going to be derided by default, because people who enjoy these games clearly should be enjoying the sweet rush of virtual murder instead.
Related reading: Our massive, in-depth interview with the producer of Blue Reflection.
– Matt S.
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