By Icemael 173 Comments
In recent years there has been a trend of moralization in video game criticism, particularly concerning gender inequalities, but also race and sexuality. Dragon’s Crown is only the latest subject of this kind of criticism: before it we've had Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Bayonetta and so on and so forth. A lot of people are pleased with this, but the truth of the matter is that this is a degenerative and harmful trend – something that becomes most obvious if one imagines applying this kind of criticism to historical works.
Should the Iliad have points docked for being sexist? Would Dracula cease to be a masterpiece if the vampires and Renfield were black, while the rest of the cast remained white? Are we supposed to quit admiring the works of all the great painters throughout history on account of the inequality at display in their art? Would the paintings of Sir Leighton be better if they depicted more black people? Is Rubens' Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus worse because contemporary morality condemns its subject matter? Or Gérôme's Slave Market in Rome?
The notion is absurd. Moralization has no place in art criticism: the only value judgments of relevance are the aesthetic ones. Is it beautiful? – That is the question. Subtracting points in an art review because the work isn't “equal” enough is as ridiculous as subtracting points in a food review because the dish contains meat and therefore required the death of animals. There is nothing wrong with “male gaze” – on the contrary, it is only through the perspective of a man (or a lesbian, I suppose) that female beauty can be fully appreciated and celebrated. Nor is there anything wrong with male power fantasies, weak women in need of help, or any of the other things feminists object to in games. As for the lack of the opposite perspective: as unfortunate as it may be for those who are desperate to see more depictions of helpless, sexualized white men being rescued by strong women or overweight black transsexuals or whatever, artists (whether painters, writers, filmmakers or video game developers) have no collective obligation to provide this, nor indeed much aesthetic motivation, as the introduction of more strong women, blacks etc. has no inherent value and – contrary to what some seem to think – certainly doesn't help an art form advance faster. Classical painting and literature would not have been better or evolved more rapidly if the old masters included more minorities in their works, and neither will video games.
Furthermore, it is absurd to look at an artist’s depiction of a woman or black and claim that it’s representative of his view of women or blacks in general. “He created female characters that need rescuing, so clearly he thinks all women are weak and helpless” and “He created a black character that speaks in a stereotypical manner, so clearly he’s an ignorant and hateful man who thinks all black people are like this” – these are absolutely ridiculous conclusions to draw, and suggesting that developers (or the players who enjoy their works) are misogynists or racists based on depictions (or non-depictions) of women and blacks in games is stupid, disingenuous, or possibly both.
Shinji Mikami put it well in a recent interview: “Games are not really a time for morals, they're entertainment, so if you want more morals, you should go to someplace like a school. We're making entertainment.” Words to live by for any remotely serious critic or developer.