By Tidel 29 Comments
Sex, gender and orientation colour how we see the world.
Dragon’s Crown creates an identity crisis. Its gaze is narrow and particular (male; man; straight). Of the playable characters, the Amazon and the Sorceress are the most ponderously deformed; the former has a spiral staircase for a spine and a booty bigger than the Elf, while the latter has impossible boobs indecently heavy with independent physics.
By contrast the gents are not sexualized; both the Wizard and Fighter are fully clothed, and the broad-chested Dwarf doesn’t flash his ass with every jump or lean on his weapon like a stripper pole when resting.
The women you come across in the dungeons are trussed up, spread-eagle, or inexplicably mermaid only below the ass. The men, not.
The gaze – the authored identity of witness – is very much male, man, straight.
But I don’t think that’s sexist or misogynistic. Dragon’s Crown is not a crime against equality so much as an expression of one very specific viewpoint, full fetish on display.
It’s piggish, and pervy, and absurd, and represents a sexual power fantasy that some might find creepy. But one person’s icky is another person’s sticky, as I immediately regret saying; there is a real danger in moralizing all unrealistic fantasies. We are creatures of meat and may have appetites that we in no way need realized, but are safe to indulge in, in harmless ways.
There’s a lot of stuff that makes me uncomfortable. I find a lot of anime problematic, particularly the sexualization of young girls. But Japan has a different view of fantasy that we do in the West – importantly, that it is fantasy, and fantasy is empirically distinct from reality. It is a ‘safe space’ where folks can indulge in and exercise their darkest desires without harm.
Western culture has a lot of very creepy, very unhealthy views about sex. Janet Jackson, full grown woman, flashes tit on television and a nation goes into meltdown, while ‘countdown clocks’ tick down the world over for Hermione’s or Hit Girl’s 18th. A woman shows one boob and it’s indecent; a host of men blue-ball to the thought underage girls and collectively hold breath until their desire is technically legal. Maybe there isn’t a lot of overlap between the two populations, but they are each characteristic of a problem, and together paint a gnarly picture of how our culture treats sex and sexual fantasy.
There’s probably a lot at play here, but I think at least in part, the reason we’re so schizophrenic about sex is because we do not treat fantasy as a discrete reality. Here, fantasy is seen as indoctrination, training for an opportunity to express itself in reality.
Maybe it is, for some. Was the Aurora theatre shooting inspired by Heath Ledger’s searing performance as the Joker, or was that excuse a media-created idea to drive clicks that incidentally furthered a culture of shame, fear and aggression? Both? Unbalanced folk will latch on to disturbing things. Should ‘disturbing things’ be scrubbed out of existence? Who is the arbiter of acceptability? Can we learn nothing of value about ourselves and each other from uncomfortable content?
I honestly don’t know, except I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t have mixed in real-world violence with cultural attitudes about sex. It’s a confusing enough issue.
I’m a gay dude. My perspective (male; dude; gay) on the ladies of Dragon’s Crown is that they are silly and deformed and designed to give boners to a particular kind of guy, who is not me. They are not out of step with how gaming draws most of its female characters – a gross exaggeration, but an expression that fits neatly on the far, most populated end of the spectrum (poor Jade, so alone on her side). At worst, I think they reflect back on us a very tired perspective on women in games, one that has become ubiquitous, one that too few studios seem capable of or willing to change. The games industry has been dominated by one particular gaze for far too long. It is fine to be exasperated by it. Maybe even overdue.
But this is a ‘disturbing thing’ I’m glad has been widely, if poorly (get your shit together, internet), discussed – every time something like this comes up, it is a chance to move the conversation, the medium, forward. If gaming effectively exposed us to multiple perspectives, instead of a variation on one, then Dragon’s Crown, untouched, could just be. It wouldn’t have to be a focal point – it could just be one of many perspectives, and it’s okay that it’s not for you.
I’m playing as the Amazon. She is badass, if poorly dressed; I imagine it’s hard to find pants that fit, poor thing. I downloaded the free voice pack and switched the narrator to Amazon, too. Normally, I play my fantasies as a dude, always with the hope that my character dude gets to experience some fashion of dude love, implicit or otherwise. But my gaze is never represented, my fantasies rarely, so I am comfortable (through experience if not nature) indulging another identity. And I still bring my own shit to the table – I’m not suddenly overcome with mammary madness. I don’t see the Amazon as a fetish object – I see her as a woman who has triumphed over physical deformity. I am not the ideal subject of Kamitani’s fantasy, but I look past it, over it, set it aside, because, importantly, the character design isn’t ever the most interesting thing about the game. The animation, the art direction, the music – GOD the music! – the pace, structure and flow of play are all far more appealing and make this game worthy.
Through presentation the game invites me to oogle, but doesn’t demand it – very quickly, I forgot about Sonja’s flashing booty and got down to the business of adventuring, which, in Dragon’s Crown, is some of the best in recent memory. Certainly for a brawler – Castle Crashers remains my favourite in this genre puddle, but Dragon’s Crown is its equal in many ways. As with every game I play, apparently, I wish Nintendo would do a Zelda like it.
If you can’t see past questionable representation, or don’t want to – don’t force it. Don’t buy, don’t support, continue to discuss. But character design that seeks to illicit a particular response out of a particular person is not inherently sexist, even when that response is a weird boner and that person is a guy. It might show the culture as sexist, but I don’t think the game itself oppresses or does harm, so it has a right to exist.
If you are down with the dirty in this game, ew. But whatever, enjoy it as the silly fantasy it is in good health. Context.
If you like brawlers, loot, hand-drawn characters, animation, colour, leveling, seriously amazing town and shop music, and silly fantasy tropes taken to extreme, Dragon’s Crown could be one of your favourite games this year. It will likely be one of mine.
*I'm playing on Vita. Recommend for Vita. It's a Vita game.