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So George Kamitani, the artist behind Dragon's Crown, stuck his foot in his mouth and said something really stupid on Facebook.
So let me explain what he said and why, why it was stupid, and why I'm offended. I lashed out on Twitter, and I think that my response, while genuine, was also rather perplexing to some people. But that's Twitter for you: its immediacy means that you get a realtime feed of thoughts and feelings as they happen.
Kotaku's Jason Schreier took George Kamitani to task for the character designs in Dragon's Crown, an upcoming game Kamitani's studio, Vanillaware, is developing for Atlus. Many of characters are incredibly over-the-top women in ridiculous states of undress.
Aside: What bugs me -- maybe not Schreier, as I didn't read his original blog post -- is not so much their bodies as their FACES. With the Amazon, that pretty, petite face stuck on that massive body -- it's surreal and it cements the reality that the male gaze is at play here.
All the same, the art is so over-the-top that it comes across as ridiculous (to me, at any rate) and hyperstylized. As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, it's a riff on the Boris Vallejo style fantasy novel cover: Barbarian women in bikinis. The effect is so strange that I actually don't find it all that offensive. But I can totally understand why people do, and I certainly wouldn't tell them not to. Especially today...
Kamitani responded to Schreier like this:
If you can't read the caption, it says: "It seems that Mr. Jason Schreier of Kotaku is pleased also with neither sorceress nor amazon. The art of the direction which he likes was prepared."
Now, let me address what's going on here.
This is casual homophobia. What Kamitani is saying is "if you don't think my characters are sexy, check out these dudes." Yes, it's pretty tame, but it's still damaging, and I'll explain why.
First, yes -- it's not intended to hurt anyone's feelings, but that's the problem with it. If the person who makes the joke assumes that it doesn't hurt anybody, it's because he's assuming that nobody who might conceivably be hurt by it is paying attention. Either he thinks Dragon's Crown isn't for them, or he thinks they don't like video games, or that they don't even exist -- who knows what?
Second: Being gay is a punchline. This is lazy humor. Lindy West writes about this really intelligently a lot (I'd go find her posts on this for you, but I'm too busy to do it and she's too great, so just strap in and take a spin through her writing yourself.) Lazy people make gay jokes, because they know they can get a laugh with no effort.
Third: The picture is of large, muscular, bearded guys. Gross, right? Who could be sexually attracted to that? Well, me, for starters. While the actual picture in question doesn't do it for me, that's broadly the type of guy I like. So now I feel stupid because George Kamitani thinks this is ridiculous.
So here's where I'm at when I see his comment. Normal morning, and then suddenly, I find out that the creator of a game I'm looking forward to thinks I'm invisible to him, then that I'm ridiculous to him, too. And my immediate reaction is to feel betrayed.
I feel betrayed specifically because of the game that this is, and who this creator is.
Dragon's Crown is a niche game. All of Vanillaware's games are. When Odin Sphere appeared I was floored -- so floored that, in my previous life as a consumer-focused game journalist, I grossly overrated it simply because of what it represented: beautiful 2D art and complicated action-RPG gameplay. It pushed my buttons, and I wanted to reward it, whatever deficiencies it might actually have.
And with that game, I became a fan of Vanillaware. Over the years, I've really been pulling for this studio -- the underdog. As Dragon's Crown began to attract negative attention for its character designs, I stayed out of it, because I just am so happy that the studio even exists that I don't want to jinx it.
There are not a lot of studios pushing the art of 2D graphics like Vanillaware is. Barely anyone is producing high-resolution 2D games anymore, and Kamitani, while idiosyncratic, is also incredibly talented. It's a niche that I am ecstatic to see filled.
And then this. I'm hurt because I feel that Kamitani played me for a fool.
He didn't, of course. He doesn't even know I exist; he doesn't know anything about me. In fact, his comments rather suggest that, don't they? If Kamitani knew he had gay fans, he probably wouldn't say things like that. That's the point.
So, no: What Kamitani said wasn't tantamount to true, virulent, Proposition 8-style homophobia -- the kind that knows I exist and is determined to make it as difficult as possible for me to do so. The kind that in fact is deliberately designed to negate me.
It's just an offhand remark -- it's even ambiguous enough that I had to explain why it was anti-gay to people on Twitter (which is partially what inspired this blog post.)
Am I overreacting, though? Whenever this topic comes up, people good naturedly suggest that -- and, in my view, that's adding insult to injury. It wasn't that bad, was it? Well, sure -- if it doesn't affect you, it isn't that bad.
At my heart I'm just a gay dork who likes video games way too much, and on that level -- that's where it stings. Not the journalist, of course. Not the professional. Not the guy who knows that things are changing in the real world day by day.
But I'm a gay nerd. For Kamitani, that's apparently half okay and half impossible. And you don't want the people you respect to negate you. It's that simple.
To turn it back to "Gamasutra material," so to speak, I'd just urge developers out there who are speaking publicly to not forget that just because you don't know somebody exists, whatever their gender, race, sexuality, religion, ability -- however they might differ from you or from your conception of your audience -- doesn't mean they don't. And they might like your games. So be thoughtful and respectful.
It's that simple.