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Commentary: The Context of Controversy

Posted on October 4, 2013 AT 03:20pm

Managing Editor
Andrew Fitch

Tabloid journalism does a disservice to gaming’s pressing issues

Game Developers Really Need To Stop Letting Teenage Boys Design Their Characters

The headline, in reference to the now-iconic busty Sorceress found in Vanillaware’s throwback brawler, Dragon’s Crown, wouldn’t have passed muster in one of my college journalism classes. Yet there it was, blaring loud and proud on a major gaming site. The accompanying article, by Kotaku reporter Jason Schreier, ran a mere 59 words—far shorter than even this paragraph. At no point was art director George Kamitani’s name mentioned. At no point did Schreier compare this art to Kamitani’s earlier work in Odin Sphere, GrimGrimoire, or Grand Knights History.

At no point did Schreier ask, “What’s Kamitani’s reasoning for designing the art this way? Why does it differ so much from his previous work? Are any female artists working on the game? How do they feel? Are there any internal discussions at Vanillaware on the issue of how women are presented in Dragon’s Crown?”

Schreier’s done some nice work since joining Kotaku last year. He’s better than this, and he later admitted as much by personally apologizing to Kamitani—but this article was a vapid, sensationalized mess that sabotaged the Dragon’s Crown debate right from the start.

Even my former 1UP colleague Jeremy Parish, who later wrote an incredibly thoughtful, reasoned piece illuminating both sides of the controversy, fell prey to lack of context himself by mentioning Kamitani’s penchant for perversion—followed by an image of Princess Momohime from Muramasa: The Demon Blade wrapped in an octopus’ tentacles.

However, Parish didn’t explain that this was Kamitani’s deliberate callback to The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, which features a young Japanese maiden in the embrace of a menacing cephalopod. It’s the most famous piece from a well-known collection of 17th-century carnal woodblock prints. Yes, Kamitani’s interpretation was titillating—that was the point. When a work of art is based on an erotic woodblock print, you shouldn’t be surprised when the end result is…well, erotic.

Kamitani has several female artists working for him at Vanillaware. He’s designed an impressive, diverse array of female characters over his 20-plus years in the industry. He’s clearly a student of art history. I’m not saying that you can’t be offended by Dragon’s Crown—personally, I think some of the game might cross the boundaries of good taste—but simply calling the designs “sexist” and leaving the argument hanging doesn’t address the issue. I think I can safely describe former Team Ninja head Tomonobu Itagaki that way based on his development history (Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball) and real-life sexual-harassment issues, but Kamitani’s catalog is far more nuanced and deserves a more thorough critique.

We’re in such a rush to regurgitate the latest “information” on the Internet these days that we hardly stop to think about the consequences of our actions sometimes.

We’re in such a rush to regurgitate the latest “information” on the Internet these days that we hardly stop to think about the consequences of our actions sometimes. I saw an example of this firsthand when I worked at Ziff Davis, as the venerable PC magazine Computer Gaming World transitioned into the online world in 2006. Normally, a review would’ve been vetted by multiple editors, its merits debated and discussed for a few days—but there was a rush to get the Neverwinter Nights 2 review on the site. The reviewer critiqued the game for featuring heavy D&D pen-and-paper elements, but he was new to the series and didn’t realize this was the entire point of the Neverwinter franchise.

The review was quickly pulled, but this wasn’t some gaffe made by greenhorns. CGW’s masthead at the time included Jeff Green, Shawn Elliott, and Sean Molloy—who now ply their trades at PopCap, Irrational, and Blizzard respectively—three respected, experienced editors who are among the most thoughtful, reasoned voices in the industry. I, too, played a role in this snafu as a CGW copy editor. Mistakes can, and do, happen to everyone, including every last one of us here at EGM. But we can minimize them by thinking about what we write before it goes up.

At least once a week on Twitter, controversy erupts over a hot-button issue in gaming. Too many folks spend their time aiming for pithy zingers instead of serving their audience and giving an accurate rundown of what actually happened—and letting readers judge the situation for themselves. I’ll often have to do my own legwork to try to parse the rage unfolding on my timeline. If I’m having trouble as someone who works in the gaming media, how does the audience feel?

The online world has forever changed the nature of discussion, and I understand that. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be complicit in the downfall of responsible reporting. Take the time to write an article. Take the time to do research. Take the time to track down the people behind controversial content and have a meaningful conversation with them. And don’t disrespect the real issues the gaming industry faces by distilling them into 140 sensationalistic characters.

Andrew Fitch, Managing Editor
Andrew Fitch, a proud Japanese RPG and serial-comma enthusiast, has been attending E3 for close to a decade now. His least-proud moment? That time in 2004 when, suffering from utter exhaustion, he decided to take a break on the creepy, dilapidated—and possibly cursed—La-Z-Boy at Konami’s Silent Hill booth. Follow Andrew’s adventures in avoiding cursed furniture at his Twitter feed: @twittch. Meet the rest of the crew.

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