This depiction of women makes me extremely uncomfortable

Dragon's Crown AmazonTake a look at the image here. What do you think when you see it?

To me, there’s something horribly wrong with it, and it’s not because women aren’t supposed to have a ton of muscle mass — although I’m not sure quite that much is natural.

I’m more appalled by how oppressive it is.

This is the Amazon character from an upcoming game called Dragon’s Crown, made by Japanese developer Vanillaware, which is well respected for its beautiful visual style. I’ve played one of its other games, Odin Sphere, and witnessed how the art seems to “breathe” onscreen.

But the context is perhaps irrelevant. My question is, what is this image saying — not just in its lines and colors but about us?

The Penny-Arcade Report and Kotaku, which discussed several relevant issues, pointed out the petite face that seems so strange on her body. She’s still passive — submissive — even though she’s supposed to be “strong” physically.

I’m not even sure she’s that. Her gargantuan breasts, her massive thighs and butt — she’s barely wearing anything, yet there’s so much of her. She’s clearly designed as a plaything for male gaze, which is cruel enough. The designer seems to have cared little about the implications: how walking around so hugely disproportioned would be tremendously painful. She must forge into battle regardless.

However, the meanest aspect is the question of whether she’s pleasing the typical heterosexual male at all. She’s trapped under her own body weight, which makes her more of a prisoner than her oversexualized female parts alone, but it’s almost a joke. I don’t believe — based on preferred depictions of women in both American and Japanese cultures — that the target audience would find her desirable. They would reject her. In turn, she loses her only intended purpose: to arouse.

That’s disturbing. It’s unsettling. It makes me feel really bad in the pit of my stomach.

Is this a new low in how we view women, or have I just not been paying close enough attention?

To kick off the discussion, here are a few tweets from my fellow gamers on Twitter:

@WanyoDos: I feel like the characters are meant to be so over-the-top that it’s hyper unrealistic to the point where it’s not really attractive

@empuska: It’s disturbing in “Too closet to make it actual porn, but trying to make it absurd with same assumption”-way.

@SnakeLinkSonic: I can’t see it appealing aesthetically to any audience other than a niche there.

11 thoughts on “This depiction of women makes me extremely uncomfortable

  1. When I see stuff like this, I don’t think “Bad” I think “Good”. The image it’s self isn’t good, but the direction is. That’s a barbie doll with the Increadable Hulks legs. Real change doesn’t happen over night. There isn’t a magical transformation. We build upon what we already have. What exists is Barbie. Making Barbie “Powerful” with super massive legs is moving away from women are pretty and powerless to women are pretty and powerful. While it’s clear there is still a great distance to go images like this are growing pains from moving in the right direction. The artist is questioning how to protray a “powerful woman” with a picture. He got it wrong, but it was a valid attempt.

    1. Hmm, I see what you’re saying, but I disagree. It’s not hard to know what a real woman looks like — just take a look at the human population. I find it hard to believe that designers are exhausting their brains trying to picture and draw an accurate, fair representation of a female who is both pretty and physically strong — but instead are ending up with a mutated human figure.

      That doesn’t happen when we draw men; we can easily make them look strong without packing on the muscle mass to extremes.

      So in other words, I don’t buy this need for slow progress, like that’s all we can expect. We can either portray women respectfully or depict them in ways that solely pleases a male audience — it’s easily either/or, not in-between.

      1. Just look at the Hulk or Superman or Early Batman or almost any other Super Hero comic Book. They are muscled like that pic, inhuman proportions. It took 75 years of refinements to make human like depictions of men in comics. It’s only been 10-15 years of trying to get women correct.

  2. Clearly there’s a problem with character portrayal in games even if the games aren’t widely criticized for it like Dragon’s Crown currently is. I guess part of the problem is everyone is ready to attack especially in an age of pitchforks vs trolls of the internet where we aren’t sure if people are really mad about it, just gang mentality hiding how they really feel, or are trying to just incite anger. Not that it’s bad to be angry or disgusted at all, but let us focus on how to fix this issue is what I’m getting at.

    First thing we should be asking these developers is why the designs are like this and what it’s actually accomplishing? Maybe it’s because we’ve let it get this way for too long, maybe it’s just that we notice it more in the age where everyone can see everything and there’s already pornography of it to the point where it’s simply how people think when they’re coming to character designs, perhaps they’re following some sort of fantasy they’ve always had and really seek to portray it, or maybe someone gets so caught up in what they’re doing they don’t realize the problems with it.

    The second being how can we actively work together to have better character designs, how we can let people know that it can be done better, what exactly are we trying to accomplish here? Do we just want to see a more mature take on character designs, designs that are simply more believable, reduce the sexualization? If we’re just telling people they’re doing it wrong and they don’t know how to do it right (let’s be honest there’s lines that makes us all uncertain what should and shouldn’t be crossed) then I can see it being a hurdle to achieve such goals.

    For me personally I’d really like to see just more believably and variety in designs. As an example if I would walk around anywhere right now I’m likely to see people that are in shape, out of shape, etc. so why doesn’t this reflect in our character designs? Of course it’s going to bother us when every character looks like a perfect model clone. We want to be able to connect with our characters in some fashion and having everyone look like an un-attainable, unreasonable body type with all our goods hanging out is not helping the situation.

    Not saying this is an easy goal to achieve either. We want our heroes to look strong and well equipped enough to accomplish the goals laid out in front of them, who’s going to be crossing the frozen tundra in a two piece bikini and we don’t expect a scrawny individual to be carrying 400 pounds of armor into battle. Sure there can be beautiful people but don’t forget that some people want to connect with someone believable at times, it’s not only models that do good things. Not to say there isn’t room for things being a parody or over-the-top either, but there’s care and intent to be portrayed with such things. Clearly this isn’t cut and dry all the time, so let us work together both players and developers/designers to get it right!

    Couple quick notes: This isn’t aimed at anyone in particular, I just see a lot of argument on this subject lately and I wish for more meaningful discussion in our lives to help everyone grow as a medium instead of just pushing blame. Also I’m not expert and I’m an often confused bystander, just figured I should probably add to some discussion seeing that I love design and gaming so much!

    1. That’s what I’m wondering, too: Why is this design like this? What is it going for? I don’t understand it, and I want to because I don’t know for sure that the designer was intending to make such a crude image. Maybe he meant to be expressive, but at the same time, our perception of gender is always fueled by society’s preferences. That’s what we have to address — how we feel about sexuality and gender, and how we treat and portray either sex. Clearly, this designer is not alone — he’s not the only one to produce a negative depiction — but I’ve rarely seen a woman this oversexualized and undersexualized at the same time. It’s very strange.

      I’d like more believability as well. I’d be much happier with this image if it weren’t such a gross reflection of women and how society chooses to idolize them — because while she’s made for a male gaze, she’s also trying to break that sexist image through muscle mass. But it doesn’t work — she’s still as disproportional as she would be if she were skinny and had big breasts, etc.(too big to support with a petite structure). I think that’s what sickens me: that even though some people may be trying to create better images of women, they fail. Our ideas are so distorted.

      But again, that’s assuming that’s what the designer intended. I’m not sure he was going for a positive image of women at all.

      (And of course, there are plenty of artists who do justice to women in their illustrations. That’s a good thing.)

      I wouldn’t mind if the Amazon were petite, muscular, or just fat. I do mind if she’s some horrible hybrid of those things, like she’s less than human — all because she’s supposed to be sexualized as a bottom line.

      I agree with what you’re saying: We need to work with people to make these depictions better. I’d love to see a new version of the Amazon where she’s more realistically muscular and her body parts have been toned down a bit. And maybe adjust the look of her head/face because it makes no sense for her to look so submissive and small.

      I think it’s most important to remember, when designing a female character, that she is not a plaything. She is a representation of a person, as much as a man would be. Artists need to let that guide their hands if they want to create respectable characters.

      Update: OK so here, as Wayne showed me, is the designer’s actual reasons for drawing the female characters this way: http://kotaku.com/the-artist-behind-dragons-crown-explains-his-exaggerat-482450927

  3. @genderneutrallanguage — That’s not exactly true. :) Just because old comics oversexualized men doesn’t mean they didn’t also have average joes who were skinny or just slightly muscular. Comics included both oversexualized, sexualized, and “regular” men. And Hulk is extra ridiculous because he’s supposed to be a monstrosity.

  4. What about the fact that there are no fat super heroes? Not every fit person is slim.

    I don’t really think much of this kind of art, in the end there is no special reason about it. I think most people over analyze the intentions of others when percieving art.

    What I see is an overall move towards the right direction, such as those new practically dressed super heroines and less muscular heroes, and I think what’s needed is patience. Change doesn’t come in a day, and believe it or not the development is much faster than one thinks in our world where everything has to be instant.

    Sure she looks mighty weird, but the face is far from submissive IMO. To me it looks cool and calculating and shows confidence. As with all art forms there is a tendency to see what one wants to see in it.

    1. There’s the Blob!

      You may be right: maybe the designer was just innocently experimenting. But I wish he had expressed a positive intention instead of basically saying, “This fantasy representation will stand out to people more.”

      My b/f and I were actually talking about how this could have been satire — an attempt to show people how grotesque oversexualization can be. But that wasn’t the artist’s reason.

      1. Usually the director says “we need this and this kind of character” and the artist goes for a few models that look kind of different in design, and then the director will look through them and say “well, this looks good, maybe a bit more or a bit less of this and this” and then voila! We get to see designs like these.

        So in its core I think the developer or director of the game is to blame, the artist works in a different unconventional way when it comes to game design. If the director choses an oversexualized design or chooses to make an existing design more oversexualized then that’s what has to be done. Or there will be no food on the table of the artist.

        So blame the boss! :-D

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