October 27, 2009

Crossing a Line

Kiddies, be ye warned- in addition to my usual foulmouthedness, I'm going to talk about some adult topics here. Seriously, unless you're mature enough to argue about this stuff in an intellectual way, you won't enjoy this post. That is all.

So, there was a post over at Kotaku- a gaming news blog that I frequent, and in fact comment on quite often (user name Dangeresque over there)- featuring a piece of an interview from the executive producer of Ar Tonelico III. I played the first Ar Tonelico, and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a pretty generic JRPG, and for the most part pretty unimaginative, but it has a very interesting concept- your mages don't level in the tradition sense, by gaining exp. Instead, the only way to make them stronger is by getting into their heads, and helping them overcome mental issues and weaknesses. It's pretty sloppily done, but the concept was neat enough to keep me interested. I didn't play the second, had been planning to at some point, and when the third was announced, I decided to keep a hopeful eye on it.

The first title had an annoying amount of sexual innuendo and fan service- it distracted from the game to the point of being a whole feature unto itself, a feature I didn't much care for. I figured that since it was a no-name RPG, they did it to try to get a little attention, and wouldn't need to bother with it in the future so much, once they were established. Then I read this article. In it, the man introduces a new feature for the mages in three- stripping. No, seriously. In the third title, you make your spells more powerful by taking off your clothes. They come up with some stupid excuse that it has to do with having more skin exposed to the air to absorb magic with, but we all know that is bullshit.

First off, let's establish why that is bullshit, just in case someone agrees. Point one- the characters don't get naked, they just adopt more suggestive attire. If you're about to die, and getting naked would make the spell more powerful, powerful enough to let you live... these characters would do it. It's human nature, we have a powerful will to live. Point two- they don't start off in skimpy outfits, they strip as they power the spell along. Why wouldn't you just wear something unsuggestive that reveals a fair bit of skin from the start? Like, shorts and a tank top. That's accepted attire, and by your own system, would give you a lot of power. But no, you have characters in knee-high socks and longsleeve dresses. Come on. And point three... even when they're stripping down, they're not really. The example picture they gave us, which will be used in game, has a girl taking off her skirt to display her panty and garter set beneath. First off, that's an outfit that is pretty much exclusively used to seduce, so unless your spells also get more powerful when you get raped, that's pretty impractical. And second, that actually doesn't reveal that much more skin. Just having regular panties would leave your whole legs exposed. That would be more powerful than the extra effort of stripping down to a seductive outfit in front of someone who is trying to kill you.

So yeah, it's pretty obvious to all I think that this is purely fan service. In fact, this goes beyond fan service... I don't really know the terms, but it's basically a clumsily done cocktease. It's bordering on porn, but in the creepiest, most roundabout way. I've studied Japanese language and culture for years now and it still manages to surprise me how messed up they can be. I have the utmost respect for some of the creativity they bring to the world, but whether it's a result of that creativity, or something else, the creepy extremes that they accept in their media and culture are deeply disturbing. I won't cite any examples, I think we all know the kind of stuff I'm talking about.

So to my mind, there is first the unfortunate fact that a series I was interested in is now pretty much irredeemable. It's too far gone. I'll be avoiding the third, and now I don't intend to play the second either, knowing the direction that the creators are headed in. But beyond that, there is the weirdness of how they are trying to subtly/not-so-subtly sexualize an ordinary game. In America, our video game ladies often have big boobs, and sometimes flirt a fair bit, or have some suggestive animations... but we don't have extended sequences of them naked in the bath, or of them eating a banana in a particularly intense way (of COURSE it's not suggesting anything!). We have porn, we have regular content, and we have content that has mature themes and nothing more. Not to overgeneralize, though I'm sure I am, but Japanese game developers seem content to run the whole gauntlet. They have porn, regular content, and content with mature themes as well, but they also seem to enjoy getting as close to showing porn as they can without getting the rating that would entail, and that creeps me out.

I know this post is pretty overgeneralizing, and I apologize for the crudeness of my argument. I am making my point badly, and making some very unfair assumptions. But can't we agree, at least, that this feature is wrong, and that it suggests a deeper problem with Japanese culture that they think it's totally fine?

EDIT: Oh bullshit! I posted this Monday! Eff you, Blogger.

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