Dragon’s Crown and the Sexism Debate

Last week came more controversy and a talk about sexism in the game industry courtesy of Vanillaware’s upcoming game: Dragon’s Crown. Like Vanillaware’s previous titles, Dragon’s Crown has a very unique art style for its characters: this time featuring extremely exaggerated designs for everyone.

For example: A very busty sorceress and anatomically impossible amazon. After an article on Kotaku followed by a kneejerk reaction by the game’s art director: George Kamitani, the argument over Dragon Crown’s sexism has grown. Following Vanillaware’s style over the years and looking at the other character designs; I felt that Dragon’s Crown was a partial step in the right direction at first … but still on the wrong side of the line.

Dragon's Crown

Deflecting the Male Gaze:

In the past, I and many other people have talked about the issue of “male gaze” in the industry. Where a game’s style and art design favored the male perspective. This could be anything from having camera angles purposely aimed at certain areas of the women’s bodies, or a world where every woman’s clothing options consists only of a 2-piece bikini.

The male gaze also has to do with the design of male characters: where the men appear without shirts on and overly muscular. These instances while defended by men as supposed eye candy for women play into the concept of the male power fantasy: Where there is a land where powerful men are adored by incredibly beautiful women.

Bonus points if this world is some uninhabitable landscape where the men need to wear protective clothing, but the women are still free to strip down.

The double standard of art design is one that always annoys me about a lot of games these days as it feels like conflicting art styles in my opinion. In Diablo 3 for example: The men wear more and more armor as they get stronger, while the women seem to wear less.

This is where the male gaze issue seems to be at its strongest and where I have to side with people wanting more gender diversity.

The Emperor’s Exaggerated Clothes:

Dragon's Crown

The men of Dragon’s Crown are as exaggerated as the women…

Bringing this back to Dragon’s Crown, at first I didn’t feel that this is a clear-cut example of a game being completely designed for the male gaze audience as other more infamous examples were.

Vanillaware’s art style over the years has always been about overly exaggerated design, for both genders.

Now, before someone comments on that last statement, I want to clarify and state that I don’t mean that the art style was an example of good female character design, but that their style was consistent. Going back to my point about male gaze, in those games the style of the game clearly was from the male point of view.

With Dragon’s Crown, if the men were anatomically correct and the women were left as they were, I would be putting my foot down completely in the male-gaze opinion. But with the overall design of the art style I felt like Dragon’s Crown was the lesser of the evils when put next to other examples of male gaze.

However “lesser of the evils” still put it on the side of over-sexualizing. Watching footage of the sorceress in action, they are definitely making her sexualized for male-gazing. The use of “jiggle physics”, was 100% male gaze no questions asked and how her flying animation was basically posing in mid-air.

Animations and art style are two separate parts of art design which in this case combined were an example of male gazing. This is where the people who are complaining about the game’s art design have it right. While I’m in no position to tear apart someone’s art, the animations for the sorceress just put it too over the top.

Dragon's Crown

But the over exaggerated features still looks unappealing to me.

Personally I don’t find over-exaggerated features sexy: whether that is as simple as someone in real life getting massive amounts of optional cosmetic surgery, or the design of the women in Dragon’s Crown.

And in that regard I feel like Dragon’s Crown is a step backward from previously designed Vanillaware titles.

Even though those games featured exaggerated designs, they were at least made to be somewhat plausible given the physique of the characters. While there is a unified style to Dragon’s Crown, I personally don’t think it is an appealing unified style.

A better example in my opinion would be the character designs of Borderlands 2. They were not aimed at being realistic, but were still kept plausible within the overall character design.

The one positive to come of this debate is that more men and women are questioning how much over sexualized design there is in the industry. And if that means we’ll see less extreme examples such as the new Tomb Raider or Ellie from Last of Us, then that is at least a positive step forward.

There are plenty of examples of beauty in real life that don’t involve people looking like Kratos from God of War or Ivy from Soul Calibur and the industry should be embracing diversity instead of wish fantasy.

This piece was written several months before Dragon’s Crown was released in the US, here is my analysis of the game.

Addendum: For another piece about male gaze design, here are my thoughts on one-sided sexism.

  • Evan Hitchings

    “And in that regard I feel likeDragon’s Crown is a step backward from previously designed Vanillaware titles.

    Even though those games featured exaggerated designs, they were at least made to be somewhat plausible given the physique of the characters.”

    So, I guess you didn’t play Odin Sphere or Muramasa? The Queen of the Underworld alone disputes your statement, as her breasts are so oversized they have their own gravitational pull (that’s what caused the massive slowdown on those stages). Although character designs may be over-sexualized, that’s true on both sides of the fence. One can perhaps criticize the world of Muramasa as being unkind to females, but it’s based on feudal Japan, so that’s keeping with historical accuracy. Odin Sphere is a similarly brutal world for Gwendolyn, but her father (who uses his daughter as a pawn for his own political dealings) is shown to be a ruthless tyrant. Mercedes could be seen as a negative female stereotype, as she is immature and unprepared for her role as queen, but I see her more has a spoiled rich kid who’s unprepared for the real world. Not only that, but the Vanillaware games have strong female protagonists in Gwendolyn, who rebels against her father, as well as Velvet. Does Velvet dress scantily: yes. But do we really want to say that any female who isn’t completely covered from head to toe can’t be a strong character? Ok, cool, let’s keep all women covered up: maybe we can even put them in burkas! Or have them dress like mormon women! The Barb in Dragon’s Crown is dressed almost exactly the same as the Barb in Diablo 2! And the Sorceress in Dragon’s Crown is MORE covered than her D2 counterpart! The Vanillaware games, especially compared to more mainstream games, are practically devoid of sex anyway. Even the steam baths in Muramasa are largely devoid of sexual tension.

    I glanced at that Gamasutra article, and I don’t see that as George’s statement as homophobic, but pointing out that the males are just as exaggerated as the females, if not more so (merely because there are more male characters).

    In the end, let’s be real here: the fact that we in the game industry can have this discussion of the male gaze puts us way beyond most other entertainment mediums: from the fact that romance books aren’t considered on the NY Times bestsellers list, to the number of movies that fail the Bechdel test, we’re moving in the right direction. Calling out Vanillaware games is the wrong way to go about improving the industry though.

    • I would argue that the Queen of the Underworld supports my statement. Yes, her breasts were huge but given the fact that her entire body takes up the size of the screen it’s easier to rationalize that in relation to her form.

      But if you watch the game footage of the sorceress her figure, along with the amazon and dwarf were completely over-exaggerated, to the point that the figures were anatomically not possible.

      Now one thing, we’re not talking about the story of these characters but the animation and art design. As I agree with you that the personality and motivations behind the cast of Odin Sphere was really good.

      Re: D2 vs. Dragon’s Crown. I don’t think that was the case if I remember right. And the animations for the sorceress in DC, were way more on the side of male-gazing than anything seen in D2 in my opinion.

      • Evan Hitchings

        The Queen’s breasts aren’t proportional to her though. her actual torso is tiny in comparison. She has an exaggerated hourglass figure.

        Regarding the animations: all of it is of an overly exaggerated style, both male and female. It’s sexist to point out that the portrayal of the women is sexist, but not the men. Any of those men could be stand-in for Fabio on a romance cover. Are romance covers sexist against men? at best, you could say they represent the female gaze, so if a character in Dragon’s Crown is equally bulked up, how is that a problem? Vanillaware games make take the human form to extremes, but that is their style. It’s not sexist, just stylized. Street Fighter has characters thst are so large that are so large and muscular that a human heart could not support them (Gief and Sagat), where is the outrage there?

        Look, all of this is coming from Kotaku, right? Kotakue is part of the Gawker Media Network, and the network has increasingly found that they can generate huge amounts of hits by manufacturing outrage, from attacking the seedier parts of Reddit, to stories like this. That’s all this is. Where were they when a Borderlands art designer based the shape of the Siren’s ass on a popular camgirl? Actually, I’m pretty sure they linked me to that article. I’m posting from mobile, so I’m not about to look for it now, but my point stands: this is outraged designed to get hits, nothing more.

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  • I disagree with you on the matter that both female and male characters were (with or without animation) exagerated in a style that is consistent. If this was really consistent, both female and male would have been exagerated evenly on their sexual body parts or just on their muscles. Whether we personally find this design attractive or not, the exageration of the female character breasts is clearly there to sexualize her. And that, simply because the woman breasts is a part of the female body that is considered sexually appealing. On the other hand, we could find a man’s chest attractive and sexy but it’s not as sexualized as his female counterpart. Indeed, men are allowed to be publicly shirtless but women aren’t, and while the exposition of a women’s chest can be considered partial nudity or simply nudity, the exposition of a man’s chest isn’t. In fact, I think the equivalent of the female breasts is the men’s penis. As women are renowned for their large breasts, men are renowned for their big penis. So personally, if this style was consistent, where the female breast was exagerated and partially exposed, the men’s penis would be as such. Same thing goes for the butt: if the women’s butt is shown or molded, men’s butt should be shown in a similar manner for the sake of consistency.
    Here’s a funny sarky example from pennyarcade: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2013/04/24
    (Sorry for my bad english, french is my first language)

    • Regarding men vs. women in terms of chest. You are spot on. The problem is that when we talk about sexual characteristics in nature there are primary and secondary characteristics.

      Primary would be the actual reproductive organs (IE: Penis and Vagina) while the secondary are those that distinguish the sexes ( Brest on a woman and facial hair or the adam’s apple on a man). You are correct that in society it is perfectly fine for a man to show his characteristics in public, but taboo for a woman.

      And sadly this is the defense that many artists can back up when they are questioned about their drawings of the female anatomy.

      Going back to Dragon’s Crown if we talk in terms of secondary characteristics, it is balanced between the sexes. Is it a positive example of design for the sexes? Hell no, but it is balanced in my opinion in it’s oversexualization of the genders.