TW: Mentions of misogyny, lesbophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.
I have been meaning to touch upon the subject of objectification for a very long time. I have mentioned it in a lot of my work and I have made it known that it is a very personal subject to me, and it has often served as somewhat of a berserk button of mine. By far the most viewed article of mine was a response to then Destructoid writer Jed Whitaker’s own article about Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni, that claimed it was “Dynasty Warriors for pedophiles.” To say that I was not happy with it is like saying that the Holocaust was a bit of a bummer. That article of mine is perhaps the angriest piece I have ever written (and that I ever will).
What particularly enraged me was how patronizing and condescending that Jed was to his own target audience and how little respect he had, in addition to hideously homophobic and sexist implications present throughout, despite the fact that he was clearly trying to be a feminist ally. Due to not wanting to be lumped in with the gamer bro AIW crowd, I tried to make my piece sound as feministy as possible and tried to address precisely WHY Jed Whitaker’s views were as harmful as they are. It seemed to have the opposite effect as it actually became very well received among anti-feminist GamerGate supporters, enough so that it was even retweeted by Ian Miles Cheong (which is probably how it got over 1300 total views when most of my pieces don’t even break 100).
The reason that it was as well received was likely because none of them expected to see a feminist call out a clickbait game journalist, and that actually enjoyed titles like Hyperdimension Neptunia and Senran Kagura for their strongly written and developed all female casts instead of deriding them solely for “objectification of women.” While there were a small amount who spun it as “these SJWs are never satisfied, that’s why you shouldn’t try to appease them,” a vast majority of those who normally believe that feminists are all 400 pound she beasts with rainbow colored hair that hate men, this demonstrated that there were, in fact, feminists who seriously cared about games. Hell I kinda sold them on that part because I included a bunch of Amazon links for ecchi titles in case any of them wanting to rage purchase something out of spite. Granted, that was also partially because they were Amazon affiliate links that I would make money off of… don’t give me that look, I’m an agoraphobic, autistic trans lesbian with no job, no income, and no driving ability. I gotta make money somehow.
What they didn’t know is that I actually used to be one of them. As I have went over before, I was initially a very ardent GamerGate supporter and anti feminist. This intense hate formed from the fact many of these game journalist were very much like Jed Whitaker and dismissed a lot of games that were near and dear to me as sexist trash or even worse. Yes, I was one of the ones who actually WAS concerned about ethics in game journalism, but I also hated feminism a lot due to how judgemental a lot of these people came across. From then on, I was mostly kept involved for several months due to a never ending series of mudslinging and cherry picking shitty things that the other side did (both sides frequently engaged in this), and it felt as if these “SJWs” were just hateful and judgemental bigots.
On top of that, I had latent gender dysphoria present, which kept me in a near constant state of discomfort with gendered expectations of me. This lead to a biased perspective to where life seemed immensely harder due to being a man, and this resulted in a LOT of bitterness and frustration. I was very angry and jaded at the time, but deep down I just wanted someone to try and understand me and to not judge me without hearing me out. What it took was finding my first girlfriend for me to divert my attention away from bitching about games online and that I got myself too caught up in a cult mentality. My beliefs did not simply vanish over night, but they did gradually mellow out over time, and this allowed me to meet more feminists that seemed like nice people and would actually listen to me. On top of that, coming out as trans exposed me to a lot of toxicity that I did not previously experience.
That was two years ago, and today I am a radical feminist. I became more and more invested because I initially called myself a feminist reluctantly on the principal that I cared about equality of the sexes, and I tended to familiarize myself with feminist terminology and beliefs in a similar manner to how one would learn a second language. I don’t even remember when it was that I seriously felt comfortable identifying as a feminist, it was just that at some point, I thought to myself “gee, I really changed a lot.”
Regardless of this, I have still maintained a following of anti-SJW Gamers in addition to that of other feminist gamers. It was at this point that it became apparent that a LOT of feminists were not fond of Sarkeesian or the gaming press either, and that there were not as many differences between us as we think. As a result, I have felt far more comfortable identifying as a feminist because I realized there were far more feminists like myself than I realized, despite the fact that I still do despise the gaming press. If anything, becoming a feminist has just made me hate them even more for doing such a piss poor job at representing us.
So, why did I feel the need to remind you all of this? It is for context, and I would recommend that anyone else reading this who has not seen the original video to check it out, so you can understand what I am talking about.
Harry Brewis, otherwise known as “hbomberguy” or simply “hBomb” which sounds like a bad rapper name, is one of the better leftist political Youtubers out there. I would describe him as Contrapoints except without all the freaky fetish stuff and as a straight cishet man. But his videos are more in depth than Natalie’s and he specializes in “Measured Response” videos (and now you know what the hell is up with the title of this article). These videos are kinda like mine except in video format and with a budget and viewer base, and they tend to provide both a good amount of humor AND legit political criticism. He also gets major bonus points for positively reviewing Yooka-Laylee.
Out of the three people whom I have made response articles to, Harry is by far the smartest and the one I agree with the most. In fact this video is the only one of his that I take any serious issue with. Unfortunately it’s a pretty bad one, which is all the more jarring due to Harry’s otherwise flawless track record. It also happens to relate to the subject of “objectification,” which I mentioned that I always wanted to talk about at the start. I have always felt this to be something that I feel especially strong about and now that I have the feminist experience to properly examine it, let’s waste no time.
The video opens with reference to a petition to save Tracer’s victory pose while attempting to point out a double standard in regards to gamers WANTING a character in Mobius Final Fantasy to be censored. This point is later brought up in the video to claim gamers are hypocritical in regards to game censorship in that they only take issue if it’s stuff they like being censored. The problem with this comparison is, to put it bluntly, that it’s a total strawman. I say this as someone who supported GamerGate at the time and knew several others at the time; we were fucking PISSED about this news both men and women alike. Hell, I recall specifically someone said something along the lines of “it’s one thing when they police women’s sexuality, but having our own sexuality censored is unforgivable,” I will clarify that this was all in regards to what I saw from my Twitter mutuals at the time, and thus I don’t have screencaps because I never thought to and that was a long fucking time ago. However if one really needs evidence to believe me then I could try to search some of these up but I won’t go out of my way to unless asked.
Harry, like many other leftist political commentators, seems to view his opposition as stereotypical misogynists and thus is more likely to succumb to confirmation bias in regards to gamers as a whole. Harry never once considers the obvious erasure of female gamers that comes from essentially mansplaining female power fantasy to them. The reason for this is that those with a biased view of GamerGate tend to think there ARE no female supporters aside from traditional conservative housewives. Once again, as someone who was there, I can tell you that there were female GamerGate supporters and there were A LOT of them. There were also many LGBT supporters as well, and women of color to. They had an entire hashtag about that called #Notyourshield, and they got pretty fucking pissed at being told they were bigoted against themselves.
Of course, I have put those beliefs long behind me long ago but the experience has taught me a lot about what motivates these people. I have gotten a fair amount of people who were concerned with the empathetic approaches I took in my articles about Blaire White and Meghan Murphy respectively. The answer is because it only takes one person to understand them in order set them off the path of hatred and this is because they will in turn listen to what YOU have to say. I say this as someone who has, on more than one occasions, had thoughtful and mature conversations with TERFs and have even gotten them to care about me.
This is why I take issue with the type of strawmanning that comes in regards to objectification. While objectification of women IS a real issue, and it did take a long time for me to realize and admit that to myself, the problem with it when used as a criticism is how broadly it can be applied. A vast majority of objectification criticisms are simply used towards ANY instance of female sexuality in a work of fiction, and it often ignores context and comes across more as if they just think men are evil for having sex drives.
The key problem in regards to this criticism in video games is that a lot of people who use this term don’t seem to know what it means. Objectification basically means “to make something an object,” which is meant to refer to how men will reduce women to objects of sexual pleasure and see them as nothing else. Notice how it says to “reduce women,” IE sexual objectification can only occur if there is an actual woman present. Video game characters are nothing more than lines of code and polygonal graphics. Fictional characters CANNOT be objectified because they are already literal objects.
The claims of objectification usually mean to say that female characters are written and presented as sex objects. The problem is that this is an unreliable criticism writing wise because “objectification” refers to an act and not a state of being. Any claims of objectification in regards to a fictional characters will fall into one of two categories.
The first category is criticizing a character that was specifically intended to be a sex object and nothing else. Some examples of games that include these types of characters include the Grand Theft Auto series, Duke Nukem Forever, and Killer is Dead. These three games are typically cited as examples of “sexist games,” and I would not know as I haven’t played much of either of them. I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City a long time ago but can barely remember it, and I played about an hour of Duke Nukem Forever and I likely am going to need another two years of HRT just to counteract the testosterone poisoning. What I do know about Duke Nukem though is that the character is intended as a parody of action heroes and is nothing more than caricature himself. He is a flat character who does nothing but try to look badass and spew one liners. And no, I don’t care if one of the creators of Duke Nukem Forever said he was portrayed in earnest, remember, death of the author.
I do think it is quite obvious that Duke Nukem is similar to God of War’s Kratos in that he is intended solely as a male power fantasy, and thus is not setting up unrealistic expectations for young boys. This much I will agree with. I have lived as both a man and a woman and and beauty expectations are incomparable. It is not that they do not exist for men, but there is a reason that the vast majority of anorexia and bulimia patients are women. Hell I’ve even felt temptations to take the bulimic route myself. Having experienced this I can firmly say that sexy video game women are NOT the problem… it’s the gamers themselves. Specifically it is gamers whose idea of what women look like come from anime and porn… and anime porn for that matter (most of these people are CODfags so they don’t even know eroge exists). These people also happen to be internet trolls who think that any woman with a few extra pounds is “a fucking whale” and any woman with a wider jawline or broad shoulders is “a transgender.”
What is more likely to cause body image issues in women is the amount of photo editing done in magazines or the cosmetic surgery that EVERY famous woman gets. Or maybe it is because of the fact that nearly every women practically HAS to wear makeup for any formal events when guys have no such equivalent. Regardless, that’s a whole other feminist rant to cover so let’s stay on topic.
The major issue with Harry’s video is the argument that characters like Bayonetta are NOT female power fantasies because… they have character development. That’s roughly what his argument amounts to; that because Bayonetta is not a two dimensional stereotype like Kratos, she can’t be a power fantasy. I don’t even know where to begin with how shallow this claim is. Is Ayumi from X-Blades a better example of a female power fantasy then? Or Lolipop Chainsaw’s Juliet? Seriously, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never played any of those games. What Harry forgets about is the important principal known as “gameplay story segregation” that makes it so that you can survive having a giant meteor dropped on your head but can’t be brought back if killed in a cutscene.
A protagonist does NOT need to be a 2D stereotype in order to make the player feel like a badass. Take for instance, Rick Taylor from Splatterhouse 2010. In the main storyline Rick is a small scrawny white guy with glasses that bears a suspicious resemblance to Derek Alexander, but during gameplay the guy’s a fucking beast! Hell it is even a plot point that Rick is increasingly uncomfortable with his newfound powers and is scared of what his girlfriend Jennifer (who is a damsel in distress in typical vidya fashion) will think once she sees what he has become. Meanwhile during gameplay Rick literally regains health by siphoning blood from his enemies and the usage of an enemies (or even your own) severed limbs is a core mechanic; and god is it fun to play!
Similar observations can be made about Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes, who is a badass assassin during battle but outside of it he’s a creepy otaku (kinda like myself) working menial jobs to afford a living. Harry forgets that players STILL have the tendency to immerse themselves into characters that are not blank slates, and yes, even when you control someone like Bayonetta you still go “yes, I beat that hypothetical boss in question!” as opposed to saying that Bayonetta herself did.
And let’s talk about that fucking quip for a moment, the “please leave a comment explaining how it is totally empowering to be a tit ninja” bit. It seems as though even Harry is not immune to male feminist syndrome. *sigh* Male feminists, let me just tell you something here as a female feminist; STOP ASSUMING THAT ONLY MEN DISAGREE WITH YOU!!! You have male privilege; you have most likely not experienced these things for yourself and you are acting entirely on the testimony of other women. Yet these people are often quick to dismiss the views of any women that disagree with them.
This is something that scared me out of identifying as a feminist for a very long time. It became clear that a lot of these “male feminists” are little more than thinly veiled chauvinists that think they know better than we do. No, I am not saying that every male feminist has to instantly believe what any woman says or not have their own opinions, but for fucks sake at least give them SOME consideration. Seeing the kinds of treatment that Mercedes Carrera, Jennifer Dawe, and Liz Finnegan have received from supposed “male feminists” had me convinced that feminism did not, in fact, care about women.
Okay yes, one could dismiss what I am saying as a cheap “gotcha” attempt to stifle the opinions of male feminists. This often IS hypocritically invoked by those who tend to be against identity politics but will use them if it benefits their cause and does not address the arguments head on. The problem is that this is made with the assumption that the ONLY reason any woman would disagree with you is because they are brainwashed or seek male approval and it means that if any woman is made to feel uncomfortable by the views promoted by the feminist movement, then clearly they just have internalized misogyny.
Despite considering myself a Radical feminist, I am firmly against the notion of policing what other women can or cannot do for political purposes. If one wants to be a housewife, go right ahead and do so. Same goes for if you want to be a slut and sleep with as many men as possible (although I am a bit more cautious about advising this one solely because of the increased risk of STIs and nothing to do with “morality”). I may be more of a “fuck traditional values” kind of girl but who am I to say what is and is not demeaning to women?
Furthermore let us take the idea of conformity for political purposes even further. If feminism succeeds and women are now liberated, do you really think that they will suddenly become more accepting to alternate lifestyles? If you think that they will then you must be very naive; because we all know how our current society knows better than to enforce outdated cultural values long after they have outlived their usefulness. All this means is that we will just have another form of patriarchy. It may be better than the last for womenbut we should aim for far more than just “better.” It is because of this that I have put a large emphasis on individuality and am firmly against cliquishness and cult like behavior in all forms. Regardless of intention all it does is stifle individual expression and alienate someone from their true selves.
So what exactly IS so offensive about this tit ninja quip? It is quite simple; it mocks and degrades women such as myself who think so unironically. As someone who is very insecure about her body and appearance, being a “tit ninja” sounds badass and I really fucking wish I was one. I feel I should also mention how chauvinistic and disrespectful the term “tit ninja” is. The entire video is against the objectification of women but this is exactly what Harry is doing; reducing a woman to their body parts. Oh sure, she may be a trained assassin that can kill someone in a crowded room without anyone knowing, but oh no she has big boobs so she can’t be powerful or worthy of respect.
“But you just said that video game characters were literal objects?” says an imaginary voice residing in the back of my mind. I should probably see a doctor about that or something it’s pretty weird. But yes, this is where the second instance that one will typically claim a female character is being objectified. This is when said character has a well fleshed out backstory and personality, but is the subject of a lot of “male gazey” type fanservice.
The problem with this approach is that every fictional character ever written is based off of real traits that exist in real people in one form or another. Despite this, the people who use this argument will revert back to the first perspective when their sex negative attitude is pointed out by saying “this fictional character can’t consent, the creator made them that way solely for sex appeal.” So that begs the question; which one is it? Are they created as sex objects or are they supposed to be deep characters that are molded into them. It can’t be both.
The actual explanation in this case is that some people are just prudes and don’t like sexy women. Similarly to how some insecure straight men get freaked out by anything “gay,” some women are not comfortable with female sexuality in the slightest. Of course any woman has the right to feel this way and I mean nothing against those that do, it is just that these people often fail to look at the full picture. Some women like to express their sexuality in real life while others do not.
Harry’s entire argument against Bayonetta was that, despite it making sense within the context of the game, Bayonetta’s sexuality could not be a power fantasy because Hideki Kamiya “created the type of character he wanted to see.” This is another case where “death of the author” comes into play and that the creator’s intentions should not always be the only basis on which a work is judged. The fact that numerous women have had praises for Bayonetta’s character alone is proof enough that she was intended as much more than a shallow sex object. On top of this, there is no reason that Bayonetta could not have been intended for both sex appeal AND as a female power fantasy. Video game creators are notably creative people and there is typically a LOT of thought that goes into the direction of a game before development starts. The belief that there was only one intention with Bayonetta’s character is severely discrediting the gaming medium as a whole.
The reason why I tend to dislike Anita Sarkeesian’s approach the video game critique has already been summed up very well by this piece from Pete Davison and I would suggest giving it a read. He does a very nice job at summing up the issues with Anita’s style of critique without coming across as overly hateful or obsessed like some of Anita’s other detractors have. One recurring point made throughout the article is Anita’s lack of knowledge in regards to Japanese games beyond the most mainstream releases and how her only experience seems to be with western AAA titles.
In the games business, we have people like Tsunako, the female artist responsible for the delightfully distinctive (and sexy) character designs of the Neptunia series and its stablemate Fairy Fencer F; we have Taro Yoko, who made the lead character of Nier Automata a sexy female android because he “likes girls”, but also quietly made her part of a fascinating, detailed narrative, too; we have Kenichiro Takaki, who, legend has it, brought about the Senran Kagura series because he wanted to see breasts popping out of the Nintendo 3DS’ screen, but ended up making one of the most well-realised (and large) all-female casts in all of gaming; we have Fenrir Vier, who made a visual novel about gay girls fighting demons simply because he wanted to, and believes that “diversity should be created by way of creators putting their individuality into their work”.
To write off the hard work of these creators — and the inherent progressiveness and positivity of many of their creations — because of some amorphous concept of “patriarchy” is an incredibly blinkered attitude
Senran Kagura is a a game that is almost exclusively about tit ninjas. With a few exceptions, EVERY character is a tit ninja. There is a very strong element of sexuality involved in these games, I mean for fucks sake the characters clothes start getting torn off the more damage they take so it’s pretty hard to deny that there is fanservice involved. However one should not assume that these characters are solely meant to be sex objects or that there is no substance to the game’s storyline. Despite what supposed “male feminist allies” may say, Senran Kagura hosts some of the most well developed and endearing female character in all of gaming. I could go into detail, but I will pass this off to someone else once again.
What I just linked was an 8000+ word essay by Atma weapon, a 30 year old lesbian martial arts expert from California. Through the character Katsuragi she has been able to come to terms with her sexuality and her messy past. I do highly suggest that you read the article for yourself even if it is a bit long, as it provides a lot of perspective. Unfortunately some people just won’t have the patience so I will quote a few parts.
Most of them have a degree of self loathing to them, which while common amongst LGBT people, manifests itself as an immense sex-negative culture in lesbian circles, leading them to accuse me of being a predator or rapist, some questioning my gender and assuming I’m a man in disguise here to feast on them and abuse them, or just call me awful and sexist for…well, not much. It’s usually over simply talking about how attractive women are to me and how much I dig boobies or something. Some may have legitimate trauma that lead them to that but a lot don’t, and simply think of those traits as “male” which is therefore unwanted. A lot of the more sexphobic ones tend to lend themselves to being biphobic and/or transphobic.
Yes, some feminists and LGBT activists have become so aggressively sex negative that even lesbians are shamed for their sexuality, and are assumed to be “men in disguise.” And as she points out, most of these people are likely TERFs as well.
Women have a devious and special form of lesbophobia only they can portray, a more subtle and seething one that stings extra hard instead of the sudden and sharp slap that a man’s lesbophobia delivers. For men it’s to be “expected” to either hate lesbians due to being “unavailable” to them (damaging in and of itself, as it adds to the long outdated trope that men and women can’t just be friends. Who doesn’t like friends?) or for them to somehow get along perfectly (a stereotype that has proved itself more untrue than true and lead to a lot more personal damage to me and interpersonal/friendship damage than it ever did lean me to gaining allies in men, especially cishet ones. It usually takes men being LGBT in and of themselves to put up with me; the rare cishet guy that does is a most honored pal of mine, though.) The most vicious attacks I get are from other women whom would throw me, and to an extent bi/pan women, under the bus for generic feminist points and put their needs ahead of the intersectional minority. Somehow, I betray my gender or feminism or all of it when I consume fiction like this or look up to lesbians like the ones I do. It sucks, y’all.
Despite an increased emphasis on intersectionality, mainstream feminism frequently harbors those that promote views that are innately homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, and acephobic. I have briefly touched upon this in the past where I explained how I believe it was feminism becoming more accessible and widely accepted to the mainstream that allowed more and more prejudiced women use it as a shield for their bigotry in a similar manner to how religious extremists use their religion as a shield. With the advent of the internet, ANYONE can be given a voice. In fact that is the entire reason you are even reading this right now. Without this there is no way you could read these opinion pieces coming from a 22 year old living with her dad and without a job, money, or a college degree.
I’m convinced at this point that the only reason mainstream feminists are pro trans is due to the whole “human decency” thing and they just happen to ignore the stuff hurts LGBT people. TERFism and SWERFism is jut mainstream feminism taken to its logical conclusion. In addition to how it has done personal harm to Atma, it has also done considerable damage to me as a trans lesbian.
The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is to me what Senran Kagura is to Atma. It is one of the most near and dear game series I have played and it played a major role in what least to me realizing I was a woman. Both series are known for tongue in cheek humor, copious fanservice, and an endearing all female cast. As much as I love the Senran Kagura series, the sexual elements DO tend to make it obvious that it WAS made by a guy. Specifically it is the fact that every character just so happens to have the same chest size with the exception of a few lolis and that there’s not much variety in actual body structure.
Hyperdimension Neptunia is a similar series about each of the major game consoles being represented by an anime girl and following the events of the console war with about as much subtlety as a Trump speech. Yes it is absurd but it is also hilarious and each of the girls are very likable. The key difference is that Hyperdimension Neptunia was directed by a woman, and thus there is much more variety in the body types. Additionally the fanservice is not quite as in your face as Senran Kagura as it tends to occur mostly through specific cutscenes with special portraits or through dialogue.
Mizuno Naoko is about as far as you can get from your stereotypical “feminist game developer” as you can get as she simply makes the types of games she thinks are fun, and she does this through both gameplay and the general tone. The fanservice fits very well with the silly theme of the games or is actually useful to the plot. Much of the focus was put on the interactions between the characters and their friendships. I didn’t realize it at the time but I am pretty sure I was envious. I was assigned male at birth and thus didn’t really have many friends that were girls due to a cross between my social anxiety and repressive social norms. I initially HATED the second game in the series, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 because It abandoned the first game’s sincere attempt at satire and was ultimately less enjoyable. However, it got a fuck of a lot better after the atrociously slow chapter 2 and I started to really become attached to it.
What specifically touched me were the scenes of interaction between the cast. What really warmed my heart was seeing the cast have what was basically a slumber party after defeating the final boss. Such a thing likely sounds immensely stupid or pandering to non otakus, aka normies. After all, what is so interesting about highlighting interpersonal friendships when you can just hang out with your friends in real life… yeah you can see where this is going. I had always yearned for the type of friendship that cast of Neptunia Mk2 had. It made me wish I was there with them. Not out of any sexual desires or anything but for companionship and closeness; and yes, there was an abstract part of me that did not want to be a man though I could not fully grasp it at the time.
At the time though I always felt insecure about the adoration I felt for the series because people would just assume that I was a pervert who wanted to get off on anime girls in compromising positions. The fact that I thought I was seen as a straight man almost ensured that I would not be taken seriously and would just be brushed off as a horny otaku who “objectifies women.” I also believed that women were not actually that close in real life and that this was all just made up for the purposes of male titillation. This is what specifically kept me from realizing I was trans. As you saw with Atma, there is some extreme sex negativity present in lesbian circles and this lead me to believe that my enjoyment of a game like Neptunia meant that I could not be a lesbian. That I wasn’t trans and was just an autogynephile.
What gave me hope though, was seeing Mizuno Naoko’s own words on why the series was all female. In a 2012 interview with Siliconera, Naoko answered a question regarding where she got the ideas for the game’s lily system (btw, lily in Japanese is yuri, I c wat they did ther).
On forums, fans have been posting about their fantasies involving their favorite characters’ intimate interactions and extended dialogues of their activities. You probably already know why there are no male main characters in this series. I say this because I know; I’m a woman myself. It’s so much fun to have private girl talks and have some girl time without boys around.