The Problem with Arguing Objectification - A Case of Naked Dante - o_JMan240_o Blog -
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The Problem with Arguing Objectification - A Case of Naked Dante

As with most people who follow every twist and turn of the video game industry, I was audience to the recent discussions of women in and around video games. I'm glad it's happening, because it is long over due, but as is to be expected with these spur of the moment sparks of action the whole thing has died down without doing much more than creating a slight commotion. The sparks are coming more often now though, which I hope is a sign of change and not just people looking for a chance to unfairly burn something for the sake of burning something - although that seems to be what happens, and has happened, every time an issue in the gaming world triggers these sorts of mass responses.

I have a problem with one of the main tenants of the recent movements for equal treatment of women in video games though, or at least how it has been argued. I'm not about to argue that female characters in video games aren't objectified, they are, but I will argue that there is a large hole in the argument that needs to be addressed and discussed. I would hope that everyone on this site is above calling me a pig for pointing this out. Above faulting me simply for being a man when I'm pointing out a flaw in a feminist argument, although experience with the topic leads me to believe otherwise. All I have is my word and I implore readers to read without the pretext of the writer's gender. I joined a guild in Star Wars: The Old Republic made mostly for women so that I could have people to talk to that didn't constantly tell female players to go get them a sandwich. I took a leadership role in UNCC's Gamers' Alliance club as a Freshman and Sophomore, and I'm proud to say that it was an extremely gender diverse group of gamers while I was there. I truly want to see this discussion progress, instead of exist only to demonize games that fall into its crosshairs, but it can't do that without identifying its own shortcomings.

With that said I would now like to direct readers to the picture at the top of this blog, if they have not already stared at it enough. The top image is Dante from a trailer for Ninja Theory's upcoming Devil May Cry reboot, the bottom a trio of fighting game characters from Mortal Kombat, Soul Caliber, and King of Fighters if my extremely limited knowledge of fighting games is not mistaken. Despite being similarly racy in nature however, the reaction the two receive is likely to be completely different on the whole if you walked them around and showed them to people who would be considered knowledgeable about the medium. In general, despite a clearly far less clothed Dante (entirely unclothed in fact), most of the reactions I've seen to that trailer are that it is fittingly over the top for the series. I've seen no or little mention of Dante flying through the air in his birthday suit with extremely phallic imagery conveniently taking the place of his... "goods" as particularly offensive. The other image was ripped directly from an article about objectification of women in video games, as such I don't think I really need to explain the reaction to it. Fighting games have been attacked enough that the sentiment should be familiar to most.

So here is where the issue lies. It has less to do with the reaction to both images, or images like them, and more with pillars of the movement which contradict the argument that the objectification of women is a huge problem. The way I see it, there are just two ways that this argument works as-is, within the context of better representing women in the industry. Possibility A: Women are an extreme minority of the gaming community, and as a result any counter arguments on objectification are null thanks to sheer lack of numbers present; thus, making the naked Dante from the trailer into just a tongue-in-cheek joke about the character, and the female fighters a problem because they exist in a realm wholly dominated by men. Possibility B: Women make up a large portion of the gaming community, though still not a majority by any means; as a result this would make the naked Dante from the trailer the exact same type of objectification as the women from the fighting games, items meant to attract an audience that wouldn't normally pay any attention to the game. Note: I know that same sex attraction can play into this, and I'm fine with that, but it is an even more complex topic and, for the sake of simplicity, will not be touched upon outside of acknowledging that it is a thing which will be addressed in the future.

One of the key aspects of the recent feminism movement in games is the idea that female players are prevalent, that they do occupy enough space within the market for their interests to start being given attention, and that they should stop being discriminated against by male members of the community. I agree with that, but the argument of objectification as it has been made doesn't. It's logical to conclude that proponents of improved representation for women in gaming are not going to concede the ground of their relevance in the community, nor should they. Unfortunately, that leaves the argument that has been made for objectification in a bad spot. I'm going to sound like an ass for saying this, but there's really no other way to put it - it's a "have your cake and eat it too" argument as it stands. If women are a significant portion of the gaming community, and again I maintain that they are, then talk of objectification can no longer simply exist as solely applying to female characters. The conversation needs to change from how bad objectification of women in the medium is to what level of objectification of any human being, virtual or otherwise, we find acceptable.

Either Nathan Drake and Lara Croft doing the same things, and making many similar noises, is okay or both need to change. If a male speaking on the topic of attractive female characters is boorish and unacceptable, then so is Kim Wallace gushing about Kaidan during Game Informer's recent discussions of Mass Effect 3. Skimpily clad fighting game characters can't be objectification if Dante with a baseball bat representing an erection is not similarly classified. If equal treatment is being asked for, and hopefully willingly offered by everyone in the community, then parity in these discussions is a must. Objectification is not a one way street, and while pointing that out as a man - despite the fact that I spent hours meticulously combing over my argument to make sure I was 100% clear in its delivery - is likely to get me called scum it's no less true. 

What's even more important in progressing the argument is a more mature approach to the topic. We, as a community, need to stop writing stories that reward the extremists who see attractive female characters as an excuse to demonize a game they've never played, such as the new Tomb Raider. We need to collectively do a better job of reporting so headlines like "Girlfriend Mode" that misrepresent what was actually said don't become a replacement for actual quotes simply because it sounds like controversy. We need to stop feeding the equally as extremist trolls who claim to be fighting back against the non-existent female takeover of the industry. While games should be examined in a critical light, from both perspectives in the case of objectification if you ask me, taking the freak-out nob and cranking it to eleven does nothing for the industry or the discussion. All it does is start arguments or unfairly vilify hardworking people and the projects that they've put years of their lives into. 

Update For Those Who Did Not Read Carefully: If you read carefully you would have noticed the section that is now bold in the original work before you suggest that I am making an argument about the validity of female objectification. Just so everyone else gets it from now on I will put it in large print font below. Lastly, I know people want more examples but this blog is long, adding more examples isn't going to help clarify the point if you don't understand it. The example is concise, a full on naked man verses a half naked woman. The point of this is to start a discussion and point out a contradiction in the argument itself, not to argue against something I agree is a problem. 

"I'm not about to argue that female characters in video games aren't objectified, they are, but I will argue that there is a large hole in the argument that needs to be addressed and discussed."