E3 was earlier this month and one of the things I enjoyed most about the expo was getting a better look at Nintendo’s upcoming Hyrule Warriors. The combo of the Dynasty Warriors series with one of the Big N’s oldest and best franchises, The Legend of Zelda, seems to be as winning a combo as Pokemon and Nobunaga’s Ambition (Pokemon Conquest.) If we are lucky, it might be as fun a fusion as Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts, which combines Disney elements with Final Fantasy. Based on all of the recently released footage, Hyrule Warriors looks to be a thrilling game, however, I have some reservations about some of the character designs. Put aside complaints about Link’s ultra blonde hair and scarf in this rendition of the character, I am here to talk about the design of the female characters.
Nintendo is known and loved for its family friendliness and relatively conservative values. They produce games that can be deeply enjoyed by all ages and find footing with young and old audiences alike. Now with the Dynasty Warriors developer Tecmo Koei on board, some of the female characters look strikingly un-Nintendo. One character in particular, Cia, a witch, looks like an over-sexualized take on a Poe (a ghost-like creature from the Zelda series.) While I am unopposed to Nintendo introducing mature content to their consoles, it seems almost a shame to introduce such a suggestive character in association with such a clean, popular franchise. Even the titular Zelda seems to be showing a bit more skin in this design of her character. While this may seem like a minuscule scruple to take up with a game, it is a common trend in gaming that may have significant ramifications.
Strong female characters are a rare commodity in the gaming industry. Too often female characters are left in supporting roles, and too often when they take a central role, they appear as hyper-sexualized, unrealistic portrayals of the female form. Take the Tomb Raider or Bayonetta franchises for an example of this trend. And to what end? Chiefly, there is a stigma that gaming is primarily composed of a nerdy, pervy male audience and that gaming is no place for a girl. Neither of these ideas are true, but one doesn’t have to look far to see where these ideas were derived. Series’ like Dead or Alive, Soul Caliber, and countless others are chalk full of heavily sexualized female characters.
There is a lesson that the industry seems to be struggling to learn, that while, yes, sex does sell, the sexual objectification of female characters is alienating and hampers the development of diversity within games. Almost a year ago, Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima unveiled via twitter the character design of a prominent female presence within Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain that goes by the name of Quiet. Kojima initially claimed to want to introduce something “erotic” to the series, thus the design of the sniper character. The backlash was incredible. Twitter was in an uproar, and devs of other series attacked the design. And while Kojima did rephrase his comments, saying he meant something more along the lines of “sexy,” many were still up in arms, and perhaps for good reason. While it could be argued that Quiet’s background somewhat explains her outfit choice, it still generally doesn’t make sense for a sniper, who should emphasize stealth or at least wear something to protect her from gunfire, to be wearing nothing to help her blend in or stay alive. The world of Metal Gear is quirky to say the least, but this is still a bit over the top and out of place.
A design choice like this is not, in all honesty, unusual. Designers do whatever it takes to make sales. This isn’t necessarily how it should be. While the industry grows, I would hope it would also mature enough to see that if gaming is to ever truly be recognized as an art form, and if developers would like their creations to be enjoyed by wider audiences, they should be sensitive to the opinions of a larger public and avoid elements that are immature and ostracizing. Its a simple truth that women are not objects, so why should fictitious characters and representations of women be designed where their only significant characteristic is their sexuality and body?
While these design elements will probably not prevent me from playing Hyrule Warriors, its a shame that such a suggestive element has invaded the only platform that could be considered a safe haven from a lot of these borderline misogynistic design choices. It is my hope that with time designs like these will be a scarcity within the industry as a whole, and that gaming will open itself to all audiences regardless of age, sex, orientation, or any other factor.