Friday, 19 December 2008

"Your racism's worse than my sexism!"

Some of the discussion about 2channel's moefication of Mirror's Edge has been instructive.

To summarise, the video game Mirror's Edge features a female central character who appears to have some kind of East Asian background. The game's producer, Tom Farrer, claims that his team:

"...really wanted to get away from the typical portrayal of women in games, that they’re all just kind of tits and ass in a steel bikini. We wanted her to look athletic and fit and strong [enough] that she could do the things that she’s doing."

The blogger Artefact over at Sankaku Complex counters that:
"Possibly, he should have considered looking at what passes for beauty in the East Asian markets prior to actually designing his orientalist vision of what a gritty Asian women should look like, but never mind."

Neatly playing the "How very dare you!" card by implying racism on the part of the Swedish development team, and in the process, bizarrely, linking to a parade of pouting submissives in order to illustrate the point.

The battle lines are then drawn. On the one hand we have those cultural imperialist Swedes with their arrogant refusal to understand Asian cultures, and on the other we have a bunch of otaku and Japan-fetishists whose idea of a girl is something you can keep as a pet rather than something that can climb walls and leap the tops of high buildings.

Down in the comments, these two straw men continue to battle it out furiously:
"Everyone who’s ever seen an Asian of any ethnicity on the street knows that no one looks like that."

Well, I live in Tokyo and you don't see many people here looking like either of the different versions of Faith. The question that hangs over a lot of these arguments is whether creating a strong-looking female character justifies twisting Asian features to fit your ideal, and similarly whether authentically representing Asian (for which we can read "Japanese" in this context) ideals of beauty justifies inflicting degrading sexism on the character.

For what it's worth, my answer to the first part is "yes" and to the second part is "no" since the first part is done in service of the character, in order to make her more convincing in her interaction with the world of the game, whereas the second does violence to the gameworld and setting. The "moe" Faith puts strain on the fourth wall and damages our suspension of disbelief. Through the disconnection between what the character does for a living and how she is portrayed we can see an audience being pandered to and we are forced to see her as a two-dimensional cypher overlaid on top of the world, which itself then loses depth and seems unrealistic through its interaction with an implausible main character.

Did someone just say "superflat"? Damn you, otaku culture!

No comments: