Monday, April 5, 2010

Motoko Manifest

For all of the stupidity and base-practicality males that typically portray, plenty of us do retain some rather intriguing insecurities, most of which revolve around the prospect of other nude males. It’s just in our makeup to be conflicted when it comes to addressing our current social status with sexuality. Games have a lovely position to drag this into the light, but it fails to at every turn.

As video-games have grown, their validity has been constantly questioned from one angle and fervently critiqued (albeit sparsely) from another. One particular ‘busy street’ is the nature of sexuality, but often we get so sidetracked (or personally affected) with the bundle of small minutiae, that we sometimes fail to look at things from more than one angle. Take this for example. The initial reactions that I saw at such news were rightly raising the issue of prioritization in regards to the game’s ‘quality’. This is to say that the development team chose at some point to disregard female avatars from fear of confronting hassle with the game’s memory.

“If we all reacted the same way, we'd be predictable, and there's always more than one way to view a situation. What's true for the group is also true for the individual. It's simple: overspecialize, and you breed in weakness. It's slow death.”
-Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell

Now while this may or may not be the wise choice, it does bring into question (for me anyway) what gamers are left with. Of course it’s the stereotypical muscle-bound males (many of which are minorities, which doesn’t help matters at all considering the game’s content). If the design is to reflect over-the-top action, it does so admirably, but still falls prey to being a prime example for what I call the ‘kid learning the finger’. Videogames of course being the child, have learned something that garners a response, totally out of context and to satiate curiosity and exploration (however dangerous that exploration may be). It was the obvious ‘next step’ and so far, any pro-female outlet has been there to ‘spank/scold’ what’s been laid out (as far as the vocal minority goes anyway).

This ‘finger’ though has mostly been composed of the following:

“The design of these gangs was a very enjoyable process really and the Artists and Designers worked closely (and very productively) together. We quickly established that each gang had to have a strong cultural identity and this would bleed into other aspects of the game such as the vehicles they use, the architecture of their districts and the business names therein. All would help to make each district feel unique. The Designers provided flamboyant and descriptive profiles of each character and the Character Artists followed these up with a series of concepts that got continually refined until we were all happy to sign them off. We started with some pretty standard designs of thugs and ‘gangsta’s’ but we just felt that this had all been done to death and didn’t really suit the slightly tongue-in-cheek nature of the action in our game. We tinkered with these ideas for a while until one day one of our Character Artists found the ‘Subtlety’ dial and turned it down to zero?. Once this happened we were off and running.”
-Jeff Cairns, Crackdown’s Art Director

Now although I hate to turn this into a blog about Crackdown (a game I didn’t much enjoy personally by the way), I idiotically chose it as an example and am too stubborn to back down now. In just the above paragraph alone though, at least three things were established:

1 – Ethnicity wasn’t just a slap-shit decision, but a conscious action on the overall design of the game.
2 – Artists had to be signed off on their concepts.
3 – There was a purposeful will to go full bore into the over-the-top design.

This is where games truly fail because sexuality will consistently be put through this development grinder each and every time, across a myriad of different genres and audiences. As far as getting back to what I opened with, well --- do you see it yet?

It’s the men. Of course it’s the men! Not just the men designing things or even the females designing them, but the perception of the male itself. It has become a filter in Photoshop (something people are far too comfortable with using now). There’s also a weird tendency for people not to question the motives/desires/merits of artists (and let me tell you, bohemian arrogance is a horrific thing to let fester too). Again, I’m trying to distance myself from Crackdown so bear with me, but the male of any game is rarely shown with anything that will aesthetically compromise his machismo. Even the bishonen archetypes have become drab across the realms of RPGs and fighters, consisting of a simple male with by-the-books feminine traits (i.e. long hair, provocative eyes, sultry voicing). Since it was adopted from Asian artists (who were probably the most influential in the genesis of the modern video-game) , it got a free pass -- which we’re abusing now. Females may or may not appear with wonky and/or hyper-exaggerated sexual characteristics but when it comes to the men, we just get the aesthetic hand-me-downs from women.

“Video-games are and depict a dynamic environment; our efforts to keep them the same will be what limits them, two times over.”
-Augmented from the Puppet Master

God forbird one of us appears nude --- the world would end. This is more or less what I want. Not just the end goal, but for games themselves to be the ones to push along the perception that a sexualized male doesn’t necessarily hold some innate libidinous threat to hetereosexual men.

Now yes, I am biased. I’ve drawn my fair share of nudes in and out of school. I much prefer the female, but have since gone back in the past few weeks to revisit men yet again to find appreciation for some of the smaller truths I’ve always observed but never really made a conscious attempt to note (to anyone else anyway).

Muscles are on a needle point of being appealing at all anymore. I think the only person who even cares anymore that their avatar is hulking are the fourteen year olds on X-Box live. What’s required now as in many cases concerning games, is range. Thin, fat, skinny, tall, short --- it’s not simply a progressive thing anymore, it’s an artistic one (another aggressive distinction I’m quick to make) and games along with their audience should try picking up that set of eyes --- for once. The penis is vastly more interesting to look at than a vagina and the hair and rigidity of the male form has far more staying power than the current queen occupying her throne (the hypersexualized female). It doesn’t have to be forced, but pretending like there hasn’t been room for it in the thousands of games to come out in the past twenty years is just simply moronic.

The desires are there, and the women get to have their fun, so why the hell can’t men grow up or is that simply too stupid of a question? Considering I’M the one asking it, THAT’S BAD.

And yes, this post was inspired NOT by the news of that Crackdown crap, but a rewatching of Ghost in the Shell over the weekend. I haven’t seen it in over ten years and rewatching it (specifically the 1995 film) reminded me that the only sexual concern I had with Motoko at thirteen were the plugs on the back of her neck (and she spends a good chunk of the damn movie naked).

“I’ve got one thing to say --- PENIS, deal with it.”
-John Becker