Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fats, Blacks, and Gigantic Racks

Not even with a twenty-foot pole will you currently see the realm of videogames touch upon a realistic conception of body image. There are some questions we could ask here, but none of the ones I’ve been able to conjure myself have even been remotely satisfactory. First and most importantly, what do we (or I) mean by body image? As far as our little interactive medium goes, it’s the degree to which character models reflect the perception of not only our bodies, but those around us as well. Those who would quickly attest to sensing nothing in this area I would immediately write off as not having a fair enough grip on reality to contend with me on any grounds (essentially pushing the issue into their subconscious mind). Yeah, I said it.

"I don’t think about those things."
This is almost NEVER an answer, merely a popular evasion. In this particular case, it’s not even a fucking good one.

Now that there’s a disorder for everything under the sun, we can actually attempt curing them systematically rather than treating them (socially speaking, anyway). What exactly does it say when the subconscious gets ignored? When peer pressure becomes more covert? When indirectly cobbled-together ambient desires masquerade under the guise of individual taste (and what is the difference between the two)? In the realm of videogames, mobs, zombies, and even the most vicious intergalactic entities are designed with more attention to bodily design than that of human beings (which is a blog for another day). All that can be taken from the current design of videogame figures is the following checklist:

1-Sex >> 2-Visual Economics >> 3-Sex >> 4-Media Brainwashing >> 5-Sex >> 6-Idealism >> 7-Sex >> 8-Ineptitude >> 9-Sex >> 10-Apathy

There’s actually a fair counterpoint here (and I’m being generous), both biological and psychoanalytic that could contend with the current system being more of a protective one. This is that the depiction of overly-idealized figures serves as somewhat of a ‘healthy’ reminder of where we currently stand, as well as stress and anxiety to achieve ‘better’ being more of a positive ends. This stance towards games however, begins to lose a serious amount steam if the dial is spun to look at it with any other lens (e.g. a racial lens).

It’s rather ironic that nerds still can’t find the words to act against such a force isn’t it? Even today, they’re often written off as socially awkward stereotypes. These are the kind of people who have always been illustrated to vehemently value knowledge over physical appearance. That Saved by the Bell simplicity will only carry one so far though! Eventually, we will all have to get up and look at ourselves in the mirror, and what we see there is more often than not --- influenced by what we consume. This counts biologically, visually, and ideally. In case you’re not paying attention (at least to me), videogames are by their nature, mostly consumed now. Mentionable minorities of people actually ‘play’ them, some collect diligently, but most really just consume them. This is the first exit towards why players ‘see what they see’. Insecurities, anxieties, facile antisocial tendencies, they can all be traced back to the culture we currently live in. Videogames are just a new orifice-medium for this social destructiveness to come pouring through. So what remains is that the majority of games are simply not good with this conundrum at all. This is mostly due to the fact that it inherited a childish grasp of aesthetics, not only bolstering gender, but racial, and cultural boundaries as well (and if we’re going to get macrocosmic, the media in general has done this at large).

Messages and ideals divide people quite definitively, but action always clashes with these divisions violently, even if it is in the reverence of said ideal. Videogames currently stand as a rather shrewd parody of this message too. The notion of interaction clashes with the idea of any deeper meaning games are meant to have (that ‘argument of mechanics’ serves the same end so don’t even try to spin that bullshit here either). Why we crave this is another argument, but we do crave it nonetheless. Gamers have deluded themselves now into thinking titles now must exercise qualitative literary, cinematic, and minimalist abstractions. Conservatist lethargy-memes have grown as a stark response to this, poisoning all advancement in the name of countless thought-terminating clichés (which essentially serve as pseudoideals).

Artists have a problem with ideas, designers have a problem with insularity, and the audience at large has a massive problem with privilege and perception. Of course they’re not all mutually exclusive, but the epidemic is at large for them either way. To understand how we see each other, we first have to understand if we see each other, and most of us simply don’t. We normally see what we want and at best, we see a funhouse mirror-image of others in our own minds. Selfish-perception accounts for a hell of a lot in today’s society and videogames are not immune to this effect. Steering back towards the topic would normally just have me lambast the industry with complaints that are not necessarily new, but in my opinion, still not heard enough. It remains mostly whitewashed, sexist, and for lack of a better term---trashy.

As far as race goes, some of the same structures apply. I’ve lamented many times throughout playing SoulSilver for example, that I never completely ignored the fact that nobody in the game is of any discernable color (save a few judgment calls). At best we all can look at characters such as Brock signifying a tad of racial ambiguity. This bleeds into my low standards for Asian entertainment overall though, so I never really bitch about it TOO much. It’s an overly traditionalist culture there, it always has been and can even be traced back through the design of some of their most impressive artworks as well. This sadly has become a forte so ingrained within that culture I rather sardonically question whether they could do without it now. Such traditionalism certainly isn’t just exclusive to videogames though (or Asia for that matter), as even your average American television ad could quickly be called into question for dealing anything that just slightly tampers with social inertia.

The Western market has gotten incrementally better with bodily depictions, but it would only appear more worthwhile than it actually is. This is especially prevalent considering how horrid the aforementioned Eastern market has become. If I wanted to be really cynical, I could dote on the fact that one our most beloved mascots is a stereotype. Not only that, but it’s something we’re still quick to plaster a stupid-ass grin on our face for. That hedonism (with a side-order of utilitarianism) totally falls flat on its ass here, as most people simply don’t notice that damage is being done. If it’s not in their face kicking their ass, why would they even bother paying attention to begin with?

One of the key reasons literary strength will remain stalwart for centuries to come is that it gives visual authorities/acuities to the reader. The mind of the individual can be pretty admirable when it so chooses, but collectively---they’re damn near worthless. We form entire worlds in the barriers of our minds and anything that slightly conflicts with those constructions is subject to debate (and things just tend to get brutal at that point). While videogames can incorporate these visual thematics to some extent, they’ll always be confronted with the likes of:

  • Unnecessary & Excessive Dissonance – My personal knee-jerk reaction here would have my arm snap up in dissent while pointing very hurriedly at consumerism. The easiest example here is how every ‘successful’ game must incorporate some half-assed and completely unnecessary EU (extended universe). This includes ‘cross-medium tie-ins’ ranging from comic books to haphazardly constructed toylines. For the fan, love is blind, so this doesn’t even appear as a problem. The ugly truth however, is that these products don’t gracefully meld passionate boundaries (at best they just inspire collectors to do their thing), they’re just cacophonous distractions which have been promoted to mere vagaries in the current landscape. This inhibits growth for a multitude of obvious reasons.

  • Abused Passion and Meaning – Where there exist human beings, there exists idealism. No matter how shitty a game you can conjure up, someone out there will have formed some level of attachment to it. When this kind of following crystallizes, it can become pretty damn formidable to contend with in any fashion. A key symptom of this is that conservatism I whizzed by above, as when people touch upon something that genuinely resonates with them, they become exponentially selfish in trying to protect it, no matter what it may be. Give someone a cause to die for and I guarantee you, the dumb fucker will lay on the train tracks for it.

  • Gender Noise - This isn’t so much as a dissection of men and woman as it is the remains of their interaction (and attraction) with each other. When a man crosses a female he actually ‘likes’ in a game for example (and vice versa), a makeshift Jenga tower is added to, upon which various social structures begin to enforce themselves. Of course it would be facile to suggest that this is definitive in any one person’s vision of those around them, but the concept exists nonetheless. This could essentially boil down to the old argument of games causing us to separate fantasy from reality though, so it’s only worthwhile to an extent. Most gamers oppose such realism vehemently out of defense against the overblown allegations of videogame violence. It does have its place however, and it’s more than worth examining. Not only do developers place within games wraiths of personal experience, but they’re ironically impersonal, generic, and lost.


    This would be point (and title) of this post. It’s probably not as poignant as---say the Bechdel Test, but it’s worked just the same in my eyes (and is no less pervasive in my experience as well).

  • Clover Style


    Have you not noticed the lack of realistically proportioned figures in games (and I'm keeping the sacasm to a minimal there)? Nearly every culture now has some sort of kick where it flies off on some sort of exaggerated tangent to justify calling anybody who doesn’t fit into some narrow criteria of body-type unhealthy. To hell with genetics, to hell with gender, and to hell with globalization too while we’re at it. Games only get away with skinny because skinny can easily masquerade in the crowd, but even that’s a stretch of long odds now. Hell, what we even call fat now is symptomatic of a much larger problem, the 'idealizing libido' (the true test of the aforementioned 'gender noise' if you ask me, especially among men). So, the first rule today will be to identify any game character that is not majorly affected by the idealized human form. Yes, I’m aware of how some systems have been put into place with games such as Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas, but if the likes of that are meant to be your primary examples (i.e. satirical jabs at American pop-culture), you’re just being lazy. Simulators obviously don’t count here either, as they’re simply obscuring the issue at hand.


    Yes, I COULD say ‘People of Color’, but I opt for blacks mainly because it’s the one of the most prominent races where one will typically have no ‘debate’ powered by possible racial ambiguity, no matter how stylized the artists manage go (and many do like to hide behind those concepts mind you). Tokens are still in abundance in mainstream media though, so pointing them out in games is no big deal---right? Television, film, you name it, chances are you’ll be able to ALWAYS count the number black people on one hand no matter where you go (which is rule number two). I won’t even go at the more controversial issue of general minorities mainly appearing in abundance in primarily crime games either. That’s just something I’m too tickled with to even attempt seriously. Most black people I personally know tend to avoid calling this out in games for fear of appearing too negative or racially jaded (which most are truly in denial about), but the one thing they have in common? They ALL notice it, which in my book, says something. It affects all of their perceptions of the medium too (not to mention themselves). The quickest and only defense you’ll probably find here concerning games is the sports title one, as there’s simply no way to avoid not putting black people in any sports depiction now (which means they don’t get bonus points for it from me).

    There’s also another reason I noticed blacks refusing to speak up on this more as well, we simply have thicker skins than most other races regarding our aesthetics (especially considering the modern and past struggles which anyone of African descent still sees on a daily basis). And yes, it’s a very problematic notion, considering such strength leads to complacency and clandestine hegemony. So before someone calls me out on that ‘saying one race is better than another’ thing, I’m simply saying our feet have adapted to become stronger because we’ve ALSO become adept at tossing knives into them, it’s not a huge leap-of-logic to make.

    I don’t care if it’s a JPRG or a demonically stylized first-person shooter, chances are it’s just a story about some white people doing what I refer to as ‘white people things’. What’s really humorous here is that Asians do it too (who are nothing else if not ‘off-white’). Speaking solely from intuition though, I think the Asians actually know this as well, yet they continue to perpetuate the ‘agenda’ (I just think most Westerners are effete and clueless by the way).

    tr7 2010-08-03 23-26-31-24

    Gigantic Racks

    Easy right? This does however overlap into the fats area as well. It also plays into the biggest notion that games just can’t seem to get beyond, women. I don’t care to turn this into a nature vs nurture discussion, but you’d have to be completely clueless to suggest that men and women are equal on the grounds of sexual appearance (or even that they SHOULD be for that matter). It’s REALLY far more common and appreciative of aesthetic beauty to see a rubenesque figure sporting a well endowed chest, but games would have us live in the lie that women generally just have basketballs on their chests and are perfectly aligned (and inclined) to be fit as a fiddle. This becomes a dangerous line of thought too, because it requires us to draw lines and create standards that everyone just simply won’t be able to live up to. I only focus on women for one reason and one reason alone. They’ve been both biologically a socially geared to care about their appearance more; they’ve been the objects of lust and idealism at its finest throughout this stupid race’s history. Of course it applies to men as well, but again---you’d have to be out of your mind to even suggest us men are equal to the estrogen-enhanced here.

    For men, it typically works in the opposite direction (i.e. skinny guys), but you rarely see any amount of chub on them either. The muscle and space marine stereotypes are in full effect here and the only breakers in that formula take the form of brooding lean guys (which sadly still puts male depiction ahead of females out of sheer variance). The only reason it’s more difficult to analyze in male depiction is that we’re given more to work with. I find this INSANELY ironic considering that the female form is just as I said, to be the height of what we consider to be exemplary beauty for our species. Not only that, but breasts at their aesthetic maxim, are highly individual to the form of the woman they’re attached to. This brings me to rule three, if every set of breasts in a game are just palatte swaps of each other, patriarchy reigns. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out and it doesn’t take a vindictive gamer who has spent years sketching naked women to know that either. It just takes a BIT of observation. Hell, even someone who frequents pornography websites (where plenty of women slice themselves up to meet these ideals) should notice this.

    Bag Lady

    So to recap, Fats, Black and Gigantic Racks

    1 - If 100% of the game’s human beings (or human-replicas) do not deviate drastically from the idealized form (go look at any Greek sculpture), something is wrong.
    2 - If you can count the number of black people in a single game on one hand, something is wrong.
    3 - If all the breasts in a game look roughly the same way, something is very wrong.

    And just a few closing observations I’ve made while writing this:

    Old quote I feel is apt here:

    "It takes at least two people to create a work of art This is because the artist eventually needs to be beaten over the head after a certain point in his craft. Someone at some point has to tell the son of a bitch to stop."
    -Anonymous (with my own embellishments)

  •  – If this whole ordeal is a matter of fear accompanying such technological feats (e.g. the purposeful avoidance of stereotypes and whatnot), it’s become somewhat of a detriment in itself now.

  • – Business is business but how much do companies seriously stand to lose from a little controversy now? Particularly the big wigs who can afford to take risks. Perhaps it’s a matter of reputation? It’s not just the money, though for most that would plausibly be the end-game conclusion.

  • Of course there are exceptions to the rules, but they’re few and far in between. For example, we could easily call into question to the likes of XBL Avatars or even something along the lines of what the aforementioned GTA: San Andreas went for. However, there’s a certain safety-net behind designing with comical focus (as I also implied above). We’re not meant to consider those seriously past a certain extent.

    I don’t mean to imply there’s been absolutely no movement in recent years with games, just a surprisingly miniscule amount given the number of people now playing them. The industry has grown immensely in the past decade alone. The medium does not reflect this either, which is---stupid.

    Possible Options and Solutions:

  • 1 - Oversexualize men - This is a simplified version of the problem which could in theory, generate many more problems, but the point of it is to counterbalance what has already been done to women. A necessary evil to eventually wipe the slate clean. For example, a man is measured in ‘endowment’ by his penis but a woman isn’t by her vagina (this isn’t just a placement issue either), yet breasts (what most DO consider the definitive female endowment) get such a lackadaisical and skewed focus in the media, we don’t even consider this a problem. There’s dozens of ways to sexualize the male form, and watching videogames constantly fail at it only moderately pisses me off. Watching everyone fail at it however---that’s just the inspiration behind my little blog here.

    2 - The most traditional option (and one that should happen naturally) is to simply design with more style and raise the variance pool, but here’s the trick. A layer of realism as opposed to excessive idealism has to be lain over it instead (or even in addition to, I’m not that picky at this point).

    3 - Gamers and general geeks could try more activism instead of sitting on their ass and letting 4chan COMPLETELY dictate their collective persona. It’s one thing to laugh at absurdity; it’s another thing entirely to drown in it. This requires the most work though---so I wouldn’t bet a penny on it personally.

    Final conclusion

    Things like our understanding of beauty could use some serious augmentation (not to mention relative terms like desire and happiness as well). Perhaps games will someday illustrate this first, but then again---they could just remain what we've all kind of relinquished to: a youthful artform upon which various pressures exert themselves.