EDITORIAL: Is Dragon’s Crown sexist?

Prepare yourself, Internet. We’re about to have a serious discussion about sexism. This particular article will be focused on the controversy surrounding Vanillaware’s latest game, Dragon’s Crown. The game itself is a beat-’em-up in the vein of old arcade classics like Golden Axe and Knights of the Round. The player can pick a class between Fighter, Amazon, Elf, Sorceress, Wizard, and Dwarf  – 3 of which are female. That gender parity is actually a rarity among beat ‘em ups and is definitely nice to see here.

The characters all seem to be capable and not handicapped in any particular way. The female classes are every bit as strong as the males, differing — from a gameplay mechanic — only in ways that make sense for this sort of title. So what is it about Dragon’s Crown that has the gaming audience so divided, with one side screaming “sexism! sexism!” and the other yelling just as loudly, “it’s fantasy?”


The art direction. And more specifically the art of The Sorceress, pictured above. In previous games like Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Vanillaware has featured strong, capable female characters but they didn’t show off so much skin. The Sorceress certainly has quite a bit on display, and in movement her breasts are pendulous. This is nothing new of course, especially in the world of gaming. And in the past similar character design was met with a roll of the eyes and a dismissive comment – but this is 2013 and we’re world weary.

In the United States our perceived rights are under scrutiny. Non-violent demonstrations are being met with force. Gay rights has divided the country in ways unseen since the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 60′s. The world’s economy is in a pinch and it’s impossible to know which side is right – the one telling us to save our money and all bills will be affordable, or the one telling us to spend more because spending raises the economy.  Several rape cases have been publicized in which entire towns have attempted to cover up the crime, shame the victims, and force them out of the community. States have enacted laws making both contraception and abortions harder if not impossible to obtain, and there’s a very real feeling of “the war on women” in the air.

It’s a period of political and civil unrest, and that tension affects us all. Gamers are passionate people – and the passionate are loud.

Over at Dictionary.com, sexism is defined as follows:

 sex·ism noun

1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.

2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially,such discrimination directed against women.

Following that definition, is Vanillaware’s depiction of The Sorceress sexist? In a word, no. Not at all. She’s shown to be a capable fighter, with a number of reviewers commenting that she’s easily the strongest character. She’s not devalued or discriminated as far as I can tell – none of the female player characters in Dragon’s Crown are. The Amazon is muscle-bound. The Sorceress is curvy. The Elf is petite and boyish. There’s a variety at play here, and it carries over to the males as well. In my opinion, the Dwarf is frankly just as offensively depicted as the Amazon.

So what’s the real problem here? The problem is that The Sorceress is gratuitous. She’s been designed quite explicitly to titillate the player and that’s a shame. Women make up roughly half the world’s audience and I absolutely believe the developers didn’t give that fact any thought or consideration. Again, this is nothing new, but more and more attention is being devoted to women in popular media. Feminist Frequency has “Tropes vs Women in Video Games”. Kickstarters are including playable females as stretch goals. Hell, take the example of how Naughty Dog had to fight their own sales team to feature Ellie on the front cover of the game.

Unfortunately, as women take the focus in our media another problem arises: slut shaming.

Laci Green of SEX+ talks about it in the Youtube video embedded above. Men and women alike are extremely judgmental when it comes to what we feel is the “appropriate” way for women to carry themselves. How they dress, who they’re seen with — there are multiple industries centered around telling women how to dress, how to act, what to say, what to think. And unfortunately at this point in our social development, there’s no way to win the argument. Men are cheered when they’ve convinced a woman to lose her virginity, while that same woman is largely humiliated. If a woman finds her spouse cheating on her, it’s extremely likely the other woman will be called “slut” or “whore” when frankly, it takes two to tango.

We also need to remember that reviews – all reviews – are subjective. We’re asking the writer for his or her opinion about something, and this culture of screaming when we disagree needs to go away. Because when everyone’s yelling, no one’s listening. I realize I’ve turned into my mother when I say this but, we need to grow up. It’s possible to express disagreement with respect and thoughtfulness. Only then does the discussion continue. For the record, I find the design of the Dwarf, Sorceress, and Amazon in Dragon’s Crown distasteful and even ugly. If I were reviewing the game, I’d count off for it too – though maybe not to the extent Polygon did. As a reviewer, that’s my right.

There’s a larger issue here in how we treat women, and it’s not going to be decided in a review for Dragon’s Crown or any other game for that matter.

I’m a child of the 80′s. My first console was the Atari 7800 and I have a ton of great memories of playing NES and SNES games with my mom. I’ve been playing console and PC games ever since.

I think more time is spent making games look good than crafting fun gameplay. So I created Playonix to try and showcase the creativity of Indie games and games with small dev teams.

Twitter Google+ YouTube  

Share this article!
  • Lady Cal

    I’m a female and I think this game is beautiful and fun. Though Odin Sphere’s sexy art was more to my taste, I have no great problem with the character art in Dragon’s Crown. I look at the gender traits
    taken to an extreme with characters like Sorceress and the Dwarf as being humorous. The designs seem to have western fantasy art in mind, but the artist made them more ridiculous. It’s like a parody.

    It’s nice that people care about how females are portrayed in games and other fiction, but I can’t stand the idea of a revolution in video games where all females are “realistically sized” (according to whom?), strong, wise and otherwise badass. Not sure if the author of this would desire this extreme, but I do know a number of people who seem to desire this, and I find the idea colorless. I know men are still considered to be a more privileged group, so maybe we can’t ask ourselves this, but I will–How many males in video games and other fiction are bad role models, or steroid cases? It’s not as big of an issue, but boys need good role models, too. But should we make more of our characters morally upright, average bodied smart people? No. We explore what we aren’t through fiction. And we can decide for ourselves what is good and bad in what we experience. Why must we portray certain groups with overcompensating sensitivity? Why can’t we just go nuts with creativity when making something and not have to deal with great controversy? There are more game developers making more “cool” females, good for them! I appreciate these characters when done well. But I’ll never buy a game for that sort of character over one with designs I find more interesting and eye catching.

    When controversy appears after a creative work is released, it’s funny to see how much more attention it brings to something. Some artists and developers wish for this or may benefit from it.

    Anyway, so what if Sorceress has big boobies. I’d prefer to see them more covered in real life, but this is a video game and she can do whatever she wants with them there.