Why Redesigning Female Characters is Getting Old and Shitty

So a couple of weeks ago, the newest well-received redesign article popped up in the world, this time from a website called Svampriket, which looks like a Swedish Kotaku. The article, dubbed “Makeover Friday!” which I’ve helpfully linked in translated form, has been linked in a few places as a positive piece, with authors linking the piece and proclaiming the redesigns as a good thing, because of course they are. Interestingly, though, I discovered this thing not through the normal gaming rounds, but through a link that took me to “The Spideygirl Blog,” specifically a post discussing (among other things) this makeover, a recent character addition to Overwatch that came about due to fan objections to female designs, and some general discussions on why the writer thinks the recent discussions in general are kind of shitty. This sort of argument, as well as this one here which talks about why character agency is a stupid argument*, is nothing new, but what interested me was that the source was, by admission, a lesbian female, and the argument itself was less the typical “I LIKE BOOBS RAWR” we expect and more “People want to drag down sexy, large breasted women,” which is an… interesting approach to take, I’ll say that much**. The one thing I read within the post that I did like quite a bit, though, was this:

“This is my problem with the so called criticisms about female portrayals in video games. The people who love to complain about it seem to be inherently sex negative and puritanical. It isn’t so much that there are women who AREN’T busty and sexualized, it’s that there are women who are portrayed as such. And no matter what, apparently, those kinds of characters shouldn’t exist.”

I rather like that argument, actually, because it kind of undercuts a problem with the current discussions that are going on right now: even as someone who supports and fully believes in the idea that we need more equality in gaming, we’re going to solve that by motivating developers to make good characters, not by shaming them into putting pants on Lara Croft.

Now, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Tomb Raider reboot and redesign, and that opinion hasn’t changed a bit in the two years since I reviewed the game. What I don’t talk about so much in this article, though, is that I’m not a fan of most character redesigns, be they Lara’s boob reduction/pants deal, Power Girl’s multiple redesigns, Rick’s Hulk-like physique and high-tops in Splatterhouse, or basically anything about Dante in DmC. There’s a reason for this, which is that in most cases, when a redesign is created because someone sits down and says, “Holy shit I have an idea and it’ll be so good you guys,” that’s usually a sign the design will be okay, if not great. When someone says, “Let’s redesign this for some sort of alternative reason,” however, that always fucking fails. Always. It’s the difference between “Spider-Man has a black costume now and it’s so awesome!” and “We need to redo Superman’s costume because we lost the rights to the original one,” or the difference between “Wonder Woman would look awesome in battle armor,” and “Wonder Woman should wear pants***.” When you’re starting from a point where you have an actual idea for how to change something, this is infinitely preferable to starting from a point where you have a reason to change but no idea how to get there.

On the other side of the coin, I completely understand the viewpoint that many people have as it relates to the fact that a whole lot of current gaming females are a big old advertisement for boobs and butts. That’s a totally fair point of view, and in some cases, such as DOA 5, that’s literally the only option players are given, so it’s fair to be mad about it. That said, however, one thing I’m not on board with is the constant need to remind everyone that specific characters suck when developers actively try to make new characters who don’t. The example in the above link of how we’re constantly in attack mode against Ivy is a good one, actually; while Ivy does become progressively more of a sex object as the games go on, Hilde, a female warrior in full plate mail, has also existed for a couple of games now, and is wholly respectable from a visual perspective. It’s entirely reasonable to say, “Can we maybe tone Ivy’s slide into being basically naked back a bit from one game to the next?” because yeah, she’s getting ridiculous, no argument. It’s not reasonable to say, “Can we basically make Ivy cease to exist at all?” or to single her out as an abomination in gaming, however, when the developers of Soul Calibur are saying, “Well, we’ve made characters who aren’t sex objects and characters who are,” because at that point you’re saying, “Nothing is permitted.”

With all due respect to those who wish to see more respectable female characters in gaming, I will die on the hill with you to see more and better female characters, but if you want to fight to eliminate sexualized women in gaming altogether, that’s a fucking losing battle and you’re on your own there.

Which brings us to the original article I linked, because it combines those two concepts into one neat little disaster: redesigns of characters that are meant to 1.) change their appearance for sexuality reasons rather than because the author had a good idea to begin with, and 2.) reduce the sexuality of the characters altogether, because women with big tits who like their bodies don’t exist****. I mean, look, I’d be all for an article where the creator says, “I love these characters, but I had some ideas for more modest costumes,” and shows us some actual new designs that are good, but that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening here is the author started from a concept of “Let’s take some sexualized characters and make them less sexualized,” and if you imagine Keenan Ivory Wayans screaming “MESSAGE!” into your window every entry it’d be less transparent than what’s going on here. To break it down:

– Taki, Morrigan and I-No’s “redesigns” are literally almost the exact same outfits with smaller breasts and slightly less sexuality. That’s literally all that happened there. You could have accomplished the exact same thing by just typing “Make Taki’s breasts smaller.” Oh and Morrigan is wearing a dress now, I guess, which is… something.

– Also, if you aren’t familiar with Guilty Gear OR I-No, why are you redesigning the character? Did you Google search “Sexy female fighting game characters” and pick the first eight you saw? I mean, I don’t expect someone who works for a video gaming website to own two unopened copies of Earthbound and have a thesis on comparisons between Halo and The Odyssey, but I’m absolutely going to hold you to the same standards I hold myself to, which are “if you don’t know about something, familiarize yourself or don’t write about it.” If I can do two weeks worth of research for a comedy article about Super Sonico, you can spend a week playing a Guilty Gear title and reading the wiki, especially when you are (presumably) being paid to do this.

– Morrigan, by the by, is especially silly, not only because Morrigan is a succubus, AKA a demon who attempts to seduce men (traditionally) through sexual activity and probably looks the way she does on purpose, but also because we already have a character, IN THE DARKSTALKERS FRANCHISE, with that same design, in Morrigan’s “sister” Lilith. The only difference is she’s not wearing a dress, but if we’re redesigning characters, who would fight in a dress? Like, you’re the one making logical changes here, don’t tell me a logical Morrigan would wear a dress in a fistfight.

– Mai is apparently Chun-Li now. That’s what you did, you made Mai into Chun-Li. Someone paid you to do this. Jesus Christ.

– That Cammy is a disaster and I’m not even commenting on it.

– The Poison redesign is fine, though it’s utterly beyond me why you’d pick Poison considering how ridiculous Capcom has made her as a character. I like Poison and all, and I’m glad Capcom doesn’t make fun of her for being trans, but they do still make fun of her, so… I mean it’s a fine design, I’m just not sure why you’d pick her when you’re putting more thought into her than anyone who created her did.

– Elena… okay look, I know that you’re trying and all, but in the real world, female practitioners of Capoiera don’t dress like that, they dress like Christie Monteiro. Well, not exactly like her, but this right here is closer to Christie than what you made. The top is fine-ish, but the pants are offensive, because frankly, pants like that would be problematic for Capoeira. Like, you could’ve done a Google image search for “Capoeira” and noticed that every picture either features specific pants, yoga pants, track pants, or underpants. It would’ve taken ten seconds. I don’t know how you could attempt to redesign a character’s costume and make it worse on a functional level, but here we are.

On an unrelated note, I actually saw a couple pictures of people doing Capoeira in their underpants, so being completely realistic, there’s more evidence that people do Capoeira dressed like Elena on the internet than there is that they do it wearing the pants the author of the post designed. Just saying.

– Finally, and this one is legitimately frustrating because I actually like the idea of the character and would’ve been happy with a good redesign, but if you don’t like Felicia as a character, don’t attempt to redesign her, and if you somehow decide to do this anyway, don’t make her into a fucking horror show. I mean I’m sure Google Translate isn’t conveying the exact tone of your writing for that piece, but from what I’m gathering, you basically picked Felicia even though you don’t like her or her design, and you said, “Well let’s pick something safe and go with it.” That is absolutely not a sign of good work, and if you knew you weren’t into it, don’t do it, because all you did do was make her into a fucking nightmare.

I mean, I get it; your final paragraph made perfect sense, and yeah, the new characters that have been announced for Tekken 7 look stupid as hell, aesthetically. One of them is wearing a bra under an open jacket and high heels, and the other, while she’s representative of specific Japanese subcultures, looks like a kitty hooker. I totally agree! That said, why not do something productive, like, as an example, pointing out good examples of female characters in fighting games, like Hilde or Leo Kliesen? Perhaps make redesigns of Katarina and Lucky Chloe, since they’re the characters that seem to have inspired this piece? Really, anything else would’ve been a better option than the same tired shit we’ve been doing, and doing, and doing for years now.

Look, I get that people are mad at the fact that, yes, a lot of female characters exist because dudes made them to be sexually provocative. However, and here’s the thing, these characters also have female fans, and when you come out and say, “Here’s how we can redesign them to be less tasteless and sexist,” you’re also ignoring the fact that these characters have female fans. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I didn’t go to J. Rose and say, “Hey, make the cast picture of Crystal for DHGF look like Power Girl because it gives me a boner,” I asked her what she wanted her character to look like, and that is what she picked because she likes Power Girl. It’s completely fine to point out that these characters have issues, and it’s completely fine to ask for developers to do better overall, but it’s an entirely different thing altogether to say, “You need to change how these existing characters look, because they are sexist, according to me, an authority on what all women want.”

If you demand options that cater to your wants and hold people accountable to catering to the desires of their entire fanbase, that’s reasonable.

If you demand that all options cater to your wants exclusively because only you know what is best, you’re no better than the people you oppose.

In other words, you’re not fucking helping.

Just saying.

* Which is actually an argument I agree with, for reference; no, fictional characters can’t decide how they’re dressed, because they’re not fucking real. Your entire point is that characters who don’t fucking exist can’t decide how they’re dressed, which is (one supposes) meant to illustrate that characters who are dressed ridiculously didn’t choose that, the creator did, but honestly, that applies to every fictional character, ever. Like, why would Luke Cage have dressed like he did in the 70’s? Why would super-powered demi-god characters care about covering up for basic decency? Fuck man, if I became a goddamn walking god I’d be butt naked at all times, Doctor Manhattan had that shit down. What are you going to do, force the walking god to put on pants? Yeah, let me know how that works out for you when you’re a pile of ash. The core point, that someone like Bayonetta was designed to be walking sex on purpose, is fine, believe me, but find a way to express it that doesn’t sound dumb.

** On the other hand, her argument that a lot of why women are represented the way they are in games being because of female power fantasies and because we wouldn’t accept women behaving how men do makes a lot of sense. I’ve been of the mindset for a while now that I’d actually kind of like to see Rockstar Games make a Manhunt game featuring a female protagonist, even when others have pointed out that this thing would probably be uncomfortable to people, and I think this post makes a good argument why people would find this idea weird. The reality is, yeah, if someone made a female Trevor Phillips, and played them straight, a whole lot of people would flip shit over it, even though it’d probably be a pretty progressive move. With that in mind, I kind of want to see that happen, if only because I kind of want to see how people actually react to this thing. It’d be very informative to see who actually praises the concept and who becomes a giant hypocrite, if nothing else.

*** Though once they ditched the jacket, Wonder Woman’s appearance improved one thousand percent. This is honestly a huge issue that I’ve never fucking understood with female character redesigns: whenever someone creates an updated female character design, they constantly give them fucking jackets. Think I’m full of shit? Here’s the new Spider-Woman redesign, which gives her a jacket as the primary exterior of the costume. Here’s the new Batgirl redesign, which is basically a jacket, yoga pants and work-site boots. Here’s the Squirrel Girl redesign, and here’s the interview where the new creator basically says she handed Marvel double-digit options and Marvel said “Hey let’s do the one with the jacket because that always works.” Here’s the “Spider-Gwen” costume, which is basically a Spider-Man costume, except with a hoodie, because that worked so well for the Scarlet Spider. Here’s the new Power Girl design, which gives her a non-functional half jacket. You can’t even look at fanart because when asked to redesign female outfits, jackets are pretty much the first thing they fucking do. I don’t know if this is some sort of attempt to make modern redesigns quasi-fashionable, some kind of misguided belief that female superheroes are always cold, or some kind of attempt to make everything into Captain Planet, but it’s fucking stupid. That’s another reason I like the new Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel designs, by the by; their outfits are awesome, and don’t have a fucking jacket.

Ahem. Sorry, too much time spent playing Final Fantasy titles and reading anything with art from Rob Liefeld makes me irrationally angry at useless accessories, belts or pouches. On the other hand, having seen shit like this, I’ve basically become inured to anything that comes out now. “Oh, Power Girl has a boob window? At least her tits aren’t covered with plastic wrap.”

**** I know that’s a false equivalence argument, but with all due respect, the author of this piece is, at best, looking for clickbait and attention hits, and at worst, disingenuous and doing it from an ulterior motive; picking a character you admit you don’t like stylistically and choosing to redesign them anyway says as much. Someone doing this on their own merits wouldn’t pick a character they don’t even like, especially when the character they don’t like isn’t even popular. I mean Kasumi is right there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s