I definitely enjoyed researching the topic of sexuality in games and the relationship that exists between the character, player and, camera. There is definitely a problem when it comes to representation of females in games but we have definitely come a long way from when games were first being created. Females are often sexualized and objectified and sometimes the only solution offered to fix the problem is to put more clothes on them or to just not portray sexuality in games at all. But this does not address the fact that there is a possibility that women like to be sexual. So sometimes it would be cool to see women in games be sexually confident but obviously it is a tricky thing to do in a world that is constantly sexualizing things. So my research has taught me ways to talk about characters and analyze them to see if whether or not they are a step forward in being able to portray sexual females who can potential be seen as “good characters” without being horribly objectifying. I would love to continue researching this topic and exploring the topic of female sexuality in video games and applying it to games and events.
Author: Alejandra Villanueva
Who is Bayonetta? A look into her character.
Bayonetta’s presentation, which is undoubtedly a heavily sexualized one, nevertheless expresses her character in a way that separates her from the crowd of interchangeable, uninteresting portrayals of heterosexual women that clutter gaming. By contrast, Bayonetta’s presentation says something about who she is. To understand this, we’ll need to get a bit philosophical. – Katherine Cross
For this week I wanted to focus on looking into Bayonetta more and people’s opinions on her in order to start thinking of characteristics that people like/dislike in her and start building a strategy for creating a character. I have read many other articles on this topic but decided to look into Katherine Cross’s post, “Being sexy and not sexist – a look at Bayonetta and objectification” ,which talks explores Bayonetta and the topic of objectification. She brings up Martha Nussbaum, a feminist philosopher, who wrote an essay, “Objectification”, that talks about 7 notions that are involved in treating someone as an object:
- Denial of autonomy
- Denial of subjectivity
Cross states that “applying this rubric to videogames is trickier because e move from the realm of actual human beings to portrayals of human beings” so she suggests applying this to “representations of agency”. We must look at character within the world they are portrayed and allow all perspectives not just the creators. Cross argues that “what makes Bayonetta special is that every inch of her style– from her clothing, her posture, her walk, her signature moves, her weapons– all say something about who she is” meaning that she is not “terrifically fungible”. When the camera is not on her crotch, it shoes that she is shown as being in complete command. Cross even talks about the Breakdance move that I mentioned in another blog post. There is a difference when it comes to the cutscenes and her gameplay. The former is ‘feels voyeuristic’ but should not be how everyone looks at her as a character. And she characterizes Bayonetta as unique. No matter how corny her one-liners are, it’s “difficult to imagine them from someone else.” A character’s sexiness should “should be the subject of careful thought about what this character with this background and this personality might do if they wanted to appear or be sexy”. These 7 notions on objectification should be used more at least when creating characters, especially when it comes to a sexually expressive characters. Bayonetta seems to resists these 7 ways of being objectified and her character is a good start (and learning point) on creating better representation in certain areas.
Looking back at previous articles I used that talked about Bayonetta, I started to categorize the “goods and bads” of Bayonetta as a character:
- Doesn’t care what people think
- Unrealistic proportions
- Not challenging men enough
- Overly feminine
Looking at these “goods and bads” when it comes Bayonetta, people have not liked her overall unrealistic overarching traits. What makes a good character means an overall strong character both physically and mentally which seems to be what people look for in all characters and often the traits seen in manly heroic men. What seems to bother people the most seems to be her appearance and those who complain most about her appearance do not look past that and form their opinion based on that, and that is probably something hard to control. Those who do appreciate Bayonetta as a character also seem to like her appearance. If you go to google images and search up “Bayonetta Fan Service” you get this:
It seems pretty clear that these fans take Bayonetta’s personality and sexuality into account when drawing her, and that those two things go hand in hand. It is not something they get rid (neither change her clothes) of in order to portray her in “a better light”. Many of them also show Bayonetta looking directly at the viewer/’camera’ and that is not only awesome, but seen as powerful and intimidating. They are reinforcing Bayonetta’s relationship with herself and the camera, showing that she is indeed in control, aware, not ashamed, and owning it. But it also obvious that fans really do take things into their own hands and make do with characters and interpret them as they please. Sexualizing a character is inevitable and that happens to even the most ‘innocent’ and not sexual characters. Like Cross states, perspective matters.
Cool first reactions to the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UahJqxIviIk
I want to read “Objectification” by Martha Nussbaum in order to understand the 7 flags of objection and perhaps incorporate into my strategy guide.
Strategy Guide Sections:
- Quote – “Do not be afraid of sexual women” – Katherine Cross
- Background – (Talk about feminism?, female in games?)
- Relation with Camera – (Breaking fourth wall, awareness)
- Relation with clothes
- Agency (Personality)
- 7 notions of objectification
Identifying with Characters
What are some characteristics in Bayonetta that would make her a relatable character that people could identify with?
“Video games have an unmet potential to create complexity by letting people experience the world from different perspectives. Part of this position is that in a video game, you yourself have to act as a given character.” – James Paul Gee
For this week, I wanted to explore identifying with game characters and what that means for the player and game itself. I think if the goal for designers is to create a character that serves as good representation, relatability with said character is important. I used Adrienne Shaw’s chapter, “Does Anyone Really Identify with Lara Croft? Unpacking Identification in Video Games?”, from her book to explore the topic more. Shaw interviewed people and had them play games and afterwards spoke to them about identifying with the characters and what they meant to them. Obviously the results were varied and subjective but “the ways interviewees connected with media characters encompassed the expected identifies, as well as life experience, personalities, senses of humor, actions and choices. In general it was described as emotion or intellectual connection (or both)…” (69) Except some of the interviewees said that “they sympathized and perhaps even empathized with a character in a show, but they did not feel as that this meant they identified with them” (70). As there was such diverse answers and differentiating between identifying with and identifying as, Shaw says that identification is also “about seeing ourselves reflected in the world and relating to images of others” (70). Surface level identifiers such as race, age, and gender were not enough to simply form a connection with a character. The character’s personality and experiences were more important. For some, identifying with a character was not important at all and had nothing to do with enjoyment. One person even said that they were least likely to play violent games due to she identified as anti violent. If the game seemed less like something that they could relate to then the greater the chance they would not play it. In a way, negative representation matters but not necessarily positive representation. So, what I assumed going into the reading, when it comes to identifying with a character it is all very subjective and really depends on the player. When it comes to making a relatable character, the experiences and background story of the character seems to matter more than appearance. A woman of color could be the main character but if not portrayed or designed correctly, than the fact that she is a woman of color does not really seem to matter. If a game developer wants to purposefully design a character to be good representation and someone people can relate to , than the surface level traits are just the beginning. If a game developer just wants to create a fun game and good representation is not their goal, as long as it is not negative than people seem to be okay with it.
I think this can be seen a lot with Bayonetta because although her backstory it not something happens to people “in real life” she has characteristics and a personality that some women can relate to and that is important. She is intelligent, powerful, can be callous but can also be caring. She has a unique personality that many female characters in games do not often compare to. So although many people do sexualize her, and that is due to the surface level appearances, it is important for a character to be more than just their appearance. I think Tiff Chow is a good person to bring up again when it comes to speaking about Bayonetta and relatability because to her Bayonetta is way too campy and exaggerated and her sexuality is just a surface level trait that needs more substance. She states, “Perhaps if the Bayonetta‘s storyline and narrative were more compelling I’d be more convinced that Bayonetta’s sexuality is substantial and worth recognizing, but I think we can all agree that that’s not the case.”
Character Design and Design Documents
Some extra readings I did to research more character design and design documents:
- Fundamentals of Game Design by Ernest Adams
I want to do one last in depth (meta) analysis of the debates surrounding Bayonetta. I want to look at the arguments for and against her and what people have done to create certain pictures of her. By doing this, I hope to understand the ideas and concepts behind them in order to start creating a strategy on creating a character that could represent a female character with sexual agency.
What does it mean, if even possible, for a fictional character to have agency? How can said agency be portrayed in fictional characters like Bayonetta?
If you google “define agency” some of the definitions you are given is “action or intervention, especially such as to produce a particular effect”, more specifically “a thing or person that acts to produce a particular result.” This definition can definitely be expanded on and when it comes to agency in people, one can delve into what it means to truly act on one’s own accord and have the power to choose. Talking about agency in fictional characters becomes tricky because well not only are they ‘not real’, there is always someone behind every aspect of their character design. I think Chuck Wendig talks about it well in his blog post. He writes,
Character agency is, to me, a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive. She pushes on the plot more than the plot pushes on her. Even better, the plot exists as a direct result of the character’s actions.
To me, this really captured and helped me process my thoughts on what agency looks like when possessed by a fictional character, or at least one form of it. A character with an agenda of their own. This is important to my research because I think this a a big step in how character’s should be designed especially when it comes to making positive representations of certain things, in particular sexuality in terms of owning your sexuality and not being ashamed of it, even if someone is sexualizing you.
When it comes to Bayonetta, one pretty subtle example that show’s that she does have some kind of agency as a character is her outfit. Ironically, her outfit is what cause’s a lot of stir and debate but when you pay more attention to it you realize that it is more than just a sexy outfit that was drawn on her. Bayonetta’s fighting outfit is made out of hair, and if she did not want to be see in that, perhaps she would create a different outfit, or go shop for one. The designers did not simply put the outfit on her for her not to even notice but they actually made it so that there is a story to it and lies in her personality and power. The disappearing of her outfit during fights is not something she as a character does not notice.
There are other moments throughout the game in which Bayonetta is shown the possessing the character agency that Wendig describes. In the beginning of the game, she states “Heaven and Hell can tear each other to pieces for all I care. I’ve got my own problems to worry about”, showing motivation of her own. She continues with “I don’t go in for strange offers. Then again, I’m getting a little tired of these weaklings they keep throwing at me. Maybe I should aim for something a bit more… high class”.
There are ways that Bayonetta could have been stronger in showing character agency but there is evidence that there is not a lack of.
Identity! I think this is something I want to explore because of all the talk on Bayonetta’s “unpropotional” limbs and unrealistic features. I want to research what people look for in relatable characters / characters they can identify with. What does it mean to identify with a character? Is a relatable character make them an empowering character?
By Monday April 9 – Answer what’s next, read Michel Foucault, read more on character design and design documents.
By Monday April 16 – Basic outline on strategy guide, analysis on Bayonetta traits and arguments
By Monday April 23 – More in depths strategy guide, basic outline of design document
Feminism and Choice
How does Bayonetta as a character compare to the ideals/characteristics of the second and third wave of feminism?
For this week’s blog post I wanted to read more into Feminist Theory in order to learn about the history of feminism, the differences in the waves, and just how sexuality and has been talked about through out it all. I read a lot of essays but will be talking about “Third-Wave Feminism and the Defense of “Choice”” by R. Clair Snyder-Hall. In this piece she discusses the question “How should feminist theorists respond when women who claim to be feminist make “choices” that seemingly prop up patriarchy?” I think this is relevant to a lot of forms of art and media because when a female is seen expressing her sexuality, many people do not bother to discuss the character any further and immediately deem her as a victim to or exploiting herself to the patriarchy. Anything a women does is always talked about in the context of men. Second-wave radical feminists believed that heterosexual desire was the “force that keeps women tied to men” and to be truly equal, heterosexuality had to be completely renounced and when it came to topics as sex work and pornographer, the split was even greater (257). The third-wave of feminism took the path and stance of those who were in favor of female sexuality or at least in power of choosing. As long as there is “knowledge of what one is doing and why one is doing it” then there should be respect for the self-determination and no judgement in a female’s choice of what she does and what she likes. The topic of female sexuality and liberation today still struggles but not nearly as much as before. Therefore I think the portrayal of sex and sexuality for females in media and art forms such as video games needs to be discussed more and be able to exist without immediately receiving backlash as if it cannot ever be an accurate female representation. Feminism has come to the point where we can say yes, a female can be sexual. But how does one get across that someone indeed have choice and agency especially when it comes to fictional characters that need to be designed and created?
- Fuck the patriarchy
- Questioned how society viewed women and their roles (e.g. housewife)
- Delved into the idea of women being secondary
- Introduction to the contraceptive pill allowing women to delay childbirth
- “Person is political”
- Readoption of “femininity” (lip-stick, high-heels, and clean
- “Rhetoric of mimicry” – taken back words
- Does not work alongside man
- Does not think of herself as a mother figure
In terms of feminism, if Bayonetta were a real life character, it seems that living during the second wave of feminism would have sparked the debates and conversations that surround her today. She may be independent but her sexuality is still strictly for the patriarchy. Through the lens of the third-wave and current feminism, she would be more acceptable but the fact that she is a fictional character stops people from discussing her in these ways or really analyzing and looking deeper in to the conversation.
For next week, I want to research agency and choice especially in fictional universes. What does it mean, if even possible, for a fictional character to have agency or the power to choose?
Bayonetta, the Camera, and the Audience
What is Bayonetta’s relationship with the camera?
For this week’s blog post, I wanted to continue to talk about camera work in Bayonetta but this time from her perspective. I immediately thought of these two quotes from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.
“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.”
“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”
I think they both relate well with Bayonetta (and other female characters in general) and her awareness of being watched by outsiders be them males in the game or the player.
With last week’s post I talked about the “male gaze” and how that can change the players perspective of Bayonetta without really thinking of her as a character or as more than just an object. I continued to do more research on camera work and the flow between the spectators – camera – subject. For this week, I decided to read the first chapter of Tom Brown’s book, Breaking the Fourth Wall. In the introduction to the book, Brown talks about direct address and its history in film which to me is applicable to game studies, mostly because film and games have those three things in common. What interested me the most in this chapter was his citation of Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Studies and the three looks she defines:
“There are three different looks associated with the cinema: that of
the camera as it records the profilmic event, that of the audience as
it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other
within the screen illusion”
Mulvey’s, who coined the term “male gaze”, three looks do not allow for an analysis of the breaking the forth wall so Brown cites Paul Willemen who built on Mulvey’s model by suggesting:
a ‘fourth look’, one at the viewer: ‘it must be stressed that the fourth look is not
of the same order as the other three, precisely because the subject of the look is
an imaginary other, but this doesn’t make the presence of the look any less real’ (Brown 8)
And this “fourth look” is what I what I want to relate to Bayonetta the most and video games in general, especially when it comes to empowerment. This fourth look is the direct address and a way for the subject to interact with the audience. Brown breaks down how direct address can be more than “just the blunt, verbal communication of
themes and feelings” into 7 categories and the ones I want to focus on are intimacy and agency which are very much related (13). When it comes to intimacy, “it is clear that having a character address the audience directly is a very particular gesture towards intimacy with that audience”. This intimacy can be threatening, for sympathy, for a special connection, or ” to make us feel we are ‘intruding’ on the fiction’s
private sphere” (13). Direct address and agency “will be the province of a single character and that character is often the protagonist or the principal agent of the narrative” and this interaction is “often a marker of the character’s particular power within the fiction” (13).
Besides clear moments when Bayonetta is posing and other parts of the game where Luka is trying to take pictures of her, there a movement in which Bayonetta has another relationship with the camera and that is her dance/combo moves:
As her combo comes to a finish, Bayonetta looks directly into the camera and winks, a movement of breaking the fourth wall. There is even a camera shutter and noise to accompany this moment. This small detail can mean so much more in relation to Bayonetta’s character when looking at it through Brown’s framework. This wink to the audience or whomever is on the other side the camera clearly falls into the direct address of intimacy. The wink doesn’t seem to be for the purpose of the threat but I can definitely see it as a way for Bayonetta to tell people that she acknowledges us and maybe even a sort of invitation to keep looking. With her acknowledgement, this relates to the agency category. Not only is Bayonetta the protagonist, she is also pretty damn powerful, and breaking the fourth wall gives her even more, especially when it comes to her sexuality. She is letting you know she is in control and posing because she wants to. I think the fourth wall can be a very powerful tool for empowerment especially because it gives more control to the character but it needs to be talked about more and perhaps even used more. It is a great way to counter or play with the idea of the biased camera angles (or “the male gaze”).
The “Male Gaze” in Bayonetta
Does the “male gaze” influence the players’ perception of Bayonetta? Should that term even be used to discuss Bayonetta?
The article I wanted to focus on in this week’s blog post is “Femme Doms of Videogames: Bayonetta Doesn’t Care If She’s Not Your Kink” by Maddy Myers and her dislike of the use of the term “male gaze”. To her, it is a term that is all about assumptions and stereotypes. When it comes to video games, the “male gaze” assumes that all the developers and players are white straight males who all enjoy the exact same things. If anyone other spectator/player enjoys something it was definitely not intentional and is dubbed “irrelevant”. The use of the “male gaze” shows that female media criticism is still little understood and that the “concept of sex-positivity, in general, might be a little too advanced” for video game criticism.
With a little bit of research, it is clear that Hideki Kamiya likes Bayonetta. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. Myers links to this hilarious post where people talk about whether or not Bayonetta is attractive or “freakish” and what is sexy about her or a turnoff. She seems to argue that the gaze that matters is your own. She states that if she finds something in a game that makes her feel empowered it is “always due to my own personal interpretation or re-reading, not due to an intended message on the part of the creators…” She acknowledges that the camera does seem to love Bayonetta’s butt but that the “story doesn’t attempt to humiliate” her and that “her dominance goes unquestioned throughout the game”. If you can relate to the character and appreciate who they are then that is personal interpretation and you cannot assume that everyone else is going to feel the same way. We are there to “inhabit” Bayonetta and play as her, not watch her, and when it comes to it, she is always in control. If you sexualize her, then that is on you. The game cannot just be dismissed “as a product of “male gaze”” because it is “an unkind oversimplification and evidence that gaming desperately needs a new phrase to describe the complex interlocking of factors that occur when players identify with a character”.
After reading this article by Myers, I had to rethink my question. I felt the need to approach in a different way and rephrase it to not mention the term “male gaze”. To ask whether or not the “male gaze” influences the player is to assume that it is always there. It almost makes it imply that we are playing the game through the eyes of someone else. To think that the “male gaze” can just determine who the character is and what they represent is actually a bit absurd if you think about it. The camera work in Bayonetta does have it’s moments. I think it makes maybe one too many glances at her crotch and butt and could have been wider and further out but like Myers pointed out, this doesn’t really affect the game at all, the story is still the same and Bayonetta is still the same. These angles, which do not humiliate her or try to get the player or other characters to laugh at her, may be the work of a male developer inserting his desires but his work should not ruin or determine everything for the game and character. But unfortunately for some people it does. Some people see these shots and immediately bring Bayonetta down to a sexual object and do not look past that or attempt to see her as an actual character and that may a problem. I agree with Myer that there should be a new way to talk about the player/character relationship and their agency. I do not think I want to continue to use the term “male gaze” when talking about Bayonetta because whether or not a female player feels empowered by Bayonetta has practically nothing to do with men. Bayonetta is not there to please us the players, she is there to kick some Lumen Sages butt.
Is Bayonetta empowered through her sexuality?
When I started playing Bayonetta, I absolutely no idea what it was about. I was very pleasantly surprised for sure, especially towards the ends of the first scene when Bayonetta’s clothes get torn in three very convenient places: the side of her leg, her butt, and her chest. Each tear was accompanied by a very sexual noise. My immediate thought was “Oh no, another game where the female character is overly sexualized.” As I continued to play the game, I realized I cannot really pinpoint my exact feelings on her as a representation for female characters.
I found Tiff Chow’s blog post talking about whether Bayonetta’s strong sexuality is decoration or celebration and it has definitely helped me start processing my thoughts. Chow references Leigh Alexander’s article (which unfortunately has been taking down and I have not been able to find) which claims that in Bayonetta, “Bayonetta takes the video game sexy woman stereotype from object to subject, and it’s tremendously empowering” but Chow counters this by saying that “Bayonetta is pure camp” which explains “the extremities of everything from her disproportionate body to her saucy one-liner dialogue.” I do feel a bit inclined to agree that the campiness of the entire game and her movement do take something away from the argument that Bayonetta is empowering. There is one scene towards the end of Chapter 6, where two Bayonettas have a model off. They both take turns to do poses and honestly, it felt like a big joke and was added for comedy. Her character seems to be the idea of extreme femininity. The “exaggeration” of her sexuality through her character design is challenging to talk about because of the fact that Mari Shimazaki, one of Bayonetta’s character designer, said that, “When a female character appears in an action game, her limbs often seem thin and short. That is why I tried to make her more appealing as an action game character by adjusting her proportions and extending her limbs.” Shimazaki believes she designed a strong female character. But on the other hand, Kenichiro Yoshimura, the modeler for Bayonetta, said, “I really wanted to get Bayonetta’s backside perfect. I guess I am into that sort of thing…” This quote to me makes me think that there is definitely some objectification to Bayonetta’s character that is not meant to be empowering, especially considering that modeler and animator are males, which are the most exaggerated parts of her. And I think that may be partially what makes me still struggle on how to feel about Bayonetta.
There is a lot of things to consider when trying to answer the question I have proposed. In the perspective Bayonetta, she seems to be confident and knows exactly what she is doing. She doesn’t really care what other characters think of her. She owns it. If a character is in a way self-aware of their sexuality (aka it’s their personality), it is important not to dismiss that, which may be what most people do. Can a character be empowered while the players are not? I do like the idea of using sexuality as a way for females to empowered because, in real life, female sexuality is still struggling to be seen as something positive and not taboo. This fact may also be one of the reasons that people do not find Bayonetta to be a good representation. There are many ways for females to be represented and be deemed as a strong character and not everyone will always agree. There is no one correct way. Mostly, because to be female does not necessarily always mean to be feminine and vice versa.
How is the fact that the cinematic shots “are more often than not jaw-droppingly exploitative” and done my males add to the whole conversation? Perhaps Bayonetta is strong and powerful but does the camera work does take away from that? These questions and thoughts make me want to explore the idea of ‘male gaze’ further in the context of Bayonetta.
Another thought I had:
Why are default characteristics for good representation of strong characters usually masculine? Why do people think femininity and being strong cannot coexist in a person?
Sex and Female Sexuality in Wolfenstein: The New Order
How do the sex scenes in Wolfenstein: The New Order contribute to Anya Oliwa’s character and representation as a female? Can game developers learn anything from these scenes?
A pretty common double standard is that men who have lots of sex are studs while women who do the same are sluts. In the article, “Women aren’t vending machines: How video games perpetuate the commodity model of sex”, Alex Raymond explores Thomas Macaulay Millar’s two models of sex in the context of video games. The first model is the commodity model, in which “sex is like a ticket; women have it and men try to get it…” This works with the double standard because while “guys want to maximize their take of tickets”, women are expected to “keep the tickets to buy something really ‘important’.” The second model is the performance model which instead of being a double standard, sex is “seen as a collaborative effort between two equal participants.” There is an equal amount of desire and consent coming from both partners. Raymond talks about how in the vast majority of video games sex is seen as the end goal or as the reward for something that the main character has done. It can be out of place and have no role other than to either enforce masculinity, serve as a prize, or appeal to the male gaze. This very much the commodity model because it depicts the NPC, whose “thoughts and desires aren’t relevant”, as being something that the main character has won. I want to explore these two models in video games even more and how it can impact representation. This mechanic is sexist and is “dangerously dehumanizing behavior”, just playing into the double standards that people have to deal with in real life.
There are only two sex scenes in Wolfenstein: The New Order and both, in my opinion, fall into the category of the performance model. They are part of the cutscenes, have no player interaction, and have nothing to do with any choices you make when you are playing as the main character, B.J. Blazkowicz. Due to their realistic nature, the sex scenes in WTNO show that when done right, sex scenes can be a powerful tool to add to the story but add to characterization and good representation. Anya Oliwa, Blazkowicz’s love interest, is actually empowered and humanized through the use of the performance model. For example, the scene before the two characters are seen having sex, Blazkowicz delivers a note to Anya. She grabs his hand and looks up at him and asks, “Do you have a moment?” and after a small smirk from her, the scene switches to them having sex in the closet. For once, in any games that I have played, a female is shown to be in charge of her sexuality and that she too has desires and can be spontaneous. She initiates the interaction and from the reaction of other NPCs, it not the first time that casual sex has happened. Anya is not shamed for being sexual and plays a larger role than being just Blazkowicz’s love interest. Alex Raymond says that in order for games to start have a better portrayal of relationships that “designers can start thinking of sex as a collaborative performance between two equal partners” and Wolfenstein does just this. It is a good example of how if represented correctly and appropriately, sex scenes do not have to be just entertainment or fan service. They can serve a purpose and positively contribute to different aspects of the game, and sex does not need to be completely avoided.
I think the idea of the commodity model and the performance model is very interesting. I would like to explore those more and try to apply them to other video games, and other aspects of relationships and interactions, especially how they affect female representation/characterization and sexuality.
Mental Illness in Doki Doki Literature Club
How should mental health be represented in games? What role does mental health play in Doki Doki Literature? Is associating mental illness with horror doing adding to the stigma?
When it comes to topics that are often not depicted in games, representing them realistically and appropriately is important and puts a lot of pressure on game developers if they decide they care. Mental health is one of these topics and in “Mind Games: Mental health in video games” by Jem Alexander, Luca Dalco of LKA.it, states that “because it’s an issue that affects so many people, it’s important to be accurate and realistic…”. It’s true, mental health comes in many forms and I don’t think many people realize just how common it is. It doesn’t help that this topic is so misunderstood in real life and at the same time being depicted in a bad light in prominent media. Proper representation is important, “not only [to] inform the ignorant, but also help sufferers by, for example, removing stigma”. It tells sufferers that they are not the only one and potentially help people around them understand them more. This article talks about what game developers can do to improve the representation of mental health illnesses better. The biggest rule of thumb was to talk about it! Talk about it often and talk about it right with the help of professionals and people who have experienced it firsthand. If you ask people who have never experienced depression before to give suggestions on its depiction in a game, then it is not very valid feedback. Dalco also states that to destroy the stigmatization of mental diseases, the magic word is ‘empathy’”. Using input from professionals and sufferers will allow the games to be realistic and have a strong impact. This “can be a good way in helping young players to be aware of the true extent and nature of the problem ” and allow for a more knowledgeable and mature discussion.
Doki Doki Literature walks a fine line, I believe, when it comes to representing mental health illnesses realistically. On one hand, we see a character who commits suicide regardless o you do and the sad truth is that it can be like that. The player is left feeling if the other answer would have saved the character. This not only helps show an accurate case of depression but a familiar feeling with people who have relationships of any sort with people who suffer from it. The protagonist is shown feeling some sort of empathy for the characters and if you get the game’s good ending, the player is thanked for helping and comforting all characters through their hard times. But on the other hand, one girl dramatically kills herself in front of you and it seems more like a horror game trope/jump scare that is not as realistic as the former example. The main antagonist of the game is using their mental health illnesses against them and to stray them away from the protagonists, makes them seem crazier hence more undesirable which to me does not sound like it is helping to remove the stigma. This game is categorized as a psychological horror and that is one trope in the game industry that has been frowned upon several times.
To further explore the topic of mental health representation in Doki Doki Literature Club, it would be important to research and learn about the developer’s, Dan Salvato, personal relationship with mental health or how he researched the topic and was able to know what was realistic or not. It is also necessary to take into consideration the opinions of those who suffered from the illnesses depicted in the game. Their opinions would validate any side of the argument more. But perhaps if those who do not experience said illnesses complain, the game may have failed in being able to create empathy and an understanding for the topic that can create meaningful discussion around it, helping to break down the stigma. If the results are mixed from both sides, then it may result in the conclusion that representing a topic in a way that everyone agrees is accurate, impactful, and progressive is nearly impossible. Then who should be listened to and what should be done next?