We Talk ‘Xenoblade,’ Our Last Minute 2017 Games And More on Waypoint Radio


#1

Austin is playing the extremely long and anime Xenoblade Chronicles X. Danielle is finishing up Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. I'm working my way through the back half of The Evil Within 2. Rob? Rob's playing Dead Space. If you're wondering why Rob's game of the year list sounds like it came distinctly from 2008, you have your answer. Elsewhere, we turn to the mailbag to discuss conflicts between established games writers and YouTube culture, what genres we've had to leave behind as we got older, and more.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/9kdwpd/we-talk-xenoblade-our-last-minute-2017-games-and-more-on-waypoint-radio

#2

The Xenoblade series is steadily getting more gross and sleazy with the character designs for women that passing it over with “it’s got some shitty perspectives on women, but otherwise I really like it” is being way too willing to let them off the hook for it just because the game otherwise ticks a lot of JRPG boxes for people.

And this isn’t exclusive to Austin’s perspective here, the Polygon and Kotaku reviews seem to breeze over these increasingly tacky representations to focus on discussions about mechanics, for fear of stirring up the anime avatar bee hive.

Maybe I’m just irritable about this particular thing, but the problem of objectification has been around so long that I can’t believe critics are so willing to overlook it this easily.


#3

I’m with you on this like 100%. Between this, Persona 5, Nier: Automata, and Divinity Orginal Sin 2 I’ve just seen this stuff get ignored over and over


#4

I still need to listen to this episode and watch XC2 stream, but let me shamelessly plug… no, actually, not that shamelessly, because I plug people who responded to my question about “Xenoblade”, not myself. Very insightful people.


#5

I feel like there’s been a bit of a pendulum swing in the past couple years, where progressive games media is no longer interested in critiquing objectification on any substantive level, and instead just constantly rationalizes it in various ways. We get long articles about racial dynamics in games, ethical business practices, general social impact, and that’s great! But when the topic is sexual objectification, the party line has settled into “horny is cool, don’t worry about it”.

And it’s a shame, because actually drilling down into whether a game executes sexual content well is interesting, and doesn’t necessarily mean always condemning it. We could ask questions like “Is it aspirational? Does it plausibly depict agency? Is it well-matched to the genre and presumed audience? Did the creator avoid breaking other parts of the work to achieve the horny?”

But instead, the only metric right now is “is it honest about being horny?” which is just a cop-out that says nothing and justifies anything, because even something brazenly sexist can pass the “honesty” test.

My particular beef with Xenoblade 2-- and it feels like an elephant in the room no one in games wants to touch-- is the infantilization. One way to make an appealing character design is to make a cute kid, and another way to make an appealing character design is to make a sexy adult, but Pyra is one of those creepy “why not both?” characters, cramming a babyface onto a baywatch body. Like… that’s disturbing, right? Are we willing to talk about that trend, or what? I feel like a generic “gee whiz this game sure is horny” response represents a failure to drill into specifics like this.


#6

I am really curious about this Simon Pegg post. Does anyone have a link handy?

Also curious about this Cuphead/YouTube discourse. I have heard nothing.


#7

I think they are talking about this: http://simonpegg.net/2015/05/19/big-mouth-strikes-again/


#8

I made the dynamically generated top 500 thing based off polygon’s list, as requested: https://goatygon.wordpress.com/


#9

Is this Markov chain Monte Carlo generated text?


#10

First, it’s obviously not “Xenoblade Chronicles X”, but “Xenoblade Chronicles 2”.

Second, I’m not gonna be so harsh on them for XC2. I think that Austin and Danika covered pretty much everything in their stream about that game. They talked how, yes, it’s shitty to women, but also this and this, and also this. I think it is a game they both liked with problematic content kinda thing. I can’t fault them for that. And, sure, Austin barely touched that issue on the podcast, but I think it is because of the stream.

In the end, I would agree that there is room for improvement, but in a world where is some sort of fatigue about fighting those issues, where most publications at best shrug with “it’s anime”, “cultural differences” or “some women into that”, Waypont at least still talking about it.

Personally, I don’t think there is anything to discuss, really. No, wearing two belts instead of, you know, clothes is not empowering. No, virtual characters don’t have agency. Etc., etc. Nothing changed since those arguments were everywhere, so I just gonna ignore that game, partially thanks to Waypoint, and go play something else. Easy.

There are other issues in that game, tho. Like how there are people who are blades and it’s all kinda slave-y.


#11

I’ve been thinking a lot about brand loyalty this year and Rob mentioning that Simon Pegg post has spurred me off again.

I still find myself falling into the trap every now an again and it’s infuriating. Nintendo is my big weakness but I’m trying my best to shake it. When Mario Odyssey reviews were coming out I couldn’t help my immediate reaction in thinking the criticism was wrong just because some people don’t like Nintendo or grew up with a Sega. Luckily I refrained from voicing these thoughts and embarrassing myself but when they creep in it makes me feel disappointed or like I’ve failed.

At the same time being able to retreat into nostalgia can be a powerful self care tool. Putting the world on hold and settling down with a good Zelda and Mario game for a while really helps me relax and focus. Nostalgia is a lovely feeling but I guess we’ve just got to be careful this love doesn’t turn into unconditional support for the corporate entity that brought us these experiences.

Sorry for rambling but I just needed to get some of these thoughts out. I’m seeing more people reject the capitalistic nature of the triple A games scene in favour of better consumer practices which is pretty encouraging for the medium going forward.


#12

You and me both. I’ve been feeling this way so much about Nier Automata lately. I’m halfway through my second playthrough and, while yes, the story is doing some interesting things, it’s still punctuated by endless running where I have to stare at 2B’s exposed butt. Like, how on earth are people claiming this shit is genius when it adheres to all the worst exploitative stuff from anime?


#13

The last question speaks a lot of how it ok to like things with problems but it important to talk about, why it not ok, and how to do better and not pretend that it isn’t there or that it a overreaction. I really like Persona 5 but it has problems that I want to the team to address in the next game. Same with most Anime and happy know that most of the shows I watched this year have been very forward thinking.


#14

I can understand some people may feel fatigued, but the way I look at it, the turd’s still in the punchbowl. We may be tired of talking about the punchbowl turd, but it’s still floating there and I’m still going to try to ask for turdless punch.

When we decide we’re done talking about an issue before it’s actually gone away, or when we use “this is my problematic fave” as a way to muffle others’ critiques of a work, that’s when normalization sets in, and the overton window shifts back toward uncritical acceptance-- and in some cases, outright hostility toward criticism.

Now, I’m not really seeing full-throated defenses of Xenoblade 2; most people seem to see how egregious it is, whether or not they consider that a major drawback. But some folks here have also brought up NieR:A, and I think that’s definitely a game where this hostility toward criticism has come into play, and that’s unfortunate.


#15

Really liked the conversation about communities, and how maybe you like a thing but a lot of people might like it for this other reason that makes you queasy. Rob’s talk about military games reminds me a lot of Warhammer communities. I really don’t like most people in it - you find Trump people and some “joking” fascists in that community, never mind that there’s not a large enough group of people interested in critiquing things like representation in any meaningful way, so it feels like it can be really unwelcoming. I’m only really in it because a local store has a generally good and nice community that I mostly like hanging around with. Without them I really doubt I’d collect warhammer stuff at all, I’d just play dawn of war and total warhammer and call it a day.


#16

Now, I’m not really seeing full-throated defenses of Xenoblade 2; most people seem to see how egregious it is, whether or not they consider that a major drawback.

Mmmmmmmh I don’t know about that, the tweets I’ve seen criticizing the most flagrant examples (the bunny-girl Blade with the cartoonishly enormous breasts and completely contorted spine) are always followed by a wave of angry anime avatar dudes. The fanbases for Japanese games are still incredibly sensitive regarding any sort of feminist critique.

Also on the Twitter front: a lot of defensiveness from people in games crit circles toward Nier. There’s a literal achievement for repeatedly attempting to look up 2B’s dress, so the idea of trying to put forth the game as an example of Smart Horny™ is nothing but shallow apologia in my view.


#17

I don’t think it’s outrageous to ask for creators to be better around this subject, and it’s not even asking them to not design attractive characters, just asking them to tone down on the explicit “fan-service”.
(some more points about sexualised designs below)

Summary

I consider myself sex-positive and body-positive, all body shapes are valid and same goes for sexual expression, but there comes a point where we need to recognise that these characters, and the lens which they are viewed through, are designed, uncritically, by designers, often (but not always) by horny straight men.

It’s the way characters are designed and framed specifically to be oogled by the onlooking demographic, with low/high angle shots of massive cleavages, and gratuitous proportions held together by bits of string and skin tight suits.
I’ll admit to being on the more defensive side of Nier just due to how much I enjoy that game’s narrative and structure, and while I’ll argue I don’t think 2B’s design is particularly gratuitously sexualised in the same way, you can’t look at the up-skirt running animation, the hilarious falling animation, or the fact you can “self destruct” with the only purpose of removing said skirt and say they didn’t design her to appeal to certain horny demographics.

Would be real nice if we got a shift in attitude, and more women and queer creators in the big budget scene instead of relegated to obscure indie communities.


#18

I totally agree. That’s why I’m not gonna play “NieR”, XC2, MGSV, etc., a bunch of game that got a lot of praise from critics (some of those games were even painted as feminist, which is… *sigh*), even from Waypointers.

But I was pointing out, that, at very least, Waypont does better in that area than others. And I just don’t see this issue as interesting discussion, really. Like, what, someone invented new arguments? Nope. Is XC2 does something uniquely bad? Nope. So they just reported on it.


#19

Mmmmmmmh I don’t know about that, the tweets I’ve seen criticizing the most flagrant examples (the bunny-girl Blade with the cartoonishly enormous breasts and completely contorted spine) are always followed by a wave of angry anime avatar dudes. The fanbases for Japanese games are still incredibly sensitive regarding any sort of feminist critique.

Yeah, to clarify, I just meant folks within game crit. There are definitely full-throated defenses coming from the usual suspects in reactionary gamer town.

Also on the Twitter front: a lot of defensiveness from people in games crit circles toward Nier. There’s a literal achievement for repeatedly attempting to look up 2B’s dress, so the idea of trying to put forth the game as an example of Smart Horny™ is nothing but shallow apologia in my view.

Yeah, I think there’s been a lot of equivocation when it comes to NieR. Lots of praise for Yoko Taro’s refreshing honesty because he follows a 2B lewds twitter and gives you an achievement for creepshotting 2B, but as soon as you express reservations about that stuff, it’s all “no no no, the game’s not really about that”.

A couple weeks ago there was also this talking point going around on twitter that the game’s detractors were just overprotective male feminists, which is especially galling because I know queer women who’ve done entire podcast eps critiquing the game. It was a turning point that really made me feel like circles of writers I trusted were dropping the ball.


#20

“the worst exploitative stuff from anime” is a central theme of a game about androids with a sexuality they don’t own. You don’t like it and it’s fine, but people claims it’s a good game because it challenges the very things that you despise.

It’s so very much easy to just point at a game and say “ha! bad anime designs” that people are willing to lump every game together while dismissing valid discussions because apparently talking about it is either unabashed apologia or makes you look like GGers.

I feel we can understand fanservice and understand that it has something to say about the fanservice it presents.