Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Better to Arouse You With, My Dear

My gaming history is somewhat cliche for my age range. For instance, the first RPG that I ever played was Final Fantasy VII, and I feel it responsible for my sad and painful blossoming into a gamer. Like many people, I've always held a shining, warm spot in my heart for the franchise.

My dedication to FF VIII was legendary within my circle of three friends, and I never felt closer to my brother than the summer of FF Tactics. But I can't bring myself to play FF XII. There is a giant racist roadblock preventing me from the "best game of the franchise." I would really like to meet the person who thought, "oh, lets make the first and only black female character this series has ever had into a sexy bunny."

I mean, come on. Nobody thought this image was in any way offensive? Despite the long tradition of showing the black community as nothing more than animals? And then to sexualize her on top of that! "Hi, I'm Fran. Please do me. I'm just an animal, so it's ok." If there were any other non-human characters, or if there was ther black human characters in the party it wouldn't be as bad. But the only image this game portrays of the black community is a dehumanizing one.

I understand that the subject of race in a Japanese-made game is a complicated subject. Japan is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, so I am weary to scream foul when a game is made with only pseudo-Japanese characters in it--by which I mean that sometimes it's difficult to tell the race of a character that is drawn in an anime style. However, gaming has reached a global level, and triple A titles like the Final Fantasy series reach all over the world. I feel it is important for these companies to realize that a wide range of people play games, and it would be nice to see some healthy representation of that. At the very least, if you are going to diversify your supporting cast, don't fall back on centuries-old racist stereotypes.

17 comments:

Lake Desire said...

Wow. Great point. I see how Fran is a person of color in the game, but--dumb question--I'm not really sure how she's specfically black.

Brinstar said...

I'm also sad that she has a slightly frumpy, and not-really-fantasy-esque name. :-P

Shions_Glasses said...

Thanks for bring up that point lake desire, maybe I jumped to a conclusion calling Fran black, it has never been defined. But compared to the other characters, she is clearly a women of color, so either way portraying her as less than human eye candy is very belittling. This image has been used to mock non-white women for generations. And is not something that should be in a game where the real focus should be on how darn cute those moogles are.

Mary said...

I, as a long time FF fan, was really looking forward to FF12 but was really dissapointed.

You constantly hear about Kings and Fathers and Brothers and Men etc etc but there is like, no women in the game. Where are the mothers and queens? There is only a few young women in porny clothing.

Fran's design hurts to look at. They made her a stiletto-wearing, thong-covered Playboy bunny with huge, real rabbit ears. How can one take such a character seriously?
Good point about her being a person of colour, too.

DNi said...

Actually, if anything, Fran (as well as the rest of the Viera) is Icelandic-esque in nature (they have names like Jote, Mjrn and Krjn). Also, one of the most satisfying things to do in the game is run around as Fran while weilding a katana to kill things.

Madeline Ashby said...

You're right, in that Fran herself could be taken as a terrible pun on the old derogatory phrase "jungle bunny." (Whether this term existed in Japan at the time of the game's development is up for debate.) However, I doubt that this was the intention.

I agree with one poster that Fran and the other Viera sound more like Bjork than they do Pam Grier, but that could be a localisation change. Fran is a very powerful character, too -- she makes a better party leader than the series' main character. But Fran and the other Viera are very cold and insular, as well. They're the very definition of "beautiful and cold." They also seem not to have any males within their tribes. (I have yet to see a Viera male, at least.)

My point, I guess, is that it's an ambivalent message. Yes, the black chick is made into an exotic, sexy beast (literally). But while playing to certain fetishes, she's also very strong magically and doesn't put up with too much from her partner, Balthier. (Notably, it seems at the game's beginning that they're in a sexual relationship, but after a certain point there are no more indicators. We may be looking at something even more landmark -- the franchise's first real platonic relationship between Sexy Woman and Sexy Rake.)

Shions_Glasses said...

Thanks for the comments, and insights into the game, which I haven't played. I feel that regardless of her characterization, she is limited by her overwhelmingly demeaning appearance. I'm glad that there are some cool aspects of her character, but your explaination reminds me of Jessica in DQVIII. An interesting, powerful person and asset to the party, but had the largest breasts imaginable that bounced everytime she attacked or did anything. She was my favorite character in the game, but it seemed focus was constantly drawn away from her good qualities and put on her large qualities. I find this happening a lot in VGs. Why cant a woman character be cool, and also look cool, like Samus from metroid. Her armor would clearly protect all of her, and emphasized her muscles and strength, not her secondary sex characteristics.

The Snith said...

Similar cases can be found in previous installments, as well.

Barrett in FFVII, the less-than-totally-human black man constantly talking in a "street" type tone. He even remarks on more than one occasion that he isn't that bright. (The Materia Tutorial in the very beginning is the only example that comes to mind at the moment).

Or Wakka in FFX, the island native who is obviously not very bright and would rather play games than fulfill guardianship duties. I'm aware he didn't look "black," but does this description not fit standard stereotypes of Afro-Caribbean Americans?

I do understand your quandary about playing FFXII, but must admit that the thought had not occurred to me at all, even throughout my 140 hours of playing the game.

A huge factor, like you said, is the homogeneousness of Japan. It's interesting to note, though, that although none of the characters look remotely Asian, the one who is distinctly non-white is dehumanized.

But, despite racist undertones in this and the other installments, they remain some of the most fun games I have ever played.

Anonymous said...

... I'm a little speechless.

It's a game. At best, it's an inspirational story told on an interactive medium designed to improve your imagination, reaction time and strategic thought. At worst, it's a pretty number-cruncher.

DO you not think that your own perspective is a little over zealous? Yes, Fran is an outsider and female, dressed in what can only be described as a fetishistic designers most intimate dream, but the comment isn't one to incite racial/sexist hatred, nor make any real point. It's a titilating image, a woman of power and confidence enjoying her own emancipating beauty.

It's marketing. Sex sells and, to most lonesome gamers, Fran is rather hot. My wife constantly informs me that my own fascination is border-line psychotic.

Incidentally, why shouldn't Fran be dressed as she is? In such a warm climate where magic is prevalent and materials can be fashioned outside of our own spectrum of manufacture, her outfit is perfect. In addition to providing the ideal protection of hardened leather/lamellar armour, it also allows freedom of movement and the circulation of air to help with Fatigue. In addition, it will help her keep a keen edge in any negotiations; after all we have already commented that the society at large is a predominantly male dominated one. In appearing in such a garb, Fran might buy herself some valuable time or social prestidge, depending on whats needed.

My point here is that you can look too deeply into something. You can look at her character as a portrayal of some despicable scheme of predjudice or, as I do, you can switch on the game after a hard commute home and play for a couple of hours, admiring how the designers have added such lovely little details as Fran occasionally shaking her hair out of her face.

Come on, let's get over the attempts to sensationalise this imagery and either enjoy the game, or find something better to do.

100LittleDolls said...

Hi Anonymous!

Actually, this here blog is all about looking at how race, class and gender works in pop culture, cause popular culture gives great insight into the hierarchies of our society.

Also, hey, I'm not big on people being condescending in this space, especially towards feminist ideas. I'd like for you to keep that in mind if you stop by again.

You're entitled to your opinion, sure, and we're entitled to picking apart institutionalized racism and sexism.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, about that...

I actually stumbled across this site whilst looking for a picture of the character for my wife - she's interested in recreating the costume herself. When I noticed the blog I was just so excited by the thread that I posted without even knowing what this entire site was about!

So sorry if I sounded condescending or patronising - you're right, you are entitled to blog about this kind of thing! In fact it kind of stands testament that just browsing the issue inspired me enough to join in; sign of a good debate! I've since taken a look around the entire site and added it to my favourites as it was so interesting!

So apologies for the post if it offends - delete it if necessary. I do stand by my post in that I don't entirely think it's necessary to criticise the designers for their choice of imagery, but I understand now why it was brought up!

Nice to meet y'all.

100LittleDolls said...

Hey Anon,

Thanks for respecting the rules of this blog, I really appreciate it. :) I'm game for some good ole fashioned respectable debate.

Also glad to hear that you'll be sticking around!

Anonymous said...

there is also a scene where fran pants and moans like shes having sex when she feels the mist burning her

Murex Brandaris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Murex Brandaris said...

Good job blogging about the demeaning appearance of a fictional character when you haven't played the game. I guess every character with skin darker than a sheltered RPG fan is suddenly black? You wouldn't know that her accent is vaguely Scandinavian, I suppose, but still. She has some depth to her character with her mysterious past and such. As for demeaning women, I don't know if you were old enough to remember Final Fantasy X-2? You might recall it as Final Fantasy Run Around In Skimpy Clothing and Do Things In The Same World As FFX. Truth be told, no one complained as much probably because it's half the game FFXII is.


"Also, hey, I'm not big on people being condescending in this space, especially towards feminist ideas. I'd like for you to keep that in mind if you stop by again.

You're entitled to your opinion, sure, and we're entitled to picking apart institutionalized racism and sexism."

Good job getting steamed at someone trying to use logic in their arguments. All of what Anon said is perfectly true. I think picking apart sexism and racism in a game you haven't played is more offensive than trying to justify why she wears her outfit using possible reasons from the game universe itself.

You know what real feminism is? It's realizing that men and women are different, not the same, and embracing all things contained therein. Fran using her sensuality as a tool is empowerment, not degradation.

"Feminism" is oft confused with "female supremacy".

her... said...

well, i have every single right to say this, as i am a black woman who IS tall, toned body, and long thick hair (naturally, no hair extensions):

Fran IS supposed to be black. and i am not in any way offended by the way that she is portrayed.

Anonymous said...

Most of this stuff is completely irrelevant for a few reasons: 1) The Vierran race has been around for many games, and is divided into two sub races: one with light skin, and one with dark skin so they're really not suggesting anything about black people being "nothing more than animals" because there are both white and black viera. 2) There have been sexy female characters through out the series, but most fans don't get offended by Tifa or Yuna so really who cares. So if you were not offended by characters in the past, why would you let Fran's appearence prevent you from enjoying this great game?