Namco Bandai's newest ad for Soul Calibur V is the latest entry in a mile-long list of things that make video games look like the pastime of choice for slobbering morons.
Whatever your thoughts on nudity, or how exploitative it is to employ this kind of practice in advertising, here's the fact of the matter – whenever fan service trumps artistic credibility in this burgeoning industry, we've stepped further away from games becoming a legitimate form of expression. As much as we'd all like to avoid it, and keep enjoying games about chicks traveling through time, beating each other up in bikinis, because it's a guilty pleasure, we have to face facts and admit that this turns people off of a wonderful, budding art form.
It sucks to hear that, and it's terrible that people are so closed minded, but it's true.
Videogames are at a very delicate crossroads right now. There is an outcry for games to be accepted as legitimate art. But, videogames culture has always been male-centered. Men make the games, men do the marketing, and men play the games. Obviously, there are women who participate each step of the way, but they are far outnumbered. Videogames are a boys' club, and you can't have an art form that stubbornly ignores the thoughts and views of half of humanity.
It'd be awesome if we could have our cake and eat it too – if games could continue to pander men, but could also be considered high art. The medium's transition to high art would be unlike any other – quick and painless No one would have to go through the necessary steps for shifting into high art, like self-examination. No one would even have to change what they're doing. Unfortunately, that can't happen. Art is the expression of our identity as a species – and it can't take a backseat to anything. The moment art is a second-class citizen to a quick buck in the name of controversy or fan-service (or both), is the same moment that work goes from being a work of art to being a product. A product is not art.
No one likes being thought of as a dorky-shut-in, sweating over their vinyl mold of Tifa's tits because they own a PS3 and play Dark Souls religiously. It's unfair to people who enjoy that game, because that's not who they are. Further, there's a strong case that Dark Souls is legitimate art – it's visually striking, adheres to a theme, and says something about the human condition. Given that, why would anyone think you're a dork for playing Dark Souls? It's because of shit like Namco Bandai's Soul Calibur V ad. Namco Bandai knows putting out a raunchy ad will get a big reaction, and a lot of attention for their game. But they're doing it for a short gain, while hurting themselves, and everyone else in the long run.
The general assumption about advertisement is that it works. More to the point of this article, advertisement works by making an appeal towards a target audience. One can assume that a company as large as Namco Bandai knows how to make advertising that appeals to its target audience – in this case, people who play video games (which, everyone knows, is exclusively men). Following that line of logic, what's the natural conclusion that any reasonable person would come to? Gamers are creepy sexist dorks who buy games with rude titties to get their rocks off.
Obviously, that stereotype isn't true.
As a straight, 20-something, white-guy I'm presumably the target audience here. I resent that companies think I'm such a gibbering moron that the very thought of tits would implant itself in my mind for the foreseeable future, ensuring that I'd remember to purchase the latest Soul Calibur game. The strange thing is, Soul Calibur is a solid game completely on its own. If anything, the boobs make it seem like a game with some sort of deficiency that it has to make up for, keeping it from being enjoyable on its own – luckily for me, I know better.
Like a truly interesting, intelligent girl who thinks boys won't like her if she doesn't show off enough of the goods, I feel that an ad like this makes Soul Calibur come off as insecure about its intrinsic worth. You don't need to gussy up the girl if she's cool, Namco Bandai. Maybe the tried and true axiom of “sex sells” isn't actually true? I know I can't be the only one who feels this way
Unfortunately, a highly controversial ad will trap the attention of a lot of people who are usually disinterested in games. What a way to make a first impression (or, continue to make an awful impression). I can't blame anyone who'd come off with a negative opinion of games after seeing an ad like that. Fan service trumps art too often in this industry. This ad, by no means, is an isolated case.
It sucks that people lump all videogames into the same category. Because one game features a woman wearing strings that barely cover her nipples, while another, entirely different game about a kid trying to resurrect his lost love through a Machiavellian “the end justifies the means” quest takes a hit to its credibility. That's unfair.
But, like it or not, that's how it is. If you want to have a medium considered a form of art, that medium has to stand up to scrutiny, own up to what it does, and make an overwhelmingly compelling argument in its own defense. Right now, grossly oversexualized women in games discredits that argument.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't enjoy sexuality in games. There's a time and a place for everything, even wrapping the neck of a gigantically-breasted woman in a golden snake, and taking pictures of it. Though, there aren't many I can think of.
Regardless, it's important for sexualization to occur in the right context. Is it OK for a game like Catherine to show the same amount of cleavage as the ad in question, if not more? Yes. Catherine is a game about love and relationships. When you're in a relationship, eventually clothes comes off. In this case, context allows for the sexualization of women (and men – in a perfectly egalitarian world), because that's what happens in a relationship.
Is it pandering when Catwoman walks around with her clothes halfway unzipped, doing backflips and snapping people's rib cages? Absolutely. Given the context, it makes no sense. Not to mention, there are a litany of other ways to present her. The only reason to have her tits out is to try to appeal to an audience that doesn't really care to think about the deeper implications of what they're looking at.
The funny thing is, this ad opens up a wonderful opportunity for Namco Bandai to make a big statement. If they chose to, they could do an equally alluring ad featuring a male character. Maybe something with Maxi, and some conveniently placed nunchuks. They could play off of everyone's experiences with the game's advertising, by reversing the traditional roles – making the man the object of lust. If they're only after attention, a follow-up like that would certainly generate a stir.
Like it or not, videogames are a gestalt enterprise. Everything from advertisement, to message boards, to the content of any game contributes to or detracts from the legitimacy of games as an art form. If you want games to be taken seriously, speak out against schlock like Namco Bandai's Soul Calibur V ad. Stuff like that is why we can't have nice things.
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