Bravely Default, Chobits, and the Lack of Consent
Content Warning: Please be aware that this piece make reference to an episode of sexual assault.
True to form, I am continuing on my track to be one of the last people who plays anything. While Dark Souls III just came out and Bloodborne’s been out for almost a year, I’m sitting here just starting Dark Souls II. I’m still trying to avoid spoilers from Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, games that came out twenty years ago. So maybe every piece there ever was to write about Bravely Default and some of its problematic choices for character design has already been written. I mean, that game is only four years old. I’m getting better, right?
Sam wrote about how Bravely Default feels like the old Final Fantasy games and seems to have a really solid story. Being on Chapter 2 of what I’ve been warned is a very long game, I can agree. She also mentioned the inequity of treatment of female characters to male characters in dress and hypersexualization.
Yeah. I ran into that too. Full speed into a brick wall.
And this is the localized version. I’m playing the North American release where they changed the ages of the female characters from young teens to late teens (and the age of majority). And some of the outfits are…less skimpy? I don’t know, the female spellsword’s is still see through. Like completely.
I hate to say I’m used to this, but…I’m used to this. I guess I just chalked it up to being angry about it, but I own the game, so I kept going.
But something’s not sitting right. We have a Sage, someone who is supposed to be a wiseman and respected, who sits there, leers at Agnes and Edea, and tries to get them in the skimpiest clothes possible (See Sarah’s earlier post on the notion of him as the lovable pervert). Your teammate Ringabel cheers him on. Ringabel, the desperate “white knight” who is such a womanizer but Edea won’t date him (But he has a book that says she should!). A man who won’t take her no for a no and keeps flirting, keeps whining, keeps trying to figure out how to get her to like him.
I assume, at some point, they will hook up. It always goes that way. Because a woman’s no never means no. It just means try harder, right?
So we have two “good guys” who hypersexualize women in game, and you’re allowed to hypersexualize the women out of game too.
Women. Kids? They were supposed to be 14 original, before the localized North American version was released.
Then, of course, when you go on the Red Mage quest, we meet a person who goes on a 5 minute monologue of how women are tools. How seducing, controlling, potentially assaulting women is alright so long as you can use them to get to your goals. They are just objects. Obviously.
I caught that asshole on fire.
Then I shut my 3DS and tossed it rather forcefully to the table.
At this point, Siegmeyer, my cat, realized that this was the time to flee the room. My partner was not so lucky. He had to listen to me spout criticism after criticism of Bravely Default and its female objectification. Nothing he said could stop me. He tried to point out that the Women-As-Objects guy was a bad guy and he was very dead now. That the Sage was just the perverted old man trope. That even male gamers would look at Ringabel as desperate and wrong….
But would they? But does that make it better?
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t really let him talk, instead unloading a lot of grief.
“I don’t understand.” That’s how he stopped me. Thing is, when my partner and I talk, I don’t understand is the sign for help me understand. I’ve stated this many times, but my partner is my greatest ally. So I know he came from a good place.
He clarified. The people I was ranting about are not real. That their ages were changed. He repeated his position on the tropes and the “this is how JRPGs are.” That his lack of ability to connect to video games prevented him from seeing the problems that I keep finding. He even apologized for his white male privilege.
He didn’t understand, but he wanted to.
I couldn’t explain it to him. I tried, I tried examples. I tried clarifying. I found my argument getting more and more muddled . I tried and couldn’t get the message across. He tried to understand, I know he did. He tried to see how something that seemed so trivial, so commonplace, would cause so much trouble. He couldn’t see the implications–no one had ever tried to point them out to him. And I couldn’t clearly explain them. By the end, he was as distraught as me, struggling to know where my discomfort came, when I finally shouted,
“When I was 14, someone tried to sexually assault me because I was dressed up like a Chobit for an Anime Convention. Because I was wearing a costume. And games like this?! Games like this make that okay!”
This doesn’t have to do with Bravely Default, or video games. But I’m seeing a trend. One focused on how women and minorities are portrayed in media and how that treatment reflects reality.
Chobits is an anime/manga series , by the all-women group CLAMP. I read it when I was 11 and 12. It was my first foray into overt, obvious objectification of women. “In the Future: Boys will be Boys and Girls will be Robots.” But, to me, now having read the series six times to completion, I think that was the point.
I am not trying to excuse the soft-core porn aspects of Chobits, and for those of you who have read it, you understand. The gratuitous boob-and-butt shots, the “innocent girl” tropes, the hypersexualization of almost every female character in the series.
Yet, in the midst of all that, there’s a clear, loud message that women are not objects. That’s the whole plot. That society has deemed women replaceable by robotic pleasure bots, and that’s wrong. The whole series, behind the scenes, plays a full social commentary on the idea that women are just sex machines: put good favors in, get sex out. It systematically disproves this concept, using sex machines.
I found that kind of clever.
Plus, the main character–Chii–had a twin, so my twin sister and I immediately wanted to cosplay them too. Don’t ask me how my super WASP-y mother never found a problem with Chobits, but has a huge problem with me being asexual and trans. Yeah. I don’t get it either.
My sister and I cosplay a lot. Chii and Freya were the first two “popular” characters we ever portrayed
I think the first time we wore the costumes was in 2010, meaning my shout at my partner was correct. I would have been almost 15 at the time. We were proud of the costumes, we were proud of the attention. We even would win Best Skit at a convention with our portrayal of the characters!
But, in that same time, we almost got assaulted.
The thing is, I forget that it almost happened to me, because I was trying to protect my sister. She got cornered in that costume while we were cosplaying at a festival. At first, she thought the man was complimenting her and her costume, and she was staying in character. She replied to him as Chii would have, at first.
But then he started saying he was her “master” (which is reference to the series), and when she stated he was not, he began to assert himself on her. She dropped character, told him that she was uncomfortable. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.
That’s when I intervened. Physically, by putting myself between him and my sister, and verbally. “My sister is not comfortable, please go away.”
He then commented that we matched, that he got “Two for the price of one.” He reached for us, I kept his hand away. I told him to stop. “But you’re Chobits,” he said. “This is what you’re for!”
Two friends eventually had to rescue us, chasing the man off and taking us to a safe place to hide while they got security.
We were kids. This man didn’t care.
I cosplay neutral characters and men now. Little known characters. Character sets, with my partner, so I don’t have to be alone. Because I’m scared to show skin, scared to be objectified again.
I bought into the logic, the horrible rape-culture logic, that if I was covered, they would prey on someone else. I’m sorry for thinking that way. I realize now that’s not the case.
I cosplayed “business casual Totoro” to a convention last summer. While my partner and I were walking to meet up with friends, a man came out of nowhere, picked me off my feet, and hugged me. He shouted “YOU ARE SO CUTE.”
No warning, no request. Just the action. He even hesitated to put me down. My partner almost decked him, pulling the man away from me and then helping me back to my feet.
I thought I was safe covered up. I realized it doesn’t matter when people view you as an object. That “covered up” and “exposed” are just ways to control appearances, and that what I was really hoping for was that someone else would get assaulted.
I was wrong. I was so wrong.
I worked in the Con Circuit for awhile. I helped with Safe Space Trainings, did Cosplay is Not Consent panels, and I’ve been an advocate for cosplayers and con-goers who have been harassed. I know there is much discourse about the Cosplay is not Consent movement. I think this has helped me be more aware of the widespread nature of the issue. It extends to female-bodied and male-bodied people. Once getting into the movement, I found myself standing my ground for all sorts of gender expressions.
I was playing FFXIII: Lightning Returns (I know, I know, there are a million of these games but bear with me), and I got stuck on a particularly tough boss. After explaining the battle mechanics, he gave it a whirl, died quickly, and then decided to change up my battle outfits (which is where skills come from.
Kind of like job classes).
After about 10 minutes, I hear him state:
“Jynx, why don’t you use this outfit? The Amazon Warrior? It’s got the best stats in the game…” He paused, ready to show me the arrangement, only to quickly say “Oh,…that’s why.”
I looked over. “Hi-ho battle bikini.”
“This outfit literally makes no sense,” my partner complained. “In context or out of it. Someone approved this, Jynx!”
Bravely Default woke these memories for me, reminded me that something as “little” as the commonplace objectification in games has sometimes dramatic consequences in reality. I was able to make my partner see this, though I am not proud to say it took me shouting at him to do so. But that game is not an isolated incident. And sometimes I feel like we’re taking steps back with every step forward.
People act like Con environments, like video games, like the Internet all exist in a bubble. That they don’t coexist and intertwine and affect our every day. They do, sometimes horrifically, sometimes honorably.
My partner is one of those people who sees problems within context. Like the case with Lightning’s battle bikini: he saw that it was blatant objectification because the outfit conflicted with Lightning’s character. But he also falls into the trap of excusing objectification if it “makes sense” within the context of the game. So characters like Bayonetta and Ada Wong don’t strike him as problematic as they do me. (Seriously though, heels in the apocalypse? How do they do it?!)
The idea that, despite context, the objectification still exists, is foreign to him. He has trouble seeing outside the writing, the script, the person behind the characters. Games aren’t real, and so he doesn’t always understand why I try to defend characters within them. But he wants to.
I need someone to help me find the words to explain this to people who haven’t had the experiences I have. Who maybe never will. The level of discourse and patience my partner has with me is not the norm. How do I make the people who think like him understand?
I don’t know, but I am determined to find out.
Edited to add: The first time my sister and I wore costumes like the ones mentioned in the article, it was 2008 and we were 14 going on 15.At the time of the incident described in 2010, we were 16, almost 17.