Again with the Jewelry? Monster Hunter Stories and Character Design
I recently started playing Monster Hunter Stories on the 3DS. I originally thought that it was just the kind of a game that could tide you over until Monster Hunter World comes out in January, but man, this game is fun! I don’t think I’ve had this much fun playing a game in a long time. It combines my favorite parts of the Monster Hunter series with fun aspects of Pokemon, and is remarkably low stress. Plus, any game that lets me tame a bunch of monsters (called ‘Monsties’ in this game) to make a rather adorable, cuddly, world-crushing zoo is my sort of game.
I will say I’m not very far along. I’ve only played for about 10 hours, and most of the was spent riding around and exploring and not advancing the plot, but it already feels expansive. I honestly can’t wait to keep playing.
Unfortunately, though, this game manifests some of my least favorite aspects of the Monster Hunter series: it still unnecessarily genders things.
Now, I have to say, I was incredibly disappointed, because this game got my hopes up. At the very beginning, your character looks incredibly neutral. Even after character creation, your outfit doesn’t change depending on which of the two gender options you pick (I didn’t get my hope up that much, though maybe one day we’ll have a neutral option in a MH game). And things unfold in typical MH fashion (Repeat after me: That escalated quickly), and time passes and then the game really begins. And that’s the first true time you get to see the character you’ll be playing the rest of the game.
And that, dear reader, was the first time my hopes were dashed. Because gone was the seemingly equal outfit design and back was the different clothing based on gender. Though, maybe if I’d been paying attention to the townsfolk, I’d have had more inkling of what was about to happen.
It’s almost everything, down to the colors. Apparently being a boy means horned hoods with capes and pants, while being a girl is a lifetime of cat-ear hats, leggings with thigh-high boots, and pom-poms. Even if you go into armor customization to change the colors, you can’t remove the pink border from the girl’s outfit (though you can turn the whole boy’s outfit pink if you want.)
Disappointed, but unfortunately, not surprised, I resigned myself to the fact that the clothing imbalance was going to continue. After all, Monster Hunter has always had a problem with the “sexy armor” for ladies, even when the corresponding male armor set is almost a walking wall of metal. I put the thought into the pile of things that would nag at me while I played (as well as be the source of many jokes to come), and continued on to the Rite of Kinship.
And that’s when my disappointment grew. See, I’d already seen the Rite for the male character. He got his Kinship Stone, set into a gaudy but usable bracelet, and went about his trial. So I wasn’t really paying attention to my play-through, until I noticed that the dialogue was a bit different. They weren’t talking about a bracelet to my character. Specifically, they mentioned a ring. And, sure enough, that was what my character ended the cut-scene wearing: A ring that basically covered her whole hand.
I started laughing so hard I had to stop for a little bit.
This may sound familiar, and indeed, it should. Last year, Sam wrote about a similar scenario occurring in Yo-kai Watch, or, as we all now lovingly call it, Yo-kai Pendant . In that article, Sam discovered that the universe has girls assert that they are the same as boys, while simultaneously allowing for boys to wear watches, but girls are doomed to wear their Yo-kai as a pendant on their necks, “because….jewelry.” (Strangely– or interestingly– enough, fearing for the safety of girl’s wrists is not something that plagues the Pokemon series. In X/Y and Sun/Moon, everyone gets bracelets for their Mega Stones and Z Stones).
In a sense, it’s just trading one piece of jewelry (a bracelet) for another (a ring). Despite the fact that a bracelet is actually a remarkably neutral adornment, they felt the necessity to switch it to a ring (including switching dialogue about it). But the ring also doesn’t make sense logistically. Due to its size, it seems to impede the movement of my Rider’s hand. This would make typical Rider tasks, like fighting with a sword and shield or greatsword, gathering materials, or holding on to your Monstie while riding, much more difficult. The bracelet seemingly would add a lot more freedom of movement, and also keep the Kinship stone safer. It’s almost setting the female Rider up for failure, or at least to have a much harder time.
And while it’s nice to have differentiation between outfits, the differences between the “male” and “female” armor sets just continue to feed stereotypes. Clothing doesn’t need to be gendered, but games like these continue to assert this presumption. It lumps “male” with covered, pants, plate mail suits, horns and hoods. It lumps “female” with showing skin, shorts, dresses, pom-poms, and hats with ears. Male armor also almost always keeps their faces covered, while most female armor makes their faces clear as day. And, on the rare instance the “female” armor is covering everything and providing optimal protection, we are once again greeted with the infamous boob plate.
To me, it is very clear of one thing about Monster Hunter armor: The male sets are based around the monster. The female sets are based around a woman’s body.
Perhaps what bothers me the most about this is that gender in these games doesn’t matter. Gender doesn’t change the way anyone interacts with you, doesn’t make you less of a hunter or a rider, doesn’t change stats. The game doesn’t care what gender you are, you’re still going to go out and fight giant monsters and save everyone. Typically, NPCs are pretty evenly dispersed between the two genders as well. But there’s ultimately no effect on gameplay other than aesthetic.
I’m still not completely sure why this continues to happen. Sex sells? Men are terrified of women in practical armor? Why is it that men’s bodies are to be ignored, but women’s bodies are to be exemplified? In a community that is roughly 50/50 on the gender split, games are still intrinsically for the straight male gaze. It’s purposeful. These designs get approved. Ultimately, it keeps enforcing that women, even when saving the world, got to be pretty about it.
I’m excited to keep playing Stories, because this game is so much fun to play. And I’m still excited for Monster Hunter World, when it eventually comes out. But I know that this unnecessarily gendered armor will still exist even then. It kind of puts a damper on things.