What's Wrong with Stating the Obvious?

by Michael Camilleri

I woke up this morning to read this piece by Latoya Peterson regarding the New York Comic Con panel ‘East Meets West: Art Direction for a Worldwide Audience’ (the piece was originally published on Racialicious). The panel featured Isamu Kamikokuryo, the art director of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, the art director of Deux Ex: Human Revolution.

In the piece, Peterson recounts comments made by Jacques-Bellêtete regarding his influences:

In describing his influences, Jacques-Bellêtete mentioned he was heavily influenced by Metal Gear and Final Fantasy. Then he went into a two minute riff about “always trying to have very beautiful female characters,” noting that these were characters he would want to sleep with. After making a semi-disparaging remark about female characters drawn in a North American style, he concludes “I’d rather have female characters from Final Fantasy or Soulcalibur [sic] to sleep with.” This draws chuckles from the crowd.

I’m incredibly disappointed by Jacques-Bellêtete’s comments. I fear that they are a sad reflection of the current state of thinking of many in the video game industry and, unfortunately, do much to impugn the video game that he worked on (which, it should be said, employed a woman in the high profile role of lead narrative designer).

As I expressed on Twitter, I consider consumer activism is about the only power I have to impact this kind of behaviour and will not be purchasing the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This is disappointing, both because I was looking forward to the game and because the original Deus Ex did so much to try to push video games forward as a medium. That Eidos hired someone with this attitude to work on a sequel is a real shame.

When I first tweeted about this, one response was that this was kind of what you would naturally assume about the video game industry (arguably NSFW) and that all that Jacques-Bellêtete was doing was saying it out loud. The implication1 was that it was unfair to pick on one guy who was either brave enough or stupid enough to say what a lot of people think.

I don’t disagree that this is a problem in video games (and in the wider popular culture) but I do disagree that, because of that, there’s something wrong about making an example out of this incident. In the West, our social attitudes today towards women, non-whites, non-Christians and gay men and women are far advanced from where they used to be. But the way that they got there was by people taking a stand and, particularly, taking a public stand in response to public injustice. If the calculus by which we determine whether action in respect of a particular type of behaviour should be taken is whether that behaviour is representative of the broader status quo, things will never change.

I don’t think Jacques-Bellêtete’s comments were the worst in the history of sexism in the video game industry. I don’t think that they were much more than what a lot of people (men) in video games think. Nevertheless, they were aired at a public forum. They were received with chuckles. This behaviour is wrong and the way to help change it is to help correct it when we see it.

  1. It’s not always easy to tell the implication in a 140-character tweet so I apologise if this was not the actual implication.