The Tits Are Alright: Games, Art, and Beauty

on October 22, 2011 2:00 PM

Art imitates life. Life can imitate art. Our eyes are drawn to what is beautiful, what is inspiring; when looking at a picture imbued with the soul of its creator, we see as the creator. We can understand beauty and the depth of emotion in an artist’s mind by looking at their work. Painting a portrait or publishing a book is akin to baring the soul for all to see, opening oneself to public opinion — a tidal wave of questions, praise, and criticism.

Imagine how that must feel for game designers and art directors, who are tasked with creating art that moves and breathes — realistically, anyway. At New York Comic Con I attended a panel given by Isamu Kamikokuryo, art director for Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Jonathan Jacques-Bellêtete, the designer behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The panel, titled “East Meets West, Art Direction for a Worldwide Audience,” made one thing clear: in both hemispheres, we recognize and are drawn to what we find beautiful.

It just so happened that in this particular discussion, there was a hefty amount of boob talk. Of course gals in video games are going to be hypersexualized. Hypersexualization is part of experiencing art — certain forms arouse us, certain colors awake our senses and draw us in. This is no different with video games, which are rapidly being considered a serious art form. The heroes are hypersexualized too, becoming objects of desire, moving forms that attract gamers and deepen the experience, the connection, the investment the player has in the game. Have you seen Nathan Drake? Snow Villers? Commander Shepard? Mmm baby, well done.

In discussing his influences for Deux Ex (Metal Gear and Final Fantasy among them), Jacques-Bellêtete’s commentary on creating beautiful female characters was cheeky and coy, but with an underlying sentiment that seems to have been overlooked by most of the panels attendees. Jacques-Bellêtete mentioned that “always trying to have very beautiful female characters” is a staple of Western game design, citing a point in production where so many of his female characters were modest in design that his supervisor explicitly demanded at least one girl with huge breasts. He then went on to say that at the end of the day, “I’d rather have female characters from Final Fantasy or Soulcalibur to sleep with.”

Yes, the East has its Tifas and Chun Lis, but at the end of the day there is something more sexy to these characters than how they look. And it’s all how we perceive them. There is something sexy about a strong woman or a damsel in distress, and in a medium like video games, which relies heavily on its visuals for enjoyment, the outside has to match the inside. It’s a choice as simple as Catherine or Katherine, Serah or Lightning. Yes, the boobs are there, and they’re not always hanging out in plain sight — but the female form in all its shapes, variants, and colors has been an iconic idea of beauty since forever. Why are games any different? As a woman I am  not offended by this. If anything, I’ll ask to keep bringing on the boobs.

The Tits Are Alright: Games, Art, and Beauty

Jacques-Bellêtete and Kamikokuryo were asked to draw fanart for each other’s series. While Kamikokuryo drew a beautiful pencil drawing of Deus Ex hero Adam Jensen meeting a fate similar to Spike at the end of Cowboy Bebop, Jacques-Bellêtete has something different up his sleeve. The above is a photo I snapped at the panel, Jacques-Bellêtete’s drawing of Lightning on the screen behind the designers. When the revelation of the fanart was announced, I saw Jacques-Bellêtete visibly grimace, peeking at the audience from behind his glasses, almost nervously fidgeting in his seat. Was he anxious of how the crowd would receive the picture after all his boob talk? Maybe. But as he lifted up the print, he had one thing to say: “This panel is all titties and it’s all my fault.”

I know why Jacques-Bellêtete drew Lightning this way. I know why he would rather sleep with Square Enix’s heroines. These are strong primary female characters, strong and beautiful — and these strong and beautiful women are the ones girls want to be and boys want to be with. The most recognized female trait is breasts — it’s one of the most basic ways to tell men and women apart without pantsing anyone. After the panel I heard several complains about the tit-talk at the panel and all I have to say is: so what?

Lightning is an extremely strong female character. She’s smart, calculating, protective, fierce. She never lets her guard down. In the entire ordeal of Final Fantasy XIII  she sheds tears once. And Jacques-Bellêtete made the excellent observation that not once do players see her l’Cie brand. So when he presented us with a picture of Lightning — “she could be undressing, she could be getting dressed, it could be either,” he said as he tenderly described his artwork — at her most vulnerable, displaying the thing that almost destroyed her… It’s beautiful. It’s part of the mystery and sex appeal behind the Final Fantasy girls, behind heroines of Eastern-developed games. There’s another layer, something we can’t see, and it’s that titillating unknown that draws us in. The boobs are just perks.

 /  Features Editor
A High Summoner from the Woods of the North (read: New England), Alexa and her ragtag band of comrades have saved the world from cataclysmic destruction countless times -- you just didn't notice. When she isn't writing or gaming, she enjoys baking, long walks at dusk, and cosplay.