Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gender-swapping female characters: Vanille

Some of the arguments here about the sexualized design of female video game characters got me to thinking about how I could illustrate this more clearly, since some people just seem to understand that idealization of male characters JUST ISN'T THE SAME as the sexualization of female characters. I got to thinking about a post I saw several years ago on LiveJournal in which a female blogger photoshopped hypothetical comic covers with extreme male fanservice.

I wanted to do something along those lines, only with game art and perhaps a bit less extreme. When discussing sexualized character design, people seem to focus on the body parts - perhaps just because distorted anatomy is very easy for us to recognize. But posing plays just as big a part - even when it's not the subtle-as-a-brick "take me now" posing that all of us are pretty used to seeing. So I decided that I'm going to start doing a series of gender-swapped female game characters, starting with Vanille from Final Fantasy XIII - mostly just because that's the game I'm playing right now.

So here's female Vanille:

And here's my genderswapped "Van":


I did contemplate leaving Vanille's ridiculous bikini top and mini skirt combo intact, but I decided that instead I would swap the clothing for their nearest gender equivalents - which is why Van is in a wife-beater and shortish shorts. Van here comes off as pretty gender-inappropriate by conventional standards, and not just because I kept the pink shirt. According to what we're conditioned to expect, everything about the pose is incredibly inappropriate on a male figure.

Vanille's spine is arched in such a way that her breasts are thrust forward. Her legs and clothing are arranged in such a way that your eyes are drawn to her ladybits that are just barely covered by the arrangement of her limbs. And despite this being a somewhat action-y pose, the posing of her arms doesn't suggest strength or action - they suggest softness and femininity. Everything about Vanille's pose is designed to be inviting and appealing to the male viewer. And yet a lot of that gets lost in the gender-swap. Van isn't that much more covered than Vanille, but you don't get the "collection of parts" impression looking at him that you do looking at Vanille.

So all in all, I consider this a pretty successful experiment, and one that I'll definitely repeat. My only regret in that trying to go less extreme than the photoshopped comic covers, I think I went a little too far. Next time I'll pick a character and pose that are a little more obviously sexual and see what happens. (Suggestions?)

Lastly, as recommended reading I'll suggest you check out this great LJ post here with lots of scans from a book on how to draw comic characters that highlights a lot of what I'm talking about. Especially check out the first three scanned pages which highlight pretty much what I'm talking about here.