The Equal Opportunity Perversion Of Kotaku

Last week, some folks paid Kotaku the kindness of noticing how... let's call it "progressive"... we've begun to lean over the last few months since I came aboard as Editorial Director. (Dan Bruno, in particular; I had other discussions on Twitter.)

Often there was a criticism behind the compliments: Why does an organisation that unabashedly wants to encourage LGBT* and women's voices in gaming also unabashedly put up galleries of women in revealing cosplay or articles about the sex worker industry in Japan? Some critics used pretty unequivocal terms, calling some of our content "embarrassing" or (and this may not be an exact quote) "part of the problem".

I think it's OK to have your cheesecake and eat it, too. Cosplay is an incredibly vibrant, edifying, dare-I-say-empowering movement that won me over from my jadedness with the overflowing amount of skill, creativity and joy that the community pours into it. If a woman wants to show her body in a sexy costume — even if that costume or character is part of an occasionally staggeringly pubescent culture like anime or video games—then I think it would be missing the forest for the trees to not celebrate and appreciate what she's chosen to do, even while I think it's important to maintain contextual awareness about why it's more "acceptable" for a woman to don skimpy outfits in some communities but not as acceptable for men to do so. (There are a host of interwoven reasons here, including the often retrograde anti-feminism from an otherwise increasingly accepting geek community at large, but better to talk about those another time. And we will.)

As for discussion of sex work in Japan, bear in mind that Kotaku has, since its inception, both piggy-backed and reacted against the "traditional", often outmoded concepts of Japanese otaku culture, most specifically as perceived (and stereotyped) by Western audiences. Which is to say, we still think Japan is often culturally interesting when it diverges from Western culture. And we think sex and sex culture is interesting.

"But Kotaku is a video game blog!" some say. A fair point — video games are our bread and butter — but our fascination with the quirkier or more risqué parts of Japan's culture isn't new. And if treated with enough contextual respect — "Hey, this one thing is weird; not everyone in Japan is into this specific thing" — then I think it adds a fun, compelling broadening of the work we do. Weird things are weird. They're fun to look at. If we can celebrate them instead of mocking them, then no harm by my reckoning. (It's a very fine line, I'll grant you; I'd even offer that our Japan fascination is orientalising at a meta-level, even if we try our best not to belittle in the actual articles. I adore the name of the "What's Japan's Fetish This Week?" column from a "good headline" standpoint — I named it — despite that it's pretty obviously poking at Japan being a nation of kooks; that the companion feature, "What's America's Fetish This Week?" sort makes the whole joke fall apart, unfortunately. We need to get that spun up again or rename the Japan Fetish column.)

I have no grand unifying theory here, as should be becoming obvious. And while I'm typically against "putting out ideas for discussion" as a sort of bullwark against others' arguments, these sort of cultural questions are near and dear to my heart and I just can't help myself from talking about them despite not being entirely able to hold all the disparate factors in my head at one time. I don't want those who bring up these issues about Kotaku's "responsibility to the gaming community" (to use one common rhetorical example) to think I'm discounting their point out of hand. I think the whole issue of otaku/geek culture, sexuality and feminism is an ever-raveling ball of twine, knotting itself up just as fast as we can untangle it, but that doesn't mean we should just ignore it altogether. So, hi.

Someone recently asked me why Kotaku doesn't create more "sexy" content for other genders and orientations than straight males. A few things: when it comes to, say, cosplay galleries, we aren't shooting the lion's share of those images, simply collecting and sharing them, so while our editorial discretion is a factor, we sort of have to work with what we've got, which trends towards normative T&A (which is not in and of itself bad!); secondly, don't let the Male Gaze steer you wrong, either in its default or in overcorrecting — people are finding things you wouldn't ever imagine to be sexy all the time; lastly, if you're out there making images of queer or gay or generally underrepresented cosplay imbued with the same sort of joy and play as everything else we like to run, I'd love to publish it alongside all the other cosplay and pinups out there. Just send it in! We may ultimately be sex-obsessed weirdos at Kotaku, but never let it be said we weren't equal opportunity perverts.

Image: Lan Bui/Flickr


Comments

    I'm really glad that these discussions are taking place. Just the fact that this is a common point of discussion I think is a really healthy step forward. We are growing up as a culture!

    If it's all the same, I'd much rather just see less of the pointless T&A stories. It's nothing more than a quick attempt to get page views, that works.

    The Kotaku AU approach of actually having content worth a damn is a much more admirable approach than simply scouring the web for pictures of girls dressed as video game characters and popping them up on the front page for some easy ad revenue.

      Exactly. And saying "it isn't new" isn't a very good excuse. And, it's not only Japanese culture that comes across as either sexist or irrelevant:

      http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/10/please-keep-lindsay-lohan-away-from-our-gaming-events/

      http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/06/what-is-americas-fetish-this-week-great-white-teeth/

      http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/04/how-does-one-invent-an-economy-based-on-orc-genitalia/#more-443801

      http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/03/a-drug-that-could-make-you-grow-sensory-whiskers-and-penis-spines/

      http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/01/womens-tears-are-a-real-turn-off/#more-430110

      Also, this may surprise people, but Japan does things other than look at schoolgirl breasts all day. In fact, most of Japan does. It's just the 50 cm around Ashcraft's croft that focuses on porn, really. What about mentioning the cool things in Japan? Why only breasts?

    While I generally find Kotaku the best place to go to for random game news etc, I don't think it would be bearable if I didn't use the AU site...it just seems a bit more sensible and respectable sometimes. Great work Serrels and team!

      As a reader who migrated here from the Kotaku US site? I have no idea how I lasted so long there. When I switched to AU after the US redesign I realized I was a fool for having not checked it out sooner.

      Mark is the knees of the bees.

      Too bad the Kotaku US sludge still seeps through the creases. :-P

    I'd personally like less T&A stories too. I'm VERY interested in Japanese culture- and I love it when anime stories crop up- heck, I see that the problem often doesn't lie in the cosplaying, but the source material...

    ...But less degrading (and let's face it- it is) articles would be lovely, thanks.

      While I understand your point lies in the idea that objectification and over-sexualisation of women in this subculture is something we should be trying to curb, I honestly think you do more harm than good with the way you are presenting it.

      First of all, I agree with you in that "geek culture" has a tendency to sexualise women first and foremost, before considering them for any other value they may have as people. It's pretty shitty and although it is everywhere, it definitely is more pronounced here than in other places.

      However, if a woman happily dresses in sexualised, fetishised clothing, happily poses for sexualised and fetishised clothing and is happy to have them published publicly, who are you to tell people that it shouldn't happen? Her lifestyle and sexuality is her choice. That includes being fetishised by strangers, if that's what she wants. It isn't degrading if she consents willingly to that power dynamic.

      Japan is a highly sexually charged culture, no matter how hard they try to deny it. I understand that there are a whole lot of arguments that can be leveled at the fact that being brought up in a culture that fetishises you from the get-go makes you more likely to find personal value only when allowing yourself to be fetishised. I don't disagree. But to some extent we are all a product of our own culture and in all but the most extreme cases, telling anyone that their culture is "wrong" and your is "right" is pure bigotry.

      Of course there is always a fine line and you can't paint everyone with the same brush, but simply stating that the sexualised cosplay pictures are degrading is far more degrading than the pictures themselves. By doing so, you deny agency. Agency is control over your own life, including your sexuality. This is why some branches of Feminist theory are not only not agaisnt, but completely for even the most extreme pornography. Even heavily Male Gaze oriented, misogynist abuse and degradation porn is A-OK in some schools of thought, because as long as all the people involved are consenting adults who have agreed to a particular power relationship that gives them sexual pleasure, everyone is happy and fulfilled and has agency over their own lives and sexual conduct.

      I'll stop now.

      I personally disagree. While it has been mentioned a couple times. If a women wishes to present her self like so, then it's acceptable, and it's in fact you being disrespectful for other peoples (by this I mean the cosplayer.) interests.

    If something is related to videogame culture, why wouldn't Kotaku put it on their site?
    http://youtu.be/sW6_KOHDylo

    I actually think that was a great post.. Very well said! Kudos

    I come for the gaming stories day in day out, but I like looking at all the cosplay stuff... Cause some of it is fantastic really. As mentioned, it's how it's represented that matters and usually Kotaku is very sincere and honest about sharing those things.

    2 thumbs up

    Kotaku utilising the Otaku part of their name. Who'd have thought?

    While I think that Mr. Johnson could and should exercise a little more restraint and a little less gratification with his editing, I'm extremely pleased to see this post. And for the record, gender in gaming is one of the medium's most interesting and difficult issues around, so more discussion on the topic is always welcomed! :D

      Is it really though? Whenever this is being discussed "feminists" seem to always accuse anyone trying to discuss it with them of derailing. "Discussion" is fine it seems, so long as you are agreeing.

    as long as whatever they do related to games, gaming culture, anime and jap culture they are perfectly within their rights to do or say what they want to. If you don't like what they write then don't read it!

    As for skimpy women and such why is it a problem that some women like to do these things? The problem lies within the delusion minds of the complainers. Just because YOU don't like something doesn't mean the rest of us don't. You are NOT a moral authority! Leave everyone else alone and live your own life how you want to. Jeeze

      I would like to say that while I agree with you that the posts in question are ok the wa you expressed that was unhelpful and unpleasant. There is no need to call anyone 'delusional', especially as they are not. They may not agree with you, but it would be nice if you could try to see some of the other side of the argument as well, and understand why some people find such images objectionable and objectifying. There is a deep-rooted culture of objectification of women in the world, and while I agree there needs to be moderation in dealing with it, that doesn't mean that people who are tired of being objectified are delusional.

        I agree, there does seem to be a whole lot of oppression dealt out by those who believe themselves oppressed. And any women who are "victims" that argue this is not the case, and that they are making choices for themselves, are merely victims of the male gaze. They have been "brainwashed" into thinking this way. To me that seems like a far greater insult to a woman than anything else. Many "feminists" seem to believe a woman's mind so weak and malleable that a man can affect it in whichever way he so chooses simply by being the "dominant" sex.

        My way of seeing it is that you should hate PEOPLE, not groups. If a man talks to you in a way that you do not deem appropriate, you damn sure better let him know. If a woman does the same you should respond in kind. Making this whole thing about genders is oversimplifying at best, and at worst creating a scapegoat for the PEOPLE that make your life unpleasant. Gender values and issues tend to disappear if you don't bring them up and just treat each person you meet as a human being. Although I think this argument is somewhere in derailingfordummies.com as well for some reason, probably because it makes too much sense.

          To derail more, I find it amusing that I have posted in two (grantedly both lgbt-related) threads tonight, and both threads had references to derailingfordummies.com. I had not seen the site before, somehow, and it is one I will certainly be sharing in the future, thank you :)

          I do wish it could be done as simply as you suggest, but I don't think it will ever be able to do so. I have seen far too many instances when someone says something someone finds unpleasant, and asks them to please not, of them then getting attacked more, and often by other people who think it was inappropriate to find something unpleasant to begin with. The is especially true for objectification, and often has a lot of responses like 'get a sense of humor' or 'learn to take a compliment'. Until we as a society are willing to, as a group, say that people should respect backing off, expecting it to be on the individual to deal with people one by one is unlikely.

      Old as hell article, but just in case you come back to read it:

      "Jap" is a nasty fucking word. Don't use it. It's a racist epithet and offends pretty much any English speaking Japanese person or person of Japanese heritage. It's really not hard to type an extra few letters and address a culture by its actual name.

    I feel I should say something here, since I am a trans female gamer, thus falling into both of the commented on areas.

    I like Kotaku. I like that it isn't afraid to talk about the hard topics, and actually TALK about them as opposed to posts making fun of people for talking about it. This has only gotten better recently and the change is both noticeable and feels nice. And I am not afraid at all to say who and what I am here, and expect actual engagement rather than 'freak go die' that I Get elsewhere.

    As for the rest, I admit I am a fan of anime, Japanese culture, cosplay, and all of it, and it is hard to have those without some people who want to show off. It is a harder area; is it more wrong to objectify women, or to tell women they aren't allowed to want to show themselves off in this way. Things like this and porn remain a contentious issue even within feminism. Personally, I land on the side of most of what Kotaku posts being ok. Yes, they can be very cheesecakey, but they are clearly done by people who are not ashamed to present themselves as such, and who put a lot of love and effort into their costuming.

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