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