I recently started playing Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland for the Playstation 3. This game is part of a long running alchemy series of games made by Gust. The game is a mix of battles, alchemy (item creation), and time management simulation. The series has always been filled with peppy music, colorful visuals, and silly dialogue. I have enjoyed these games because the cheerfulness is a wonderful change from the gritty, dirty, brown, ultra serious tone of many other games. This new game is full of peppy music, bright atmospheres, and item combinations that keep me enjoying the series. But, it also had one particular scene very early in the game that pulled me right out of my cheerful mood.
The first time your main character, Rorona, enters the Sundries store you see the owner of the store and several customers. It quickly becomes clear that these three male customers are there to solely to leer at the store owner. Here is the conversation you overhear:
Glen: “There she is!”
Barney: “Oh, she’s so beautiful as always… ooh, I should buy something!
Huey: “Wait, I’m going first! I’m gonna be the first one to get change from her hands today!”
GAH! Did Huey just say he is only there so that he can be touched by the store owner? Clearly these men are there to drool over the shop owner and they will buy items simply because they want her to physically interact with them. In case this was not clear by the “change from her hands comment” the game makes it even more apparent if you choose to talk to the characters after this short cut scene. When walking up to one of the male characters he says:
Glen: “I wasn’t looking at Tiffani while pretending to browse through the shelf!”
Oh Glen, why did you have to tell the player that bit of information? Now we KNOW you are leering at the Sundries shop owner.
Inside the store there is a mother and daughter having the following conversation:
Nymph: “Mommy, why are there so many old men here?”
Liliana: “Shh! Don’t say that!”
Even the little girl notices how the store is constantly full of these men. But her concern is quickly quieted by her mother. Are we to assume she told the daughter to be quiet because she did not want to draw attention to the situation?
Outside you meet 2 women discussing the store:
Casey: “My husband is always at Ms. Hildebrand’s shop…”
Agatha: “Same here… Geez…”
Clearly, these men being in the store is not a one time occurrence. This is the norm at the Sundries store. As the owner of the store, the character of Tiffani Hildebrand is required to be there. She cannot escape these men who enter the store just to leer at her. As the character named Glen clearly points out, they are not there to shop. They are there because they want to stare at and touch Tiffani. The shop owner cannot escape their harassment and the player has no recourse. This game puts the player in a situation where you see a store owner being harassed by men and there is nothing the player can do to help the situation. It is not the type of scene I was expecting in my cheerful alchemy game. In was both immersion breaking and a painful scene to watch. The game had Rorona watch all this and just walk away. Is the lesson here that sexual harassment is funny? Is the lesson here to walk away when you see this kind of behavior? Neither one of those options are good ones. But, watching the scene I believe the game is telling the player that this is meant to be funny. It is not funny and it not acceptable behavior.