The following is a guest post from NonCon.
Reviewer for the gaming website Gamepad Dojo. Gay gamer, loves games both “casual” and “core,” and hopes to help make the gaming community a more inclusive, friendly one.
I doubt that characters of mixed quality are new to anyone. Far too often, players encounter a character that brings out the predictable response of “So-and-so is a good character, except…” This seems especially true in regards to representation of underprivileged classes. As I encounter more characters like this, I hope to do more write-ups about my love-hate relationships with them.
Kaine, from 2010′s Nier, is a perfect example of the relationship I’m describing. She’s a strong, female character who kicks giant monster ass and doesn’t tolerate people getting in her way, but she’s still a kind person at heart. She hides it behind a callous exterior, but she cares about the rest of the group, and when one of the characters dies, she takes it out on another violently as a way of coping with her grief. A bit of an odd way, but it fits the character, since she’s a violent person to begin with. That she’s the most violent and arguably the most skilled fighter says a lot when the male protagonist looks like he dual-classed and both classes are barbarian.
Yet somehow it gets even better, because Kaine is actually an intersex individual who identifies as female. Her backstory is that she was born that way, and mistreated by her backwards thinking village because of it. They thought she was cursed and would bring bad luck. Parents encouraged their children to beat her up. It’s an awful childhood, and very depressing to learn about, because while it might not always be that bad, intersex people face a lot of ridicule in modern society. However, Kaine’s grandma protected her, taught her to protect herself, and, most importantly, told her she was pretty.
That really stood out to me, because it’s a very positive message. Intersex individuals generally don’t get any video game representation, and not only is Kaine one, but her role model makes sure to specify that Kaine’s beautiful. As I said, Kaine identifies as a woman, so having a character in-game reinforce that that didn’t make her any less beautiful was incredibly important to her, and is a good message for players as well. This game lets players know that an intersex woman can be just as pretty as any other, and for that I applaud it.
Brace yourselves, though, because it’s all downhill from here.
My first complaint is that Kaine being an intersex woman isn’t brought up clearly, at least in the English version of the game. It’s alluded to in a short story segment in Nier’s New Game+, but never stated outright. This short story segment is also the only place the players are exposed to those better aspects of inclusion I mentioned before, like Kaine’s grandma. I’m glad they were inclusive, but many players weren’t even aware of this part of Kaine, because the game isn’t brave enough to tell it to them clearly.
Then there’s a bit of a problem regarding a short story of questionably canon nature. A collection of short stories, art, and the like was released around the same time as Nier. This collection is titled Grimoire Nier, and seems to be official merchandise. As such, I’m leaning towards the accompanying short stories being considered canon, even if they weren’t release in the US. One such short story includes a scene where someone walks in on Kaine masturbating after having recently killed some monsters, because she can’t help herself. There’s some lazy story reasons for this, but this is just incredibly awful, and ties into the fetishization of intersexed people, which is nothing new to Japanese porn culture. I’m not sure whether fetishization is worse or better than not including an intersex character at all, but hearing about this short story made me feel like the developers didn’t respect Kaine’s character as much as I did.
Kaine’s character design reinforces this feeling.
Let me delve into all the reasons I hate this outfit. The high heels make no sense for someone whose life goal is to kill a giant monster and is very good at killing monsters. The nighty makes no sense for similar reasons. The running around in her panties is awful fanservice to begin with, but then they cut holes in the back to show off as much of her ass as possible. Then, to top it all off, there are slits in the cups of her nighty. Why? Because it’s fanservicy fetishization. I have a hard time seeing how anyone could write a character like Kaine and then dress her up like that.
The reasoning of the developers is supposedly that she does it to accentuate her femininity, but that makes no sense for Kaine’s character. In speech and behavior, she defies conventional stereotypes about femininity. She’s possibly the most stereotypically masculine character in the party. If she wanted to “accentuate her femininity” she’d do that with how she acted, not by running around half-naked in a ridiculously impractical outfit. She doesn’t try to act stereotypically feminine, which leads me to believe she doesn’t care about that, which is awesome and perfectly fine, but that means that her design is nothing but offensive fanservice, and it’s a shame to see that done to who could have been one of the best characters I’ve ever seen in a video game.