This week, Destructoid’s Jed Whitaker posted a review of Valkyrie Drive Bhikkuni, a PC port of a Vita game produced by Senran Kagura creator Kenichiro Takaki’s new studio Honey Parade Games.
The review, such as it was, angered a lot of people — and with good reason, since it began with the headline “Dynasty Warriors for paedophiles” (later edited to “Dynasty Warriors for aspiring paedophiles” and finally “Dynasty Warriors for aspiring paedobears”) and didn’t improve from there, demonstrating throughout that Whitaker was unwilling to engage with the game in good faith and raising serious questions about his professional rigour in covering a title.
Whitaker’s article isn’t the first to follow this mould; it’s just the latest. But it’s a problem. It’s more than just “bad games journalism” — something that can be laughed off. It’s a problem that needs to be tackled.
We’ll get into more specific issues with the article in a moment, but for now let’s consider that headline: “Dynasty Warriors for paedophiles”. It’s not difficult to determine why it might be a mistake to make this the first thing the reader sees when they click through onto the review, but let’s spell it out anyway.
Paedophilia is, if you’ll pardon my stating the blindingly obvious, a crime — or, at least, acting on paedophilic urges is. In today’s society, sexual abuse of children is treated (quite rightly) as one of the most serious crimes there is, and several reports from over the years — such as this one from ABC in 2003, or this one from Vice in 2015 — suggest that even the most hardened criminals in the prison system look down on those who sexually abuse children, often with fatal consequences.
To compare the enjoyment of anime-style games featuring pretty girls to such a hideous crime is ridiculous first and foremost, swiftly followed by being incredibly, spectacularly offensive.
“Paedophile” is not an insult you can throw around casually, because its implications can have absolutely devastating consequences; British schoolteacher Neil Carr discovered this in 2012, when an offhanded homophobic remark from some children in a corridor resulted in a “Ku Klux Klan-like” campaign of hatred against him from parents responding to nothing but hearsay. Carr was ultimately cleared of 20 sexual offences against seven young boys that he stood accused of, but he described the experience as “like his life imploding” — particularly as, even once the verdict had been decided, there were still people who did not believe he was innocent.
Casually accusing a portion of your readers of being “paedophiles” because they are interested in a video game is disgraceful behaviour that should have been caught by Destructoid’s staff at the editing stage — and, moreover, swiftly removed and apologised for after concerns were raised. Unfortunately, this was not to be, as Destructoid’s publisher Niero Gonzalez updated the article’s headline to remove the explicit accusation of paedophilia but maintain the intent, and furthermore to belittle anyone who had taken umbrage at Whitaker’s choice of words. At the time of writing, the article still refers to the game’s audience as “aspiring paedobears”.
The “games about anime girls are for paedophiles” argument is a spinoff of the “games with attractive women in them are misogynist” angle that has been being pushed for a few years now, particularly since the widely discredited but still inexplicably popular Anita Sarkeesian came on the scene.
These are both arguments whose exponents have never been able to provide evidence in favour of, causing them to be commonly (and likely correctly) interpreted as “I don’t like this, so no-one else should either”. There’s also an element of social capital involved; to be seen saying the “right” things by the fashionable “progressive” crowd helps people to feel like they’re “on the right side of history”, as they often describe it, but as people such as video games and culture critic Ian Miles Cheong and feminist YouTubers Laci Green and Liana Kerzner have discovered, questioning the beliefs of the “progressive left” can and will quickly see you ostracised with no hope of “redemption”.
Moreover, and in stark opposition to what the “progressive” crowd claim to be fighting for, these arguments completely erase the existence of certain groups who might be interested in this kind of content. Kenichiro Takaki’s games, including both Senran Kagura and Valkyrie Drive, have a strong following among gay women, for example, but this is never acknowledged by those who criticise these games.
For just one particularly potent example of how important these games and their characters are to some people out there, take a look at this wonderful essay from “Atma Weapon”, a 30 year old martial arts expert from California who found a kindred spirit in Senran Kagura’s Katsuragi, a character that helped her come to terms with her homosexuality and what she describes as its “messy past”. And for an excellent rebuttal of many of Whitaker’s points, take a look at this epic rant from Annie Gallagher who is, in her words, a “22 year old trans lesbian gamer, otaku and writer”.
This is why articles such as Whitaker’s Valkyrie Drive review are more than just “bad games journalism”. They fail to acknowledge the diversity of viewpoints out there, even going so far as to marginalise groups that the “progressive” crowd usually stand up for — not to mention the continued demonisation of white, heterosexual men, which has been going on for a while now and we’re all getting rather tired of.
But, oh, Whitaker’s article is most certainly also bad games journalism. As Gallagher points out in her piece, Whitaker’s piece on Valkyrie Drive is, at just under 600 words, barely enough in terms of length to be considered for publication as a GameFAQs user review, let alone a review on a well-established commercial site in the business. And in those just-under-600 words, Whitaker makes a number of mistakes that undermine his credibility, even putting the “paedophile” remarks to one side for the moment.
For starters, he sets some context by describing the Senran Kagura series as being a “fighting game” when, in fact, as we’ve extensively discussed here, it is and always has been a brawler in the grand tradition of Renegade, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon and the like. He also compares Valkyrie Drive to the Warriors series, demonstrating ignorance of both series in the process. While both have similar core fighting mechanics, their overall structure and focus is very different indeed, making them fundamentally different experiences. So his assessment of the mechanics — what few words he expends on them — is almost entirely incorrect.
Whitaker then criticises the game’s story as having “nothing to say” but admits that “after two levels worth of these scenes, I started to skip them all”, undermining his own argument. This is something that has also happened in past reviews of Senran Kagura games, and is evidence of not engaging with the game in good faith: Whitaker clearly went into this with his own prejudices, decided they were confirmed after just two levels and decided not to investigate further, thereby failing to demonstrate the degree of rigour we should expect from a professional review.
We, in fact, have no real evidence in the article of how far Whitaker actually did play in Valkyrie Drive — for all we know, he could have only played those two levels and then stopped, much as Vice’s Mike Diver played less than two hours of Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson before penning a thoroughly distasteful review about it some time ago. Perhaps not coincidentally, Diver also accused fans of being sex offenders, though in his case he only suggested that it was “better that [they] feel up fictional girls on [their] 3DS screen rather than grope a stranger on the bus” rather than calling them paedophiles.
Whitaker then goes on to describe the game as being “buggy as hell”, which a casual look at the Steam store page would appear to refute; at the time of writing, the game has a “Very Positive” overall rating with most negative reviews referring to not enjoying the style of gameplay rather than any technical issues. (There are admittedly, from the sound of things, issues with some controllers, but the developers have already posted an extensive thread on the Steam forums clarifying compatibility and workarounds for those who need them.)
He then uses his assessment of the game as being “buggy as hell” as a reason to write off a significant proportion of its experience, noting that he “didn’t bother with the online modes or any other supplementary modes”, thereby once again demonstrating that he is unwilling to engage with the game on anything more than the most superficial of levels.
Whichever way you look at it — whether you’re considering the offensive headline or the poor quality of the review itself — this was not an acceptable article for a professional, commercial website to put out. Any good editor worth their salt would have tossed this right back to Jed, told him to play the game properly and write at least a thousand words about it, none of which insulted the site’s readership. Unfortunately, this is a business where good editors are sadly hard to find, and many big sites now operate more like communal blogs than having any real sort of editorial direction at the helm.
It’s sad to see, as a former member of the professional games press circuit. But what’s more sad to me is that this sort of thing isn’t surprising any more. It doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. But I’ve stopped being surprised when I see stuff like this awful, awful review.
Jed Whitaker’s Valkyrie Drive review was a disgrace to games journalism, criticism and appreciation. Both Jed and Destructoid should be ashamed of themselves.
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