Whenever any creative person sits down to compose something, they inevitably do so with a particular audience in mind.
Sometimes that audience is as simple as the creator themselves; they want to write something that simply expresses themselves, and if it happens to resonate with anyone else, that’s a happy bonus. Sometimes a creator makes an attempt to appeal to as broad an audience as possible — though it’s very difficult to please everyone. And sometimes that audience is a specific group of people.
Whatever a creator decides to create, we should respect their intentions. And, by extension, we should respect the audience it ends up attracting — even if we find ourselves outside that group.
I write this primarily as a response to a particularly obnoxious review of the Shade-developed, PQube-published Gun Gun Pixies, but really it’s something that we all need to think about a bit more generally. As such, I’m not going to link directly to the article because the current trend for “hatesharing” sucks; you can probably track it down if you’re curious, but don’t expect them to get any traffic from me; I’d rather you focused on what I’ve got to say right now.
Gun Gun Pixies, if you’re unfamiliar, is a third-person shooter-cum-platformer in which you play a tiny alien girl scampering around a women’s dormitory, attempting to study the (relatively) giant humans around you without getting noticed. There’s a distinctly light-hearted ecchi component to the whole experience as you might expect, but like many modern Japanese games, there’s a deeper message in there too — in this case about health, acceptance and self-awareness.
The trouble with Japanese games that carry the slightest hint of ecchi about them is that they immediately attract the ire of certain types of reviewers, who promptly pan the whole game simply because they do not enjoy that type of content. The writer of the article I’m referring to clearly approached the game assuming they would hate it, and promptly spent the remainder of the review justifying that hatred, seemingly without any attempts to give it a chance.
And this isn’t the first time this has happened, either; we’ve seen numerous previous examples here on MoeGamer, many of which can be found in my previous article on how we need to get better at talking about sex. This is an ongoing problem, not just with regard to talking about sexuality, but also with the simple matter of respecting people who are into things that you don’t like.
“It’s hard to believe anyone would choose to offend themselves with this kind of thing,” writes the author of the Gun Gun Pixies piece. “Gun Gun Pixies is, in reality, a simplistic and repetitive game aimed at people — and these people must exist because this game does — who enjoy roleplaying as tiny little sex pixies who sneak around dorm rooms on all-fours, exposing their asses and thongs at all times whilst they make heavy breathing noises and shoot ‘happy bullets’ at the great big jiggling boobs and butts of teenage anime ladies. Ahem.”
You know what? That sounds pretty great to me; delightfully silly, light-hearted and unashamed of what it is, with a positive message in the middle of all the ridiculousness. I have friends who also thought it sounded enjoyable and interesting enough to pick up, and others who are intrigued by the pedigree of the developer Shade — which the author of the article in question didn’t even bother to mention, by the way. (If you’re curious, Shade is a company that was born from the ashes of Quintet, creators of legendary SNES titles Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma)
Is our existence somehow surprising? That quote certainly seems to think so, but the assumption the author is making is that because they don’t like the idea of Gun Gun Pixies, no-one “normal” would ever like Gun Gun Pixies, and anyone who does like Gun Gun Pixies is some sort of weird “other”.
Note that at no point here am I commenting on the actual quality of Gun Gun Pixies; I haven’t yet played it myself, but I will be covering it in detail alongside its predecessor Bullet Girls Phantasia as soon as we’re done with the currently running Senran Kagura feature. No; instead, I’m simply responding to the author’s assumption that anyone who is even slightly interested in this game is some sort of deviant, whose unconventional tastes are something to be mocked and shamed.
This goes both ways, of course; for every person who doesn’t like ecchi Japanese games, there’s someone who doesn’t like modern narrative-centric indie games such as the oft-derided first-person narrative experiences that have become known as “walking simulators”. And the intolerance that goes in that direction is equally unacceptable, especially since many of these games deal with weighty real-life issues and marginalised groups that are just starting to get good representation in the medium.
The difference here, however — and this doesn’t make either form of intolerance any more acceptable, I hasten to add — is that those deriding things like “walking simulators” are typically just members of the public, while those insulting and shaming fans of ecchi Japanese content are, in many cases, paid, professional writers with an established, large platform and considerable reach. They are in a position to be tastemakers and influence people’s opinions — and to cause considerable harm and distress, both directly via their own words, and indirectly via the actions of their followers.
So what’s the solution? Hard to say, really. The easiest thing to suggest would be simply to say that where a game obviously has a specific target audience, only members of that target audience should really be commenting on it in a professional capacity. But this creates the oft-criticised echo chamber effect — and moreover, there have been numerous cases over the years of a game spilling out beyond its original demographic into other groups.
The Senran Kagura series, for example, has a strong following among women as well as men — particularly gay women, with how positive that series is about female homosexuality and self-expression. Likewise, cosplayers find great inspiration from the elaborate and stylised costumes of heroines in Japanese games — even ecchi and hentai titles. Clearly there’s a place for commentary on niche-interest games that goes beyond seemingly laser-focused target demographics.
Something important to consider and acknowledge, then, is that having that laser-focused target demographic isn’t a bad thing — nor is it a hard and fast, fixed rule. On the contrary, games that are designed with a particular target audience in mind tend to be much clearer on what they want to be and confident in what they’re trying to say — and that, interestingly, can end up broadening their appeal beyond their original intention. Self-confidence can be infectious and inspiring.
Contrast with how frequently modern triple-A games — games that are, by their big-budget nature, obliged to try and attract as broad an audience as possible — are criticised for attempting to hide a lack of depth or a seeming unwillingness take creative risks behind technical proficiency. That attempt to obtain broad appeal leads to them spreading themselves much too thin in many — though not all — cases. And that “broad” appeal frequently ends up being perceived as relatively narrow anyway; while there are plenty of women out there playing and enjoying, say, Call of Duty — and that’s great — the popular perception of the series is still very much that it’s a young man’s game; when was the last time you saw a media representation of a woman playing a game like this that wasn’t framed as “hey look, this woman is playing a game, how unusual!”
There are a few key things that we all — professional press and public alike — need to get better at, then. Firstly, acknowledging that a game isn’t for you shouldn’t be a negative thing, and shouldn’t lead you onto casting aspersions on the people who it is for. I don’t personally like the aforementioned Call of Duty, for example, but that doesn’t mean I judge anyone who does, nor do I think it is “bad”. Rather, I respect it from afar for the thriving multiplayer scene that it’s garnered over the course of the last decade or so — and in how it’s played a huge role into bringing gaming into the lives of many people who might not have considered it before. And I’m happy for the people for whom it, to borrow a phrase, sparks joy.
Surely expecting similar treatment is not too much to ask for when I proudly hold up my hands and say that yes, I absolutely do like the sound of a game where you roleplay as tiny little sex pixies who sneak around dorm rooms on all-fours, exposing their asses and thongs at all times whilst they make heavy breathing noises and shoot “happy bullets” at the great big jiggling boobs and butts of teenage anime ladies.
Because outside of that game and others like it, I live a happy and normal life; I am married, I am a homeowner, I have two pet cats, I have a job. Games like this have not affected my worldview in any way other than teaching me what I know I like, and through bringing me joy with their bright colours, energetic characters, cheerfully silly stories and total confidence in what they are. Those aspects don’t magically go away because you occasionally see panties; nor does the presence of said panties mean that this game is suddenly porn or something I want to masturbate over. There are infinitely better choices for that, after all.
If anything, we should be celebrating games that deviate from the “norm”, because it’s further evidence that the medium as a whole is broader, more diverse and more creative than it’s ever been. By definition, that means that not everything is going to be for everyone.
What it does mean is that everything is for someone, and that’s rather wonderful. Let’s start acknowledging that, rather than reinforcing the divisions between us.
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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