The Consumption of Women's Bodies and Cosplay

A handful of photographers scurry around the halls of conventions, sent by their media outlets. They quickly ask for permission to take photos of the most gorgeous cosplayers, snap the shutter button, check the viewfinder to make sure everything is okay, give a quick “thank you,” and go on their way to the next cosplayer. At the end of the day, the photos get compiled into galleries, get titled "Best Cosplay of (event name here)," and give the subject little thought otherwise.

Coverage of cosplay has stagnated over the past couple of years as galleries of unattributed cosplayers have become popular. There are a few reasons for this: online journalism’s fight for clicks for ad revenue has made click-through galleries overused, and it’s relatively easy to take a bunch of hall photos and put them together. It leads to a fairly good payoff without too much effort. These kinds of articles often pay for the more in-depth articles; unfortunately, cosplay rarely gets more than a surface-level glance.

Just Guys Being Dudes: Male Intimacy

"What's better than this: guys being dudes."

Men in popular culture are confined to a few specific roles: the strong, powerful hero, the possibly nerdy underdog, the more effeminate-looking villain, or the father figure. Sometimes there's some overlap, such as the father or husband who is motivated to save his wife or daughter—or to enact revenge after she's died, yet another reoccurring trope. In isolation, these character types are not bad, but they're certainly boring because of their overuse. But what lurks behind these masculine heroes and less masculine villains or comic relief characters is a fear of intimacy.

When you look at the more well-known male icons (Superman, Batman, James Bond, most of the action heroes played by Bruce Willis, etc.), you see muscles, grimaced faces, and usually a lack of emotion beyond anger. Video games often use violence as a motivator for the plot because that's easy to design around to compel a player forward, but that's also coupled with male dominance and power. We're seeing more complex stories that give depth to male characters, but there's still a lack of intimacy between male characters.

I'll be talking about Tales of Zestiria primarily further on for this article, but first I want to talk about a similar game called Final Fantasy XV. Like Tales of ZestiriaFFXV is a game multiple characters who are on a journey or quest together. FFXV departs from the norm in its series by having a cast of playable characters who are all male. They're basically on a roadtrip together, spending cozy nights together in a tent. As Alexa Ray Corriea writes at Gamespot, these guys act with each other with a sense of comfort, like they can behave intimately in a way that guys might only act around their closest friends. They're not "bro-ing" it up in a "Hey, I love you, bro, but no homo!" way. This sort of closeness stems from a fear of homosexuality and clings to the hypermasculine ideal that stresses physical strength over emotional openness. What we know about FFXV's male intimacy is confined to what people have seen in the demo because the game is still in development. While I'm optimistic, I'm also hesitant about the intimacy that will be portrayed in the game considering how the game sexualizes the first female character they encounter in the demo.

Sorey and Mikleo act in a way that makes us believe they’re comfortable with each other.

Tales of Zestiria also exhibits some sexism in character writing, but I can say it goes all in on a male intimacy that is believable and heartwarming. Sorey and Mikleo grew up together since they were babies, and they're cared about each other for as long as they can remember. They've been exploring together all that time, going on adventures as kids and now as teenagers. They both developed an interest in archeology. They bicker. They stand closer to each other. They rest their hands on each other. They reassure each other with physical touches. They're completely at ease with each other because they trust each other unconditionally. 

In Tales of Zestiria, Sorey can fuse with the spirits who have entered a contract with him as the Shepard. The game never explains the details of this fusion to the extent that Cartoon Network's TV show Steven Universe does with its fusion, in which characters can fuse together to become someone stronger. Steven Universe depicts fusion as something inherently personal; in order to keep a fusion stable, characters have to be in sync with each other. At least in Sorey and Mikleo's case, I see their fusion working the same way because they love each other and know what the other person is going to do just as that person decides to do it. Because Sorey is an empathetic person, I can see fusion overall in Zestiria functioning similarly to that of Steven Universe

Before Sorey and Mikleo can fuse together, Mikleo has to become a Sub Lord to Sorey. Sorey and Mikleo get in what is certainly not their first fight, but it's the first one we see, and they get into this fight because of how much they value each other. Sorey doesn't want Mikleo to enter that contract because he wants Mikleo to follow his own dreams rather than feel compelled to follow Sorey's. Mikleo is offended that Sorey is pushing him away and doesn't want him to help. After all, Mikleo wants the same thing that Sorey does: save the world, and explore the world. Prime Lord Lailah asks Mikleo to give Sorey his true name, a name that few know in the ancient language, and Mikleo replies that Sorey already knows what it is. And once the two make up, they have a tickle fight.

Just guys being dudes.

Just guys being dudes.

Sorey and Mikleo act in a way that makes us believe they're comfortable with each other. They rest their hands on each other. They stare at the sky together. And their relationship is always treated as the most important one in the narrative. Traditionally in Tales games, there's a male hero and his female companion who follows him and supports him (e.g. Lloyd and Colette in Tales of Symphonia, Cless and Mint in Tales of Phantasia). While there have been close male friendships in the series before (primarily Yuri and Flynn in Tales of Vesperia), these have always been presented within the game (not talking about fanfiction) as platonic. Sorey and Mikleo never have that Big Kiss Moment, but that's hardly a thing in the Tales series to begin with, and you don't need that to know they are each other's significant others, whether that's sexual or not. Their relationship as a human and a spirit who get along is seen as an ideal for the world, where humans and spirits have grown separated from one another. The people around Sorey and Mikleo hope to see more relationships like theirs between humans and spirits around the world.

Zaveid is interested in looking at babes. Sorey is only interested in looking at Mikleo.

Zaveid is interested in looking at babes. Sorey is only interested in looking at Mikleo.

Truly, it's noteworthy that this relationship is so important in a wider context because relationships like these are rare in video games, especially. However, it goes beyond male intimacy being seen as rare; we need to change the perception that men can't have close relationships where they hug each other tightly or hold hands—things that women do together without being portrayed as romantic. And yet, we also need more happy stories about people who are gay! In the last TV show you watched, how many characters were gay? Did they survive to the end of the story? Are they happy? I challenge all of you to reflect on the last TV show you watched, the last movie you watched, and the last game you played (one with a narrative) on how it represents sexuality and intimacy between the same gender. It won't be until we recognize the problems in our media that we start to make changes, and if the media we consume shows healthy relationships between friends and partners, then maybe that'll persuade some people to stop clinging to an outdated and unhealthy ideal of emotional stagnation in men.

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Sexuality in Life is Strange

There's a stereotype that women are more open with their feelings and less shy about expressing intimacy with other women in specifically heteronormative environments. This includes but is not limited to women giving and receiving hugs, sleeping in the same bed together, and talking about personal problems. The women we see in these situations in media are usually cisgender and heterosexual. It's the "girl talk." These things feel platonic to many of us. They're almost always depicted that way in media, and they're frequently platonic in our relationships with people in our lives.

But that's a pretty limited viewpoint to hold exclusively. Because of this, we believe men who express their feelings with their male friends must be gay or "effeminate," and we are far more likely to believe women are just "really close friends" instead of romantically and/or sexually interested in each other. Take Legend of Korra as an example. At the end of the series, Korra and Asami end the story with the start of their journey together — and together with only each other — after many scenes of blushing and showing how much they cared for each other. Beyond Nickelodeon not allowing obvious declarations of love and kisses between two women, many people just assumed they were friends because of a tendency in American culture for women to express closeness.

At the beginning of episode 1 in Dontnod's game Life is Strange, protagonist Max Caulfield reunites with her childhood friend Chloe and learns she had some sort of relationship with a girl named Rachel before she went missing. By episode 2, Max — and by extension, the player — find out Chloe and Rachel had a secret hideout together. In their hideout they write on the walls to prove that they were there together. Chloe speaks endearingly of Chloe and at one point calls Rachel her angel. In episode 3, Chloe learns Rachel had a relationship with a man they both knew, and suddenly she feels betrayed by Rachel. From all of this, I believe Chloe is or was in love with Rachel.

Rachel has changed Chloe's life, and romantic relationships don't need to be the be-all, end-all of life-changing relationships. At the same time, I don't want that to come at the expense of romantic relationships outside of heterosexuality. Chloe is still deeply affected by Rachel's disappearance, but she's also overjoyed to see Max again. Max is a bit shy and probably still figuring out who she loves. Chloe seems to have a better understanding of that.

While the two undeniably are friends, Chloe makes jokes about Max using her power to rewind time to kiss Chloe without Chloe knowing it happened. In episode 3 they strip to their underwear and go swimming together, chatting about each other, the last couple of days, and boys. Chloe insists guys at the school must like her, and I have Max reply with, "Ewww." Chloe later on says she's been interested in guys as well, but from what I can tell, she hasn't cared deeply for someone like she has for Rachel. Her relationship with Max is progressing as well, but it remains to be seen whether Max has any romantic interest for Chloe.

But then I swear I wasn't just idly shipping Max/Chloe with little context. Max spends the night at Chloe's house like old times. They wake up and lie in Chloe's bed together for a while, just enjoying each other's company. As Max looks for something to wear, Chloe dares Max to kiss her. As the player, you choose whether Max kisses her; I went for it. Would they blush at each other and confess? Would they trip over their words as they stumble through sexuality like most young adults?

Max kisses a dumbfounded Chloe, and the game frames it as a dare and nothing more. Max laughs as if she pulled a "gotcha!" on Chloe.

Much of the dialogue in Life is Strange has sounded like it was written by dads trying to understand their teenage daughters. That's why I'm not sure these moments are supposed to be telling the audience Max and Chloe are interested in each other. If this were a straight couple, you can bet people would be declaring this to be canon.

For many of us, kissing is extremely intimate. After all, you're physically close enough to smell each other and taste each other's saliva. I think there are very few people who would kiss each other without it communicating physical and emotional closeness or desire. For it to be treated as a "haha, gotcha!" moment is insulting. However, if you talk to Chloe after the kiss but before moving on downstairs to get breakfast, Chloe says, "You better not rewind and take that kiss back." Chloe says nobody's good enough for Max... except for herself.

This sounds anything but a platonic relationship, at least from Chloe's end. Maybe the writers will pleasantly surprise me.

I hope episodes 4 and 5 will explore their relationship with that in mind. Will these two eventually date because of my decision? I really can't tell, but I hope this wasn't a throwaway moment because we need to see greater representation for women who aren't heterosexual or heteroromantic. So far Life is Strange has shown us Chloe has been interested in men, Rachel had some kind of close relationship with a drug dealer she and Chloe knew, and all of Max's classmates insist her friend Warren has a big crush on her. I can only hope at least one of these women will have a confirmed relationship with another woman. And I hope one day we'll have enough representation in media that it won't feel like I have to back myself up on the existence of these relationships whereas straight relationships are assumed to be canon.

For now, the "word of God" has stated the relationships in the game are ambiguous. Ambiguity can be interesting, but ambiguous relationships that aren't heteronormative get talked down as if they're the product of people trying to make something "more gay." I really wish relationships between people of the same gender didn't have to be depicted with a million metaphorical fingers pointing at it to make it obvious, but we're still at a point where people think two girls kissing means those girls are close friends.

And this isn't even me getting into the politics of relationships in terms of age differences, which I may talk about in the future depending on what happens in the next two episodes for a certain teacher in the school.