September 23rd, 2005

On Monday, I directed your attention to the booth babe shots from the 2005 TGS, which are up over at 1up.com, and more specifically at the (now 52) comments from American gamers in response to these “hot Asian chix”. Feel free to peruse such tidbits at your leisure. After which, I’d like to open the floor for a discussion on sexual attraction, orientalism, and how it relates to the culture of gaming technology. Feel free to join in on the fun.

First of all, what’s orientalism? There are certainly plenty of people out there who can explain better than I, but, nonetheless, here’s my slapdash attempt: when we, as an American or simply a Western society, turn and stereotype Eastern cultures (Japanese, Indian, Iraq, whatever) as less enlighted, strange, or, most importantly, exotic, this is orientalism. It’s a process of othering that, in oversimplifying the East, allows us to feel more comfortable with a concrete understanding of the identity of the West. Which isn’t to say it’s a good thing. In fact, as far as understanding other cultures goes, it’s downright bad. Said (the term’s originator)believed it was a necessary part of our condition as Westerners. Either way, it’s all around us. Two hundred years ago, it may have been more blatant. Now we can see it in other, more subtle forms – for example, through our societal concepts about the attractiveness of the “exotic”.

Which brings us back to Japanese booth babes. What makes these women so hot to us? Of course, one might constructively argue that sexy Asian women incite no different response from gamers than sexy American ones. And that may certainly be true for some gamers. But, I believe, that there’s at least a section of men in this country who directly fetishize Asian women. Browse through the shadier parts of the internet long enough, and you’ll see what I mean (Of course, none of us has ever done that before :-)). Or flip to the back of a magazine. Every major publication has at least a handful of ads for “horny Asian sluts”.

Why do we like Asian women so much? Perhaps because they seem exotic. Yet so might plenty of other types of women. Perhaps it’s because of our history as conquerers (or at least aggressors) in the East. Take, for example, Japan at the end of WWII, Vietnam, Korea. Maybe, since Americans tend to think of Asian women as more passive, we , as a society, consider them as more fun to dominante. Who knows. The fact of the matter is, the issue exists. Asian women, in our culture, are automatically sexualized.

Are gamers more impacted by this than other Americans? Again, it’s impossible to tell for sure; but it’s certain that our Western gaming community has an innate, technological relationship with Japan. In the games industry, they’re our others – the second half of the gaming world, all the way on the other side of the globe. And we should be aware that, just as orientalism in general puts aside cultural understanding to promote self-assertion, stereotyping Japanese gaming and Japan itself walks that same fine line.

As always, thoughts/opinions/attractions differ from gamer to gamer. But as a community so inextricably linked to the products of Japanese culture, we shouldn’t shrink from taking an honest look at what we think of our gaming others, and the women who represent them.

Tags: Blog

7 Responses to ““Love Me Long Time?” Sexual Attraction, the Exotic, and Technological Orientalism”

  1. shanley Says:

    With regards to your comment “Perhaps it's because of our history as conquerers (or at least aggressors) in the East. Take, for example, Japan at the end of WWII, Vietnam, Korea.”

    I’m sorry but WE were not the agressors in those conflicts. Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor, and communists were the agressors in Korea and in Vietnam.

  2. Neil McConnell Says:

    I have to take exception to the intelectual laziness of this portion of your argument:

    >>I believe, that there's at least a section of
    >>men in this country who directly fetishize
    >>Asian women.

    >> Every major publication has at least a
    >>handful of ads for "horny Asian sluts".

    Although your statements are true, they establish exactly nothing. Yes, there are men who fetishize asian women. There are also men who fetishize white women, black women, fat women, thin women, stacked women, flat women, old women, young women, bald women, amputees, body builders, amazons, wrestlers. . . That’s a short list that barely even touches the surface of the available fetishes.

    In this context, the fact that asian women are sometimes fetishized does not in and of itself mean anything. In fact, if you can find some subset of the global population that hasn’t been fetishized – then you’ve discovered something meaningful. There may be an argument to be made that asian girls hold a special place in the collective north american gamers’ set of desires – I just don’t think you’ve made it.

  3. Bonnie Says:

    Shanley, while it’s certainly true that Japan incited a responsive American attack by bombing Pearl Harbor, that’s merely what brought us into the war, and can hardly explain our devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the WWII, long after Japan posed a militaristic threat. You may also be overlooking the lesser-known fact that, for a considerable period after the war, America occupied Japan, and literally reshaped Japanese society through cultural and physical aggression.

    As for your comment concerning Korea and Vietnam: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As a leftist and a pacifist, my thoughts are obviously very different from yours, and this is hardly the appropriate forum for such a discussion. However, the fact remains that, whoever/whatever started those wars, Americans occupied foreign territory, and therefore existed as an aggressive military presence in these countries, which incontrovertibly left marks on the mind-sets of both the soldiers involved and the American on the homefront whom they represented.

    Neil McConnel, I’m certainly happy to hear constructive criticism, so let’s be helpful to one another and think this through together instead of pointing fingers and throwing up our hands.

    First of all, I think you’re right that every type of woman is fetishized in some capacity, but I do believe, in American culture, Asian women experience this much more so than the other subsections you mentioned. In my view, this is closely linked, for gamers at least, with Japan as the exotic other, the land of milk-and-honey of gaming, an idea that relates to a long history of othering of the East on the part of the West.

    If you believe there’s a stronger argument elsewhere, then please feel free to share. My opinions certainly aren’t set in stone, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. However, simply citing “intelectual [sic] laziness” merely reflects your own.

  4. hikaru Says:

    it’s not so much yellow fever per se so much as “wow, the grass is so mucher greener… i’d love to mow that lawn.”

    japanese fetishize the Other as much as americans — the vast majority of protagonists and heroines in today’s JP franchises are blond/blue combos or other clearly caucasian designs, e.g. asuka langley.

    that gamers have latched onto japan vs. other asian pop culture is clear: their games are made in japan. but it’s not just games: japanese mass media is the most widely consumed across all of asia by the other asian nations.

    outside of gaming, would you consider the japanese “orientalists” because of their current infatuations with everything korea (and recently, vietnam)? won bin is possibly the most popular “it boy” at the moment.

    i’ll even bring it down to a micro, non-gaming level. living in california, i know hordes of white kids with yellow fever — but the thing is, it’s not that they think that asians are exotic whatsoever. it’s the fact that they can’t help but fall for the girl next door. instead of falling for a Clark, he falls for a Lee.

    to state the obvious, the highest percentage of interracial relations nationwide will occur where you find the largest percentage of minority populations. the #1 factor in determining whether two people will ever marry is not values, education, race. it’s proximity.

  5. Bonnie Says:

    Hey hikaru, thanks for your comment. You make some really interesting points! You say “japanese fetishize the Other as much as americans”. Personally, I live in America, so, despite having studying Japanese culture, it’s hard for me to comment on something like that without making assumptions. But I think you’re right. An interesting side note along that vein: Japan has some very different laws and ideas about presenting nudity in arts and the media than America (Think tentacle porn, which came about in part because of legislation forbidding the representation of male/female [human] penetration.) Naked or partially-nude Japanese are almost never portrayed in Japanese advertising. In some respects, nudity is more accepted there than here in America. The catch is, the models have to be Caucasian. A white woman can appear topless on a billboard. A topless Japanese woman, however, would be scandalous. Just food for thought…

    You ask whether the Japanese in their current obsession with Korea (which is so fascinating in and of itself, given Japan’s history of considering the Koreans culturally inferior) makes them “orientalists”. I would say “no”. This doesn’t mean they aren’t exhibiting some of the same tendencies as we Americans are in looking at Japan. And I admit I know only a mediocre amount about the current Japanese/Korean dynamic. However, “orientalism”, as a term, was created specifically to describe the relationship between the West and the East. What’s happening now between different eastern countries would, I think, need a different term and it’s own period of academic study.

    As for being attracted to the cultural “girl next door”: what an interesting idea! I do still wonder though, if the girl next door is so attractive due to her proximity, why the girl in your own home isn’t even more so.

  6. Neil McConnell Says:

    alright. . . .

    I think orientalism confuses the issue by bringing in too much cultural baggage. An easier case to make would be to say that treating ethnicity as a flavour contributes strongly to the objectification of women.

    Consider the following hypothetical: imagine the Night Elves were real. Would there be a large number of young male gamers drooling over “night elf hotties?” In my opinion, yes. I believe you’d see an almost exact recreation of the situation that you’ve described when gamers drool over asians. The point of this comparison is that there is obviously no cultural history between north americans & night elves, but I believe that the same class of comments would be made. Therefore, I submit that colonialism is not necessary to create the bad behaviors you've observed.

    Your original article discusses “sexual attraction” which I think really needs to be separated from objectification. If you conflate the two, then you assume that there will never be the possibility of a healthy relationship between people who are attracted to each other. Anyway, the mechanics of human attraction are strange and still not well understood, but they can frequently be defined in the context of evolutionary success – that’s why many of our visual cues are tied to fecundity or access to resources. In the case of attraction to the exotic, there is a genetic advantage to ‘outcrossing’ – this can be witnessed in organisms as basic as the mushroom, which uses compatibility genes to promote genetic diversity during reproduction. My point here is that attraction to someone of another race needs to be clearly distinguished from objectification on the basis of race. The former is something that happens, and I don't attach a value judgment to it; the latter is bad bad bad.

    So, on to the question of why gamers seem to be obsessing over asian women rather than, say, african or latin women. I think that this just has to do with where the booth babes are being recruited. If brazil hosts a CES / E3 equivalent with the inevitable booth babes, then I can pretty much guarantee that the gamer boyz will be drooling over hot latin chix.

    ————————————————

    As to why gamer boys seem to be devoid of social grace, borderline misogynistic, immature, and abrasive; well, a lot of them are pretty young, and the people who post dumb comments on boards are a self-sampled, and therefore not representative, subset of the population. And yes, they are jerks and I don’t like them, but in an open forum, there’s not much to be do about it but to ignore them.

    Or, better yet – companies are using booth babes as a sales tool, so why not boycott companies that use booth babes? That would simultaneously raise the tone of the shows above the level of a hooters restaurant, cut down on teenage boy foolishness, and make us seem more like a mature industry.

    Anyway. . . there was some fairly obvious hostility in your last reply, so I feel that I should make clear that I _like_ your blog. Sorry if I seemed harsh in my last post – I didn’t have a lot of time to detail my arguments.

  7. Bonnie Says:

    Hi, Neil. Apologies for seeming hostile; I really meant what I was saying (though I understand how it could come off as sarcastic): I think it’s so important to talk these issues through intelligently. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Heck, I don’t even expect me to agree with. And I’m always a sucker for a good, heated debate. But I get frustrated when people say negative things (or positive things for that matter) without backing them up through thoughtful discourse. So I really do thank you for writing up your second comment.

    Now, on to the good stuff… :-)

    A lot of what you’re talking about has to do with why male gamers react in a particular way to Asian women. You bring in the example of Night Elves, a race, as you mention, with no historical connotation for Americans. And perhaps, if it really was just gamers who had the major hots for Asians, that analogy would be an appropriate one. Thing is, it’s not just gamers. America as a whole feels this way. The situation has particular implications for gamers because of the ties the industry shares with Japan, but it’s not soley a video game phenomenon. It’s something that has trickled down from larger culture. And large culture is very influenced, whether it realizes it or not, by things like wars and orientalism.

    You also point out the distinction between sexual attraction and objectification, which, I think, is an important one. I certainly didn’t mean to imply (and I apologize if I did) that the two were necessarily the same. Unlike some feminists, I’m very pro-sex and sexuality. There are certainly men out there who are attracted to Asians in a healthy way. But I think our society as a whole, and most of its members on an individual level, don’t find Asian women attractive because they’re interested in having a meaningful interaction with them (not that sex needs to be part of a relationship, but that it is mutually enjoyed, consented to, and desired by both partners). They literally objectify them, in that they remove their subjectivity – their ability to act as the subject of desire.

    As for “gamer boys” shouting obnoxious things on web forums… Well, I can’t say it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but my point isn’t to condemn actions/speech like that as either good or bad. Mostly, I’m interested in forum-goers as representatives of gaming culture, though, as you pointed out, you always have to keep in mind that they’re the loudest, most immature voices in the crowd. I think that online forums are ripe for cultural exploration, though they rarely get investigated. That’s why I point out something like 1up’s booth babe shots – not to make a judgement call. And if we’re talking off the record here, sometimes forums are downright funny.

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