Shamelog #011 - Struggling with Sexism(?) in Berseria

As much as I’ve been enjoying my latest JRPG anime ass nonsense game, I’ve been struggling with something internally that I just need to talk about. As the title suggests, it feels like like even though the game is equal in male/female distribution in general, there’s something gross underneath. Or is there?

My problems started back in 2016 when I first played the demo. Having never played a Tales game, I was excited to jump in - until the very first conversation between the party characters played out. at this stage I knew nothing of the characters; who they were, how many were there, what their relationships were. The conversation that followed showed banter between the 6 main characters - Eizen the brooding male pirate, Laphicet the boy child of light, Rokurou the demon samurai man, Magilou the lady magician, Eleanor the pure and holy maiden, and female playable character Velvet - with the older boys explaining to the child how women deceive men with their wicked tricks of lies and tears. Yup.

Here’s a transcript of the convo, should you be interested:

Laphicet: Hmm…
Rokurou: What is it Laphicet?
Laphicet: I was told that women’s looks can be deceiving, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to see…
Rokurou: That’s an age-old problem for men. You with me, Eizen?
Eizen: Aye. Women are fickle creatures at best. They lie as easily as they breathe, and men can never see through their deceptions.
Rokurou: I TOTALLY feel you.
Laphicet: …Sounds like you’ve both been through some hard times.
Rokurou: The wounds a women leave on a man’s heart take longer to heal than a cut delivered by a sword.
Laphicet: (shocked) It’s that bad?!
Eizen: Beware a maiden’s tears, boy, and guard yourself well. That’s my advice to you.
Laphicet: Beware tears… and guard myself.
Velvet: (interjecting) Don’t put any weird ideas into Laphicet’s head, you two.
Eizen: They’re just facts.
Velvet: If you fill his head with any more garbage, I’m eating both of you.
Rokurou: Yes, ma’am! Yikes!
Magilou: The swordsman and the pirate having troubles with women? Ha! Well, women are nothing if not difficult. I’ve the deepest sympathy for you both.
(the boys stare for a few seconds)
Rokurou: What do you think of the ladies’ reactions?
Laphicet: Well, Velvet won’t eat either of you, and Magilou didn’t seem sympathetic at all.
Rokurou: See? Appearances can be deceiving.
Eizen: And it seems you’ve absorbed the lesson well.
Laphicet: … Right!
Eleanor: I’m not like that though.
Laphicet: Huh?
Eleanor: Yes, some women use their tears to manipulate others. But not all do, and I for one despise such duplicity. The women who did that to Eizen and Rokurou are just the extreme.
Laphicet: Yeah, I can see how much you hate dishonesty Eleanor.
Eleanor: Huh? Um, yeah, that’s right.
(the boys stare for a second)
Eizen: Be a good example for the boy, then, so he doesn’t end up like Rokurou and me.
Eleanor: I intend to do just that, whether or not you ask it of me.
Laphicet: (Eleanor is a lot stronger than she appears.)

Taken out of context, I was immediately put off. This game went from high on my list to Forget It in an instant. It did end up creeping back on my list for 2 reasons: one, the game was real good, and two, not a single thing was mentioned regarding sexism in any reviews or coverage of the game, from demo to release.

I ended up second guessing myself - had I gotten it all wrong? What drew me in was the colourful cast of characters, and mostly because of Velvet - despite the still ridiculous outfit (which I still don’t understand even being more than halfway through the game) she is a boss ass character. I love playing her as the anti-hero; she is multifaceted and deliberate, she knows what she wants and she isn’t letting anyone stand in her way of that. Through playing this game, I’ve learned who these characters are and what their relationships are, and having finally witnessed the scene above in game, it comes with the converstaion of how men are broody and self-important, essentially flipping it to pick on guys as well. It makes sense in context, but does that forgive the language?

In more recent times I feel like I’ve become much more sensitive to all sorts of isms, particularly thanks to my own self identified shortcomings from the past, but had I become oversensitive to it all? Even the mere suggestion of that makes me feel gross to be perfectly honest - it’s the default argument for anyone who doesn’t want to own up to their own bullshit. I get eye rolls from co-workers all the time when I point out how something they’ve said is blatantly racist. I feel like I’m trying to be better, yet drowning in uncertainty over what’s wrong and what’s ok.

Existential crisis aside, and this is probably more the point - I’m really enjoying this game. I love the characters and story. It says some super progressive things about politics and society, but then things like this trip me up.

What do you think? Am I being ridiculous and should just chill the fuck out, or is my queasiness warranted?

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Games left to play: 117
Currently playing: Tales of Berseria