On “Bravely Default” sexism

Dear Dad,

I recently bought a really fun game for my 3DS (thanks for that awesome present, by the way). It’s called Bravely Default, and it is exactly what I was looking for in an RPG: fun game mechanics, cool job classes, an involved story with an elaborate world and a hefty dose of nostalgia. There’s only one problem. It’s enormously sexist.

I got my first hint with the character of Ringabel, one of the members of the main party, who is constantly asking, “Will there be ladies?” when the group talks about traveling to another place. At one point, he claims he has so many girlfriends he can’t keep track. His advances at the two women in the party are constantly met with rejection and “unacceptable.”

But I was only mildly uncomfortable until the character of the old sage was introduced, a supposedly wise old man who crafts holy cloths for the vestals to wear in religious ceremonies. But instead of greeting the vestal as an equal or religious figure, he remarks that she’s gotten pleasantly curvier since he saw her as a child. He then remarks that the previous vestal was “very firm,” as in having firm, “taught curves.” He then proposes to share his bed with the two young women of the party, who are vocally uncomfortable with this.

Later, the group travels to a town of all women, where the residents are catty and vain, and male visitors happily ogle and critique the women on the street.

At every turn, women in the show, even playable characters, are treated as sexual decoration and prey. The main women, Agnes, a religious leader, and Edea, a knight, do not receive respect they deserve as people, but are reduced to their gender, and how attractive they are. They are constantly protesting Ringabel’s and others’ advances, but the male characters brush this off.

A shot of the video game "Bravely Default" in which the rake character, Ringabel, compares using abilink feature to picking and choosing between two girlfriends.

What is meant to be humorous in fact dehumanizes women. Here, a feature of the game is the same as having two girlfriends, as if women are sex commodities.

I’m sure this is meant to be lighthearted and fun, but instead it promotes rape culture and the objectification of women. The male characters refuse to respect that “No means no.” They don’t honor the women’s right to determine the level of intimacy or lack thereof that they desire. Unfortunately, this passes on the message to the boys and men that play this game that this kind of behavior is acceptable and normal:

“Because of its essential interactive nature, gaming occupies a unique and possibly more detrimental position vis-a-vis the portrayal and treatment of female characters,” says Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, in her latest video for her Tropes v. Women in Video Games series.

Not only is the treatment of women very poor in this game, but it also passes on to men that this violation of women’s rights is flirty and humorous. And it tells women that their “no” doesn’t matter.

This is rape culture, Dad,  a combination of media, laws, values, beliefs, jokes, etc.,  that “condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . . In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . . However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change,” according to Emilie Buchwald in her book “Transforming a Rape Culture.”

It’s gotten so bad in the game, Dad, that I’ve had to stop playing for a while. With every cut scene and conversation, I’m reminded that my rights and my safety don’t matter to the game creators, and that this message is being passed on to others who play the game. It’s scary.

It’s time for a new gaming culture.

Love,

Victoria

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18 thoughts on “On “Bravely Default” sexism

    • Sadly, this isn’t even the example of the most sexist games out there. Some are terrifyingly misogynistic (think GTA). But this one was just so cute, and half of the playable characters were women, and a woman clerk at Gamestop recommended it to me, so I thought it would be great! Mostly it’s just been triggering. I get harassed in real life. I don’t need to be harassed in games, where I go for escape.

      • I know exactly how you feel. I am a big fiction/fantasy reader, but I am actually nervous to pick up a new book unless I’ve read a review by someone who is able to let me know if there are trigger warnings in it (so I can avoid reading those books). It is incredibly hard to find a safe space for even our own entertainment. #YesAllWomen Am I right? ><

  1. I thought I was the only one who was disturbed by this.
    At first, I simply rolled my eyes at the way Ringabel acted. I figured he wouldn’t get any worse, and was there to serve as the “comic relief”, obviously placed in the game so that straight male players could resonate with him. Ugh. I was delighted by this game—as I type this up now, I have it on pause—and how it returned to the classic elements of RPG games that I had been sorely missing in the past few years. I wanted to believe it wouldn’t get worse. I was wrong.
    Then, met the sage, and I was in total shock. I couldn’t believe that they actually tried to make him seem like less of a problematic character by having him turn around and give advice to Agnès. It didn’t make me feel better. If anything, I was angry. I’m buffeted by enough sexism in real life. Is it too hard to ask that I can escape it in my games, too? Of course I’m still going to play Bravely Default. It’s fun. But the rampant sexism within the game has put a damper on my gaming experience.
    Great article. Also, I haven’t reached that all-female town yet, but I am NOT excited for it.

    • You described EXACTLY my feelings about this game. And googling its sexism helped me find a couple stories discussing the same issue. It’s reassuring at least that there are other people noticing things like this, and I know I’ll be pushing for better games in the future.

  2. Pingback: A sexism-free Destiny | Feminism for my Father

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  4. Seriously? If you hadn’t noticed, not once did the main female characters succumb to Ringabel’s humorous persistence with romanticizing them. In fact, they reject him every time. It’s not like he’s prying for sex the whole. It was small things, like asking them out on dates or something simple, which is a normal thing for someone with persistence to do. It doesn’t make them monsters, and it’s not like women aren’t guilty of pursuing men in similar ways. I can guarantee that there were females involved with the making of this game that are still laughing at the content of this game, because it’s not that big of a deal. I doubt that anyone would seriously play a game with minimal suggestive content and think, “hmm, this gets me in the mood to go after a girl”. Instead, they’d probably just giggle and continue playing.

    • As I said in my piece, it was the “small things” that add up, Christian. Pursuing someone after they’ve turned you down isn’t just persistence; it’s a lack of respect for their boundaries. As someone who has had “persistent” men interested in me, it can quickly get scary and take a turn for the worst. What may be cute or humorous in the game has darker connotations in the real world, and that’s part of why Ringabel’s character was so troubling to me, Christian.

      This article still gets some of the most consistent traffic to my blog more than 6 months after its publication from people googling terms such as “Bravely Default sexist,” and from the messages I’ve received I can assure YOU that I am not the only person who felt uncomfortable with this aspect of an otherwise very enjoyable game.

  5. Hey, I found this recently and please do not hate on this comment simply because I am a man however when I got to this part of the game, I thought at first this was “Rape Culture” but the story’s context with later parts proved me wrong.

    What do I mean? Well I mean this:

    Now, Florem is a matriarchal society of women, and while on the surface it just seems like everyone there is vain and catty – overly obsessed with beauty and sex appeal, the story reveals that the society is presented and twisted and manipulated from what it once was. It is unnatural for them. The Matriarch certainly isn’t portrayed in that light, and bemoans the degradation of their society due to causes beyond her reckoning. Those reasons actually being a direct manipulation of their society to weaken it by outside forces via the Black Blades – a military arm of Eternia seeking to take control of the kingdom and overthrow the Crystal Orthodoxy.

    This isn’t me looking deep into the lore to find an answer against what you have written, this is what is stated in the story, when you meet the leader of Florem, she says it directly to you. So from that, I cannot in any vicinity call this Rape Culture.

    Now, on the subject of Ringabell; yes he is a “Ladies man” and is overconfident in his abilities and has a one track mind about that subject. Now, if this was the only thing he had going for him then I would agree that it is sexist but once again, the story of the game comes along and shows that the “Ladies man” persona he puts on is just an act to hide his own insecurities, Ringabell had a horrific childhood and a terrible trauma after that left him with amnesia. It can be argued from that the “Ladies man” act is just his pushing others away so that he doesn’t get hurt again. One other thing, Ringabell’s remarks are not once shown t be a positive thing, everytime it comes up the party gets irritated and every female character in game denies him at every opportunity.

    One final thing about Bravely Default, there is one scene in particular that I personally love. bout mid-way through the game there’s a scenario. One of your party is a girl named Edea Lee who is the daughter of the Regent of Eternia. While in Eternia attempting to awaken the Earth Crystal, your party is captured and thrown in the dungeon by the Regent’s forces while Edea is locked in her chambers in the castle. After a heated argument with her father, he posts double the guards to her room and locks her inside. Undaunted, Edea sneaks out through a secret passageway and makes her way to the dungeon where she frees both her hapless male adventuring companions – and also the Vestal of Wind.

    Also just because a character can appear as “sexist” it does not make a game “sexist”, sometimes games include stuff like this to be social commentaries about our present day world, considering that this is a Square Enix game and their Final Fantasy series with it’s incredibly brave social commentaries about religion, it would not surprise me.

    Now I am not leaving this comment to say that you are wrong or you should not feel uncomfortable around this, because you are well within your rights to do so, but I wanted to show my side of the argument with my personal experiences of the game

    Thank you for your time

      • Best comment on here. I was blown away by the oversimplification of the narrative in Victoria’s post. I never once felt like Ringabel or the old sage were praised for their behavior. In fact it is quite to the contrary. Their behavior is discouraged. This post is eerily similar to Anita Sarkeesian logic. Don’t criticize something that you obviously don’t fully understand. It’s not fair to the developers when you paint them in such an extreme way as promoting “rape culture”. It’s absurd and since women have always been stereotyped as overly emotional and quick to exaggerate you really aren’t helping your gender’s image.

  6. I guess it’s trendy to forget that it’s a video game. I don’t play CoD and think, “I’m gonna go outside, turn into a floating torso, pwn noobs, be MLG, die, watch myself die again, respawn as another floating torso, rinse and repeat!”. That’s basically what you just said.

    • People may not watch Fast and Furious and drive planes out of helicopters and become buds with Vin Diesel, but they do watch Fast and Furious and then drive recklessly or drag race their friends. The media we consume affects how we view and interact with the world.

      If I had said, “Kids are going to play this game and take off with a priestess to rejuvenate some magic crystals,” you’d have a point. But I didn’t so you don’t.

  7. Oh good god, lighten up. One, it’s just a game and two, that’s not what the game was trying to convey at all.

    What we have here is a textbook example of going out of one’s way to create faults that don’t exist. You sound no worse than the early-nineties anti-videogame advocates trying to inject your own agenda into something that you happen to don’t like.

    Men talk crap about women. Women talk crap about men. Whites talk crap about blacks, and blacks talk crap about whites.

    If you can’t handle fictional bantering, personality, and character quirks, stop playing video games. You’re ruining it for the rest of us.

  8. I thought it was a fun game but ok I guess. As a girl I’m not that offended it’s a video game! The only person that I got really mad at was DeRosa because out of any other character in Bravely Default, he abused women the most and in the worst way. It’s kinda weird that you didn’t include him in the list of offending characters!! In addition, I think it’s ok for you to have your opinion, but please make sure you respect others as well!! -Kate, 12 years old (so please don’t kill me)

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