kyeshgall said: I like Isabela’s style and the sense of agency I feel she has in DA, but i still think it’s important to talk about her design in the context of broader patterns of women’s representation in games. Just my take on the discussion anyway.
Totally. But sadly, what’s mostly popping up on my dash is more of the same ol’ stale slut-shaming, the whole “I hate Isabela ‘cuz she’s skanky!”/”No she isn’t!” debate we’ve all seen a thousand times before. It’s likely all born out of the same conversation that Gaider sparked.
For what it’s worth, I think Isabela’s costume design is actually quite brilliant, and very true to her character. Her lack of pants is a smoke screen, one she uses to instill in her enemies a false impression of vulnerability or weakness when in fact she’s anything but. Isabela invites her enemies to objectify and dismiss her, because while they’re busy underestimating her, she’s busy sticking a shank in their jory. Thus her hypersexualized clothing is a conscious subversion of this ideal of “the weaker sex”, which as a concept was used to justify the profound abuse and disenfranchisement Isabela experienced from a very early age. (e.g., she was forced to be a child bride, socially valued solely for her reproductive ability, experienced spousal abuse with no recourse but murder, etc.)
Isabela knows what it is to feel weak and powerless; so, like any good rogue, she cultivates the illusion of weakness and turns it into a strength, a weapon to be deployed against her enemies. Gaider once said “Isabela has no pants. Isabela needs no pants.” I’d take it one step further: Isabela wants no pants. It’s not that she doesn’t see a need for pants; it’s that she actively rejects pants, because she is stronger and better without them.
As a whole, female characters in videogames are shoved into some pretty ridiculous get-ups, and we should definitely be talking about how problematic that is. But in my opinion, Isabela is the exception that proves the rule. Her costume is the one time I think hypersexualized character design actually makes sense, and in fact, I think the argument that Isabela should be allowed to wear pants if the player wants is sort of missing the point. In Izzy, the writers have established a character who is so well-developed that even her wardrobe choices are in character; and that to see her in any wardrobe other than bare legs and a corset would actually be more absurd than what she wears in game. And if the player has the agency to put pants on Isabela, doesn’t that sort of undermine her original choice to shun pants in the first place?
I guess it comes back to the philosophical question of, how much agency should a game player really have over the non-player characters in a videogame? What’s the right balance, and how do you write an internally consistent story while preserving that balance.
Oops, sorry for the surprise word-barf all over my reply, kyeshgall. I just really, really have a lot of feelings about the costume design in DA2. :)
Why I love flutiebear. And Isabela.