By Geoffrey Bunting
You’d be forgiven for feeling confused by Konami’s recent announcement of Bombergirl, a rehash of the classic Bomberman series except it features female characters. Initially, looking only at the headline “Konami announce Bombergirl” one might be tricked into commending Konami for reviving a somewhat retired franchise with a gender-swapped protagonist. It might even look like a minor piece of representation. But looking at the actual announcement and the images accompanying it demonstrates that such a commendation is completely underserved.
So this is Bomberman. He has a distinctive look that hasn’t changed in all the years he’s been around. He’s become more detailed and perhaps a little taller, otherwise he’s remained the same since his conception. As such, the aesthetic of Bomberman is a familiar one. We all know the formula: Bomberman, the cute little guy, is placed in a grid with a set of obstacles and enemies that he must destroy to progress. The focus is simple, bomb some stuff.
However, looking at Bombergirl we see that the focus has shifted away from the gameplay and towards something else entirely. Rather than simply being a shift in gender, it would appear that the focus of Bombergirl – and, indeed, what Konami regards as the selling point of the game – is the scantily clad Bombergirls themselves. In every image presented in Konami’s announcement are girls that appear to be having their clothes burned away and torn by attacks from other players.
What does this create? Our old friend, the “women as reward” trope. This tired old trend, in which women are present only to provide an incentive for male characters and players, whether it’s through the promise of nudity or a similar reward, has been a blemish on the industry since it started. The implication here is that attacks will slowly strip away the clothing of the characters, providing a sexual reward for in-game success.
Konami has always been attached to this particular trope. This was epitomised in Metal Gear Solid V and the presentation of The Quiet, in that not only was she just a visual titillation for the presumed straight male gamer but also didn’t even require any work to attain – it was simply handed to the player. The whole thing felt so wrong.
Any thought that this was the pinnacle of Konami’s creepy sexualisation of their female characters has been blown out of the water with this latest announcement. Everything from the name Bombergirl (as opposed to Bomberman) to the obviously over-sexualised nature of the game – not to mention the schoolgirl dress of the characters – demonstrates just how deeply sexism runs in the Konami offices.
Even the press release is a creepy read, with the appearance of these Bombergirls continuing to be the focus: “By raising strong and cute Bombergirls, you can make use of not only bombs, but various other skills. You can proceed through the match with the upper hand by strategically using skills. Bombergirl will have exciting matches that you can’t take your eyes off until the very end.”
N.B. Anyone who thinks that the word “strong” in that paragraph justifies any of this presentation can get out right now. That word is so obsolete, having been undermined by literally everything else in the announcement, that it may as well just be an emoji of a drooling man. We’ve got to the point now where so many “male feminists” and their similarly sexist friends have used the word “strong” inappropriately and as justification for their misguided, condescending views that it’s almost an insult. Especially in this context. Did we mention this whole thing is super-creepy?
It is worth noting that this game is designed for the arcade rather than home consoles. As such, the presentation will naturally be different to that of a console game and thus require a point-of-sale feeling to the cabinet in order to attract interest. The images provided demonstrate how Konami has decided to put the scantily dressed girls at the forefront of this to entice arcade-goers to play the game and titillate them while they do. There are a number of ways to attract attention to arcade games, but this definitely isn’t one.
The way Konami treats women has always been problematic, and it’s an issue that doesn’t look like going away soon. This latest instalment in Konami’s litany of sexualisation speaks of a deeply ingrained sexism within the company that permeates through most of its properties. Yet, it could have been different; it could have been a simple and welcome case of gender-swapping. As something that doesn’t happen often and is regularly dismissed due to sexist reasons – just look at the reasons behind Zelda not being the protagonist of Breath of the Wild – the switching from male to female protagonists is an important, if somewhat minor, step towards fair representation in gaming. Yet it is constantly undermined by instances like this, where the inclusion of female characters is seen as an opportunity to reward players with nudity or favours. And it’s industry-wide, it’s not just Konami, it’s not just Japan, it’s everywhere. We have reached a point now where the majority of gamers are women, yet the industry refuses to throw away old damaging tropes and start presenting women in a fair and natural way. Instead, they continue to treat them like objects and prizes. When will it stop? I don’t know. When does it need to stop? Right now.