The Search for Positive Portrayals of Fatness in Games

atelier

From childhood bullying to fake concern from friends and family to society physically and emotionally rejecting your body, being fat has always been hard. Where can a fat person turn to for an ounce of respite? Video games might be a viable option, but alas, they are sprinkled with all the fat-shaming a person finds in the real world. I decided to dig deeper into how fatness is portrayed within video games and I found the impossible: a positive portrayal of fatness. However, before I can showcase that example, I need to explain a bad one, which will be easy due to the abundance of negative portrayals.

I decided to pick a character from the games series that I am currently playing. It is called Atelier, a typically super cute series that features adorable girls. These games revolve around a central protagonist (sometimes two) who is an alchemist. They must either solve some kind of overarching problem with their alchemy or simply train to become a better alchemist.

In Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, Sophie is our main protagonist. She desires to improve her alchemy skills, and one day, she finds a book from her late grandmother … that can talk. This book ultimately guides her through becoming an alchemy master, however, the book has lost all its old memories. While Sophie continues to build upon her skills, she looks for a way to recover what was lost. Sounds cool, right? I mean, I like them. They can be a bit corny (okay, a lot corny), but sometimes a girl wants corny games.

The character from Atelier Sophie who is shown as fat is named Oskar Behlmer. Although he actually looks realistically fat and not like a balloon, the game still ends up making his weight a crucial part of his personality. He is described as extremely lazy and irresponsible, and throughout the game, Oskar leaves his mother to maintain their shop alone while he lays around in nature. Except his special ability is talking to plants. Who wouldn’t want to be around nature if they could talk to plants?

Sadly, Atelier Sophie portrays Oskar’s love of plants as shirking his duties. Even on the Wikipedia page for his character, Oskar is described as “lazy and unfit.” He also constantly gets fake concern from literally every single character in the game; from comments like “Wouldn’t you feel better if you lost weight?” to the grossly inappropriate “You would be so handsome if you lost weight!”

Now, these are all very common tropes for fat characters. They also usually get a ‘fat redemption arc,’ which is essentially when they lose weight and suddenly become a better person. At first, I breathed a sigh of relief when playing Atelier Sophie. Oskar may be the butt of all the fat jokes, but at least he doesn’t lose weight to become a better person! That is, until now. The Atelier series is releasing a new installment in their franchise, and they will be reviving some of the old characters from Atelier Sophie. Just look at Oskar now (below, left):

Atelier

Wow! He definitely seems like a better person, am I right?

I honestly could not sigh long and hard enough when I saw this picture. I also (regretfully) decided to give a look at his new character description on Wikipedia, and although I am upset, I am not surprised.

“Though he used to be chubby, he became slim as he went on his journey. Although he goes through life at his own pace, compared to his childhood self he is much better.”

What was once “lazy and unfit” is now being described as “goes through life at his own pace.” Now that this Oskar is no longer fat, he can’t be lazy anymore, so instead they reworded the exact same trait as just going “at his own pace” (because all fat people are lazy, right?). I also can’t believe they actually wrote out, word for word, that he is “much better” now. Alas, these are the woes of fat representation — not just in video games, but also in every aspect of our media.

Now, I did promise to show a positive portrayal of a fat person. This task was actually really difficult. I had to scour through tons and tons of old games just to find one character who is fat where their fatness is not the center of their personality. I believe I found it — although it has been a very, very long time since I played the game. It is Fable II, and the character is Sister Hannah, or “Hammer.” I am honestly so giddy right now remembering her. Not only is she big, but she is a woman! Hooray!! *Throws confetti*

Fable II

In Fable II, Hammer is a representation of strength. She is a rather talkative, friendly character who also has a sense of humor. She is depicted as being rather brusque, but I think this was more a portrayal of her being physically strong, and people who are strong in these types of games are usually shown as not beating around the bush, rather than a commentary on her being big.

Surprisingly, she is described as rather thoughtful and intelligent as well. My lasting impression of Hammer is that she is a hilarious character, and I am so thankful that no one in the game tries to tell her to lose weight or that she would be so pretty otherwise. Hammer does comment on the fact that she used to be teased because of her size and the jeering kids would call her “Hammer,” but she decided to embrace the nickname as her Hero moniker.

All in all, this example was rather hard to find. I am getting sick and tired of seeing fat characters portrayed like Oskar. Fat people are people, and their fatness does not define them. We are not lazy and buffoonish, and we are certainly not unintelligent or irresponsible. Some people who happen to be fat might possess these qualities, but they don’t possess them because they are fat. Fat people can be kind, funny, strict, workaholics, or anything in-between because (spoiler alert!) fat people are people.

The gaming industry needs to put aside their resentment towards fat people and stop making these weak so-called redemption arcs. Stop making fat people the butt of all jokes. We want representation just like everyone else.

Advertisements

5 Comments on “The Search for Positive Portrayals of Fatness in Games

  1. As a fat person I have to say I’m very disappointed. When games like Tekken 7 boasts a beautiful and diverse cast with a fat and confident character named Bob, JRPGs continue to disappoint with their portrayal or lack thereof. I hope they follow suit.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mei from Overwatch is another interesting (and contentious) example. I’ve noticed that a lot of fanart portrays her as a skinny girl with a puffy coat, whereas others insist that she isn’t meant to be skinny. (Not sure if Blizzard has weighed in on this themselves?)

    That said, I always feel a little hesitant to cast judgment upon social attitudes in Japanese games, because based on my personal observations as an Asian American, it seems to me that Asian people in general tend to have a less forgiving view of weight gain compared to Westerners. Though I’m definitely not an expert as to why this is, and would love to hear from someone more knowledgeable on this topic!

    Like

  3. I was surprised both to see Hammer here (I adore the Fable series and completely forgot Hammer was a character, but now it’s all coming back to me) and to not see Ellie from Borderlands 2. I don’t see a lot of fat characters in games in general, let alone good or bad representations of them. Fable’s done a pretty job with fat characters in the past (R.I.P. Lionhead Studios) especially with allowing players to be fat if they eat enough, or eat “fatty” foods in later entries. The random npcs populating the world will occasionally say rude comments like “You really let yourself go” or shit like that. But the player’s size never prevents them from saving the world and doing the good (or bad) deeds of a Hero. Hammer’s a wonderful example of that. Then there’s also Star Wars: The Old Republic where players can make their toons skinny, average, muscled, or large, and npcs in the world adhere to the same character creator so many characters, including important ones, are fat and are never called out on it. Those are the ones that come to mind.

    Like

  4. Oh, I feel so nostalgic remembering Hammer because of this post! I was hoping to bring another example to the party, but unfortunately all of the ones I can think of – especially from JRPGs – are characters like Oskar where I, the player, might like them, but in doing so I have to ignore insults towards them from other characters, often including the avatar.

    Like

  5. Unfortunately I have never played those games (Overwatch, Boderlands 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic), but I am really glad to hear there are more representations! I can only really play certain games since my visual disability limits me from a lot of categories (FPS mostly). I forgot that NPCs do comment on your weight in Fable, which is kind of a let down, but at least you can still be a hero! I wanted to stay away from character creation games simply because it has a whole list of other issues, which I would love to also discuss in a future article.I mainly wanted to focus on characters that the developers specifically chose to be fat, and then their interactions with other characters.

    As far as JRPGs go, I know they are rather more fatphobic in their games than American made RPGs (which we all know still doesn’t do a great job). I just happened to choose Oskar as the bad example because I had just purchased Atelier Shallie plus and was remembering him from Atelier Sophie. Although I do understand the reservations for commenting on JRPG characters due to culture, but I would still hold them to a higher standard, even if their culture differs–fat people are people no matter where they are. Although, since I am white and an American, it isn’t my place to talk about the nuisances of fat culture in Japan, but rather the overarching message that fat people receive in our media. I would also definitely love to hear about these issues from someone who knows them more intimately in the context of Japanese culture, rather than my more limited Western view.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: