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Death Stranding and The Outer Worlds: A Tale of Two Asexual Representations

Plum

The Fallen
May 31, 2018
7,802
Contains some minor world-building spoilers for both of the games mentioned in the thread's title

As an asexual person it sometimes feels that my own sexuality doesn't exist to the wider world and, for the most part, it doesn't. Asexuals (or aces for short) are such a small part of the population and even people who are asexual might not know about the existence of it; as such representation, especially in the media, means quite a lot to me and more importantly it will mean a lot to people like me-of-one-year-ago who have no idea who they are and feel 'broken' because of it.

That's why I was so happy to realise that two of the biggest games of the Autumn/Fall have actual ace representation!



But, as that gif (with famed ace Todd Chavez) implies, not all is as good as it seems. So let me explain and complain and then refrain about two games that make up this thread's name.

Hooray! - The Outer Worlds

This is perhaps the best example of ace representation in modern gaming, and perhaps the only example where it's explicitly said instead of implied or shoved into headcanon. The first companion you get in The Outer Worlds, Parvati, is asexual. It's not implied, it's not hinted at, it's directly said towards the player in multiple instances:



Quote (due to tiny text size): I'm not much interested in... physical stuff. Never have been. Leastways not like other folk seem to be. It's not that I can't? I just don't care for it.

And if that wasn't obvious enough, the writer behind her character explicitly says that she is asexual:


So why is this representation good? It's because it forgoes all of the typical stereotypes surrounding being ace and simply shows how a character in that universe might deal with being one herself. It shows how ace people can often be seen as cold, as robots, and then subverts that my making Parvati into one of the most warm and loveable characters in the entire game. It also shows the difference being asexual and being aromantic (Parvati has a pretty big romantic crush for another female character in the game) , and the difference between aesthetic attraction and physical, sexual, attraction (the aforementioned crush is based a little on looks, but like with many ace people that affection is not sexual in any way). And even better you can make your own character ace by saying that you feel the same way as Parvati in a conversation with her!

It's just... so good, and for myself it has lifted my feelings towards The Outer Worlds as a whole in a really big way. I love it, and from reactions throughout various ace communities I lurk in, it seems many/most of the ace community do as well.

...question mark? - Death Stranding

However, where The Outer Worlds succeeds Death Stranding fails, and it does so in a way that it would have been much better if the game had no reference to asexuality whatsoever. I'm referring to an 'Interview' (text log) in the game which appears at some point, it's not too clear as I've only seen it appear on Twitter. It is as follows:



TL:DR
- Before the 'Death Stranding' (the game's titular apocalyptic event) happened there was a rise in 'sexless lifestyles' and people self-identifying as asexual
- Asexual people claim to be incapable of feeling desire or attraction
- The Death Stranding supposedly proliferated these sexualities
- Asexuality is a bad thing because it means you're reticent to form emotional connections to others
- Sexual harassment/assault decreases and birth rate decreases are linked (?!?!?!?!?)

So as you can probably tell this is not good asexual represention whatsoever. It propagates the kinds of myths that make it so that many asexual people are given shit for who they are or feel bad for who they are. Below I'll show what myths this is showing and then explain why they're wrong:

Asexual people are incapable of feeling desire or attraction

The only inherent difference between asexual people and non-asexual people is that asexual people don't feel sexual attraction towards others. As The Outer Worlds and any cursory glance at any actual ace community shows, ace people can feel attraction romantically, platonically, aesthetically, etc. One of the things that makes asexual lives worse is the notion that one cannot be in a relationship or feel 'love' unless they want to have sex with the other person, and this quote directly implies that they can't. Similarly the use of the word "incapable" instead of just "don't" implies that asexuality is a condition instead of a sexuality.

Similarly this myth propogates the notion that all asexual people can't, or don't want to, have sex (or have sexual fantasies, fetishes, etc). This is undoubtedly not true.

Asexuality is something that people "self-identify" as and is something "proliferated" by external factors

Firstly, asexuality is definitely mostly done through self-identification, but the same thing goes for literally every other sexual orientation out there; however, I feel that the term 'self-identify' implies a lack of provedence to those identities, and whilst not the biggest issue I can't help but feel it's not great.

However the worst part here is the implication that asexuality is something that can be caused by external events instead of being something that is inherent to the person themselves. Nobody's going to deny that asexuals may not be asexual or vice-versa, butwhat every ace in the community would deny is that their asexuality was caused by something outside of themselves. There may be correlations somewhere (most notably the lop-sided split between female asexuals and male asexuals) but there are no causations as asexuality is something internal to one's self instead of just a "phase" that some people either decide, or are made, to go through.

Asexuality will contribute to the downfall of civilisation

Well I wouldn't exactly say this is a very wide-spread 'myth' but it's one that has plagued the entire LGBTQ+ community for centuries. Whilst I doubt many people believe that asexual people will actually cause the downfall of civilisation, many parents and friends of aces believe that an asexual lack of sexual attraction towards others will cause negative things both in and out of their own lives.

As has been said to me by others, this could also point to a misunderstanding between KojiPro and the definition of asexuality in that the game believes asexuality is the cause of Japan's currently low birth rates. However, that is not what asexuality is, and the journal article that someone linked me itself misconstrues asexuality as simply 'not having sex.' Additionally the fact that whoever wrote that part of the game did the liberty of doing some basic research to explain who demisexuals and panromantics are shows that it's not a simple misunderstanding because it's made clear that it's referring explicitly to the asexual community instead of a societal drop in birth rates.

Rates of Sexual Assault/Harassment and Birth Rates are Linked

OK this has nothing to do with asexuality but...



So what's the point, you Plum?

Well, like with many instances where representation is criticised, the point of this thread is to point out how ace representation can be both very good and very bad, and try and make it so that people are more educated in the future. However the fact that ace representation is so incredibly limited means that every little bit of it is something that should be looked at closely because there's the chance that it could be many people's only interaction with asexuality and the ace community.

I don't expect you to start crucifying Kojima or anything like that as, in the grand scheme of things, this isn't the end of the world; however I do ask that you don't dismiss the concerns of actual ace people regarding the myths that the DS representation propagates, similarly if an ace person says that this doesn't bother them then please don't then use them as a way to do what I just asked you not to do. As with all other cases of minority representation only the minorities themselves have the real right to say what is and isn't 'good' or 'bad'.

I have questions!

That's great! However I want to go play more Death Stranding (as, despite the bad taste its awful ace representation has left in my mouth, I am still enjoying it so far) so I will instead link you to the most comprehensive Asexual FAQ I can think of:


Go there if you want to know more, and of course if you do have a question ask here and either I or someone else from the Era Ace community will be able to help you.

Now without further ado:

 

N. Tyranno

Member
Nov 6, 2017
2,182
I'm really kind of upset about this. I've been mixed about this game, but I didn't want to believe Kojima was this kind of person.
 

LuisGarcia

Avenger
Oct 31, 2017
3,429
it's not that he researched it or didn't. It's that, intentional or not, it comes off as extremely asexual-phobic and draws on many negative views and stereotypes.
OK. I honestly don't know enough about the subject to comment on that but I think it's a bit strange to say he's a particularly type of person because of this.

At worst he is misinformed. Also he likely didn't have that much input with the little bits of lore
 

N. Tyranno

Member
Nov 6, 2017
2,182
Look man, I compartmentalize a lot about a lot of public figures, and even my own family, but it is what it is. It's BAD. He put out something bad. That's as upsetting as if it were homophobic, racist, or anything else, and I don't like that this is now associated with him.
 
OP
OP
Plum

Plum

The Fallen
May 31, 2018
7,802
At worst he is misinformed. Also he likely didn't have that much input with the little bits of lore
I don't think the person who wrote this is that misinformed as they still knew there are demisexuals and panromantics there. That requires at least a little more understanding than just "asexuals exist." However if you do the most basic of research and go to the most popular site on asexuality then literally all the myths that the quote shows are debunked.

And, yeah, I don't think Kojima himself wrote this so I personally don't want to give him too much shit for it. Despite it being "A Hideo Kojjima Game" it still has a lot of people working on it and Kojima isn't a god who can micromanage them all.
 

Yuntu

Member
Nov 7, 2019
139
Germany
I don't really see where it links birth rates and sexual assaults/harassment?

It reads more like humanities growing lack of interest in physical contact leads to lower birthrates and less sexual related crimes. So it's good (less crime/issues) for humans and bad (lower birthrate, less people etc.). It reads more like a listing of things it affects not saying one has anything to do with the other. But maybe I'm misreading that part.

No offense intended, I just don't quite get that particular point you are listing - the others I pretty much get and can understand where you are coming from/what your issue with the content is.
 

Xaszatm

Member
Oct 25, 2017
8,646
Thank you for this thread. It was much better than the one I was planning as that just devolved into angry yelling.

No but seriously this is like 10 wrong things all wrapped into one.
 
OP
OP
Plum

Plum

The Fallen
May 31, 2018
7,802
I don't really see where it links birth rates and sexual assaults/harassment?

It reads more like humanities growing lack of interest in physical contact leads to lower birthrates and less sexual related crimes. So it's good (less crime/issues) for humans and bad (lower birthrate, less people etc.). It reads more like a listing of things it affects not saying one has anything to do with the other. But maybe I'm misreading that part.

No offense intended, I just don't quite get that particular point you are listing - the others I pretty much get and can understand where you are coming from/what your issue with the content is.
This is unrelated but the whole "Birth Rates and a drop in Sexual Assault mean that interest in sex is waning," is just weird, and even if your point is true it really needs to be worded better.

However it is unrelated so I won't go much further from there.
 

Yuntu

Member
Nov 7, 2019
139
Germany
This is unrelated but the whole "Birth Rates and a drop in Sexual Assault mean that interest in sex is waning," is just weird, and even if your point is true it really needs to be worded better.

However it is unrelated so I won't go much further from there.
Gotcha. Won't push any further into it as well as I don't want to derail the topic with unrelated info.
 

Starshaped

Member
Jun 11, 2019
14
I think the Death Stranding one, while misinformed maybe, it’s interesting. A lot of stories involving an extinction event just assumes everyone starts fucking like bunnies to repopulate. Oddly refreshing to take the opposite route. Either that or I’m an idiot.
 

Dark Knight

Banned
Oct 25, 2017
6,125
Haven't played Death Stranding yet but I was very impressed with the character treatment in Outer Worlds.
 
OP
OP
Plum

Plum

The Fallen
May 31, 2018
7,802
I think the Death Stranding one, while misinformed maybe, it’s interesting. A lot of stories involving an extinction event just assumes everyone starts fucking like bunnies to repopulate. Oddly refreshing to take the opposite route. Either that or I’m an idiot.
The issue isn't that it refers to a decline in sex/birth rates but the fact that it ties that directly into asexuality as a sexual orientation. They're mutually exclusive from each other and the fact that the game points to "youths identifying as asexuals" as the primary factor instead of the multiple actual factors is either lazy, ignorant, or both in my eyes.
 

TickleMeElbow

Member
Oct 31, 2017
1,995
Yeah it comes across as him reacting to all the "Japanese youth no longer interested in sex" hysteria that Japan's going through, and talking out of his ass haha.
 
Oct 25, 2017
4,318
The Ocean
On Death Stranding, the “sexless lifestyle” implies asexuality is a choice and also at the same time is painted as a deficiency by using the term incapable. It’s weird and clunky and I can see why you have a number of issues like it. Playing TOW I’m definitely finding Parvati a warm comforting companion and happy to read the history of how she came together as a character.
 
Nov 23, 2017
3,873
Really hope that a character or Sam or really anything else you can find in DS says or points out how stupid that particular email/message is. But that's asking a lot of an AAA game meant for (well kind of) mainstream audiences.
 

mazi

Member
Oct 27, 2017
27,199
edit: nevermind, it's likely that kojima didn't personally write that. but still, sucks.
 

DrM2theJ

Member
Feb 13, 2018
10
I’m hesitant to just copy-paste tweets here, so I’ll link what I’ve said on Twitter about this thing in Death Stranding:



Basically, I think it has a lot to do with ignorance about what asexuality actually is and a lot to do with Kojima’s laymen understanding of what memes (as in, the scientific concept of memes as originally described by Dawkins) are. I also think it’s an attempt to directly comment on the low birthrate issue in Japan specifically, and it shows a very low information, “Facebook uncle” (as Naomi puts it in that second thread) understanding of the causes of the low birth rate.

I mean, the definition of “asexual” as presented in Death Stranding is “incapable of feeling desire or attraction” which is completely inaccurate, as you describe. It’s a scapegoat used in Japan to explain the low birth rate without addressing the many, many societal reasons the birth rate is so low there.

I think it also shows, however, a blending with the concept of memes. The idea that knowledge of the asexual identity has spread among the population is pretty explicit. But it fails to show an understanding that this knowledge only enables asexual people to better understand themselves—it does not, in itself, cause asexuality to “proliferate”.

It’s also putting the asexual label on voluntary celibacy which is just so ignorant. Asexual people have sex. Asexual people sometimes choose not to have sex. Asexual people experience all sorts of attraction. Asexual people can desire sex. Asexual people have children. Et cetera.

Whether Kojima himself wrote that, I don’t know. But I think he either writes most of it or has strong editorial oversight. I’d love to see what it said in Japanese to better understand whether there’s a localization issue as well. Regardless, it’s in his game, the one with his name plastered all over it—I don’t think it’s a stretch to reason that this is representing some idea of his.

And yeah, I love his games generally, but I was just waiting for the “problematic” shoe to drop in DS given his history with Quiet and such. Didn’t think it would be about Ace people though.

As for Pavarti, she’s easily my favorite new character of 2019 and they did a great job representing us realistically with her.

(Also, thank you for explicitly explaining that we can be attracted to aesthetics.)
 
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Aug 28, 2019
275
Didn't know that about The Outer Worlds. That's pretty cool. I'm not super interested in TOW, but this makes me a little more interested.

Didn't know that about Death Stranding, either. That's uh... not as cool. To put it minimally.
 

HadesHotgun

Member
Oct 25, 2017
667
I don't really disagree with anything you are saying OP. That being said, I ascribe these views to the ongoing crisis of population decline in Japan which is likely informing the point of view from which this little bit of backstory is derived.

I assume that the harmful stereotyping evident in the text is likely based on a specific cultural perspective.

And despite what you might presume to be some base level of research, this is probably just a story point that was conceived without any research, from the default perspective that anything which contributes to population loss is an overall bad thing, and the terminology was probably just looked up by someone who already had the bones of this story point in mind and just used those terms to give the appearance of a scholarly work. The fact that it is written to emulate the style of a piece of scholarly work should not give anyone the impression that ANY level of open minded research went in to this. I don't think they were being explicitly anti-asexual, but rather it just didn't occur to them to examine the subject thoroughly or objectively, because it was just window dressing to make it seem like the fictional in world character did so.

edit:

I’m hesitant to just copy-paste tweets here, so I’ll link what I’ve said on Twitter about this thing in Death Stranding:



Basically, I think it has a lot to do with ignorance about what asexuality actually is and a lot to do with Kojima’s laymen understanding of what memes (as in, the scientific concept of memes as originally described by Dawkins) are. I also think it’s an attempt to directly comment on the low birthrate issue in Japan specifically, and it shows a very low information, “Facebook uncle” (as Naomi puts it in that second thread) understanding of the causes of the low birth rate.

I mean, the definition of “asexual” as presented in Death Stranding is “incapable of feeling desire or attraction” which is completely inaccurate, as you describe. It’s a scapegoat used in Japan to explain the low birth rate without addressing the many, many societal reasons the birth rate is so low there.

I think it also shows, however, a blending with the concept of memes. The idea that knowledge of the asexual identity has spread among the population is pretty explicit. But it fails to show an understanding that this knowledge only enables asexual people to better understand themselves—it does not, in itself, cause asexuality to “proliferate”.

It’s also putting the asexual label on voluntary celibacy which is just so ignorant. Asexual people have sex. Asexual people sometimes choose not to have sex. Asexual people experience all sorts of attraction. Asexual people can desire sex. Asexual people have children. Et cetera.

Whether Kojima himself wrote that, I don’t know. But I think he either writes most of it or has strong editorial oversight. I’d love to see what it said in Japanese to better understand whether there’s a localization issue as well. Regardless, it’s in his game, the one with his name plastered all over it—I don’t think it’s a stretch to reason that this is representing some idea of his.

And yeah, I love his games generally, but I was just waiting for the “problematic” show to drop in DS given his history with Quiet and such. Didn’t think it would be about Ace people though.

As for Pavarti, she’s easily my favorite new character of 2019 and they did a great job representing us realistically with her.

(Also, thank you for explicitly explaining that we can be attracted to aesthetics.)
This right here.

I feel like Kojima likes to create the veneer of thoughtful research in his work, which is at least more than a lot of other creators bother with, but his understanding is mostly just pop science headline stuff and not much more thoughtful than that.
 

Keldroc

Member
Oct 27, 2017
5,704
Yeah it comes across as him reacting to all the "Japanese youth no longer interested in sex" hysteria that Japan's going through, and talking out of his ass haha.
Yeah it really feels like a "response" (if you want to call it that) to Japan's birth rate issues that doesn't make the leap from culture to culture properly in addition to being a shit take. Practically a Kojima trademark at this point.
 

big bas

The Fallen
Jan 2, 2018
303
The definitions used for Asexuality in the death stranding interview are wrong, but would the other ideas in the article such as the implication that it isn’t “helping” society after the death stranding be attributed to the real life writer or the in-game character who gave the interview with their world-view?

EDIT: the latter informs the former of course so if the real life writer believes it, that’s problematic but I also wonder when it’s just characters being written with problematic views based on the in-universe perspectives

EDIT #2: I suppose when that happens in-game, it’s important to have other characters react negatively to other problematic characters which hasn’t happened yet in my playthrough of death stranding, which isn’t great huh
 
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Trojan

Member
Oct 27, 2017
114
OPs write-up was very informative for me as someone who was not familiar with these nuances.

When I was playing Outer Worlds and reached that point in the story with Parvati, I thought her feelings on physical contact were genuine, relatable, and gave her character more depth. Since she didn’t explicitly state that she was asexual, it didn’t even dawn on me that she was, I just thought she was someone not so interested in sexual contact.

Which is exactly OPs point - that aces aren’t that different from anyone else. I liked that they didn’t use the label but accurately described these feelings. Also that Parvati mentions it like any other character trait and not like it’s some sort of flaw.

EDIT: phrasing
 
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Death Penalty

Avenger
Oct 27, 2017
1,831
Kojima is like one of those first year college students who takes a semester of psych and thinks they're an expert. Add in some screaming misogyny and a surface level "understanding" of social issues and marginalized groups and you get shit like this. It's no surprise.

Real happy to hear about Parvati, though, I had no idea stuff like that was represented in The Outer Worlds. Hope it can become more standard, especially in RPGs like that where a large part of the game is playing who you are/want to be.
 

TickleMeElbow

Member
Oct 31, 2017
1,995
Yeah it really feels like a "response" (if you want to call it that) to Japan's birth rate issues that doesn't make the leap from culture to culture properly in addition to being a shit take. Practically a Kojima trademark at this point.
That's pretty much what it is. The whole "disconnected isolated youth" thing has been a hot topic in Japan for awhile now, and ties into the lowering birth rate thing in some ways (in Japan at least), so he's just sloppily trying to find dots to connect.
 

HK-47

Member
Oct 25, 2017
2,362
Its almost like Kojima games have problematic views on sexuality (and women)
 

BossAttack

Banned
Oct 27, 2017
17,880
Yeah, I read that in the game and like, "yikes." I get what he's trying to do, but some as obsessive about details as Kojima should have researched this more. Just how do you get it that wrong?
 

SageShinigami

Member
Oct 27, 2017
16,098
Yeah I see what happened here. He tried to tie Japan's birth rate problems into all these different sexualities. I see how he got there, it's just...fucking garbage lol. Someone should've told him that.
 

LuisGarcia

Avenger
Oct 31, 2017
3,429
You guys completely miss all the interviews which stated how collaborative Kojima was to work with?

The hate the man gets on this forum is so unfounded.
 

Ocarina_117

Member
Oct 26, 2017
3,924
There seems to be a lot of bullshit in death stranding. The more I find out about these details, others more spoilery, the more I am quite put off.

Just... what's the need? I'll probably pick the game up one day as I do want to see it all in context as a sum of it's parts. But a lot of it just seems needless.

You guys completely miss all the interviews which stated how collaborative Kojima was to work with?

The hate the man gets on this forum is so unfounded.
Maybe before you jump it to every thread to stan the dude, take a read.

People in this thread have clearly said that Kojima cant be responsible for every detail in the game.
 
OP
OP
Plum

Plum

The Fallen
May 31, 2018
7,802
You guys completely miss all the interviews which stated how collaborative Kojima was to work with?

The hate the man gets on this forum is so unfounded.
You are right in that Kojima likely didn't personally write this himself but he's still the auteur behind the game so I don't think it's a terrible thing to attribute its inclusion to him. You could easily replace Kojima with KojiPro and everything would still make sense.

Also what's "ridiculous" about the concerns raised in this thread?
 

Apollo

Avenger
Oct 25, 2017
3,029
Yeah, the death stranding bit definitely sucks. Ace/aro/demi/panromantic people aren’t “reticent” to form emotional connections, they just experience attraction in different ways. Framing those orientations* as symptoms of the shitty state of the game’s world is in super poor taste.

And I especially feel you on having a problem with the “self-identify” rhetoric. One of the worst feelings (at least in my experience) with being queer is feeling like people are only tolerating your identity so as not to upset you, as opposed to recognizing it as a legitimate part of who you are.
 

Tezz

Member
Oct 27, 2017
2,061
I saw the Death Stranding journal entry yesterday, and the first thing that stood out to me was its included definition of demisexual and panromantic people. So clearly more research than none went into writing it.

I don't think I have much to add that you haven't covered. It's disappointing. And the relation to Japan's birth rate definitely gives it the air of "the queers are destroying the family which will lead to the end of civilization".

I'd be interested to see the rest of the entry, or others related to it. The last visible line about the author not having empirical data makes me hope the character who wrote this is incorrect in-universe.
 

Joey Ravn

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,001
Thanks for this thread. I'm someone who's just putting himself into words. I think I can confidently say I'm asexual. At least, I'm in the grey ace area. I'm super interested in TOW now (though I was pretty much sold on it already!). I've always felt I wanted to explore how I personally felt by creating something (a game, a comic, a story, something) which featured a prominent ace character. Short of doing that, being able to enjoy such a well-crafted experience seems to be the second best scenario :)

Fuck Kojima.
 

Edgar

Member
Oct 29, 2017
4,534
You guys completely miss all the interviews which stated how collaborative Kojima was to work with?

The hate the man gets on this forum is so unfounded.
Hideo Kojima is the director of Death Stranding , is he not? It is his vision, is it not? If you can praise him for his unique approach and very particular style of video games ,surely you can criticize fot the shit hes done and approved . Thats how it works
 

Joey Ravn

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,001
There seems to be a lot of bullshit in death stranding. The more I find out about these details, others more spoilery, the more I am quite put off.

Just... what's the need? I'll probably pick the game up one day as I do want to see it all in context as a sum of it's parts. But a lot of it just seems needless.



Maybe before you jump it to every thread to stan the dude, take a read.

People in this thread have clearly said that Kojima cant be responsible for every detail in the game.
Kojima is only responsible for the cool stuff. Anything questionable, must have been someone else. Can't blame the guy for directing the game and being the main creative force behind it!

/s, obviously.
 

Skittles

Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,444
Kojima is only responsible for the cool stuff. Anything questionable, must have been someone else. Can't blame the guy for directing the game and being the main creative force behind it!

/s, obviously.
People really out here trying to say that the game director doesn't have to approve damn near everything that goes into the game.
 

LuisGarcia

Avenger
Oct 31, 2017
3,429
Hideo Kojima is the director of Death Stranding , is he not? It is his vision, is it not? If you can praise him for his unique approach and very particular style of video games ,surely you can criticize fot the shit hes done and approved . Thats how it works
Again. Not arguing that.