This analysis draws from the video game, Nier: Gestalt. Care has been taken to avoid major spoilers.
Let’s take a look at Kainé from Nier: Gestalt. Like many other female characters in video games, her outfit tends to reveal rather than hide. This trend is often dubbed “fan-service,” which means that their only purpose please fans and boost sales, and it seems like Kainé is no exception.
However, before we make any claim about the purpose of Kainé’s appearance, let’s take a closer look at her character in the world of Nier: Gestalt.
On one hand…
Throughout the story, we hear remarks about Kainé’s attire, but we hear even more remarks about how much coarse language spews from her mouth. None of the other characters use coarse language or dress like Kainé does.
In fact, Kainé is well aware that she stands out from the crowd. In the city of Façade, with its thousands of rules and customs, Kainé prefers to avoid entering the city or being part of any celebrations. She would rather remain alone and not cause trouble.
This is because Kainé has long lived apart from any people. She endures a curse that caused humanity to reject her, and her to reject humanity. To survive, she grew into a strong warrior. When the player first meets her, Kainé feels little need for any allies at all. It stands to reason that she doesn’t care what people think of her behaviour. She’s aggressive, tactless, and swears like a sailor.
Good writing requires that a character’s overall behaviour reflects her values, and this rings true for Kainé. She doesn’t speak or act in a sexually provocative way. She simply disregards social conventions, and that includes conventions about how she should dress.
…but on the other hand…
Now, some of you might be saying, “All of this sounds like a silly excuse to make the deuteragonist a scantily clad woman!”
The truth is that you may be right.
The director of Nier: Gestalt is Yoko Taro. In an interview about the game’s sequel, Nier: Automata, Yoko was asked why the protagonist of Nier: Automata is a young woman in high-heels. He responded with a serious answer, but he also added “The biggest reason is that I just really like girls.”
Source: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56TkUkDEzKI – from 15:55 to 17:30.)
Pictured above: Yoko Taro as he appears in public.
Yoko is an honest man in this matter. He includes sexually provocative characters (both female and male) in multiple games, and seems happy to continue doing so. Despite the reasons that Kainé might have for her attire, Yoko’s reasons may be very different.
Neither side of the argument invalidates the other, but there is one more important aspect to consider.
There are many articles across the internet that highlight this issue: If all female characters in video games were sexualised, it would be a step backwards in the fight to have better representation of females in media. After all, most women don’t behave the way that sexualised video game characters do.
However, this is very different from cases like Kainé. A character in revealing clothing is not necessarily a sexualised character. Kainé’s attire is rooted in realistic, tangible, and deeply personal reasons, and this is true of the way any person chooses to present herself or himself.
This reaches the crux of the problem. When a female character is sexualised for fan-service, it usually disregards the character’s values, beliefs, and personality. When this is done across countless games, players are conditioned with a one-dimension view of people. Humans are reduced to tools of pleasure, rather than the complex creatures with individual values that they are.
It may or may not be true that Kainé is an example of fan-service. However, as we have discussed, that’s not the whole picture.
Kainé’s personal issues affect more than her choice of clothing. They influence how she treats others, and they give her the wisdom and strength to help other key characters in the story, building them up into strong characters of their own. Not only is that good representation of women, it’s also great storytelling.