Parental Advisory Review – Dark Ascension

There’s been a bit of discussion around the multiverse (aka the Internet) about Magic art and the portrayal of women in that art in particular.  I even judged a student paper contest recently in which there was a paper on this subject. Much of the discussion I’ve witnessed has left me unimpressed or at least unconvinced, in part because it all seems rather selective. What we need, it seems, is a more complete evaluation. Thus, this new article series was born.

I recognize that everyone has different standards of dress, entertainment, etc., and I’m not here to impose my views as the definitive evaluation of the appropriateness of Magic art. But Magic is essentially a PG-13 rated form of entertainment, so it seems appropriate to begin any consideration of this nature with the teenager in mind. Thus, my evaluation is driven by the following questions: “Would I want my teenager to be viewing this in a movie or on TV?” or “Would I let my teenager out of the house dressed like that?”

My main categories of evaluation are going to be GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, NIGHTMARE HORROR, PROVOCATIVE DRESS, IMPLIED NUDITY, and BLATANT SEXUALITY. I think most of these categories speak for themselves, but a few clarifications may be in order: provocative dress is specifically non-sexualized (this term is obviously open to some interpretation) portrayals to which I would answer the question “Would I let my teenager out of the house dressed like that?” with a definite NO. Essentially, blatant sexuality is what I would call “soft-porn”–clearly meant to excite or titillate (like the SI swimsuit issue), like the promotional image of Liliana that’s been at the heart of this discussion. Compare the Provocative Dress version of Liliana (on the left) with the Blatant Sexuality version (on the right):

I will conclude with an examination of a side issue that is often raised, the question of the inequality in the portrayals of women. I think it’s pretty obvious that a game marketed primarily towards young lonely males is not going to be equal in its treatment of the sexes–how many of these guys really want to stare at a ripped male hotty? But it’s also unfair to simply assert that men are never portrayed provocatively or in some state of undress and women always are. So, I’ll try to highlight this issue a little by noticing these sort of depictions of males and also some of the more positive portrayals of women.


Graphic Violence

For this and the next category, we have to acknowledge that Dark Ascension is part of a horror-themed block, and of course Magic itself is based on combat, so we should expect some violence and horror. The horrors of war and death don’t have to be sanitized, but there is a point when an image becomes overly graphic in its portrayal of violence. That’s not something that most teenagers need to be exposed to, especially in fictional form.

Break of DayRelentless SkaabsBlood FeudFling

Beheading, spurting blood, impalement–these are always going to get you a graphic violence rating from me.

Nightmare Horror

This category is about disturbing images that linger in the mind, and sometimes come back to haunt you in your dreams! These are images that aren’t necessarily violent or gory, but might be described by many (note: not necessarily all) as ‘disturbing’, ‘evil’, or ‘horrific’.

Screeching SkaabThought ScourCurse of BloodlettingGrim FloweringHavengul Lich

Torture, monsters coming at you, dead bodies–these all have the potential to become nightmare horrors depending on the exact image. A skeleton isn’t going to freak out most teenagers, but one that’s been impaled or embodies evil just might.

Provocative Dress

As I said above, would you want your teenager out in public dressed to allure or incite lust in the opposite sex? I wouldn’t, and here I think we get to the real crux of the inequality between the portrayal of men and women as sexual objects. While most (note again: not necessarily all) would probably agree that the blatant sexuality (below) is inappropriate, especially for teenagers, why do more women get portrayed with low cut tops, exposed shoulders, or high cut slits in their skirts than men do with their shirts unbuttoned down to their navel or perhaps sporting a speedo in the woods? This isn’t just speculation anymore. Here you have the provocative dress, and the imbalance is pretty clear:

Lingering SoulsThraben HereticChosen of MarkovDeadly AllureFiend of the ShadowsGruesome DiscoveryMarkov BlademasterMondronen ShamenTalons of FalkenrathSomberwald Dryad

Some of these may beg a little more comment:

That poor lingering soul seems to be falling right out of her dress.

I’m not looking at the Thraben Heretic herself, but rather that partially clad body she has staked behind her: another dead body seemingly falling out of its clothes.

The Chosen of Markov may not be that bad (although here’s a hint: your hair and ribbon aren’t covering anything important, like that bosom trying to escape your shirt), but wait until you see her as a vampire below.

Nothing says “deadly allure” like a leather bra and pants with holes running all the way up your thighs (and a snake – no symbolism there, of course).

To be honest, the exact shape and form of that fiend is difficult to make out, but there’s definitely a bit of skin showing there.

How sad to have to make such a gruesome discovery in a dress that not only shows the tops of your bosom but also the sides–at least we know that you can still get a job at Hooters now that you’re going to have to support yourself.

The blademaster isn’t really all that bad, but you have to wonder why the sleeves end so high and the gloves end so low–is Innistrad short of fabric these days? Nothing wrong with plain-old long sleeves.

The Mondronen Shaman continues to evidence the shortage on fabric, or maybe she just likes showing off her tattoo. Whatever it is, one ought to be a little concerned that some sort of covering/protection is needed for the lower arms, belly, and neck but not her upper chest–how convenient for any male onlookers (or maybe it’s just supposed to distract them while she stabs them with her candelabra).

Apparently, the vulnerable neck, belly, and arms aren’t limited to just werewolf physiognomy–the vampires have it too. Of course, one wonders how this vampiress puts on any of her clothes with those ridiculous fingernails. Plus, nothing says sophistication quite like a high, frilly collar coupled with a bosom about to spring out of its natural dress confines. Should we be scared, impressed, or excited?

Perhaps it is natural for Dryads to go ‘au naturel’, so why bother with only half a dress?

Implied Nudity

A PG-13 game can’t really have full-on nudity I guess, but you can certainly imply it for dramatic effect.

Niblis of the UrnScorned VillagerFalkenrath Aristocrat

I suppose it’s ‘realistic’ enough to assume that spirits don’t wear any clothes (although this is supposed to be fantasy, not reality), but let me put it this way–that spirit coming out of the jar is definitely a female spirit (at least the top half of her)!

I thought the interpretation of the paper writer I listened to this week made an interesting point about this poor villager: she was run out of town without her clothes and is apparently incapable of acquiring any furs and skin to make some clothing, like, say, the Huntmaster of the Fells. Red Riding Hood here does appear to be wearing nothing underneath that convenient cape.

I’ll be honest, I can’t tell whether that aristocrat is wearing a crimson and white dress that covers everything or if she’s just a super white-skinned vampire dressed in blood from the waist down.  Is that supposed to be sexy or wierd?

Blatant Sexuality

Let me put it this way: If these artists weren’t going for outright ‘let’s get it on’ sexy, then they may want to find a new career.

Beguiler of WillsMarkov's ServantWakedancerFires of Undeath

I suppose stranger danger needs something to entice you with, and candy might not cut it with some adults, but here again we witness the need for neck and belly protection but not upper chest protection. Innistrad is a fantastical place indeed!

Apparently becoming a vampire means the need for less coverage, or we’re back to the stranger danger motif.

Perhaps we should feel fortunate that the shaman is wearing as much as she is, as one supposes that such “dancing” is often done with nothing at all on, if I know my witch mythology at all. Notice the classic low cut, high slit dress–come and get me boys!

Do I really need to comment again on the fabric shortage on Innistrad, or the physiognomical issues of their bodies?

Men vs. Women

Not all the women of Innistrad are scantily clad, nor are all the men armored up for battle.

Farbog BoneflingerArchdemon of GreedReap the SeagrafVengeful VampireBlood Feud

OK, so most of these guys are not technically “guys” in the human sense of the word, but they are showing off their male physiques and arguably wearing less than even the objectified women above, or at least showing off their sexy shoulders.

Gavony IronwrightThaliaIncreasing VengeanceVillage Survivors

See, a girl CAN grow up to be a blacksmith, and she doesn’t have to take off her shirt to do so (unlike most male blacksmiths I’ve seen portrayed).

I’m going to assume that Thalia is actually wearing pants, so that her short surcoat isn’t actually revealing anything interesting.

I’m pretty sure that’s a woman increasing in vengeance, and she is fully clothed–fortunately she escaped whatever genetic disorder causes the weak necks but strong chests, or she got it worse and has a weak chest too!

Hey look! The most prominent survivor from the village is a fully-clothed woman! Let that be a lesson to you girls.

Now let’s tally up the results for Dark Ascension (158 cards total in the set):

Graphic Violence: 4
Nightmare Horror: 5
Provocative Dress: 10
Implied Nudity: 3
Blatant Sexuality: 4
Objectified Males: 5
Female Protagonists: 4

Clearly imbalanced towards a male audience, but perhaps not as bad as some think. We might as well take note of our worst offenders, though–those artists whose work got classified as “Blatant Sexuality”: Eric Deschamps, Steve Argyle*, Austin Hsu, and Jason Chan.


*For some interesting reading as part of this larger discussion, you can take a look at this anti-Steve Argyle article and then a follow-up twitter conversation in which, frankly, I thought Steve Argyle came off looking better than the offended article writer.

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One Response to Parental Advisory Review – Dark Ascension

  1. Ace629 says:

    Hmmm I don’t think they are that bad. Maybe Deadly Allure, I suppose.

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