Alright, so NieR:Automata is one of my favorite games of all time and I’m currently in the process of celebrating the game’s first anniversary by writing some articles about it. I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago to coincide with the game’s Japanese release, and now today (March 7) I’ll be writing another for the first anniversary of its North American release.
One of the things that’s sure to influence people’s first impressions of NieR:Automata is the way the protagonist, 2B, is dressed. Whether you like it or hate it, you can’t say it hasn’t had some kind of impression on you. In the game’s home country of Japan, it’s not quite as outrageous, as 2B’s clothes are apparently emulative of Japanese Gothic Lolita fashion, though there are some obvious liberties taken (I can’t imagine a whole lot of Japanese models are walking down the runway with blindfolds on).
To a western audience, however, it looks like 2B is simply the product of straight male sexualization and fetishization. Additionally, it would also seem that the outfit just doesn’t make sense, given the events of NieR:Automata. As I asked in my article on how 2017’s depiction of women in games was, why would an android designed to battle wear high-heeled boots and a blindfold? On the surface, 2B’s outfit seems pretty ridiculous. However, in this article I’ll attempt to explain why it actually sort of makes sense for 2B to be dressed the way that she is within the context of the game. Before reading further, be warned that this article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for NieR:Automata, so please go play it for yourself before continuing. (Here’s the link to a spoiler-free article about why you should definitely play this game, even if you’re skeptical about it.)
One of the biggest arguments against 2B’s design is the lack of functionality it would appear to provide. How can she be expected to run around, fighting machines when she’s wearing those ridiculous high-heeled boots? How can she see when she’s wearing a blindfold? Wouldn’t her skirt flapping around be distracting? You get the idea. So first thing’s first, and that’s to explain that some of her clothes actually provide functionality in the world of NieR:Automata. Her blindfold, for example, isn’t really a blindfold, but is referred to as a “military visor” or “goggles.” We’re not really given specifics, but the implication is that this accessory somehow allows 2B and other YoRHa units to see things that they wouldn’t normally be able to see that help them in battle situations. Additionally, director Yoko Taro explained in an interview that YoRHa combat units wear blindfolds to symbolically show that they are blind to the truth, while YoRHa operators wear veils to symbolize their inability to speak the truth. Meanwhile, YoRHa skirts (or shorts, for the few male models) also have a function, as explained in a crossover event with another Yoko Taro game SINoALICE, in which it is made clear that these skirts work as heat sinks that allow heat to escape and prevent YoRHa units from overheating.
Other things, like the high-heeled boots, don’t appear to have a function, but they don’t necessarily prohibit actions either. This is more my own speculation, but I would think that androids can simply be calibrated to account for something like high heels so that they won’t be prohibitive, whereas they would be for humans. Using this justification, androids can where pretty much anything and it won’t prohibit their abilities because they can just adjust their programming so that a normally prohibitive article of clothing no longer causes issues.
So there’s a number of justifications for why 2B and other YoRHa units are dressed the way they are, but it doesn’t exactly explain why they’re dressed that way to begin with. Blindfolds are actually visors, but why wouldn’t androids built in the year 11,942 (the year 9S was built and probably around the time 2B was built) be able to just have whatever information these visors give them built into their eyes so they don’t need additional accessories? Skimpy skirts are actually heat sinks, but again, nearly 10,000 years in the future, why is androids overheating even still a problem? Shouldn’t they have fixed that by then? High heels may not be prohibitive, but if androids can just wear anything, why not wear t-shirts and jeans? These androids could have been dressed in any type of clothing and justifications could be made for anything. So justifications aside, what’s the REASON behind 2B’s fetishized style?
Well, simply put, she is dressed like that to appeal to 9S. A lot of you probably know where I’m going here just from that one sentence, but here’s a refresher for those who haven’t played NieR:Automata since it came out (or those who ignored my spoiler warning, I guess).
There are many different types of YoRHa units. S-types, like 9S, are scanner models, meant to gather intel on enemies and specialize in supporting other units and hacking into enemies, rather than direct combat. B-types are battle models, built to fight machines. It is revealed towards the end of the third playthrough of NieR:Automata that 2B is actually a cover name for the character’s true designation, 2E. E-types are executioner models, built to be able to destroy other YoRHa units. There are a few reasons why these might be necessary. For one thing, E units can act basically like a cyanide pill, killing allies who are captured by machines to prevent them from giving information to the enemy. E units can also be used to take out YoRHa units that have gone rogue. In the case of our protagonists, 2E was assigned to keep watch over 9S while undercover as a B unit. This is because 9S, as an S model, is extremely curious by nature and will often go out of his way to find out as much information about everything as he can. This is great for gathering enemy intel, but also comes at the risk of S models hacking into YoRHa’s own servers and finding information they aren’t supposed to know because they just want to know what’s there. 2E was assigned to 9S so that she can kill him should he ever find information he wasn’t supposed to find. Upon being killed, 9S’ default personality and memory data will be downloaded into a new body, with any memories he made during previous excursions being lost.
The problem with this setup, however, is that since 9S is so curious and able to pick up on small details and clues, it is entirely possible that he will be able to figure out that 2B is actually an E model sent to kill him. In fact, he has figured it out multiple times already. In the short stories “Memory Cage” and “Memory Thorn,” short stories detailing past adventures of 2B and 9S that were printed in official NieR:Automata supplementary materials such as guides, we see that 9S is able to determine 2B’s true nature as an E model before she gets around to killing him and attacks her back. Both times he is unsuccessful and is ultimately killed by 2B and subsequently loses his memories of their interactions, but if he’s been able to figure out 2B’s true nature before, it’s likely that he will again if she’s not careful. One way that 2B can prevent (or at least delay) 9S from figuring out her true intentions is by making him trust her, which is where my next point comes in.
For those unaware, there is a societal concept called lookism, which provides discrimination against unattractive people and favors attractive people and colors how people perceive each kind of person. Basically, people are more likely to favor and trust attractive people than they are unattractive people. There is evidence to back this up, as the results of a Rice study on the subject suggests that people are more likely to trust attractive strangers than unattractive ones. There was an episode of the hidden camera TV show What Would You Do? that delved into the subject with a number of social experiments. One such experiment found that people were more likely to pull over and help a stranger with a broken down car if that stranger was attractive. Another experiment the show performed showed that juries are more likely to find attractive defendants honest and trustworthy, even if the defendant hasn’t even said anything during the course of the trial. We even see lookism taking precedence outside of social experiments, such as how the serial killer Ted Bundy was able to kill so many women in part because many of his victims trusted him soon after meeting him, theoretically because of his attractive appearance and demeanor. During the 1960 U.S. presidential election, the majority of those who listened to the debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy on the radio thought that Nixon had won the debates, while the majority of those who watched the debates on TV and were therefore able to see JFK’s beautiful face thought that he had won. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re more likely to immediately like and even trust people if they’re physically attractive.
In NieR:Automata, it’s clear that androids are built to resemble humans in a number of respects, most noticeably in physical design. However, we see other human traits prevalent in androids too, as many of them constantly show various emotions, despite the YoRHa rule prohibiting emotions. I think it’s likely that 9S, and other S models, have the human concept of lookism built into their programming so that they are more trusting of the attractive female models that make up the majority of YoRHa. While 2B is clearly attractive and 9S likely would have been attracted to her regardless of what she wears, it’s easy to assume that 9S would be even more attracted to her, and therefore more susceptible to trusting her more and sooner, with her wearing fetishized clothing that make her just ridiculously, undeniably sexy, as opposed to the t-shirt and jeans we proposed earlier. Though I don’t doubt that 2B would look cute in a t-shirt and jeans, if the goal is to make her as physically attractive as possible, the obvious choice is to make her not only attractive herself, but make her wear sexy clothes, like thigh-high stockings, high-heeled boots and a mini-skirt with a slit that goes all the way up it, in order to maximize physical attractiveness and thus the potential for trust from S models.
So maybe 2B is dressed the way she is for more than just being eye candy for straight male gamers. Maybe she and the other YoRHa girls are dressed the way they are to ensure the trust of those pesky S models through human-like lookism. Or maybe you prefer the reason that Yoko Taro himself gave for 2B wearing heels that he gave during last year’s PAX East, which is that he “just really like[s] girls.”