NOTE: I debated whether I want to post this, since it’s a bit of a touchy topic for some people. But then I remember, this is my blog! I can delete comments that don’t agree with me and execute any traitors! I HAVE DA POWER! So, uhm, read on only if you want. This is your final warning. >.>
Since I am working my way towards endgame content on Guild Wars 2, Barbie-ing is starting to come into play for my toons. One topic that invariably comes up in fantasy-themed MMORPGs – Not unique to Guild Wars 2 by any means – is how sexualized female characters are, with an usual array of customization options that are more fitting for a Victoria’s Secret catwalk than out there fighting dragons.
The picture up there kinda represents the original eight core classes in Guild Wars 2, modeled by human female toons (Elementalist, Engineer, Guardian, Mesmer, Thief, Necromancer, Ranger and Warrior respectively). Some of the outfits are on the skimpy side, for sure, but I think as fantasy MMORPGs go, these are still very tame. Just take a peek at games like Queen’s Blade, Scarlet Blade and TERA Online… some of the gals in those games are downright pornographic. Have a look:
Some players find this trend offensive… and would you be surprised that I agree in principle? This sort of thing is exploitative, and outright pandering to the average gamer (i.e. the young to adult male demographic), but it’s also not new. The entire fantasy genre evolved around appealing to the male gamer with pretty girls in skimpy costumes, going back to the old Boris Vallejo barbarian paintings, through all sorts of fantasy novels and table top games and now finally MMORPGs. No that doesn’t make it right for MMORPGs to follow and exploit that trend, but the blame shouldn’t start with them either.
Now before you think I am going to defend MMORPG’s tendency towards sexualizing women, let me assure you that I object to it from a different perspective: I think it sends the wrong message to male players, especially the younger, more impressionable ones. Because no, real women don’t dress like that (not in public anyway, unless she’s working certain professions…), and no, real women don’t BOUNCE like that. And most certainly no, you can’t just walk up to them and grab them and touch them or do anything antisocial like that. I object because of what this sort of thing affects kids in the long run; I don’t want a hypothetical son who grows up with half-naked video game elf chicks and goes through life treating all women like half-naked video game elf chicks. I don’t even know how I would have a conversation with him about that.
Perhaps worse yet, what message is it sending to younger female gamers? Is it okay to dress like… let’s not beat around the bush on this… sluts? Are they in fact expected to dress like sluts? If I’m worried about dealing with a hypothetical son about his perception of women, I’d be downright depressed about talking to a hypothetical daughter about her perception of herself.
That being said, these ARE fantasy games and they can be as wild and crazy with their design choices as their art guys desire. Personally I would never play something like Scarlet Blade
(see captioned picture…is it even active anymore?) because to me it crossed the line of good taste, but unless I’m in a really snarky mood, there’s no point picking on the design choices. I mean, take for example that Elf Chick from TERA Online above: quite a few people would point out in painstaking detail as to why that “armor” would not be practical — in this case it’s quite obvious, as the armor leaves all of her vital organs entirely exposed and unprotected. Forget about going into battle! She’d be injured just taking a walk through the bushes. Then again, why pick on how impractical the design is? So what if those high, pointy pauldrons look like they’ll slash her face every time she raises her arms, when you are wielding swords twice the size of your entire person? Or shooting fire from your eyeballs? Or fighting giant monsters the size of buildings? Slaying an entire army on your own? Heck, you might be a walking plant, a talking frog-person, or a freaky space alien! None of this is supposed to make any practical sense anyway! I think it’s silly to use “realism” to pick on one specific facet of a game, when the entire game world is meant to be unrealistic.
I guess I have a bit of a “live and let live” mentality about this whole thing, because at the end of the day, I always have the option of voting with my (cyber) feet. Sex sells, everyone knows it, and everywhere you look you see it: internet (ESPECIALLY the internet), books, movies, TV shows, commercials and ad campaigns, and yes, video games too. It may not be the moral high ground, but it’s such a big part of modern consumerism it’s unavoidable.
I’m glad I don’t have kids (yet); if I did I will probably be more concerned with this. I feel sorry for all your parents-types out there!