Sex sells in MMORPGs?

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:

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An elf chick in TERA Online. Sexay! Too sexay, in fact…

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 

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Scarlet Blade girls. What are they doing in this game?

(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!

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14 thoughts on “Sex sells in MMORPGs?

  1. Temple Prostitution is ALIVE and WELL in the 21st Century. We are the new gods and instant gratification is our divine right.

    We can’t very well run such a world with the structure of family in place. Fathers living in the same house as his wife and children will not do. Until we can erode the base of proper family values, love, law, faith, and Christianity, the beatings WILL continue.

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    1. Christianity Online: The Faithening. When?!

      I want my RPG characters modestly dressed, law abiding, god fearing and devoted to their families and church. I don’t want to be a lone wolf murderhobo killing everything I meet and looking too sexy doing it anymore. I want to help my community and follow the teachings of the Lord.

      God bless.

      PS. I think I did try Scarlet Blade and it was awful beyond imagining. It was so bad I had an existential crisis and found my way back to the church, my soul battered by the horrors I had seen.

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      1. Oh, forgot to mention… isn’t there a raccoon-guy/cat-girl race on TERA? The girls all look like over-endowed pre-teen lolis, and when you put them in those skimpy clothes, they WILL batter souls.

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  2. Yep, sadly this sort of thing sells and always has sold, and most likely always will. It’s nothing new because I remember when RPGs were just books, pencils and paper, and the books already lots of pictures of scantily-clad women, to varying degrees.

    That picture of that elf girl shows how ridiculous this is nowadays. I mean, as a hetero guy and an ardent admirer of the female form… I get it. I really do. I enjoy the “scenery” just as much as any other straight guy. But at the risk of sounding like kind of a prude (which I’m really not), I just wish the sexualization and objectification would stop, or at least reduce. Because it really hurts us all, both men and women.

    I’ll never have kids because I’m just not interested in parenthood, but I would hope that parents would really take an active role in supervising what kinds of games their kids are playing, because it’s not like it was when I was growing up and all we had were those old ’80s video games. There’s all kinds of, shall we say, questionable content out there that I think parents ought to be aware of and examine carefully to make sure it’s not too inappropriate for their kids’ age level.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well it only sells in limited ways. Like many games that go too far down the T&A road fail.

      What seems to happen is the assumption that “sexy will save us even if the game is not fun” leads to bad game design. Whereas something like Dead or Alive that has fun gameplay and adds t&a works. Then there are a lot of people who avoid rockstar games’ products because of the mature content even though they have pretty fun mechanics.

      It does sell, but it’s not a universally wise marketing decision.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have some mixed feelings on this topic. On one hand things go too far too often. You documented plenty of examples, I also read a blog on the subject called bikini armor battle damage, where they mock the really bad examples and praise design that get it right. The bad ones are really bad. And I do believe one reason we need movements like “cosplay is not consent” is that this trend does end up convincing inadequately socialized young men that creepy behavior is ok. Which it certainly is not.

    on the other hand there’s a reaction to it that is bordering on “everything sexy is evil and so is anyone who likes it”. Plus I have an issue with the body options for both men and women in games being too limited and promoting a single body ideal. I will point out that few games make it possible to correctly duplicate Christina Hendricks’ curves and she by no means sets any records except maybe in Hollywood. Nor get as buff as the biggest bodybuilders. Or as tall as Elisany Silvia the teenager who is nearly eye-to-eye with Shaq. Or realistically fat, or realistically old, or realistically young, or realistically short. Etc. The only body options are Hollywood shapes. Even SWTOR fakes it with slight variations that approximate ectomorph/endomorph/mesomorph bodies without really going very far from the norm. STO’s aliens have a greater range, but it is interesting to note how limited some specific choices are even for them.

    Beyond the copious amounts of skin and proportions, there are also other body design oddities. One game I recently stopped playing, Black Desert, all the women models had feet permanently angled for high heels. Even the platemail options were in heels (and had boob windows). If you went barefoot the women were walking on their toes for no reason. They had a few non sexualized costumes but not many. Frustratingly they never sold my favorites in the US only in Korea. >.<

    Something amusing I discovered about STO while poking around in the files in a way that is not recommended is that it has a boob jiggle built into the engine but set to zero so it doesn't show up. Turning it on you can see it locally, but others viewing you cannot. Pretty much all numbers make the jiggle extreme. I assume it is legacy from the champions engine. I'm glad our devs disabled it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Really? We can have boob jiggle in Star Trek Online? Hahaha. I’m glad it’s been disabled. That is so wrong. I most certainly don’t want to see Admiral Brown jiggling her stuff. And since we’re on that subject, STO’s character customization does give you more options/control than most other MMORPGs — I managed to give Admiral Brown an old woman’s face and a short and stocky build, not something I can do in Guild Wars 2. So even though STO’s graphics lag behind most modern MMORPGs, they get way more points for customization options.

      I don’t know much about Black Desert Online, but I didn’t mention it because the screenshots from the game weren’t nearly as ridiculous as TERA or Scarlet Blade. The other game that comes to mind is Kabod Online, which according to what I can gather from Google, features things like “clothing damage” which means the more damage you take, the more naked you become…. and pets (either an angel or a succubus, I guess?) whom you can… molest. So…. I think this game actually deserves the Crown of Shame.

      A lot of the modern MMORPGs are now made in South Korea, which like their neighbor Japan, has a long, established tradition of treating their female population poorly. I’m not even talking about gender equality here – which Korea is infamously bad at – but the way young women are treated. Fetishized is a word that comes to mind. Is it any surprise that the new generation of Korean-made MMORPGs focuses so much on selling sex? But we in the rest of the world don’t necessarily share that obsession. I don’t mind showing a bit of skin here and there in-game, but when a game’s main focus is selling sex, that’s crossed the line of good taste and I hope game developers recognize that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. On a semi-related note, when I started learning Korean while deployed in South Korea, I found out that the Korean word for “wife,” “chip-saram,” literally means “house-person.”

        So… yeah. Old ways die hard, I guess.

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      2. BDO has clothing damage. Here’s a few of their paid costumes:

        And the ones I wanted:
        http://bdo.mmo-fashion.com/tamer-night-cat/

        With damage:

        It’s funny how they have both sides. Some good armor and some pure T&A.

        And yes, we really do have boob jiggle in STO. It triggers every time any female turns or moves and once when they first appear in a popup window. Like every time one of your boffs talks to you in a mission *bounce*.

        The amount of customization we have available is one reason I still play STO. I love goofing around in game, and I love just how unique I can make the characters. I have two that look enough like me that when friends saw them they immediately said “hey that’s you! He even has your horrible fashion sense!” *facepalm*

        As you say, when the devs sell sex that’s when the game has crossed the line. From what I’ve seen that’s when they usually fail too. Those sorts of games don’t usually have much longevity.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. BDO too? Oh those crazy Koreans.

        That second costume is revealing, but I think it’s fine. It channels a belly-dancer look which is not out-of-place in a fantasy world (especially one called Black DESERT).

        The first one though? She’s a streetwalker in Vegas. That’s the first thing to come to mind.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Whoa I’ve never even heard of the game Scarlet Blade. I find balance is key, after playing LOTRO for years I was happy to see a little bit of skin. (Seriously the first time I saw a knee was when Beornings where released and it was kind of a big deal!)

    I think it’s nice having a large variety of games with different art styles available (Even if some are kind of gross)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Scarlet Blade’s servers shut down just about a year ago, and the game only lasted about three years. I don’t know anything about the gameplay but as you can imagine, the over-the-top-sexualization makes it difficult to take this game seriously.

      And I admittedly don’t know much about ESO. Your blog looks interesting (because I do love barbieing on games)…

      Liked by 1 person

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