Whenever I learn about a new MMO, one of the first things I do is check out its in-game screenshots. A game’s overall art design and aesthetic can greatly influence my opinion of it long before I set a virtual “foot” inside of it. If I like what I see in the screenshots, I’ll then proceed to learn more about the game’s races and classes. For better or worse, I take the designers’ descriptions of the classes and fit them into the usual RPG paradigm: melee, ranged, stealth, magic user, etc. It’s always a pleasant surprise when a game manages to create a variation on this standard mechanic, but I’m not necessarily disappointed if it doesn’t. Finally, I take a look at the races to get a sense of the game’s setting and story.
When I first learned of Mechanist Games’ City of Steam I was confused by its name. I thought it was somehow associated with Valve. “Hmm. A game set in the steam punk genre? This could be interesting,” I thought. When the screenshots looked promising I proceeded to take a look at the classes: Arcanist, Gunner, Warder, Channeler. Also known as magic user, ranged combat, fighter, and healer. OK, not the most original perhaps, but I’ve certainly seen worse.
Finally, I took a look at the game’s various races.
Whereupon I hit a brick wall.
It wasn’t the races themselves – of which there are several (nine) – that offended me. Rather, it was the accompanying pictures. You can see all of the descriptions and portraits here. The comic above was taken directly from these images – I just didn’t have room for all nine of them.
As I clicked through the portrait and description for each race, I became progressively more annoyed…
Heartlanders: “Wow. That’s some cleavage!”
Avens: “Less cleavage. More navel.”
Ostenians: “Armor with form-fitting boob cups? Silly, but tolerable.”
Stoigmari: “Fur hat and barely covered breasts? At least her ears will stay warm, I guess.”
Draug: “Great. Bikini armor for the not win.”
Riven: “Corset dress with lots of exposed skin? How is she supposed to breathe in that outfit, let alone fight?”
Goblins: “Halter top, mini-skirt and a gun. Is she fighting monsters or trying out for the cheer-leading squad?”
Hobbes: “More pushed-up cleavage and bared midriff. I’d look pissed-off too, if I was her.”
Orcs: “Oh, come on! Even the orc has big boobs and an exposed navel? Nothing says ‘intimidating’ like sexy, unprotected internal organs!”
Now mind you, I haven’t even played the game yet, since it’s currently in alpha testing. The gameplay videos that I’ve seen look promising, although they don’t say “steampunk” so much as “generic dungeon crawler”. It appears to have above average production values, so I hold on to some vague hope that the female armor in the game is more practical and less gratuitous that what is being shown in the concept art.
Ultimately I have to wonder how these sexist stereotypes in video games continue to persist. Do the artists really have such a limited concept of what female characters (of any stripe) should look like? I imagine a game’s producer approaching an artist saying, “We need some concept drawings of a female orc warrior by Friday”. And the artist replies, “Large, green-skinned humanoid with big boobs and a bikini halter top. I’ll get right on that, boss!” The alternative is too depressing. I refuse to accept the fact that the entire gaming industry is run by juvenile men with inflated senses of entitlement who believe that women exist for no other reason than to be ogled and pursued.
So listen up game designers! Contrary to what you may have been told, women are human beings. We are not objects. We do not exist solely for the male (heterosexual) gaze. We have internal organs and femoral arteries that need protection. Little girls are not sex objects to be fetishized.
We want to play female characters who look like us. ALL of us.