A Lot Of Hot Air

A Lot of Hot Air

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!”

Ugh.

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.

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9 Responses to “A Lot Of Hot Air”

  1. krellen says:

    It’s really kind of sad that I find myself surprised by games that do not have ridiculous female representations, rather than the reverse.

    This may be more a fault of artists than designers, though. I’ve seen a lot of games whose concept art has little to do with actual in-game appearances. (Though designers COULD tell the artists to redo it with more coverage, but I’m not convinced the industry is mature enough yet to try to rein in their artists.)

  2. Kdansky says:

    The worst thing is how easy it would be to please everybody! Instead of going for an extreme like “everyone’s a stripper!” or “Only Burqas allowed!”, it would be the simplest thing in the world to just have both. Have the humans dress averagely (add a miniskirt, but also a pair of pants!), make the demons of both genders run around semi-naked, put the dwarves of both genders into plate from head to toe, have wood-elves run around like Aragorn, high elves wear corsets or display six-packs, and so on.

    If you’ve got the resources, give everyone a choice anywhere from slutty until prude, and if you need to save some money, then distribute your races over the spectrum instead. People who want to play as strippers can pick the succubus, and people who want to have a sensible character can play as a wood-elf.

    It doesn’t bother me if there are a few naked women.
    It bothers me if there are no clothed women whatsoever! [Especially if the males are allowed to wear sensible armor.]

  3. Kal says:

    The one I can come closest to accepting is the hobbes, and that’s only because technically she’s wearing more armour than the male.
    I’ve always been quite fond of Morrowind and Oblivion (and indeed Morroblivion) because of the reasonableness of the armours. They tend to be well covering for males and females, if not the worlds most attractive. Ironically enough though there are many, many mods out there designed to change them back to the more stereotypical designs.

  4. Mephane says:

    @Kdansky:

    That’s exactly what The Secret World does. For the record, it is a modern day fantasy/horror MMO, and has completely separated the way your character is dressed and their stats. There is the full range of modern clothes. Which obviously means some players feel the need to run around fighting undead in their underwear, but I found those players to be the clear minority.

  5. Mateus says:

    Everquest! Because I started on EQ; and with the exipetcon of new Freeport; love the real-feel of the world. EQ2 seemed too much to me to be a facade. I also find npcs who speak (EQ2) a bit silly and over-acted; which is likely a generational-thing. I tried EQ2 for about four hours and simply did not like it at all. Seemed far too easy to level. If the wind blows, you get xp; practically.

  6. old timer says:

    Women have been terribly abused in the game world — check out Leslee Beldotti if you need proof. But sexy pictures? That battle is not worth fighting. Check out the covers of the old fantasy and scifi zines — its all cleavage and non-stop legs. But that was an equal opportunity world — the guys were all ripped and bare chested. Sex is part of the excitement and the thrill. It’s not going away. Better to fight abusive language and behavior, which is a real and serious problem. And if you want an avatar who looks like the girl/guy next door, design your own.

  7. drlemaster says:

    Seems to me, the steampunk aesthetic all too often boils down to men in Victorian clothes, women in Victorian undergarments. As to these guys, the female orc would be fine if her top weren’t cropped. And the Heartlanders are at least equal. Both the man and the woman are wearing otherwise semi-functional outfits with ridiculous amounts of cleavage. Personally, I can live with the cheesecake promo art if they give me a choice in game.

  8. Anachronist says:

    You might be interested in this article written by a person who actually makes real armor, some if it for fantasy purposes: http://madartlab.com/2011/12/14/fantasy-armor-and-lady-bits/ He offers some good suggestions for striking a balance between functional and attractive, and provides examples of games that both fail and succeed in this area.

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