At some point last year I decided to play Champions Online, Cryptic Studio’s spiritual successor to City of Heroes. Although I’ve never been a big fan of the superhero genre, I can appreciate the appeal of pulling on a pair of tights and stopping runaway locomotives. And even though I ultimately found City of Hero’s gameplay too repetitive for any long-term enjoyment, I had gotten a couple of months’ worth of fun out of it and expected something similar for Champions.
In case you are unfamiliar with superhero conventions, it should be noted that there is an unspoken, unwritten rule about how female superhero characters are portrayed in both comic books and video games: They will wear as little as possible, and often strike anatomically impossible poses.
Knowing this reputation for overt sexism – and with tongue firmly in cheek – I created my first Champions Online character: NAKED MAN!
Naked Man in his original incarnation was actually about as naked as a long-haired Ken doll. His backside was bare, but with only a hint of cheek delineation, and his front was asexually devoid of any external genitalia. He was never meant to titillate. His creation was as a joke, intended to poke fun at the ubiquitous hyper-sexualization of female superheroes. To further my subversiveness, I chose a flying ability that caused a rainbow to extrude from his heels (or butt – I was never sure which) whenever he took to the skies. I giggled in gay pride defiance every time I played him.
As expected, I quickly lost interest in Champions after a month of play and moved on to other MMOs. And also true to my nature, I returned to Champions Online a year later to pick up where I had left off. Unfortunately, during the interim, Naked Man had been stripped of all his…nakedness.
When I logged back into the game after my year-long hiatus, I was met with a Naked Man who had been reverted back to the game’s default bald, blue unitard model and an in-game message informing me that Naked Man’s nakedness was found to be in violation of Cryptic’s ToS (Terms of Service).
So a FEMALE character with her bits barely covered and her cleavage precariously contained is ToS compliant? But a “naked” male character with no discernible genitalia is in violation?
While redesigning the now not-so-naked Naked Man, I discovered a curious discrepancy between the male and female models in regards to the amount of visible derriere. The game’s character creation process forces a visible covering over the male model’s backside that does not exist on the female model. Tarzan will now be wearing tighty whities?
I don’t have a problem with games enforcing a certain level of modesty on character customization, otherwise you end up with something like this. But the difference in body coverage seen in Champions’ character models is egregiously sexist and is obviously informed by the sexual objectification of female characters that occurs routinely in the comic book/superhero genre.
Ultimately, I don’t object to a little eye candy – beefcake or cheesecake – but make it gender agnostic or don’t do it at all.