Recently, GuildWarsInsider.com revealed exclusive screenshots of the female PvP Scholar Armor we can expect to see in Guild Wars 2. The resulting community response was a mix ranging from stereotypical sexist comments by inconsiderate juveniles, to raging hatred as fierce as the fire of 1,000 suns. Regardless of which side you sit on, the debate raises an interesting question. If MMO’s depend on an active community, regardless of sex, race, or religion, why is the objectification of women still accepted and, essentially encouraged?
The common argument is, ‘It’s a fantasy world. This is what females of any race are supposed to wear.’ No. This is what they’ve typically worn because historically gamers have been teenage boys who, in addition to video games, also take a marked interest in breasts. In turn the developers, most being former teenage boys themselves, understand that in order to sell to the target market they should kill two birds with one stone. Sex, meet video games. A match made in heaven. Therein lies the problem; as gamers struggle for acceptance as they get older, we’ve still tried to convince women that skimpy clothing and bare breasts should be accepted. We gamers fight a battle of stereotypes trying to convince non-gamers that our virtual-hobby isn’t only for teenage boys, then turn around and force stereotypes on a group inside our own community.
A 30 year-old man writing this article seems out of place, I think we can all agree. In fact, I’m ‘pro sexy outfit’. But that doesn’t mean I’m right and I’d never force someone to accept something they see as insulting simply because I want to fulfill my own carnal desires and stare at cleavage as I decapitate a goblin. I asked a 20 year old male, who has asked to remain anonymous, his thoughts on the outfit. I was shocked as he said, “I don’t see the big deal. This is how females have always dressed in video games, [you’d] think women would have accepted this by now.”
I was confused. Why should women be forced to accept a scantily clad set of armor? PvP armor is typically earned through battle, especially when you get into the higher tiers of gameplay. In essence females are being asked to earn their own nudity. In response to this young man’s comments, I posed a question, “What if,” I started, “as you play through your favorite character, your high level armor is simply a jock strap? What if it covered your genitals, butt-crack, but left the rest of your body open.” I phrased it this way to rule out the thought of a loin-cloth and the default, “Conan is awesome!” reply. And as predicted I received a simple answer, “Dude, that’s disgusting and nobody would play it.”
I approached Jill Dembowski, Editor-in-Chief of IRBGamer and personal friend, and asked her stance on the armor. I also explained that previous interviewees had remarked on the shock at lack of acceptance by the female community. Jill explained, “This way of thinking is exactly the problem. Because scantily clad women in games are the ‘norm,’ anything else might turn players away. When I say players I mean the teenage male demographic many companies try to cater to. But would it turn me as a female gamer off from a game? [Not] really. I might [just] roll my eyes a bit at another game that is using the same cookie cutter female game character.”
This was an interesting thought; a female gamer, familiar with games on many platforms, who has been gaming for dozens of years, seems frustrated at the stance of male gamers, but isn’t necessarily outraged at the thought of playing Guild Wars 2 in a g-string. But Jill continued, “Game companies need to break away from the idea that their male players will only want to play as female character if they look sexified. But look at Portal. Look at Gears of War 3. Two examples that didn’t use the cookie cutter [design] for their playable female characters. Bottom line, it’s getting old.”
With this response, I approached another female gamer, friend, and editor, Michelle Medeiros. Surprisingly, she is a female gamer on the other side of the argument. In fact, she feels that typical female game models don’t look feminine enough. She explained, “Woman are offended by the sexy outfits? [Because] I’m not. I actually remember saying to my husband that the female characters often look manly and you can only tell they are female because of their breasts. Why can’t female characters be sexy and awesome? Maybe they could provide an option so [females] could select a more conservative item. Either way I think people need to relax. It isn’t the real world, it is fantasy and meant for fun.”
It seems that two women familiar with the gaming industry have come to accept the skimpy outfits and sexy armor. The difference is that while one is calling for a change, the other embraces the character models we’ve been fed since the dawn of the gaming era.
Granted, alternatives have been suggested. On the GuildWars2Guru message board, user Insanius Maximus suggested the inclusion of an ‘undergarment’ slot. The undergarment, he said, could help hide the unnecessary flesh that some players are opposed to. It would give each player an option of feeling sexy or simply cover up the naughty bits. A novel idea, but is it one ArenaNet could implement? At this point in development, with the release looming for 2012, would the inclusion of an additional ‘armor slot’ be something they could easily program into the code? Remember, if the slot is added, a whole new line of garments would also need to be designed and implemented throughout the world as drops or at vendors.
Essentially, Guild Wars 2 fans are left defending the scantily clad females or chastising them. The boy in me wants to scream, “What’s the big deal!?” while the man in me can see why people are offended. Our world is already filled with constant reminders of sexuality and the objectification of women, so for those seeking to escape into Tyria, they’re constantly reminded of the problems they face the moment they log out.