Where’s the beef?

Girl Unplugged has an excellent rant about the way that both male and female characters are portrayed in games, looking mostly at TF2. And she has two really good points here.

First, why are female characters always so overly sexualised? The glib answer here is that they’re created to suit male fantasies, and to appeal to a male audience, and it’s a male audience that likes cheesecake.

The second answer is that female players like to play hot looking characters too. Call it a blot on popular culture, but women just are expected to cut more highly sexualised images.

But really it’s a failure of imagination as much as anything else. A female character can be hot without being made to jut out her hips and boobs like a porn model. So where are the hot, unconventional looking women? Where are the hot, badass women? Surely a decent artist can draw a hot woman who isn’t showing masses of skin, just … look at real life for examples.

I’m sure guys would like those just as much.

And more importantly, why aren’t the guys in games as sexualised? Why is it that gamers are A-OK playing fugly male characters but the rest of us  just don’t get our beefcake?

Girl Unplugged wishes more of the TF2 characters could look like Daniel Craig, Vin Diesel, or Hugh Jackman. I think this is a campaign we should all support. More Daniel Craig lookalikes in videogames please!! I do get that a lot of male gamers have homophobic tendencies and might not want to play male blood elves. But Daniel Craig? I mean, come on!!

It’s all about the silhouettes

A lot of the way female characters are presented is down to practicalities. Characters need to be recognisably male or female even when drawn on the screen in small scale or viewed in silhouette. And the easiest way to make a character recognisably feminine is to give it huge boobs and make it walk with a pornstar wiggle.

I still don’t like it, but there are actual reasons beyond ‘this game is for boys only.’ A really good example of this is from ArtOrder’s challenge last week, where he challenged artists to produce a TF2 style team, drawn in silhouette.

Look at the stances that the female characters are drawn with. Which are the most easily recognisable silhouettes? Look for the boobs being thrust upwards and the legs akimbo, and see which artists are able to portray female silhouettes without resorting to that.

Props in particular to Kiriko Moth who I think was the only artist who chose to draw four female silhouettes to make up her TF2 fantasy team, and they all look badass and awesome.

But why oh why can’t we have some more hot guys?

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15 thoughts on “Where’s the beef?

  1. Reminds me of Yahtzee’s rant on Age of Conan where he points out that despite having a million different slider settings for customer characterisation you only have one look for each gender.

    Some game will break the mold. CCP are putting together a Vampire game aimed at capturing some of the female gamer market. Bet the guys in that will look pretty good.

    “World of Darkness, a new online subscription game about vampires targeting an 18-25-year-old, female demographic.

    Fashion and design will play a key role in the game and the group has employed two supposedly well-known Icelandic fashion designers to create virtual “gothic-style” clothing for avatars. The group is hiring 100 more people in the next 12 months – including producers, animators and economists – to create its new virtual world. ”

    Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/5344839/Virtual-world-is-a-real-money-maker.html

  2. I don’t fully agree. The male characters usually have muscles that could make Arnold or Sly jealous. In WoW maybe gnomes and blood elves are exception.

    I think it’s not sexuality but “maturity” is the key. The avatar looking as a grown man or woman in his/her peak physical condition can expect great connection from kids who want nothing more than be (and viewed as) adults. Sexuality is simply a signal of maturity (just think of the term “adult content”).

    However it’s not less annoying to play an action hero figure than an “I tank in stripper clothes” paladin. We, more mature players are simply not the core audience of these games.

  3. I disagree that mature players aren’t the core target of these games – they are. It’s just become the industry standard to have hot guys and girls running around in the games. And yes, the guys are hot too, they are always ripped with 6 packs.

    This is what gamers want!

    Want me to prove it? Log into Age of Conan or SW:G and see how many fat old men avatars you see running about.

    I really enjoy playing offbeat characters which is why, usually when the game permits, I make fat old bald men with beards :) I think it adds a lot more dimension to my character.

  4. Most characters are caricatures, so obviously features are exaggerated, both in female AND in male models. Huge muscles, huge boobs, oversized hands, huge eyes etc.

    When I played PSO some 10 years ago, you had the ability to change the height and weight of your characters, and it still seems wierd to me that you dont get that option in WoW.

    Clothing is more of an issue for female characters. Skimpy clothing is often the norm in games.

  5. Well, if you think the video gamer demographic is dominated by men, take a look at the video game designer graphic. It will probably take at least another “generation” before the demographics get caught up on the side that makes the games to the point where the players are now.

    There is also something to be said for the things that tend to be attractive to men and women being different. Some things are easier to “render” than others.

    @Stabs – Looking at this from a history of White Wolf’s capacity to manage its IP once it is out of their hands, we’ll be lucky if the vampires don’t sparkle in daylight.

  6. @Tarsus true but they were awesome back in the 80s and CCP are pretty good managers of a game. We’ll have to wait and see whether it works but I do think that with CCP being involved some of the more obvious mistakes of other MMO launches might be avoided. (Notably designing it to run on an over-clocked NASA supercomputer with 54″ monitor which is presumably how games like Vanguard and AoC were developed).

    Eve works on a low end machine and until recently some people were using dial-up yet still manages to look pretty sharp.

    I was listening to Warp Drive Active yesterday and someone from CCP North America was raving about how much they like the White Wolf staff.

    Little things I know but in a climate where these things get launched in states which are headscratchingly ridiculous I suggest there is ground to expect that we won’t have to buy bigger fangs from the online store, won’t have to buy a new PC nor will we have to install a version of Windows that is 2 weeks old to play it (or any of the other completely daft things MMO devs sometimes think is a good idea).

  7. Thanks for mentioning the post! I think your first answer is ultimately the most logical one: that these games are intended to satisfy the fantasies of a predominantly heterosexual male audience.

  8. Everybody’s got good points here. I think we’d all like to see more variety in our men and women. WoW is actually a shining example of this (dwarf/troll/orc/tauren/gnome females, troll and gnome males) at the same time that it’s a massive disappointment on this front in other ways (the TERRIBLE illustrator they hired to do the loading screens for Azeroth is the worst. I’m a very straight young man yet the way the females look on the loading screens is decidedly unnattractive. He’s trying too hard to do cheesecake and instead making malformed barbie dolls).

    Misogyny is real throughout society, 99% of the people who make games are men (we only know of one person on the entire Blizzard staff who is female, and she’s a community rep. Any of their executives? Any of their game designers girls? At all?), and the marketers know that sex sells, and both women and men in our society are socialized/trained to prefer sexualized, objectified female images. But things are improving, and I think they will keep improving as long as we don’t let anyone pretend that misogyny isn’t real. :)

    And yes, the male avatars are consistently muscular in a way that is nearly unachievable for regular guys. But I’d argue that a) fighting in a bikini is worse, at least muscles makes sense for an adventurer, where are the muscles on the girls? and b) both are idealized for what men want to see. Women don’t want super muscle man with ugly face, they want well-toned man with some (but not too much) muscles and a handsome face.

    I want to see more women like Fray and the girl from Beyond Good and Evil out there. They are hot too. There are a lot of ways to make a woman HOT without resorting to tracing a porn video. Not that I don’t love porn. :) Just don’t want to mix my peanut butter with my chocolate, if you know what I mean.

  9. Pingback: Bald, Fat Old Men With Beards - We Fly Spitfires - MMORPG Blog

  10. Actually, back in the “good old days” of SWG there were a LOT of “fat old guys” running around. A lot of people found it hilarious that they could do so. I think my favorite was the morbidly obese male human Master Dancer who only ever wore pink hotpants. He was a riot. There were a lot of fat wookiees around too for some reason. Maybe it was just my server, but…. all kinds of shapes and sizes that I saw.

    Yeah, there were a lot of grotesquely oversized boobs on the female toons too, but I made mine properly proportioned, and even got comments on how my toon looked better than most due to that — I even went Image Designer for a couple of months so I could “downsize” several female friends who decided that they didn’t want to “slut it up” anymore. After that, if we ever saw anyone “oversized” we’d assume it was a teenaged boy who hasn’t learned that “bigger isn’t always better” yet.

  11. I still think Alyx Vance from HL2 is the greatest female character in a video game ever, full stop. Valve did a fantastic job of making her look really good yet not slutty at all, plus she kicks major tail.

    I appreciate a well-populated chainmail bikini as much as the next guy, but even I get tired of the way female characters get portrayed. Males, too, really. Not every guy in Stormwind is a roided-up Hulk Hogan with a mullet, after all, just like not every woman is a 36DD with childbearing hips.

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