Monday, April 30, 2012

and I dream of the sea, broken machinery

"We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique! So far we know of no other group of organisms that descend from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species," study researcher Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, of the University of Oslo, in Norway, said in a statement.

Really amazing. And if new scientific advances prove out, they'll be able to cultivate already discovered strains of eukaryotes, and see if they fit this new discovery's pattern.

I came across this post yesterday, which is essentially an open letter to Wizards of the Coast, who are the current publishers of Dungeons & Dragons. And it's a really, really good letter--if you're interested in paper gaming, or even gaming as women in general, it's well worth the read.

But it started me thinking about portrayals of women in gaming, in general. For example:

(from the media album)

(You can see the huge version on Diq's wallpaper site, or you can see more examples of game art on Runes' official site.)

Push aside anything you might know about the game. What are you looking at? Gladiator on the left; wizard on the right; some sort of sorceress in the center. So how are they attired? The gladiator has full golden armor--full helm (with what looks like a dyed horsehair-brush crest), detailed cuirass and pauldrons, vambraces, relief-work tassets, cuisses, kneeguards shaped like the heads of lions in full roar, greaves, sabatons, a relief-work groinguard, and a circular wooden shield. Oh, and those silly little silk pieces fluttering from the groinguard.

Likely he also has a full chain hauberk--it's not visible, but we do see chain hose, so it's likely.

He's carrying at least a broadsword, though more likely a longsword--it looks long enough to qualify as a two-handed cavalry weapon, but this is a fantasy realm, so it's likely enchanted to make him capable of swinging it with one hand, on the ground.

On the right, some sort of court wizard. He's holding an orb of fire and a very ornate staff; there's no visible runes on his robes, but let's assume it has all that metalwork because metal's easy to enchant. He doesn't really need armor (and in many games, wearing armor actually drains a wizard's endurance, so it's in their best interest to ditch as much weight as possible), but he's got a hood to protect against inclement weather, a full robe to cover him in all conditions, and sturdy walking boots.

Which brings us to the sorceress. It could be an energy orb she's holding, or a charged ball of water waiting to be thrown at an enemy to distract or destroy. That doesn't so much matter as what else she's wearing--or not, as the case seems to be.

This is essentially a bikini with ornamentation. For some bizarre reason, she has full greaves, detailed in some white metal and brass with wings--or perhaps, that's white leather. Looks more like enameled metal to me, though. Then, above that, she's got purple enameled pauldrons, embroidered gloves, else is she wearing? She's got sort of a companion piece to the wizard's belt, so we'll go with the theory that that's a runestone in both, keeping their energy charged and contained. But above that, she's pretty much got a corset comprised of a center piece (possibly to protect against direct chest strikes, but I have doubt) and several metallic strands. You'd think those would start to cut into her torso if she moved at all during combat.

Above that, she has a formed breastplate...if we can even call it that, because it's essentially two cups, out of either enameled metal, or leather with metal chasing, and a collar. No idea why the collar is there. Is she in service to some court? We can't tell from the image.

She also has some pretty nifty stockings, apparently held up by metal wings, and...a very minimal pair of purple leather panties. Joy. And hanging from either the belt or the back of the bikini are four trailing cloth strips. More joy.

She couldn't have been dressed like the druids, for instance? That's a very feminine outfit, and manages to enhance her waist, hips, and cleavage while being fully covered. Why couldn't that have been the symbol for the game?

(from the media album)

This is the Sorceress class from the Pathfinder RPG. (You can see the full-size version here.)

Now, whether or not this depends on any particular racial privilege, most gamers cut tribal cultures a bit more slack in terms of attire. Tribal societies, in our minds, need to move more, be able to run, leap, climb trees, shoot arrows, kill with hunting knives, track down game...whatever it is that that particular society needs, heavy robes and heavier armor generally just gets in the way.

Plus, as previously established, this is a magic-user. A priestess of her people, one might say. This may be her society's version of clerical robes, or what shamans wear in whatever culture this is supposed to represent.

Save for a couple problems. First, she's not wearing anything under that loose robe. It's held to her body by virtue of a fitted, yet extraordinarily stripped-down corset (which, with those sharp edges, looks positively lethal for bending forward, or even sitting down), a thin black leather belt, and a heavy collar comprised of folds of fabric and, mysteriously, armor bits.

Maybe vampires and ghouls are more prevalent in her world than in most fantasy realms. Consider the left side of the wallpaper, after all.

But everything else is bare--tattooed, but bare. And I just don't buy that the tattoos have to be exposed to air and sunlight to work. That's not feasible.

The other immediate problem I have is the leggings. Or rather, the half-leggings. They look like someone made a pair of harem pants, then chopped them in half, and retained only the bottom legs of the pair. In fact, the same thing's going on with her sleeve--both half-sleeves and half-pants are belted to her, as if having bare shoulders and bare knees is more important.

And yet this is from the same game. There's a hint of cleavage, there's a suggestion of shape; there's a visible (and reinforced, and studded, and belted!) corset; there are attractive little details that both hint at gender, and hint at femininity. But she doesn't have to lose ninety-five percent of her attire to do so!

What about World of Warcraft? Not surprisingly, WoW is rife with examples, both in terms of animation as well as actual costume options. But I'm still mostly talking about what they choose to release as the main images of their game:

(from the media album)

(You can see the full wallpaper version here.)

Again, put aside any preconceptions you may have (if you play in WoW, say). Just to hazard a guess, looking at her, I'd assume sorceress, again, save that she has a tri-bladed weapon. Which makes the standard magic-using lack-of-all-weaponry stance confusing, to say the least.

But let's say magicians in this world can use bladed weapons. Nifty (save that she seems to be wearing it as a shield). What else is she using? It seems predominantly quilted armor pieces--shoulders (I don't quite have the gall to name those pauldrons; they're essentially just archaic shoulder-pads with metal bits), greaves (they at least seem decently protective), high quilted boots with kneeguards...and...yeah, that's pretty much it. Everything else is in the wisps-and-nothingness fantasy lingerie camp.

There's a similar wallpaper out there that seems to feature an elf with slightly more least, until we break it down. That high-collared coat only features a high collar around the back of the neck, and the coat itself is comprised of brassiere cups and jeweled straps. We have no idea what she's wearing below the waist, but considering the long arrowing-in along the hips, I'd assume not much.

The men of Warcraft get much more in the way of coverings, and I'd even add an additional regarding that particular image--there are at least three women in that picture, or two and a very lithe male; but of those three, the only decent detailing is on the men. The women, all of whom are wearing fully covering robes, or full quilted armor and hauberk, are pretty much slapdash simplicity that I guarantee the player characters are going to want to ditch as soon as possible.

That's the other thing I've learned about fantasy gaming, at least in terms of video games. The higher your character level, if you're playing a female, the less clothes you get. That's pretty much standard across the board, as if your armor class goes up as a woman the less you wear.

Do I even have to mention T.E.R.A. Online? It's become pretty much the laughingstock of fantasy gaming, in terms of how they handle female modes of dress. Watching this video for instance (it's twelve minutes long in total, but trust me, before you're two minutes in you'll see all you need to see) initially displays a male elf character, who's clad in modest, simple robes. Then the gender is changed. While the very next image shown is that of someone wearing a full gown, it's very thin, and cut very close to her figure, showing very deep cleavage. And that's as good as it gets--every outfit on every character class shown after is more revealing, comprised of less material, and involves steadily increasing stripper animations.

In TERA's world, the sorceress wears as little as possible (and rides side-saddle); the berserker wears even less (and prances when she walks); the mystic minces and wears a shift dress; the archer...dear gods, the archer. But the archer isn't the worst of them--the heavy fighter is pretty much a battle poppet. Practically nothing on the fighter is designed to protect or injure save for the pauldrons, and even then, the fighter herself would get more injured by them than any opponent.

(from the media album)

I can't imagine they gained any new female players with this campaign.

Two women shown with traditional fantasy trappings in the background. The one on the left I'd take for a sorceress of some kind, considering the staff. She has horns, she has not-quite-as-huge elven antenna ears, a coat that barely qualifies as "coat", with a strappy set of panties and laced-up, heelless stocking boots underneath. I think we can definitely categorize this under stripper couture.

The second female is even more problematic. She's wearing a catsuit, which my brain refuses to excuse out of some mystic fetish-y fantasy element; it's a catsuit, goddamn it, it doesn't go with the theme in any way. Beyond that, she's pretty much clad just in exotic metal adornments. And while her white lips aren't blowjob-preparation parted, the way she's holding the hilt of the whatever-it-is she's holding (...sword? Your guess is as good as mine), it's definitely suggestive as hell.

But that was just the intro image. What about when TERA formally launched?

(from the media album)

Yeah, that's not better.

(from the media album)

And now we're pretty much talking pedophilia.

Even in Skyrim things get crazy now and again. Note in this video how a character with a high pickpocketing skill can take everything but the underwear from males, but takes absolutely everything from females. Inevitably, this tells the player character one of two things--either women don't wear underwear (thus painting them as sluts or tramps), or women just don't matter enough to leave them with even thin, fragile underwear layers (thus demeaning them as characters worthy in their own right).

Not to leave the guys out entirely, though, I want to bring up Hennet.

(from the media album)

Hennet surfaced in the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons books, as pretty much the only male who's presented as pure eye candy. He's wearing straps. A whole lot of straps. There's a sketch of Hennet in the same pose that shows the straps off to better detail. There's a lot of straps--straps along his abdomen, straps along one leg, straps along his ankles, straps along his upper arms. But he's pretty much just wearing pants under that, and they look like harem pants, at that, if tied down (and, on the one side, heavily buckled) ones.

They even take it farther, and feature Hennet being seduced by something awful later on. I don't care who you are, having your nipple licked is pretty much a sexualized image. What is unusual is that it's an image of a male.

What does all this tell us? Nothing we didn't know--namely, that games are still being marketed to straight males, and pretty much the female demographic is still mostly ignored. Which is a shame, because we're becoming a vocal--and significantly financed--contingent.

Want to have more females in your games? The best way to do that is to give us costume options. Because if we're being presented with the choice of playing a game that makes no gender choices (like Farmville, like Bejeweled, like Angry Birds, like TripleTown) and games that do (like TERA)...especially if they're gender choices that we profoundly cannot support...guess where we'll be.


grand canyon tour from phoenix said...

Virtually awesome! I am just starting to play the game.

Emilly Orr said...

Which game? I mentioned like six different ones.

Osum1 said...

Hey, love your blog. Check out mine?

Emilly Orr said...

So...I'm trying to see the link here, and I don't entirely get it. Unless I go to school with you or listen to the same bands (and, barring Marilyn Manson, haven't found many other shared musical choices), it doesn't seem like I'm going to get much out of your blog, personally. But you have mastered the art of the short entry, which I woefully fail at, so go you! Thanks for sending me your blog link.