Experienced Points:The Half-Naked Elf Problem

By Shamus
on Apr 20, 2012
Filed under:
Column

Earlier this week, Captain Maybe commented on the stripperific outfits in Tera. This week’s column has some of my thoughts on the matter.

This issue generates way more heat than it needs to. You can’t bring this subject up without someone throwing the word “prude” back in your face, as if you were calling for everyone to dress like monks.

I can imagine a game where the women all have normal looking armor, and the men prance around in loincloths. As a guy, your combat taunts are all sex based. (Like, clench a rose in your teeth and make some super-lame innuendo.) You can see how that would be…

Okay, I’m undercutting my point here, because that sounds hilarious. But only because it would be so novel. But if all games did this? If in every game women were “regular” people, and the men were all half-naked, wouldn’t that feel… goofy?

I’m not saying that women shouldn’t have revealing avatars in a fantasy setting. I’m just saying people should get some choice in the matter. If we all choose freely how to dress, and the world ends up looking like this:

firefall1.jpg

Then so be it. Mammal’s gonna be mammalian. But as long as this look is imposed on players by developers, then the developers are going to take the heat for it from everyone who would prefer to make some other choice.

And if you’re going to make a world obviously crafted exclusively for the 18-24 males demo, then when you start complaining about how hard it is to attract players to your world then I really don’t know what else to say.

haha.jpg

In short, I’m not asking you to put pants on. I’m just asking to be allowed to wear some myself.

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  1. IronCastKnight says:

    I always had this problem playing a Mithra in FFXI. All I wanted was some pants, but all I got was tight leather panties. Not that pleasing, really.

    • Christopher M. says:

      Well, in their defense I’m not sure that anyone in Japan knows what pants are…

    • ccesarano says:

      Maybe I don’t spend enough time playing online multiplayer, but it seems to me Halo Reach managed to differentiate male and female avatars without having to show any flesh quite fine.

      Though at the same time, Mistress Chief has quite a ba-donk-a-donk.

      EDIT: Crap, this was supposed to be in response to the guy below. Mah bad.

      • Alex says:

        Counter-point, Halo: Reach’s idea of gender-equality was to make EVERYONE look like a toaster designed by Michael Bay.

        • ccesarano says:

          True, though I’m gonna be honest, I don’t get why it matters what gender the person that you’re shooting at is. Especially since there’s a 50/50 chance it’s a dude on the other side anyway. I always figured that sort of stuff was just for the player and not for anyone else.

          • Irridium says:

            Plus, when fighting a genocidal conglomeration of aliens hellbent on humanity’s destruction, I really don’t think that making things look nice would be a top priority for the military.

            • Alex says:

              Well that’s no excuse for crappy art-design. And I doubt anyone is playing Halo for it’s realism, which is often the excuse developers give to pile on more and more polygons, without stopping to ask why they need them.

    • merle says:

      As a fellow Mithra player (Cait Sith server), I feel your pain. The quest for pants is never-ending…though at leas tthe mage classes got to cover some skin. What was your primary class, if I may ask?

  2. Lawton says:

    RIOT makes a fairly good argument for this problem as far as league of legends goes. They claim that it is nearly impossible to distinguish male from female in a top-down view without massive boobies. Applying this line of reasoning to FPS would point out that if both genders were wearing massive, concealing suits, it would hard to distinguish gender very easily. Perhaps it is actually better to have very obvious distinctions in gender. Yes, you are mostly talking about fantasy MMOs where this is probably less meaningful, but I think that Firefall could probably take this argument. Also, Firefall is an excellent game and demonstration of how not to be a WOW clone, so I will be hoping to see your thoughts on it.

    • scowdich says:

      Why should you need to distinguish a character’s gender? In any game where there’s not actual “let’s make out” roleplaying dialogue, I fail to see how it would have much bearing on gameplay.

      • Lawton says:

        Honestly? Because if you don’t make it obvious that a character is female, it is often assumed that they are male. See Samus. If you have no obvious females, it ends up appearing as though the entire population of the game is male

        • decius says:

          And what is the downside to players making wrong assumptions about your characters, only to have them struck down later?

          • Dragomok says:

            Isn’t that strange? Half of the world population is female and yet, it seems (especially on game-related/RPG/fantasy forums) as if people always assume that a person who shows no signs of gender must be male.

            I guess it’s one of patriarchalism’s leftovers.

            EDIT: That was meant to be a reply to Lawton. Sorry.

            • I’m female, and I play an MMO (Dungeons and Dragons Online), and I ALWAYS assume EVERYONE is male unless I hear their voice over voice chat. It’s a fairly standard practice even though there are quite a number of female players on the server. No one is offended, and, in fact, I think the ladies would rather you assume that they’re guys unless they announce otherwise.

              The only thing that ever annoys me is when I use voice chat and guys say something like OMG A GIRL. Or try to be flirtatious. That is spectacularly annoying.

              Fortunately most of the players on DDO seem to know better than to try and be actively sexist/demeaning toward women. ‘Cause I ain’t healing them if they’re obnoxious. They can sit out the quest as a soul stone, stashed somewhere out of reach of any resurrection shrine.

              • Soylent Dave says:

                OMG r u a real girl? ASL j/k

                (I used to hang out on IRC, I know how to talk to ladies…)

              • TSi says:

                I was going to say something about that.
                I don’t know if women’s behaviour changes when around men but the opposite is true.
                Men that find themselves with a women often adopt another behaviour. It’s pretty much simply primal instincts and I’m not really sure how to describe this in English but I assume you understand as you seem to have experienced this behaviour.
                I don’t say that every men changes their behaviour when they meet females but in most cases, they do, and even if that’s perfectly normal, if they can’t self control then it’s better to avoid them.

            • Sumanai says:

              I instantly thought “Pyro from Team Fortress 2” since there is, or has been, a rather strong support for the idea that s/he is female.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          Well, by the same reasoning we could be giving men massive, massive crotch bulges, let’s say the size of fitness balls. Let’s just go the whole way and have them bounce around on those (don’t forget the jiggle physics) ;)

      • krellen says:

        In a game like LoL, identifying which character you are facing is actually pretty important once you reach a certain level of skill. Of course, this speaks more to having a good aesthetic design, like TF2 does, more than making sure women have massive bazongas.

        • Lawton says:

          Of course, one would point out that there are no female characters in TF2, and if there were they would likely possess massive bazongas in order to have a more distinctive silhouette as part of said good character design.

          • peter says:

            Why should they?
            If a male scout is no different from a female one, there’s no need to discern the two at first glance. The only differences that are needed to be seen in silhouette are those between the classes.

            • Roll-a-Die says:

              Aesthetics man, it get’s boring to see the same things over and over again, and you gradually grow numb to the classes themselves, if there is no variation, this is something I’m glad valve has realized, and is at least adding some diversity, even if it’s just hats. Still playing TF2, even now, is just bland shooting(and lets face it was bland even on release, the game was only truly good because of the team play it enforced.) at the same fairly bland silhouettes(distinct, but still fairly bland) you’ve been shooting at for the past 7 years now.

              More than that it suffers from the fact that there is no female option, in the case of TF2. It’s about manly men doing manly things with other men, and you can’t really prove the pyro is female, so don’t try. I hate sausage fest games like that, female models bring an added aspect of customization and player choice, that makes games all the better.

              If females look just the same as males, just with a different head model, you take out some of that customization, and special snow flakeness that is giving people even moderate customization of their characters.

              • Mari says:

                Aesthetically I find it much more desirable to distinguish females based upon the other obvious physical differences we have from men. You know, different upper and lower body proportions, slightly altered shoulder set-ups, etc. Because in case you hadn’t noticed women are not men with water balloons strapped on the front. There’s a reason that except in particular circumstances, when a man dresses in drag he is still identifiable as a man. I mean, do you people really wander around confused by the gender of small-breasted women in the real world?

                • Christopher M. says:

                  This is a fact that troubles me daily. Would that there were reliable surgical methods to alter one’s skeletal structure…

                • J Greely says:

                  I was once in a room with 100 Playboy models and 6 drag queens. They were very nice guys, and they were trying really hard, but they were in the worst possible environment for “passing”. Even in a dress and heels, a man walking across the room tends to move from the shoulder, not the hip; this is very obvious in a room full of professional models.

                  -j

                  • Tuck says:

                    “I was once in a room with 100 Playboy models and 6 drag queens.”

                    You should start your autobiography with this line.

                    • Alex says:

                      He should end it there, too. I don’t think there’s a way to top that.

                      In one sentence, that is a life lived.

                  • Bubble181 says:

                    To be fair, not if they’re good at it.
                    Me in a skirt? Yeah, no. But if you actually *want* to be / identify as a woman, a man can get quite far. Matter of learning to walk anew adn such crap, but it’s possible.

                    Heck, not like it really means a lot, but there was a crossdresser in “America’s next Top Model”‘s finals a couple of years ago…

                    • Sumanai says:

                      I think there was a sentence about this sort of stuff about an Asian country and identifying cross-dressers on Little-Gamers. Something about “you don’t”. I’m suspecting however that they were drunk the whole trip, so take that as you will.

            • Aldowyn says:

              Well, consider Borderlands. You don’t have males and females of each classes (and it wouldn’t make sense for the silhouettes to look the same anyway), you have classes that are male and classes that are female. Plenty of games do that, even now.

            • Khizan says:

              The problem with this is that a woman with the Heavy’s silhouette is going to end up looking like the heavy in a wig.

              So you maybe make her a bit shorter. You give her a body that’s heavyset without having a figure like a refrigerator. So you’ve got a big, muscular-yet-feminine woman with a minigun… and unless her silhouette takes up just as much space as that of the male Heavy, you’ve given me a superior Heavy by making her a smaller target.

              Granted, this is no reason why all the characters are male and none of them are female, but, to me, it’s a fairly good reason why there’s no option for male/female within each class.

          • Winter says:

            There have been a number of really good “female” versions of TF2 characters that have only ordinary sized breasts.

            I think TF2 is the ultimate counter-example, because there’s no differentiation between male and female characters because they’re all male!

            And yet, somehow, the game got praise for having the most distinct characters. Almost as if something other than giving some of your characters gigantic boobs was what created real distinctions between the designs…

        • Kyte says:

          TF2 has the benefit of first person view, though, That’s much more silhouette and general surface area to work with than LoL’s top-down.

          • Winter says:

            Okay, so compare to DotA or DotA2. Somehow, Valve found a way to not give DotA characters tremendous racks and yet are still A. easily distinguishable, B. definitely female.

            Saying all your female characters will be distinguished by breast size, or even that that’s an appropriate or sensible way to distinguish between female characters, is a little bit… silly.

            This is aside from some of the other… let’s just say… unfortunate parts about League’s character design. Consider, for example, Ahri’s death sounds–which is basically her having an orgasm.

            Now, believe it or not, i think you can make a case for a character who gets off on being murdered (especially in a game where you can in-universe come back to life pretty easily), but the thing is… all of the female characters in League are like this. There are rare exceptions, sure, but consider the case of Lux, who was turned into a slutty schoolgirl cheerleader design and it took about a month of infighting at Riot to get her swapped back to something decent and reasonable.

            This is aside from the fact that DotA 2 has more variance in general–there’s no Broodmother equivalent in LoL. I presume that, if Riot made a Broodmother, they would have to give her enormous breasts even though she’s a spider. (Which is actually what they were going to do with their Spider Queen character.)

            The problem isn’t that you have a character in your game who gets off on being murdered, the problem is that–for female characters–that’s basically all you have. League of Legends is shameful, and the character design is shameful. It’s not like DotA (or DotA 2) is even particularly good… just… not intensely awful. The gender balance in DotA is something like 60 distinctly male characters, 13 distinctly female, and then Morphling who could be whatever (but has a masculine voice, at least). This is pretty miserable, but… could be worse!

            • Dragomok says:

              Consider, for example, Ahri’s death sounds–which is basically her having an orgasm.

              If you read her backstory, you can clearly see that Riot wanted her to be a redempted man-eater femme fatale. This would make for a really interesting, if creepy, character design. It’s both sad and scary that they came up with this instead.

              You know, sometimes I just feel glad that I decided to quit LoL.

    • Keeshhound says:

      There’s a difference between differentiating genders and objectification. League of Legends uses a ridiculous caricature body type due to the engine’s limitations, but the champion outfits are diverse, with some being revealing (Evelynn, Janna) and some fairly conservative (Karma, Irelia).

    • Kana-chan says:

      This argument from them doesn’t hold any water with me. Riven, Lux, all the merglings (female Yordles), Leona, and Shyvana. are all clearly female, and don’t have breasts like two watermellons stapled to their chest.

      Oh those, only Lux and the Yordles actually look decent in their default appearance (Leona often gets a pass, but I don’t give it because the concept of a trained combatant running around in high heels is ludicrous to me). Riot is capable of creating clear, obvious female characters.

      But stapling giant boobs on is a cheap, easy way to not have to worry about that and counts for giving tons of terrible “fan service”, since it’s getting overused with a ton of the stripperific outfits.

      • Jarenth says:

        That new Riven outfit? I cringed when I saw it.

        • Kana-chan says:

          I meant their default skins. Shyvana’s Ironscale skin looks absolutely fantastic compared to her default, but the inverse is true for Lux’s Sorceress skin. Her default looks like something a military mage might wear, Sorceress is a magical cheerleader.

          Riot can clearly make clear female characters without relaying on over-exaggerated characteristics (Miss Fortune being the worst of them all, breasts like dual-watermellons and a waist so thin I’m pretty sure she’s lacking 80% of her internal organs). I’d love to see more Lux and less Sejuani.

          • Jarenth says:

            No, I understand. I was referring to that last paragraph: not even Riven, Leona and Lux get spared the inevitable stripper treatment, with Riven now having a literal Playboy Bunny outfit.

            Meanwhile, there’s still no swimsuit Taric.

        • cerapa says:

          I distinctly remember there basically being a petition for the skin.

          Demanded by the community, not by the devs. Big difference.

          • Jarenth says:

            Fair point. They still made it, though.

            • Sumanai says:

              Yes. A creator has the responsibility of holding up their character’s decency. Think of it as being their parents. Would you intentionally dress up your daughter in a stripperific clothing if you know she can’t stop you?

              • Sumanai says:

                I think I went a bit overboard there, but I don’t know if I should be putting it any nicer. A lot of character design in games are made by people who don’t seem to understand that they’re responsible for the character. They seem too ready to dismiss problematic undertones with “that’s just what the character is” without realising that the character is what it is because they made it so.

      • Jakale says:

        That reminds me of something I noticed the other day while looking around Creative Uncut. The high heel trend that’s been getting more common? I think it’s long since gotten out of hand.
        It’s not even just the deliberately sexy ones anymore.

        • Dragomok says:

          Bayonetta doesn’t count. Bayonetta is… different.

          Her design is clearly exaggerated on purpose. But what purpose? There are some theories, but honestly, I have no idea – I have never played that game.

          *cough* (Also, classifing gun-shoes as “another example of high-heels trend”? Do you have no respect? They are the closest thing to Apache revolver of footwear!) *cough*

          P.S. Thanks for the links. That was insightful.

          • Darkness says:

            Bayonetta is a gun witch. She doesn’t wear clothes btw that is just her hair. She was a purposefully over the top character. And she was a hoot to play. Her taunts were great, “Do you want to touch me?”.

            But, on a game that lets me choose the look I prefer to have thin small breasted women. Basically fast, thin thieves. My Dark Souls thieve is covered in black leather. Tall, thin, quiet and deadly. My kind of girl.

            Although Enslaved was hit and miss the girl NPC was perfect. Geeky for the win.

  3. scowdich says:

    Your first Youtube link in your article is busted.
    On a different note, is that screenshot from Firefall? I’m disappointed.
    Off the top of my head, Gears of War is one of the only current series/games that features a female character in armor similar to the males’ outfits. Skyrim gets up there, too, if I recall correctly.
    That’s not nearly enough games.

    An interesting note: from what I’ve heard, Secret World will have a system where appearance is in no way tied to ability. You can dress your character as you like (in mostly modern-day clothes, I think) and it won’t affect your stats at all.

    • Shamus says:

      Yes, the screenshot is from Firefall. Don’t hold it against the game – my graphics settings are set to super-low, because the game really struggles, because it’s still in beta. I’m reasonably confident that what I’m seeing is not indicative of the final product. (My gut tells me the texture caching is in need of work. The framerate spikes are horrible at first, and then even out once I’ve played for a bit.)

      • scowdich says:

        It’s not the quality of the screenshot I’m worried about, it’s that the two characters are apparently in the same armor set, and the female seems to have made cut-offs.

        • Roll-a-Die says:

          Helps to distinguish between genders man, Firefall is fairly fast paced, and if you want people to even notice there are females, you have to do something like that. Especially since given both of their stances, they likely have the same skeleton. Meaning their silhouette is fairly close to the same. So you add a tan/skinish color to the girls and suddenly they are instantly recognizable as being that gender. I’d be more worried, aesthetically by those arms, jesus christ, if there’s one thing that always gets me about game designers is how often they fuck up female arms.

          • scowdich says:

            So instead of changing the armor models between genders, why not use animations that are a bit different? I don’t mean making all males hulk around and all females flaunt what they’ve got, but men and women do tend to move differently, and it is discernible, at a subconscious level at least.

            • Aldowyn says:

              And you want the animators to animate something that we notice subconsciously? I think that might be just a little bit difficult.

            • Roll-a-Die says:

              Women move differently because they have a differently structured skeleton, and muscular structure. In game design, at current, the standard is having 1 skeleton for each character type, in cases like bethesda games, they don’t even vary it for race. This is why typically female characters outside of things like MMO’s will have very manly walks.

              What you are asking would double the load of animators for something that could be more easily done, without EONs of effort on their part, with the texturing and modeling of the character. More than that, subconscious things are incredibly hard to replicate. I want you to imagine in your head a females walk, in it’s entirety, IE, arm movements, thigh movements, shin movements, the movements of the shoulders, the movements of the stomach, and then go and watch a female walk, then 5 minutes later after stopping watching that female, try and imagine the female walk cycle in it’s entirety again. Then go step by step, in your head and try and replicate each part, before you start to say, “Well they could just do it piece by piece.” Now think about what would happen, if you didn’t get it exactly correct, think about how wrong it would look in a video game. More than that, try and make it generic enough that it can be repeated endlessly.

              These are some of the reason bethesda games tend to be criticized in certain circles for being hilariously badly animated. Skyrim, was slightly better in that regard than anything before it, and it was still bad.

              • Klay F. says:

                We have mo-cap for a reason. Get your nearest female human being in a mo-cap suit, record said female, import to game engine, texture and mesh the result. Done.

                • Roll-a-Die says:

                  Yeah right, here’s the fun thing about mocap, you still need to modify it for hours, tweak it so that it’s infinite, then tweak it so the limbs look right, and then tweaking it some more so that it looks decent while still being infinite. This is one of the reason, it’s often considered easier for animators just to hand make the walk cycle than to mocap it.

                  Mocap isn’t a magic cure all bullet that fixes anything and everything animating wise. It’s good for certain things, weapon strikes, dances, jumping, idle anims, but the blends to and from neutral, to and from walk, and to and from an animation, are still almost always hand made.

                  • Klay F. says:

                    Your just making my point for me. Animators are not experts in anatomy, which speaks to why body animations in 99% of games are absolutely terrible and look nothing like how humans move. This is fine if your game is purposely avoiding photorealism, not so otherwise.

                    • Roll-a-Die says:

                      How am I making your point for you? I’ve said nothing to support it. You’ve said mocap is a magic cure all to everything animation-wise, and yes that is what you imply when you make blanket statements like that. I’ve claimed otherwise, now you are attempting to save face by claiming what I’m saying is supporting you. This is a poor mans trick, and you are being a http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5I0c7DmSZg&feature=related because of that.

                      Mocap doesn’t work because animations in games have to be static, where as most often times, you don’t repeat a single sequences of 3 steps over and over and over and over and over. It works for things like weapon strikes because those aren’t often focused on exclusively generally you watch the blade not the hand. And it works for dances because while they are difficult, tend to be frenetic and movement filled distract from the flaws in the animation. For instance watch a dance in wow, and realize just how smooth those dances are, notice the lack of natural bounce to the bodies, flaws like that, that you don’t often realize until someone points them out to you. Walking is way to random of an act to really be done well in a video game since. The only game I can say did it really well, was a rotoscoped game in the 80s or 90s called Prince of Persia. And that was 2d.

                  • Gamer says:

                    I don’t know how expensive mo-cap is, but they could still import it and use it as a guide to make their own skeletons.

                    • Roll-a-Die says:

                      It’s expensive enough to be out of the range of most small developers. However, again, having multiple skeletons, means you have to do completely custom animations for males and females, from weapon strikes to just about anything. You have to rig each set of armor twice, you have to have so much repetition of work it’s honestly understandable that people don’t often try and make custom skeletons for females in games where you have the ability to customize your characters. Even wow typically doesn’t have custom skeletons between males and females just custom animations. EDIT, er what I mean by that, is that certain things are custom, like the walk cycle and emote animations, but not things like weapon strikes.

                • Shamus says:

                  Mocap is expensive and time-consuming. It requires some very specialized equipment, a lot of room, special actors, special software, and you STILL need to do a bunch of tweaking when you’re done. You need a director, an actor, and a couple of tech-people. Even among AAA companies, I think it’s somewhat of a luxury to be able to do this.

              • decius says:

                And what part of this is different for men?

              • Winter says:

                Women also move differently because that’s how they’re taught to move. You can’t really just say “oh it’s physiological differences!”

                • Oh, that’s why I failed my walking in heels exam, I missed that day in “how to be a woman” school.

                  In other words, the only way I learned how to walk was after ankle reconstruction during physical therapy. Despite Girl Scouts, manners classes, and various other girly pursuits, I never had anyone ever tell me or teach me how to walk like a woman, and after a brief check with female friends, none of them had anything like that either. I do remember being taught how to sit though, if that makes you feel better.

                  Models, women in beauty contests, and others engaged in that sort of pursuits (or those in other cultures) might be taught, but the rest of us walk the way we do because that’s the way we figured out as toddlers, modified as necessary as adolescence altered our frames and we (possibly) started wearing heels, which do make you tend to walk a certain way.

                  This is not meant to be any sort of attack, just a brief clarification that women are not mysterious beasts. Also, why can’t video games, movies, and other media have equal nudity? If I’m going to have to stare at breasts almost falling out of impractical outfits, I want very tight pants on the men, at the very least. For every boob shot, I want a guy butt shot. Sigh, I know, never going to happen.

                  • Roll-a-Die says:

                    Tera actually has that, there are several races and classes with skimpy clothing for men as well as women.

                    • Winter says:

                      I joined the open beta after being reminded by this thread that Tera was a thing.

                      You can put eyeshadow and lipstick on the elf boys, plus they all wear midriff-revealing shirts. That may not be butt-shots, but it’s something!

                  • LassLisa says:

                    There are ways of walking that are feminine vs masculine, though, and people of both genders will get made fun of for doing the wrong one. At least, my ex-bf who moved his hips sure got called gay a lot – and think of the differences between how dancers move vs. otherwise. And a female friend of mine has gotten an awful lot of flack for “walking like a man” because she doesn’t always keep her legs close together and slouches. And if she had just picked up that she’s supposed to be ‘graceful’ on her own, no one would have had to say anything.

                    There’s a lot that’s taught indirectly.

                    • Sumanai says:

                      It should be noted that slightly feminine walk is in fact as comfortable to men as it is to women. The masculine stomp is in fact bad and “unnatural” in a way, it’s just that there’s a cultural push combined with the fact that it’s easier to learn.

                      Especially if you suffer from any kind of stiffness.

                      I learned a pretty “bouncy” walk when I was a teenager and it was miles more comfortable than what I had been doing. Especially with hard soled boots. Unfortunately I got accused of sneaking, since few heard me coming, and I ended up getting a bit stiff at one point (back pain, unrelated). So my walk got stompy again and I have difficulty changing the walk again.

                      I do know that my friends can identify me from a distance from my walking. Don’t know exactly what I’m doing differently to others though.

          • Soylent Dave says:

            If it’s just about identifying the gender ‘at a glance’, then why not just make the guy shirtless?

            You’d be able to see his musculature then (and also, you’re unlikely to see a topless woman in a game). Job done.

            But that’s not the option they chose, because that’s not the option the designers ever choose –

            Because it’s not about ‘differentiating the genders’; it’s the same lazy game design we’ve had for generations now, where games are designed for boys and female characters only exist as eye candy (when they exist at all).

            It’s tragic, and it’s embarrassing.

          • Kana-chan says:

            Planetside (and the upcoming Planetside 2) have both genders, and each is easily distinguished by silhouette and armor, despite that both armors are very similar. It actually looks like armor designed for warfare. The Firefall armor looks like it was designed for blatant eye candy.

          • Sumanai says:

            Is there a reason you need to identify them during a firefight? Aside from “variety”, since it’s usually enough if there are subtle, non-obvious, differences to keep things more interesting.

          • Inyssius says:

            Yeah, sure. Question is, why do I have to prance around half-naked and huge-breasted so that you think I’m female enough for you?

            I mean, to be perfectly honest, I don’t care what you think I look like. I would like to not feel embarrassed and marginalized every time I look at myself, and, you know, maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s a little more important than my character having to shout HEY HEY LOOK AT MY TITS I’M FEMALE I’M A GIRL I HAVE TITS I’M FEMALE I’M FEMALE I’M FEMALE I’M A STRIPPER I’M FEMALE LOOK AT ME loud enough to ensure that random people a mile and a half away cannot possibly fail to hear it.

    • JPH says:

      There’s also the Halo games. And Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, if I recall correctly.

    • Aldowyn says:

      And then there’s the Forsaken, though I admit most of the game is quite reasonable. And exceptions are fine, I’d say. (Preferably with a reason, though)

    • Soylent Dave says:

      Gears of War doesn’t have the ladies in skimpy clothes, but they are half the size of all the male characters (ridiculously so, given they’re meant to be the same species) – and the female characters aren’t actually ‘characters’ in the games;

      There’s only one woman (Anya) in the first two games, and while there are more in the third, they don’t DO anything (in the story) other than ‘be girlfriends of male characters’. It’s especially disappointing given that the game is supposedly written by Karen Traviss (who is, I suspect, familiar with the idea that women have personalities that don’t revolve around being ‘accessories to men’)

      Annoying.

      • ccesarano says:

        I believe Karen Traviss was only in charge of the third game. According to IMDB, the first game was written by Eric Nylund, Susan O’Conner and Eric Tautmann. In terms of Western games, this could also simply mean the developers created the setting and the plot outline, and just needed the writers to fill out the dialogue.

        Gears of War 3 seemed to clearly try and give the different characters personality, so I think Karen’s work really does shine through as best it could in that universe. However, she was still working with the tools she had available, and didn’t really have much freedom. At most, you can basically thank (or blame) her for the constant bantering between Baird and Sam (Claudia Black).

        • Soylent Dave says:

          Traviss’ Gears of War novelisations are surprisingly* good – I think I was partly disappointed because I was hoping for much more plot in the third game when they brought her on board (I shouldn’t have, it’s not exactly the world’s most in-depth storyline)

          *’Surprisingly’ because they’re novelisations of a game, and because that game is as plot-light as Gears of War, not because she’s normally shit at writing.

          • Aldowyn says:

            I read Contact Harvest in the Haloverse. Halo’s got quite the EU at this point, and some of those books are pretty good. And I imagine some of them suck.

            So like the Star Wars EU, basically.

      • merle says:

        Karen Traviss? Well, there goes any desire I had to play GoW 3.

    • guy says:

      Kingdoms of Amalur has most female characters in decent, sensible armor and clothing. There is a dark elf woman who’s one of the major characters and runs around half-naked, but that’s distinctly an exception.

      • MelTorefas says:

        The first time she came on camera I said, out loud, in a resigned voice, “Here we go again.” Interestingly that was also the point I stopped playing. But you are quite correct: other than her, everyone (including my female character) got actual clothing and armor. Attractive (unlike Skyrim default) but without being ridiculous (unlike almost everything else).

  4. krellen says:

    One of the few good things about SWTOR is the design; no one running around half-naked (except, inexplicably, for a few choice high-level robe pieces for Sith Sorceress or Jedi Sages). At least none of the heavy armour choices are blatantly sexy.

    • Roll-a-Die says:

      On the other hand Krellen, that disappoints me, Star Wars has always had females in skimpy outfits, the fact that that has been denied to all but high level play, is rather, again, disappointing.

    • Irridium says:

      Well, there’s also a low-level Jedi Guardian robe (medium and/or heavy armor, can’t remember which) that’s a shirt on men, and a bra on women.

      But other than that, pretty much all of the clothes aren’t revealing.

      • krellen says:

        Not removing Vette’s collar should result in your character’s death and deletion. She’s too adorable to shock.

      • aunshi says:

        For someone who is a slave often tortured she is incredibly sassy.

        • Roll-a-Die says:

          Welcome to bioware, where every character is a cliche that they have done before in a previous game, with few exceptions(HK47 most notably, but then he was repeated in pretty much everything after KotOR)

          Bioware characters
          Sassy Young Girl
          Bitchy Female Love Interest
          Emo Guy Love Interest with a Tragic Past, a Decent Sense of Humor and Heart of Gold
          Bitchy Old Person
          The Beastly Thing
          The Wizened Badass

          And that’s about all the ones that are completely common.

          • Soylent Dave says:

            Ooh, I wrote something about that (about half-way through) – for me one of the most annoying things about Bioware doing the same 5 characters over and over is that they so often use the same voice actor as well.

            Just to ram their laziness home.

            • Aldowyn says:

              Except I like Raphael Sbarge. Have you ever played Republic Commando. Guy can definitely act a different character, though the voice is pretty recognizable once you know it’s him. Unlike Jennifer Hale, who I still can’t recognize when I listen to Bastila…

              Also.. I bet there’s a trope on tvtropes for every single one of those characters you mentioned.

              • Soylent Dave says:

                Oh, the voice actors Bioware use are (generally) talented enough to play different roles – it’s just that Bioware don’t seem to bother casting them in different roles.

                I know you get typecasting in more mainstream media, but Bioware are really quite egregious.

    • MelTorefas says:

      The armor in TOR may be equalish, but the game is still ludicrously sexist. Just go into any cantina, anywhere. Dancing half naked female twi’leks. I actually saw somewhere (Nar Shada I think) a female and male twi’lek slave right near each other. The male twi’lek slave was wearing ordinary peasant clothes. The female was wearing the standard Leia slave girl outfit. And this was true of every slave on that planet, at least.

  5. LunaticFringe says:

    Is it weird that the first thing I noticed in that screenshot was that the guy’s minigun was slightly longer then the girl’s minigun? That’s some subtle symbolism right there.

  6. We seem to be riding on the same train of thought, Shamus.

    My argument was that developers aren’t going to LOSE players if they abstain from pandering to 16 year old heterosexual white boys.

    Or, if you’re going to pander, pander to ALL persuasions. If the FEMALE avatars are going to be sexually objectified in improbable clothing, than so should the MALE characters.

    Allow me to play a half-naked male avatar, if I choose. It’s only fair.

    Leslee

    • Irridium says:

      The MMO that lets me run around as a man without pants but keep the stats is the MMO that gets all my love.

        • Jarenth says:

          Champions Online, too. For example: Naked Man. (Source: Serial MMOgamy Facebook page)

        • MechaCrash says:

          They weren’t immune to this either, unfortunately. They were a lot better than most, because appearance and performance were completely unrelated, but it cropped up with the costume packs. A long standing complaint was that men got interesting and thematic costume bits, while women got another flavor of corset. This reached a head with the gunslinger pack, where the male costume bits were all gunslingery looking, and the women got what could generously be described as a saloon girl.

          The reason behind this is because they wanted to make sure that all the body types got the same amount of costume parts, and if they gave the jackets to everybody, then technically women would get more costume parts. The general tone of the response was “don’t care, please fix.” And so they did, saying “we realize this means women get more costume options but this is the way that makes the most people happy.”

          • Rick says:

            And then the Carnival of Light costume set, which by rights should have corsets because that’s what they wear, didn’t. Very bizarre.

            But the worst of it, the Gunslinger set, has been fixed; you can make a good equivalent of the male outfit for female characters now.

          • Mr. Son says:

            “The reason behind this is because they wanted to make sure that all the body types got the same amount of costume parts, and if they gave the jackets to everybody, then technically women would get more costume parts.”

            The answer to this is CLEARLY to let the men dress as saloon girls, too.

      • decius says:

        DCUO. There’s a typical equipment screen, and then a separate appearance screen. You can use the appearance of any armor you have ever equipped.

      • Volfram says:

        Eve Online.

        Which also fulfills Shamus’s request for a game that allows the players to dress up or dress down. Since your stats are all tied either to your skills(which have no bearing on appearance) or ship and fittings(which have no bearing on your human body), you can have a 5′-nothing girl in her underwear playing the party tank.

        The whole “Microsoft Excel Online” aspect tends to turn people off, of course…

  7. Alden says:

    They should at least make it so the armor values reflect coverage.

  8. peter says:

    “And if you’re going to make a world obviously crafted exclusively for the 18-24 males demo, then when you start complaining about how hard it is to attract players to your world then I really don’t know what else to say.”
    As someone firmly in the “white 18-24 male” demographic, i STILL don’t feel comfortable with it. I like a beautiful woman as much as the next guy, but in situations like the one in TERA it always feels like something that needs explaining, and any explanation would come across as lame as telling the guy that spotted you reading playboy in the train you read it “for the articles”.

  9. Anarchy Online has solved this nicely.
    Stats armor and social armor is fully separate.
    So you can get the stats you want while dressing like you want.
    And if you like the look of the stats armor you can use that instead obviously.
    IMO this is the way to solve this issue that Shamus is pointing out in the article.

    Oh! And in AO you can dress as slutty or not as you want, both males and females. (yep, tiny thongs with stuffing exists for males, just ask any Atrox you see why they smell like cabbage)

    And if you like the fully covering body armor look for males and females you can do that too. Though females still have nice curvy lines, while males have a more non-curvey look.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Separate stat and social armor. So you mean.. exactly like LotRO. Which he mentioned in the article.

      And that second paragraph seems to be pretty much exactly what he was arguing for.

      • Jupp! Just remember that AO has been around since 2001. Unfortunately the social clothing Tab in the wear window was not there from the beginning but was added some years later (can’t recall the year but googling should reveal the date for those with some idle hands).

        The downside to all this is obviously the lunatics that run charging with just a thong to slay NPC enemies. And if you hang around in a city near popular travel paths you’ll see a lot of really weird stuff run past you.

        Then on the other extreme you will see a full squad of soldiers in perfect attire run past you too just a few moments later.

        Then there are those that change social clothing depending on what they are doing. It’s a party? Weird is the thing. Shopping in the city? Keep it elegant. Guild meet? Keep it classy. Missions? Superfighter look.

  10. I totally agree with this. Especially as an RPer, I always love more cosmetic options, and I like being able to have different characters dress differently. Obviously the mature, married mother isn’t going to dress the same way as the seductress demon, who won’t dress the same as the holy knight. Giving players more options should make everyone happy.

    • Tuck says:

      Unless she’s a mature, married, holy seductress demon knight!

      Roleplay that! :D

    • Gamer says:

      You just reminded me of one of my biggest gripes in Skyrim. I disliked the high level armors.

      Glass/Elven Armor looks like heavy armor and not something you’d be able to move easily/sneak in. For a thief character/mage (those most likely to use light armor) it just looks kinda stupid.

      Ebony/Daedric Armor just looks kind of evil. For someone playing as a good guy/paladin character, this isn’t appealing because you look like a villain.

      I could just exploit my way to low-level armor with high stats, but the low-level armor’s just uninteresting. It’s generic leather/steel.

      • guy says:

        Ugh, yeah. My Vin (Mistborn main character) run really ticked me off in that regard as I got to the elven armor. She just looked like… a suit of armor. Way off from my original plan of having her run around in civilian clothing and rely on oakskin and such (dual-wielding daggers for thematic reasons meant getting the armor up and then fighting was a massive pain) and considerably worse than the leather armor.

      • IFS says:

        You actually can get the max armor rating with a lower level set of armor with the appropriate perks and smithing, the game just doesn’t let you know there is a cap on armor’s protectiveness.

        • Gamer says:

          Yeah, I eventually did that too to get a decent-looking character. However, I shouldn’t have to exploit my way to not make my character look stupid(light armor) or evil(heavy armor).

    • MatthewH says:

      I realized a few days ago when I spent a solid hour selecting equipment for my party in Dragon Age based on stats, role, style, theme, and aesthetics – that I had basically turned an epic adventure into playing with dolls.

      After the moment of confusion passed, I was then annoyed that there were so few non-hulking interesting looking sets of clothes to play dress-up with.

      So I like this idea of separating the look from the stats. And I want more clothing options. Darn it, if I’m going to play with dolls, I want them to be absolutely fabulous!

  11. Astor says:

    The thing is I would be inclined to believe, that this is an all pervasive thing throughout ALL media. Guys are all pumped-up and chicks are all porn-starred-up. And if you expect the gaming industry, of all things, to spearhead the change, all I can tell is: brother you’ll have to wait FOREVER!!!11

    I recently read an article about an analogous comic-book thing (that’s come to be known as “brokeback”) and it was hilarious. And somewhat sad I guess, but hilarious.

  12. […] a break till Sunday and want to point you to the awesome post about male female clothing in games here (well, it is actually HERE but read the bit on Shamus’ site first because I love his comments […]

  13. Kyte says:

    Aion has a different but also interesting way to deal with the cosmetic armor/actual armor disparity:
    You wear a single set of armor, but you can remodel it, effectively changing its look into that of the new item.
    This consumes the base “skin” item, however the remodeled items can, in turn, remodel new items, allowing you to keep your early-game look all the way to the endgame.
    (Oh, and helmets are hidable)

    As an aside, I’m Lv. 30 and I’m yet to see a truly slutty female armor in Aion despite its art style and general direction practically begging for it. Short skirts, yes, but no cleavage, for example. At least not yet.

  14. Raygereio says:

    For me this is part of the bigger “portrayal of women in videogames”-issue. There are a lot of things wrong with how women are viewed by videogame dvelopers. Skimy outfits are certainly a big part… wait a minute: isn’t Tera the MMO with the lolicon-race? And people are upset over adult women in miniskirts, instead of over the children with catears in miniskirts?

    Wha?

    • krellen says:

      The root of the problem isn’t the adolescent fantasy nature of characters in games – it’s more than it’s only male adolescent fantasy that gets portrayed. Games should have a thin-muscled shirtless man for every woman in a chainmail bikini.

      (Giant muscles are not what women fantasise about.)

      • Raygereio says:

        I don’t know. I agree with you that the core of the issue is the dominance of the horny-male. But I don’t feel like introducing the horny-female aspect is a good sollution. I’d rather just have good looking models without any sort of absurd over-sexualisation whatsover.
        Instead of dressing the guy in hotpants as well, why not give the girl some trousers?

        • krellen says:

          After enough games have their requisite numbers of Edwards and Jacobs, I think the industry will finally be ready to grow up.

          • Raygereio says:

            Edwards and Jacobs?

            • Jarenth says:

              I envy your ignorance.

              • Mari says:

                Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back to that state of bliss yourself? LOL

                • krellen says:

                  I think it’s best we leave him to it, yes?

                  • Raygereio says:

                    *looks at Daemian’s post below*
                    Oh, those are guys from Twilight? Erm, Krellen; did you just say that introducing characters based upon a series of books that teaches young girls that you’re worthless without a man and that being in love equals being in a creepy, unhealthy and unbalanced relationship will fix this issue?

                    I’m probably going to need some explaining for that one.

                    • Destrustor says:

                      Well I think he was referring to their physique, not their personnality or the moral impact of the “books” they’re from.

                    • Raygereio says:

                      @Destrustor:
                      Oh, right. He probably was. I blame that on not having had my morning coffee yet at the time.
                      Though I stand with my “no absurd levels of sexualisation” instead of “equal ammounts of sexualisation” as an actual sollution.

                    • krellen says:

                      Edward and Jacob are female adolescent fantasy – that’s all I was saying.

              • Cuthalion says:

                As much as I envy his blissful ignorance, I am rather inclined to agree. I see it less as a fairness issue and more as an objectification issue. So, “Make it fair by having manstrippers!” sounds to me a lot like, “Objectify the men, too!”

                Plus, it was inconvenient to have my parents shoot down so many games during my adolescence on account of the box art outfits.

                • SyrusRayne says:

                  That sort of thing would make a lot of men uncomfortable. Of course, I imagine that’s how many women feel in such situations as well.

                  Maybe let’s just… Not have any objectifying? Cut it out completely, and have stories and games and media that don’t need that kind of audience-pandering bullshi- I can’t keep a straight face typing that sentence.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Somehow I doubt that.But hey,if you want to have vampire:the masquerade twilight edition reboot,go ahead champion that cause.

          • Soylent Dave says:

            I’d also encourage some sexualisation of male characters in games, if only because it would make the male characters a bit more uniform – but the problem isn’t really ‘female characters are too sexy’

            it’s ‘too few female characters look like remotely normal women’ (either in body shape or attire); I’m not asking for a reality simulator, but it would be nice if there were some variety in both the male and female characters available to us (so I could be a waif-like feminine male character, or a strong female soldier, and – ideally – lots of things in between)

      • Kyte says:

        (Giant muscles are not what women fantasise about.)

        Tell that to Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist).

      • swenson says:

        “(Giant muscles are not what women fantasise about.)”

        And that’s why what’s-his-face from Gears of War is the hands-down ugliest male videogame protagonist ever. He’s like a chunk of meatloaf! He has no neck! If he touched a woman, he’d break her in half!

      • MatthewH says:

        As a non-adolescent man, I’d like to get my epic fantasy without being made to feel like a child, nor having to play the games in a separate room so as to avoid awkward looks from non-adolescent friends and family of either sex -but especially the women.

        Seriously, I’d happily never repeat having to handwave the camera angles on Miranda to my mom ever again. How much worse would it have been if she hadn’t been wearing the full jumpsuit?

    • Violet says:

      Aww, the loli race? I tried to forget and you made me remember! >:(

      It went like this:
      *looking for a new MMO to play*
      *finds TERA race page and glances at a picture or two* “Zohmygosh! This game would let me play a sweet innocent little Hello Kitty girl instead of a Jello-forged exotic dancer! At last I am free of eternal bimbohood! :DDDDD”
      *looks at preview video* “Oh…oh gosh…the little Hello Kitty girls ARE the exotic dancers…#$&@ creepy Asian pedophiles…they can keep their niche to themselves…”
      *backs away slowly and attempts to block out all knowledge of TERA from memory*

  15. HBOrrgg says:

    To those who would want to cry “unrealistic,” well it’s not nearly as so as you might believe. I’ve said for a while now that many RPG’s tend to get way too focused on listing every ‘kind’ of armor and weapon from best to worst. In reality the amount of protection and mobility is generally going to have far more to do with the quality and construction than the actual material. A full set of plate armor of aluminum foil thickness is going to be pretty much useless, and cloth armor made of 30+ layers? Well “never have been seen half a dozen men killed by stabs or arrow wounds in such Jacks” -King Louis XI of France. (Fun to try in a tabletop campaign, buy a ton of tunics from Ye Olde clothing Shoppe, show the DM that quote and see what kind of stats you can talk him into)

    Honestly, I think many games would be much improved if they just ignored titles such as “chainmail” or “plate” as purely cosmetic and determined the effectiveness of your armor merely by classifying along the lines of “low, medium, or high quality” and “light, medium, or heavy armor.” You could probably do something similar with many weapons: “is the long bow better than the composite bow? In this case yes because you found a ‘medium quality’ longbow vs only a ‘low quality’ composite bow.”

    (Ok, obviously this doesn’t explain everything, such as chainmail bakinis. But it would add a lot more variety and customization to the world.)

    • Syal says:

      Fun to try in a tabletop campaign, buy a ton of tunics from Ye Olde clothing Shoppe, show the DM that quote and see what kind of stats you can talk him into

      I get the feeling you’ll end up in an unseasonable wave of blistering heat until you sell most of them.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well its generally assumed that everything you find is of the same quality.So a chain mail is usually built by a craftsman of the same skill as the one who built the leather armour you may find.Of course,there are fine quality weapons and armour,that usually grant some extra boost,and are in fact sometimes much better than the gear of “higher” tier.And then there is crap your savages(read:goblins)have,which isnt worth pawning for a cookie.

      • Gamer says:

        And of course, in Skyrim, all equipment is refine-able. And you are the only person in all of Skyrim who can refine items judging from the fact the nobody else sells refined items.

        • Aldowyn says:

          Which essentially means if you aren’t a mage you HAVE to be a smith, or else you won’t get jack for items. :D

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Nothing stops you from being both as well.Especially because you can then both smith,and enchant all your gear.

            • Destrustor says:

              I was a stealth character and I maxed out both smithing and enchant.

              • Aldowyn says:

                I know, but it messes with my sense of character. Why is my sneaky elf a smith? It might actually help if they were separate skills – a leatherworking one and a metalworking one.

              • acronix says:

                I wonder if there’s any player who doesn’t pick blacksmithing and enchanting in all their characters.

                • Gamer says:

                  I think everyone does.

                  It’s simply required if you want to get really good gear. (Like I said, the player character seems to be the only person who can refine items,)

                  • Destrustor says:

                    Well, you could always max out alchemy and brew mega-potions that would imitate a good chunk of actual skill.
                    But for really good results you’d still need enchant to make a set of uber-boosting-the-smithing-skill gear for your equipment-refining needs.
                    I usually did both: smith-boosting clothes, gloves, ring and amulet plus one crazy potion, to make sure my gear was refined beyond reason. With all my stuff I think I had the equivalent of about 200 skill in smithing, way more than necessary to reach the armor rating cap.

                    • Gamer says:

                      You still need 100 enchanting for the double-enchantment perk.

                      Though I agree with Smithing. I used the exploit. I wish I didn’t have to, but I did.

  16. BeardedDork says:

    STO actually solves this problem in exactly the way you describe. You can create your character as you please and turn off the visuals on the bland nonsensical armor the game puts everybody in. If you want bare midriffs there’s always the Enterprise mirror universe uniforms, and you can get the classic trek uniforms for the improbably short skirts. or you can go with the Wrath of Khan uniforms for pants and jackets all around. That’s actually where the majority of my microtransaction cash has gone.

  17. Mari says:

    You suggest a good compromise. Personally, I’m always torn on the chainmail bikini issue. The part of me that rather enjoys watching jelly-filled balloons wiggle around is quite satisfied with the current clothing system. But the part of me that has some sense of dignity is more than a little tired of walking around my male avatar and seeing places filled to overflowing with female avatars dressed and dancing like strippers.

    And yes, the majority of the time in games with avatars I use the male ones. Except in Guild Wars. Dudes are UGLY in Guild Wars. I just got tired early in the days of online games of being asked if I was *really* a girl so I solved the problem the easiest way I could.

    • Sumanai says:

      I think someone was making moves towards flirting with me once because I had a female character. Doesn’t make sense to me to assume someone is a woman simply because the characters is, but it might’ve made things worse that I had made her somewhat conservative.

  18. sofawall says:

    You know Shamus, you could probably stand to plug the contest to win a free copy of Witch Watch on The Escapist.

    Regarding the actual content of the post, I have always felt that “fluff” and “crunch” should be kept separate whenever possible. If I want to play a badass Conan-type dude in Skyrim, obviously I’m wanting leather or fur armor. This means, however, that I die to a bandit if I’m not careful, which is hardly Conan-level badassery. Daedric allows me to withstand blows worthy of Crom, but it kinda ruins the image of Conan.

    Similarly, in D&D 3.5, I hate alignment restrictions on classes. I want this mechanical ability, it fits well with my character, it is something I want to do, but I have to be Lawful. I’d much rather refluff the class, personalize, make it fit my character and the DM’s world better, while still resulting in having the same mechanical ability that I wanted in the first place.

    • Civilis says:

      Yes, but separating the appearance “fluff” from the equipment “crunch” cuts into the what you see is what you get (WYSIWIG) factor, especially in games without fixed classes or class appearances. In Skyrim, or in D&D, if my opponent is wearing heavy armor, I’m going to respond and fight differently than I would to someone wearing light armor. The enemy in the loincloth may very well be as badass as the guy in the full plate armor, but I know his fighting style will be ‘not get hit’ as opposed to ‘shrug off hits’ and can react accordingly, by Crom.

      It’s the same with the arbitrary class restrictions in D&D, although that’s the advantage of having a human DM. Unlike a computer game, there’s a place for special exceptions based on setting/story because a human GM has the ability to judge whether the modifications are balanced and fit within the scope of the game, same with any rules. While I have asked for exceptions like that for myself, and several good characters have resulted from that, I never take offense if he says ‘no’.

      That being said, in the last D&D campaign I played, my cleric still had his full plate armor glamored up to look like a full set of ornate religious vestments, just because I could…

      • Sumanai says:

        As long as it is PvE only, I don’t really see a problem. You could make an exception for the player characters.

        There might be a problem in relation to the whole narrative aspect, since in a way it’s separating “story” (what type of a person the character is) and gameplay. But I don’t really think it is, since clothes and armour aren’t really narrative wise used. In order for them to work any, or most, clothes and armour should be a valid choice at any point in the game, they should just be different in ways that they benefit the player.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I know… it’s even worse for sneaky types. Unless you get the quest armors, you end up being stuck with ELVEN (the stuff is GOLD) and Glass armor. Not exactly stealthy.

    • Tam O'Connor says:

      I hate to be pedantic, but Conan wore armor. Less often when he was thieving, but when he had armor available, he wore it. The art did not reflect this (ah, Vallejo and Frazetta!), and I realize that the image of the half-naked barbarian warrior has become permanently associated with Conan, but the point stands.

      It’s like how no one wears a helmet. Is it a good idea? Absolutely! Do they? No! How will we tell characters apart?/It’s hot and heavy/The game artists couldn’t design cool hats to save their lives/etc. I’m fine with aesthetics winning over function when the only deaths on the line are zeroes and ones.

      On a related note: I played The Old Republic, and I was stunned by the musculature of the ‘buff’ phenotype. So my Twi’lek Jedi ran around shirtless, displaying his chiseled abs to the galaxy. Good times.

      • merle says:

        I think casual near-nudity is just a Twi’lek thing.

      • drlemaster says:

        I picked up some reprints of the Marvel Comics Conan stuff, and I blame them for the mostly-naked Conan thing. He is wearing fur underwear, and perhaps an open vest, in just about every panel. Even when he is hired on somewhere as captain of the guard or something. “Captain Conan, we are paying you a healthy purse of coins every week, do you think you could buy some pants?” Sure in the original Howard stories he was sometimes loincloth-clad because he had just escaped from prison or something, but when he came across some clothes, he would put them on.

  19. Jonathan says:

    DDO does have some armor appearance issues with females, but it’s only with the light-armor/rogue types (leather armors I think). Full plate is full plate. You can change the appearance of your armor, helm, etc… for a few Turbine Points, which are earned over time, or bought for real, cashy money.

  20. ccesarano says:

    I’d actually like to have more options in my character’s physique at times. A lot of games make your guy a total beef cake, and I’ve always preferred guys of a more anime-lanky build, or something closer to the characters of Assassin’s Creed. I figure a game can have different body sets to choose from for both male and female. Men that are totally ripped, small and thin, short and stout, average, etc. and women that are average, petite, tall and lanky, muscular, curvy, etc.

    Then again, you’d probably have to suddenly come up with many more different appearances for each set of armor.

    • Soylent Dave says:

      Saints Row (hardly a bastion of taste) manages to give you a vast amount of variety in character design, while still letting you shop for clothes and so on (at least from Saints Row 2 onwards).

      So it’s doable – obviously if you design a more extreme body shape for your character, then the engine might do weird things with clothing, armour etc.; but I’m not sure that’s something you even need to design against. If people are deliberately running all the sliders up to maximum, then they WANT things to look a bit odd…

    • Jakob says:

      Take a look at the upcoming game Dragons Dogma. They really let you go nuts from what I can see.

      • ccesarano says:

        Interesting. Wasn’t aware Dragon’s Dogma had character customization. That should be cool to see, as that’s one of the handful of games I’ve deemed worthy of purchase this year (and by handful I mean minimum of a dozen, probably more).

  21. Adam P says:

    I’ve played TERA a lot today on account of the open beta weekend. From what I can tell, there are outfits in the game for female characters to use that aren’t revealing. There are also items that are flagged for being remodeled, which sounds like the look of the item can be changed to whatever the player wants. They also have dyeing options available, but that doesn’t matter right now.

    Something else to note about TERA is that it’s very self-aware that it’s an MMO. It doesn’t seem to take itself or the setting very seriously and it leaves me with the impression that they’re just making a game that isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. Their boss creatures are called Big-Ass Monsters! They’re clearly having fun with the game.

    World of Warcraft does have revealing armor sets, but patch 4.3 added the transmogrification feature (yes it’s really called that) that does the same thing, for a fee. There are some restrictions on what cannot be ‘mogged, like you have to be able to wear the item, it has to be the same armor type (plate cannot look like cloth), and wacky items like fish or invisible chest pieces aren’t allowed. Legendary items cannot be copied or overwritten, either.

    Firefall, as far as I’m concerned, does armor smart. You’re pretty damn near the equator in Copacabana. A lot of heavy armor isn’t a very good idea. Maybe if it was a full-suit and it had interior climate control… Anyway, Firefall also disappoints me because the character creation menu also shows what your character looks like in civilian clothes. Civilian females dress normally but women in armor have to be in revealing gear? What?

    Sorry if this sounds incoherent or whatever. Gotta get back into Diablo 3!

    • acronix says:

      In the korean version of TERA, the latest armors are actually quite sensible (though some are still stupidly skimpy for no reason).
      However, to get them you have to reach end-game, so until then no female is safe from “bare your midrif” and “stripperrific”.

  22. Eljacko says:

    Any game where my male avatar can do a trashy-romance-novel rose-in-teeth innuendo-laced combat taunt is a game that I will never stop playing.

  23. Ravens Cry says:

    I played City of Heroes and while I enjoyed it well enough, I had a similar problem with the character options.
    I was willing to have skin tight outfits, it’s part of the conventions of the genre, and there was enough options to make a whole body leotard with combat boots look I wanted, but, simply put, I couldn’t make the woman look the way I wanted sculpturally. I wanted my female avatar to look like, in muscle mass, like someone out of the (late, great) webcomic Polymer City Chronicles, but even with the muscle settings set to 11, the arms still looked like toothpicks in comparison.
    Compare that to the male character options and you can see why I was disappointed.

  24. Rack says:

    So I’m assuming LotRO as the only game to have fixed this problem, getting the entire non 18-24 males demographic to itself has 200 million players?

    Or is the truth that while the it’s incredibly stupid and embarrassing that in MMOs the men are men and the women are runaway strippers the finances do more or less work out. You lose more horny teenage boys by not pandering than you gain in other demographics.

  25. Winter says:

    Tera is actually not that bad! Insofar as, while you have sexy demon ladies, you also have sexy elf boys. At least, if you like a certain type of guy. Check out the exposed-midriff cleric (or the other similar designs) and tell me that’s not intended to be sexy :P

    Some games do this better than others. Diablo 3 actually does a pretty damn good job–probably because they hired Melissa Uran(?) to do the character designs. Compare the female wizard’s exaggerated, manly walk to basically anything. The female barbarian has pretty sizable breasts, but it’s not like she’s overtly sexualized–at least not in the way most female characters are sexualized. There are definitely people out there who go for that look.

  26. Zaxares says:

    That’s one nice thing I have to say for Bioware’s games. While it has skimpy outfits for female characters too, there’s usually just as many NON-skimpy, realistic armor sets too. (Take a look at the armor for female Shepard, for example. It still looks protective and imposing, but there’s no mistaking that the person inside is female.)

    • Aldowyn says:

      I was going to mention that. FemShep is definitely female, but there’s … ONE outfit in ME3 that’s revealing much at all. Liara’s new outfit (since shadow broker) ditto, etc. etc. Jack even has decent clothing on.

      • Raygereio says:

        Jack’s ME3 model has silly huge nipples for no reason. Well, I guess she’s cold with being barely clothed and all.
        Also every female armors in ME has boob-chestplates. Realism ends right there.

        Edit: I will praise Dragon Age in this regard. There were plenty of the standard dumb looking armours in there, but both 1 and 2 also had a couple of pretty decent and realistic’ish looking armour designs.

  27. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The best solution:Hire bethesda to make your models.Then no one will say a thing about the outfits.

  28. James says:

    I got one game for my PS3 recently which was actually kind of an inversion on this cliché, but I don’t think it was intentional. Basically your main character was this young guy with this cool white armour on- as you took damage the armour would break.

    Until you were fighting in nothing but sandals and your jeans.

    I liked it cause it was actually pretty novel to be fighting as a guy who looked like a model for jeans, and was pretty ok with showing his chest off, lol.

    (Game was: El shaddai ascension of the metatron)

    • Ringwraith says:

      Maximo, as per its nature of a relative of the Ghost ‘n Goblins series, has you lose your armour pieces as you lose your health bars, until you’re reduced down to your boxers.
      The sequel even allowed you to buy different types of boxers which had different effects, like one which caused your special meter to regenerate constantly but only when you were reduced down to your boxers (which is a dangerous position to be in).

  29. CaptainMaybe says:

    Two things: 1) when I saw this column I was slightly nonplused and more than slightly ecstatic, and 2) thank you for taking on this issue; this is something that I deeply feel needs to be discussed.

    To add to the points you already made in your column, I agree that game developers are overlooking the economic ramifications of their design decisions. It seems to me that by continually creating games that ostracize women, game devs have created a situation where they are literally cutting their potential profits in half. Most woman aren’t adverse to gaming (just look at tetris or solitaire) but it seems that many games are adverse to women. The “choose-your-own-outfit” solution would do wonders to correct this.

    Ultimately, however, I think that it all comes down to Dogs and Smurfs. This isn’t only a video-game problem; video-games, like all forms of art, are simply an expression of societal and cultural ideologies. It’s something that’s happening in every form of media; it just happens to be inordinately overt in video-games.

  30. Alex says:

    But Shamus, if not video games then where else can we go to find images of beautiful women? D:

  31. Chris B Chikin says:

    I’m a big fan of the idea that armour appearance and stats should be two separate things. I want my character to have +4 to weapon damage, but I don’t want them to have those silly big shoulder pads. The chestpiece on that armour looks smart, but it only boosts my agility; what am I going to need that for?

    In fact it meant that when playing through [i]Mass Effect 3[i] as FemShep I ended up wearing armour that totally didn’t suit my character build or playstyle, just because I wanted something which consisted of actual armour and wasn’t moulded to Natalia Shepard’s ample bosoms.

    If Bioware were to separate armour stats from the look (say, by having one menu for “Appearance” and another for “Armour Ugrades” then I could have the best of both worlds; dressing Shepard up to look like a supermodel space marine, while also giving her exactly the power and weapon bonuses I wanted.

  32. James Pony says:

    My biggest problem with it is that these “attractive” or “hot” clothes/armor aren’t actually all that attractive or hot. I just get this feel of 60+ year-old businessmen talking about “that thing them kids is into these days” and how their company should try to be more “hip”/”rad”/etc.

    And if a concept artist or modeler (or whoever is relevant in this mess) can’t make practical gear look attractive, then they’re obviously not very good at their job.

  33. Ryck says:

    You want to see a game where the difference between male and female characters was done right, without the overt sexism and forced bikiniware female avatar armor – check out the Dark Age of Camelot avatars and armor.

    There was a definite difference between male and female characters, they differentiated in the way the characters moved, and people in the same type of armor looked roughly the same, male and female.

    Too bad they got away from their core game and fell off the face of the earth, user wise.

  34. Vipermagi says:

    “I think this would also make a great money sink for in-game currency. (And if you’re listening developers: This could be a chance to make some sweet microtransaction money.)” (from the column)

    ArenaNet is way ahead of you. Guild Wars 2 offers Transmutation stones that allow you to transfer the stats from one item to another of the same type. They initially had them as microtransaction-exlusive. Latest beta footage shows they’re available in-game as well. They were tiered though (Copper Transmutation stone), so perhaps the highest item tier requires either a large in-game purchase, or microtrans as an alternative. We’ll see, I suppose.

    They bypass the PvP issue by 1. scaling everyone to the same level if they’re below 80, and 2. having accessible end-game items. If the latter is going to work like Guild Wars 1, you can find the best base items in regular content.

  35. I kind of like to have my characters wear “sexy” outfits when they’re available. I like the way DDO does it–all the standard armor is quite modest, but you can buy cosmetic armor outfits that show a little skin. It helps avoid everyone at high levels looking like DDO Stormtroopers because 95% of them are wearing Dragontouched Armor that all looks exactly the same. Also, since the outfits are very clearly NOT standard armor, you can often identify the serious players at a glance.

    The funny part is that many of the cosmetic outfits are also extremely covered-up, and a lot of people have a preference for the less-skin versions. And some unique armors have unique appearances, so you see those around. There’s quite a lot of variety in the game.

  36. MatthewH says:

    Best line of the article:

    “Also, buy his novel, which has a magic-casting woman in practical clothes.”

    • Ringwraith says:

      One of my favourite JRPGs has reasonable-looking clothing worn by the female lead, who is also the youngest of the party at 18.
      Yeah, it’s bit atypical like that.

      • Volfram says:

        I must know the name of this JRPG.

        I’ll trade you a Resonance of Fate recommendation. Female of the party is 21, youngest in the party is 19, combat system is “John Woo Fight Scene.”

        • Ringwraith says:

          Yeah, I know of Resonance of Fate, but not really had the justification (or income) to get it.

          However, Wild ARMs 3 is basically a Western with magic and stuff. All the main characters use guns, and the music matches wonderfully. It’s more standard turn-based stuff but it doesn’t use MP for spellcasting.
          Youngest party member (and only female) being 18, (and the aforementioned reasonable clothing) and the oldest being 30, a sniper, and called Clive.

          • McNutcase says:

            For… certain values of reasonable, I see.

            I mean, coverage? Covered. (Pun fully intended.)

            But practicality? Not so great, and as for colours…

          • Volfram says:

            OOOO, I’ve heard good things about the Wild Arms series. A favorite of a good friend of mine.

          • Gamer says:

            Yay! Another Wild Arms fan! WA3 is my favorite RPG of all time.

            WA3 subverted many of the common RPG tropes and was one of the most interesting video game stories I’ve seen. A female lead? A reasonably aged party? Yep.

            Plus, Clive has to be my favorite character of all time. A middle-aged archeologist sniper with a wife and child. He was one of the most interesting characters I’ve seen.

            • Ringwraith says:

              Not to mention he’s the character that actually has a breakdown and packs it in rather than any of the others.

              Of course he also has the most normal sounding name in a party of Virgina, Gallows and Jet, which is rather amusing. Although the series always has at least one person with a very un-fanciful name in each game.

              • Gamer says:

                That was one of my favorite scenes. It demonstrates that the characters in the game are actual people as opposed to the typical mass-murder machines typical of gaming.

                WA3 handled character and character interactions very well. From what I remember, no one every had any out-of-character moments and all of the party had their own issues that they eventually dealt with and moved on from.

                Virginia was an overly idealistic girl who became much more mature and grew into a strong leader.

                Jet the amnesiac who is literally created from the earth. He was a bit of a typically “loner who learns friendship”, but it was handled well enough that I didn’t mind.

                And Gallows was a womanizing indians running away from the responsibilities of adulthood, eventually forging his own path through life.

                Also, the villain was very well-foreshadowed throughout the game. It makes a 2nd playthrough much more interesting.

                Man, I wish my copy still worked. I hope they eventually release it on as a PS2 release on PSN. They did it for the first 2 Wild Arms games.

                • Ringwraith says:

                  Well, that’s if they ever do release the second one here.
                  It’s still not on PSN, and was never originally released here, so it’s the only one (other than XF due to a lack of a PSP), I haven’t played.

                  I’m a rather large fan of the series (especially the soundtracks), so I actually bought the games almost one after another. When I finished one, I bought the next and then proceeded to complete that before buying the next one.
                  It’s a shame it seemed to slide into more stereotypical JRPG territory in the later ones, but the combat system picked up the slack with being a bit unusual, as it plays like a small-scale SRPG with battlefields of seven hexes.

                  • Gamer says:

                    I would have to agree with that. The HEX system does add a new level of depth to the battle system, but the stories of WA4 and 5 were not as good. 5 in particular felt very generic and almost completely predicable, almost like a standard medieval fantasy JRPG with guns.

                    WA2 was a very good game. It’s definitely a shame it’s not released over there. XF was pretty good too. The story and the world was interesting (though it got a little predictable at time) and the characters were again very well written. The combat and class systems were pretty good too. (Imagine the hex system expanded and with almost total customization of your characters.)

                    • Ringwraith says:

                      Well, that’s because from little I know of it, XF is just the logical extension from the SPRG-lite of the 4 and 5, and becomes a full-blown SRPG as a result. Although seeing them with hexes is unusual.
                      The only games that use hexes these days are really hardcore grand strategy games and Civilization V.

  37. HiEv says:

    The only MMORPG I really play is the F2P “Perfect World” which more-or-less solved the problem you discuss in the way you prescribe back in 2008.

    It has great character customization of appearance for 5 of the classes (archer, blademaster, cleric, venomancer, and wizard), good for 4 classes (assassin, mystic, psychic, and seeker), and poor for 1 (barbarian). You can make your character as ugly or pretty as you wish, within certain rather wide bounds.

    And when it comes to outfits, you can choose to show either your armor or your fashion. Armor is free, though you may have to farm materials to make some of it. Fashion is mostly paid for with real money, though there are several ways to earn fashion without paying cash. Unfortunately you can’t mix-and-match items of armor with fashion, but otherwise it works pretty well. Yeah, a lot of the fashion is kind of “slutty” for females and “gay” for males (not my words, just the ones I frequently see describing them in the forums), but not all of it is bad, though often you can tell it’s made for a Chinese audience.

    So, basically you can make your characters look how you like and dress them as you like in Perfect World.

    The game runs pretty well on my 10 year old PC too.

  38. McNutcase says:

    Today, I finally got around to looking at some Tera footage. I’m now wishing I hadn’t; after watching some of the walking animations, my hips are giving me sympathy pains. There are characters which look as though their pelvis was broken, and put back together WRONG. I start to wonder if anyone on the art team actually has a skeleton, because bipeds do not move that way!

    I was uninterested before. Now I’m contemplating the purchase of a new ten-foot pole specifically for not touching Tera with.

  39. Kevinsent says:

    Guild Wars has a crude version of what you’re talking about. All the armor sets for a given class give the same protection, then you can add runes and enhancements to specialize it.

  40. Varewulf says:

    “I can imagine a game where the women all have normal looking armor, and the men prance around in loincloths. As a guy, your combat taunts are all sex based. (Like, clench a rose in your teeth and make some super-lame innuendo.) You can see how that would be…”

    I would love to play that. Someone make this game, please?

  41. Dev Null says:

    Yea, the Giggling Jiggle-Physics Fanclub annoys me too, but why does noone ever talk about this issue:

    while the men are dressed like normal fantasy characters. (i.e. like idiot emo circus clowns.)

    I wouldn’t mind a little sartorial choice for my male characters too…

    • Ringwraith says:

      It’s not wonder some people pick will inappropiately dressed female characters rather than male ones which look like idiots in these cases really.

  42. Abnaxis says:

    I have to throw in my cautionary 2cp. Because we can’t just have everyone nodding their head in agreement, right?

    This article (or rather, your solution of “keep stats and appearance separate”), as well as the “Hepler Mode” article, raise a serious concern in my mind. I think you are calling for more fundamental changes in game design than adding a couple of slots to the inventory or pumping out a couple extra models.

    Fundamentally, RPGs–especially MMORPGs–have a set model of activity, where you trade time for rewards. This time can be spent “grinding” or it can be spent doing something more enjoyable, but the loop is there. Kill mobs->get rewards (loot, levels)->Kill tougher mobs->get better loot.

    In many ways, I would classify appearance and cutscenes as a “reward” within this paradigm. Working mobs for an hour to get a level feels rewarding in that my character grows, but it feels way better, way more visceral, when that levels qualifies me for a new set of armor, which makes me look totally badass. Maybe I am too caught up in appearances, but I am much more motivated to continue playing when my appearance upgrades alongside my power level. Looking at it this way also makes the skimpy females make more sense, in a backwards kind of way–assuming your target demographic is all males (I don’t think this should be true, but developers obviously do), the loop becomes fight more baddies->get more fan service->fight better baddies->get better fan service. The same applies to cutscenes as well–I am (personally) much more invested in a cutscene I earned rather than one I can just skip to.

    I don’t think the practice of objectifying women is a positive trend, but at the same time giving complete appearance customization power would degrade the game for me personally, because I derive enjoyment form the grind/reward loop, and making it so anyone can look badass without being badass undermines that.

    • Shamus says:

      I didn’t say so in the article, but when I wrote it I imagined that “more badass” and “more revealing” and “more exotic” stuff would only be available to higher tier players.

      Everything looks a bit modest and common to begin with, and becomes gradually more interesting or allows for greater self-expression as you level up. They already do this in some games by making the really bold dyes available to higher characters, and newbies can only use really pale, low-contrast colors. I think they just need to extend that idea to the outfit itself.

      Makes sense to me.

      • Ringwraith says:

        Guild Wars showed a bit of this line of thinking. As there’s the ‘elite’ versions of every armour set, which look significantly different and are often much sought-after, and are horrifically expensive to make.
        They also have no statisical advantages over their normal versions, which are max-level armour sets by themselves.
        Then again, no armour set is ‘better’ than the other in Guild Wars anyway, as they’re often available at multiple levels in weaker forms but look exactly the same as the higher-levels one (excepting the elite ones), so you get a lot of choice anyway.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I thought of this, and while it is possible, I think customization would have to be done right, and no game I have tried has done it right yet. The problem with dyes is, the upgrade in look and the update in power really have to happen at the same time to really achieve the desired effect. For me at least, the reward doesn’t just come from becoming more powerful or from looking more badass by themselves, it comes from both happening at the same time.

        This is the classic RPG example for me, personally: I have the +5 plate of awesome power and menacing flaming spikes sitting in my inventory. It’s taunting me, goading me into grinding mobs until I can finally qualify for it. When I finally reach the level where I can use my new toy, I get this guttural “SWEET” feeling as I don it and see just how badass my avatar is with their new duds. I then go out an slaughter baddies which have now moved from “level inappropriate” to “cannon fodder,” feeling exhilaration at my new awesomeness as I commit my genocide.

        If it were implemented similar to the “dye” system, the reward would fall flat because there would invariably be a level disparity between when I get my armor and when I get the template to make it look the way I want. If I earn my armor skin at level 3 before I get my armor at level 4, I can’t revel in my new badassery because I already looked the part of a badass, I just have the numbers to back it up now (and upgrading numbers alone just isn’t as fun…). The reverse isn’t any better: I get my look upgrade, but it loses effect because even though I look more badass, I’m not actually any statistically better than I was before. I can’t go and triumphantly murder tougher varieties of serial loiterers, because I’m not actually any better as a killer.

        I have actually played games that let you customize armor (NWN) in the way you suggest, and while I enjoyed many of those games, I found the looting systems bland and not particularly enjoyable. I think to really work for me, you need the look of the armor to actually be tied to the armor itself, and not something where have to earn supplies/go to a tailor to implement it yourself. It needs to be more like the helmet selector (maybe a pants selector?) you see in the like of Mass Effect–a checkbox you click if you want more or less pragmatic attire.

        The problem with that is…well, it’s hard. All these armor skins should at least somewhat match their function as well as the art direction of the game, all while implementing to disparate styles of arts. You’re tying your artists hands at the same time your are asking them to do double the work.

        And to be frank, I don’t see this really solving the problem in multiplayer (though it might help single player games considerably). Even if people are able to customize their own characters, that doesn’t change the fact that when they join the gameworld, they’re going to be subjected to a parade of avatars prancing around in their underwear. While it may be an improvement, it will still be off-putting.

        So, you can spend more time, more money, and more risk trying a dubious solution to a problem which, if the problem is absolutely solved, might earn you a slight chance of appealing to an audience you don’t even know is interested (not saying there are no women gamers, just that I don’t think there’s a glut of data on woman gamer preferences). Do you think the powers that be at game companies are going to go for that?

  43. PhoenixUltima says:

    I’ve seen a few posts here saying it’s important for males and females to be visually distinct from one another for gameplay purposes, and I have to ask: why? I admit I don’t play MMOs, but in every game I’ve played where you can pick your gender, the mechanical difference is either very minor (like, females get 1 less STR point but 1 more INT) or non-existent. I just don’t see why you’d need to immediately register the presence or lack of tits.

    • Violet says:

      I’ve been wondering this for awhile myself, since I usually hear that argument in the context of games that have purely cosmetic gender distinctions in the first place. Sure it’s nice to have basic information about your friends, but since character gender doesn’t even say much about player gender, shouldn’t it be far more important to quickly distinguish classes/species/factions/etc. that are directly referenced by game mechanics?

One Trackback

  1. By Half-Naked Elf « Game-Story-Art on April 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    […] a break till Sunday and want to point you to the awesome post about male female clothing in games here (well, it is actually HERE but read the bit on Shamus’ site first because I love his comments […]

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