Get your sexy children and animals out of my violence

| Monday, May 7, 2012
I've been trying to sort out quite what is wrong with the Elin.  My gut isn't much help, since it just screams "oh god what is wrong with those people!?" and gut-based psychoanalysis of developers isn't usually a successful endeavor.  My brain kicks in eventually and says that no children are harmed by the development or play of the game, that is it fantasy events with fantasy characters in a fantasy world.  Well okay, but that doesn't make me feel any less sick, so it appears as though my gut has triumphed.

Maybe by focusing on the children I'm looking at the wrong problem.  Maybe the actual problem is the general habit of turning anything female into a sex object, at at least a thing to stare at.  From this perspective, then there is a general societal problem of making female things (I say things because I'm going to go past the human realm soon) sexual, often primarily sexual.  There is a particular mental disorder of being attracted to prepubescent girls.  I won't use the word pedophilia because that's used for both law and psychology and of course the legal one, despite being the one we use to lock people up and ostracize them, is inaccurate.

And then there is the anthropomorphizing of animals or non-human beings, which by itself isn't so strange, but when we selectively apply it to female things, it gets weird.  Take the worgen forms for example: the males are clearly not just wolves on their hind legs, but they are also clearly not just people who need to shave a bit more often.  The female worgen are inexplicably more humanoid.  Is it unimaginable that something can be female and not be eye candy for human men?  I'm not saying they have to be unattractive worgen, by worgen standards the males might be quite the sex objects, but it seems like quite a bit of stretching to turn them into something halfway toward being sexy for humans.

The objectification of women within games can be opposed on multiple grounds, but rather than the usual sexism grounds, let's try good game design.  Why must there be sexy stuff in my game of violence?  MMOs tend toward violence.  Argue against that somewhere else, but for here, let's take it as an assumption that games will be violent.  Given that, why add sex objects?

Let's imagine the reverse, that World of Sexcraft is a popular online game where players control avatars which have sex.  This probably exists but that is not a search history that I want to have.  Within this game would it make any sense for the armor to have severed heads as kneepads and knives as sex toys?  Beside a particular fetish group, no.  It wouldn't make any sense at all.  It would distract from the actual purpose of the game.  Beyond that, it would simply be pointless.  Shoehorning violent imagery into a game about sex would make it a worse game.  Reversing back away from the reversal, why shoehorn sexual imagery into a game about violence?


Umrtvovacz said...

We are stuck in between two worlds, one that have equal men and women rights, and one where women belong to men... And aspects from both worlds have stronger or weaker influence in most human activities. You have Sharia Law on one hand and Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. Thats real life example, same goes for games.

People with different religion, sexual orientation or color of skin have similar problems.

And it unfortunately affects our games in a way that doesn't makes sense all the time from the perspective of the game world... Games are art created by humans, so everything in games will have human aspects - for example, why else would the two robots from Portal 2 multiplayer have humanoid bodies, when other shape would be clearly more useful?

Azuriel said...

"Is it unimaginable that something can be female and not be eye candy for human men?"

In a word... yes.

I do not necessarily mean that in a "all females need to be eye candy for men" sense. I mean that in a "there isn't much point in having multiple genders if one is not immediately identifiable as one or the other" sense.

Think about cats. Here is a picture of some. Which ones are male or female? Does it matter? It might matter in a spraying the house vs going into heat sort of way, but I don't think behavior-wise - and certainly not visual-wise - it makes any difference, especially once they are spayed/neutered.

Now think about a videogame that features anthropomorphized cats as characters. The game gives you a gender selection option during character creation. You click Female. What happens? Nothing? Cats look the same, anthropomorphized cats should look the same?

During the GW2 beta weekend, I chose female Charr warrior. The difference between female and male? Nothing worth noting. Supposedly more hair on the tail, maybe "softer" facial features. They could have made Charr have one gender or no genders or swapped the male/female options around and no one would have noticed. Is that "progress"? Maybe it's better than big obvious woman boobs on a tiger, but at the same time the gender is irrelevant.

I dunno, perhaps that is progress.

Klepsacovic said...

@Umrtvovacz: At least in the case of Portal there are a few possible reasons, ranging from "people designed them" to "GLaDOS designed them."

@Azuerial: The Charr example seems a bit extreme, but maybe I'm biased (almost certainly). As a general theme, the male-to-female conversion is a two-step process:
1) Less muscle
2) More breast
Which isn't all that outlandish, since if everyone has clothes on, those will tend to be the differences which stand out (beside hips). Well, and facial hair, but with so many people clean-shaven, that doesn't help much. And length of hair, but that's culturally-specific, as evidenced by hippies and Aragorn.

By this line, within warcraft most of the races make some sense: humans, blood elves, night elves, orcs, trolls, undead, tauren, dwarves, gnomes. The draenei are pretty exaggerated. And then there are the worgen who are so dramatically different. It's just strange.

Azuriel said...

If the female worgen were less dramatically different, would you be able to tell they were female at all? We almost creep back into the Pandaren territory before the female model was finished: a male panda with a bow on it.

I recognize the one-sidedness of position of course - that something not obviously female defaults to male. But on a practical level, gender distinctions, if not exaggerated, can easily become superfluous, as you mentioned.

Navimie said...

An interesting perspective Klep. I have to say that I don't look at WoW as my violent game, I think of WoW as my fantasy game. Where in this pretend world we kill things for glory and riches. And sexy women are part of that fantasy. And I guess people always want something pretty to look at. It's human nature. I can ogle girls openly and not get told off. After all, if you ask me the feminine form is a nice one. Though I would be happier if they made the boys the same kind of eye candy as they make the girls.

Shintar said...

@Azuriel: Easily identifiable as female != sexy
Unless you feel turned on every time you see an old woman, a little girl, a cow, a lioness...

Umrtvovacz said...

Oh my god, I have checked how female Worgen look and when I compare it to female Charr from GW2, it's like a sick joke. I see what you mean, this is just extreme. My previous post is thereby not valid.

I had no idea female Worgen were like some perverted dream of a furry (I have nothing against furries).

Klepsacovic said...

@Azuriel: There is some room between extreme sexual dimorphism and interchangeability. Hair length on the head, while clearly a bit out of place in the animal kingdom (though not without precedent, given lions), would be a way to indicate the sex of the worgen without altering the body from the male.

@Navimie: To add some nuance, maybe we can differentiate *being* sexy vs. flaunting it. A character can have a nice figure but not wear little tiny nothings and heels. So it's there, but not jumping up and down demanding attention.

@Umrtvovacz: I don't think your post is invalid, just that now you know why I was so focused on the worgen.

Azuriel said...

@Shintar: Of course not. But you likely wouldn't know the gender of, say, the cow without looking at the hanging bits. And once you are committed to having to show (or suggest) the hanging bits, you likely want them to be (immediately) recognizable. And being recognizably female is almost always naturally sexy... unless there are some extenuating circumstances like taboos, preferences, legality, and so on.

@Kelp: So... instead of a gender button, you have a hair-length button. Someone seeing your Worgen would have to remember the lore of the race to know whether to address you as he or she. Blizzard could say short hair is female and long hair is male, or vice versa, and it wouldn't make any difference. And when helmets are turned on, nobody knows!

I choose female characters as a guy, so perhaps it's all moot anyway.

It's just that when I looked at the Charr "genders," I came away thinking that "Yeah, I think sexual dimorphism is the way to go." Boob windows and bare midriffs can go away, but I do prefer being able to tell at a glance that member of race X is male or female. And an artist desiring the same probably has few other "tricks" than to go the female Worgen route.

Klepsacovic said...

@Azuriel: The dangly bits on the cow are an indicator of femininity and are somewhat noticeable from most angles. Humans do not generally consider them sexy. I don't know the opinion of the cows.

You don't need to "remember the lore of your race" if the culture is created based on cultures which are generally known by Westerners (as so far, all of the ones in WoW are) because the indicators, such as hair length, will be generally known.

I'm not trying to argue that the Charr are the way to go. I don't think the differences need to be subtle, but by the same token, they don't need to be outlandishly exaggerated. Worgen could still be identifiably female with smaller breasts, more wolf-like faces, and a posture more similar to the males.

Most players aren't RPing, so you aren't likely talking to their characters, but to the player. The player is often not the same gender as the character, so if you're so concerned about the pronoun, try asking them.

Azuriel said...

@Klep: As you yourself pointed out in your earlier comment, I think they DO have to be outrageously exaggerated (for a given amount of outrageousness).

Suppose the Worgen breasts were smaller and their waists were larger, for example. Would you be able to tell the genders apart when they're wearing armor? You mentioned long hair too, and putting aside the fact you just said in comment #3 that long hair is culturally-specific (and the game would have less options if men couldn't have long hair and women short hair), how often does an MMO avatar's hair show through their helmets?

Perhaps the argument should be that gender doesn't matter (it certainly has no mechanical effects), or perhaps having a recognizable gender silhouette isn't worth the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) sexist reinforcements. Have the MMO play out like those cliche movie moments when the armored knight takes off their helmet and is revealed to be the golden-haired beauty that she is.

I dunno. I simply see sexual dimorphism as a logical (if potentially abrasive) answer to the question of "How do we visually show character X is male vs female?"

Klepsacovic said...

It may be the logical answer to that question, but is that a question worth answering? Not all problems are actually problems or worth solving. If we're running into "to tell the difference they need to be ridiculously exaggerated", then we're probably doing too much for what really isn't such a big problem.

Though let's consider orcs. The females are hardly scrawny, but look different enough by virtue of the males being even bigger. It retains some difference by shifting both on the muscle scale, so that then the females aren't pitifully weak without being indistinguishable from the males. Unfortunately for some, that makes the orc females insufficiently sexy and therefore unacceptable as a general solution.

Andy said...

I think Azuriel's getting more to the point with that last comment – personally I don't think it should be all that important to show clear differences between male and female. Look out at a crowd of people and generally the only way you can tell the difference is by the cloths and hair, at least from a distance. Maybe when characters are wearing armour the SHOULD look the same, at least for humans, and probably dorfs and gnomes too.

Sure, for other, more 'fantastical' races like draenei or orcs there could be more exaggerated differences, simply because they are an entirely different race with presumably different evolutionary pressures etc., just as some animal species on this plant are clearly different.

Bernard said...


"Now think about a videogame that features anthropomorphized cats as characters. The game gives you a gender selection option during character creation."

What if it didn't?

Let's say you could use sliders on all body parts and gender was never mentioned in game?

My theory is that many players would exaggerate characteristics to create clearly recognizable male/female characters because that it how they wish to be represented in a fantasy world.

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