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Why, precisely, does a species of silicon-based lifeforms have breasts?
June 14, 2014 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Why does this species—a species composed of rock—have sexual dimorphism even more stark than mountain gorillas? What purpose does this serve? Come to think of it—why do the women have plant hair? It appears to be growing out of their skulls—so it must be parasitic. But this is a sentient species in a futuristic setting, meaning that if it were a non-beneficial parasite, they’d have removed them. So are Granok-plants an example of resource-resource mutualistic symbiosis? Wouldn’t the males then also cultivate plant-hair? Why is it gender-segregated?
Bryce Mainville is unimpressed by the character design in the new sci-fi MMO Wildstar. Bonus: Cassandra Khaw's difficulties with creating ugly female characters in Wildstar.
posted by MartinWisse (179 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
so basically, we're upset when they don't make female models, and we're upset when they do.
posted by jepler at 11:15 AM on June 14 [10 favorites]


This article doesn't go far enough at all.

I am further upset that we can understand the aliens at all. Why, the octopus, which is the only large brained animal with a totally different evolutionary origin than humanity, is practically incomprehensible.

Until we have science fiction games that are only populated by characters that we can't empathize with or understand, and whose motivations are totally incomprehensible I WILL NOT REST!
posted by bswinburn at 11:18 AM on June 14 [36 favorites]


We're upset when the female characters are not consistent with biology/evolution as we could reasonably expect to be applied within the scifi context and a clear design biased to appeal to a male gamer demographic.
posted by arcticseal at 11:19 AM on June 14 [65 favorites]


This is irritating me all out of proportion. Just let people enjoy some stupid game, will ya?
posted by codswallop at 11:25 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


so basically, we're upset when they don't make female models, and we're upset when they do.

Or maybe games developers don't have to throw up their hands and give up if they don't get it right the first time.
posted by straight at 11:26 AM on June 14 [20 favorites]


We're upset when they don't include female playable characters, which is reasonable. We're also upset when all of the playable female characters look like swimsuit models when they're supposed to be warriors. I don't think there's anything incongruous about that.

In City of Heroes, I could create stupidly tall lanky or short plump heroes of either gender. Best characters design system ever. It's not impossible to allow for a greater selection of body shapes and faces.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:27 AM on June 14 [84 favorites]


so basically, we're upset when they don't make female models, and we're upset when they do.

We're upset when women are ignored, and then we're upset when women are treated as tit-tastic decorations. Like... duh.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:28 AM on June 14 [160 favorites]


Isn't mocap the standard animating approach to video game design these days?

If so, that's the answer for "why do the non-human characters in video games look like humans'.

Because the character design is based on a real life human's movements.
posted by Sara C. at 11:28 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Until we have science fiction games that are only populated by characters that we can't empathize with or understand, and whose motivations are totally incomprehensible I WILL NOT REST!

I, too, am only capable of empathizing with female characters who look like swimsuit models.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:29 AM on June 14 [38 favorites]


Just let people enjoy some stupid game, will ya?

Agreed, why won't game developers just broaden character customization a little more so we can get on with enjoying the stupid game? Stop pretending we haven't played saints row. We know what is possible.
posted by straight at 11:29 AM on June 14 [16 favorites]


Even after all the usual gamer bullshit lately I still assumed that this might be somewhat overblown outrage until I saw the actual images in question. What the actual fuck, why do these FEMALE ANALOGUE ALIEN ROCK CREATURES HAVE BOOBS AND HUGE ASSES.
posted by elizardbits at 11:29 AM on June 14 [44 favorites]


oh right of course it is to feed their young alien rock creatures rock breast milk how silly of me haha im a moron

RARRDGHGHG

(thats rock lady for GTFO)
posted by elizardbits at 11:30 AM on June 14 [24 favorites]


Let's hire some lead character designers who aren't young white males and see what happens... At least for the non-male characters, for god's sake.
posted by Huck500 at 11:32 AM on June 14 [10 favorites]


so basically, we're upset when they don't make female models, and we're upset when they do.

Thanks for demonstrating the problem right off the bat like that.

For those who'd rather talk about the issue rather than dismiss it:

We're annoyed when developers make it harder for women gamers to relate to their characters by not providing characters who are women, and give bullshit justification for it.

We're also annoyed when they make it harder for women gamers to relate to their characters by only providing women characters who are Space Barbie.

On review, what showbiz_liz said.
posted by ProxybyMunchausen at 11:32 AM on June 14 [36 favorites]


I, too, am only capable of emphasizing with female characters who look like swimsuit models.

I know, right? I can't even empathize with myself! I'm all to myself saying, 'hey uggo, you think you want a nice glass of tea, but too bad! We're going to read a bunch of comments about how we shouldn't be annoyed that female characters only exist if they're appealing to fourteen-year-old bros!'
posted by winna at 11:32 AM on June 14 [20 favorites]


A bigger yet unasked question is why would a silicon-based life form have two genders that correspond exactly to our gender constructs.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 11:33 AM on June 14 [51 favorites]


I wish I hadn't led with snark. showbiz_liz, I'm sorry.
posted by jepler at 11:34 AM on June 14 [10 favorites]


For an example of rock creatures that got it right, L.E.G.I.O.N.'s Strata.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:36 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I, too, am only capable of emphasizing with female characters who look like swimsuit models.

I agree that having female characters that only look like swimsuit models, but if that's your problem don't dress it up in evolutionary theory and ideas of what aliens would "really be like".

The problem of showing very alien civilizations or aliens is an old one in science fiction and, for the most part, authors end up throwing up their hands in the realization that if you want to tell a story humans are interested in you have to have things that are mostly humans in dress up with, maybe, one or two differences. It's a problem with the narrative form, and hence a problem with humans.

This article fails to take it's own thesis seriously, which is what I was mocking. Humans and chimpanzees both make music. Chimp music is completely unenjoyable to us. And, apparently, visa versa. And, genetically, we're practically identical to chimps.

An alien alien, which very likely won't even share DNA, with us, is likely to be obscenely hard to understand.

This article wants to argue about sexism, fine. Do so. I'll probably agree. But don't say the problem is that games are not taking the science of alien evolution seriously. Because down that road leads to incomprehensible and unenjoyable games at best.
posted by bswinburn at 11:40 AM on June 14 [8 favorites]


Obviously these game devs are so progressive that they made all female characters look like space prostitutes because they want to raise awareness about prostitution. Duh.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:43 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's not about evolution or whatever. It's that a lot of people want to play visibly female characters, but without overt gender cues there is a very strong tendency to read any humanoid body as male by default. So you need some sort of gender cue that's legible to human viewers, "realistic" or no, and the problem is just that they picked a really shitty gender cue to use here.

Seems to me like "how do you send coherent visual gender cues for nonhuman creatures?" is a really interesting and difficult question. "Tits" is a boring answer, and a lot of the other easy answers ("Make her pink," "Put a bow on her head," "Give her a dress," "Give her long eyelashes") are equally boring, and there may be no easy-and-not-boring way to do it.

But "tits" isn't just a boring answer — it's also kinda fucked-up. If we're going to reduce gender distinctions to a single lazy visual cue, I'll take "pink" over "tits."
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:44 AM on June 14 [27 favorites]


We're really talking about two different things here.

1. Imaginary species in speculative fiction sometimes (often) don't make much biological sense.

I find it hard to get upset about this. Fiction is fiction. I get the appeal of "hard" SF that tries to hew closely to real-world science, but there's plenty of room for softer stuff, too.

I mean, Tolkien's ents don't make one whit of sense, but who cares? They're fun.

This angle is, I think, a distraction from the real issue, which is that...

2. Female characters in video games are often (usually) overly sexualized, in a way that male characters are not.

This true whether you're talking about alien rock-people, magical elves, or plain old human beings. It doesn't really have much to do with the "fictional species are biologically implausible" angle.

As a person who loves video games (I don't like to call myself a "gamer"), this shit annoys me to no end. Every time I see a female character with a wasp-waist and tits the size of her head, or bikini battle armor, or characterization that seems to have been written by an adolescent boy who's still in the "lol girls have bewbs" stage of sexual maturity, I want to slap a developer upside the head. Stop making my hobby look so damn embarrassing, you know?

I've noticed that the games that approach female characters this way also tend to be pretty terrible as games. I don't think that's a coincidence.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:45 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


Thank you. This is awesome. I discuss this kind of thing a lot with my oldest son. We critique things like the three wives of the doctor on Enterprise and how that was clearly not thought through, just tossed out there to be different and alien. We talk a lot about actual known life forms here on earth and how they behave "socially" and how that would be a better jumping off point for imagining a species with certain biological characteristics and the behaviors that would logically grow out of that.

We talk about how games will have a rock-eating critter and then that rock-eating critter will still value the same things humans value, like Earth-type biomes on planets they are colonizing instead of hungering for the barren worlds where icky plants do not impede their access to tasty bedrock.

And I think this matters because "Video games are our only education" -- in other words, these games are powerful examples of the mental models we have about how reality works, so this utter and complete bullshit does a real harm to the way a great many people think who never take the time to question the science behind it and learn why it is completely broken.

So I have emailed this to my son. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Michele in California at 11:46 AM on June 14 [16 favorites]


Even though it's obviously completely absurd if you think about it for three seconds, I don't have an issue with games having male and female options for alien beings. "Real" aliens are more likely to be, like, fifty-foot gas-filled bags of floating air or colonies of sentient molds, but then, sci fi in our culture has always been in large part about reflecting the human experience. We know that Star Wars and Star Trek wouldn't "really" feature aliens who looked basically human, but we accept that, because what we actually care about is telling a story which has relevance to the audience, and maybe makes them consider what it means to be human.

Similarly, when we make movies about animals, we don't try to replicate the forms of communication which animals actually use; we give them human voices, because that's what humans can understand. It's shorthand.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:46 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Seems to me like "how do you send coherent visual gender cues for nonhuman creatures?" is a really interesting and difficult question.

Outside of mammals sexual dimorphism is usually shown in nature by the male of the species being larger than the female, and more brightly colored. The size thing is done often in games but I suspect the brightly colored thing is not usually done because a nonzero number of people will think that makes it "gay".
posted by elizardbits at 11:47 AM on June 14 [15 favorites]


jepler: so basically, we're upset when they don't make female models, and we're upset when they do.

No, we're upset when they don't make them, and we're upset when they do and it's shitty, irrational and objectifying. We seem to be zooming on a solution here!

Incidentally, this was an obvious willful misreading of the post and a crappy, reductionist comment to start this thread with.

On preview: Missed your apology. Sorry.
posted by valrus at 11:48 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Like really you would never see a male video game character as this brightly colored creature with all kinds of frills and fronds and eye-catching things going on, as well as with enormous and barely contained genitals. Even though by both the laws of nature and the apparent laws of video gaming "how else do we know it's a lady lol" this would be perfectly acceptable.
posted by elizardbits at 11:49 AM on June 14 [38 favorites]


I'd play the shit out of a game with male characters like that
posted by mrbigmuscles at 11:53 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Although it's not precisely on point, I would be all over a combination dancing/dating game where I got to play a male peacock spider trying to impresses a sexy gal with my bad ass thorax wiggling and legs spaying moves.

All the better if it uses old Dance Dance Revolution pads as the game controller.
posted by bswinburn at 11:53 AM on June 14 [34 favorites]


Like really you would never see a male video game character as this brightly colored creature with all kinds of frills and fronds and eye-catching things going on, as well as with enormous and barely contained genitals.

I would play this game.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:54 AM on June 14 [14 favorites]


But really I think the most logical gender situations for non-mammalian life forms would be hermaphroditism, no? I forget what it's called, but it's the one where the organism can select which gender to be according to reproductive need at the time?
posted by elizardbits at 11:54 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


My point is: it's possible to accept the premise of "rock aliens who are human-looking enough to be understood by humans" and not revert to lazily designing them to look EXACTLY like burly ugly men/skinny big-breasted women. There is a middle ground between a rock alien who looks like a rock and a rock alien who looks like a human porn actress.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:54 AM on June 14 [13 favorites]


elizardbits, I think I fought that thing in Monster Hunter, but your point is well taken. Genitaurus it was called.
posted by Mister_A at 11:54 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


The problem of showing very alien civilizations or aliens is an old one in science fiction and, for the most part, authors end up throwing up their hands in the realization that if you want to tell a story humans are interested in you have to have things that are mostly humans in dress up with, maybe, one or two differences.

You say "humans", but I'm not sure that's a universal human thing. I'm beginning to suspect it's a "male authors writing with male readers in mind" thing. I've just been reading the "Women Destroy Science Fiction" edition of Lightspeed, and there are plenty of non-humanoid alien stories in there which I'm not recognizing as the sort of science fiction I'm used to reading by male authors, but which is nevertheless interesting and engaging, despite my difficulty as a reader putting myself in the place of the alien characters. Why do I have a difficult time putting myself in the place of the aliens? Well, maybe it's because, unlike the female authors, I haven't already had a lifetime of having to imagine myself as someone alien if I wanted to read anything that made it to market.
posted by hades at 11:54 AM on June 14 [13 favorites]


Sequential hermaphroditism, thank you wikipedia.
posted by elizardbits at 11:55 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


I would play this game.

me too especially if voiced by gideon emery
posted by elizardbits at 11:56 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Although it's not precisely on point, I would be all over a combination dancing/dating game where I got to play a male peacock spider trying to impresses a sexy gal with my bad ass thorax wiggling and legs spaying moves.

I imagine they would have trouble getting past porn laws or something like that.

Though I like the idea, actually. I just have trouble imagining it making it to market.

Same with the multi-colored males with huge genitals proposed above. I imagine that would be a problem.
posted by Michele in California at 11:57 AM on June 14


And back on track, showbiz_liz has pretty much nailed it. And sure, it could also be fun to fight non-gendered or flexibly gendered aliens, or to play as same.
posted by Mister_A at 11:58 AM on June 14


We have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals, and we do the same thing even more to fictitious creatures because we are inventing them from scratch. And part of that anthropomorphizing is assuming their gender distinctions are going to be the same as what we are used to.

On a site where I check for odd jobs, someone has posted a request for someone to illustrate a female peacock and I was tempted to write an angry message explaining that a female peacock is called a peahen and it does not have the big tail like you expect and are you really expecting a peahen to look like a peacock with big eyelashes and a pink bow or something?


In Desktop Dungeons, they included female versions of all the adventurer classes and they did a pretty good job of making them adventurers who happened to be women rather than sexing them up, but for the goblins they still resorted to eyelashes and lipstick because they had no idea how else to get a goblin to read as female. But I guess the Wildstar solution would have been to make the female goblins more attractive by human standards.
posted by RobotHero at 11:58 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Clever things make people feel stupid, and unexpected things make them feel scared.
posted by Poldo at 11:58 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


I would be all over a combination dancing/dating game where I got to play a male peacock spider trying to impresses a sexy gal with my bad ass thorax wiggling and legs spaying moves.

WANT
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


Outside of mammals sexual dimorphism is usually shown in nature by the male of the species being larger than the female, and more brightly colored.

Yeah! Totally!

The other thing that makes this tricky, though, is that I think most players don't just want sexual dimorphism among characters — they actually want the standard modern North American gender distinction to exist among the characters. Like, the signal a player wants to send by choosing a female character isn't "Assume my character is capable of getting pregnant" or "Assume my character has larger gametes than other characters of the same species" or whatever, it's "Acknowledge my character as a woman for social purposes."

So as far as I can tell the goal the designers have isn't just "Provide evidence that this character may be physiologically XX" or whatever, but more like "Make this character appear feminine in a mainstream North American humanoid kind of way." And so the problem then is that they aren't making room for the diversity that exists even within mainstream North American human femininity.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like the only solution is to be like "Fuck it, you're getting ten different models for this species, and some of them are hyperfeminine and some of them are hypermasculine and some of them are really fucking queer and some of the female-looking ones are ugly and some of the male-looking ones are pretty and just go fucking figure out for yourself how to cope with that."
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:59 AM on June 14 [15 favorites]


Oh how I will laugh if ever we as a species meet real aliens and they think visible gender cues grossly offensive.
posted by winna at 11:59 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure that we really want to go down the road of "realistic aliens". Sexuality and gender as inspired by dolphins, ducks, cephalapods and mollusks in general... None of these are going to be without a lot of problematic elements.

There are multiple body types in wildstar, but none of the articles had pictures of that. (I think that the body types didn't go far enough, of course. You can, however, play as a *slightly* fat male or female)
posted by poe at 11:59 AM on June 14


Fantasy has a complicated relationship to realism. It's rather facile to say that "oh, it's fantasy, it doesn't have to have any relationship to actual evolution or history." It's actually very hard to write good fantasy that's totally unrelated to reality (name three examples!). And often the genre is reinvigorated by writers who add a new type of realism— e.g. urban fantasy which sets its stories in the modern world, or Game of Thrones which reflects the nastiness of real medieval politics.

Looking at more swaths of reality also improves fantasy by giving it a wider range of models. Every fantasy doesn't have to be Disguised Merrie Englande Plus Orcs.

The bros who made these Wildstar models could really use a road trip to learn that not all females need to look like strippers.

(Not that the stripper look is always bad! It just shouldn't be the only option.)
posted by zompist at 12:00 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Oh how I will laugh if ever we as a species meet real aliens and they think visible gender cues grossly offensive.

I feel like this is an episode of Hyperdrive.
posted by Sara C. at 12:01 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Same with the multi-colored males with huge genitals proposed above. I imagine that would be a problem.

Why would it be unacceptable when in-game female organisms have enormous breasts the same size or larger than their heads which are barely contained by impractical and tiny articles of clothing?

I mean the obvious answer is rank cowardly hypocrisy but I feel like maybe you are not making a wry comment about double standard bullshit and really think "porn laws" are a legit reason it would not happen, so uh. Clarification plz?
posted by elizardbits at 12:01 PM on June 14 [7 favorites]


me too especially if voiced by gideon emery

No. David Attenborough voice overs.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:03 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Oh how I will laugh if ever we as a species meet real aliens and they think visible gender cues grossly offensive.

FOR SERIOUS i hope their only gender determinant is pheromones and the prudish section of their society wants everyone to carry tiny vials of outlandish scents to mask them.
posted by elizardbits at 12:04 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]


"Fuck it, you're getting ten different models for this species, and some of them are hyperfeminine and some of them are hypermasculine and some of them are really fucking queer and some of the female-looking ones are ugly and some of the male-looking ones are pretty and just go fucking figure out for yourself how to cope with that."

...though on second thought I'm not sure I'd trust most game design companies with the project of designing a "really fucking queer" alien either, because you just know we'd end up with some degrading sissy stereotype with a head tentacle.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:04 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Also I have to say my main problem with the female rock aliens in that one game is that they're not wearing any damn clothes. There's nothing objectively wrong with being curvy, and hey, at least they're proportional aside from the absurdly tiny waist (which is my real problem with the whole thing). Put some fucking clothes on the rock aliens and they would be fine.

I don't love the extreme gender dimorphism with the males looking like barrel-chested studs and the women looking like R Crumb drawings, but at least there's a consistency to it. Before I actually clicked over to the article I assumed the women were going to be petite and way more sexualized than they actually are.
posted by Sara C. at 12:05 PM on June 14


I'm really impressed by the picture labelled Charr from Guild Wars 2. A bunch of people in this thread seem to be questioning how to maybe do better? It's right there in the article.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:06 PM on June 14 [13 favorites]


I don't know if it is good or bad, but there is also a race without gender in Wildstar, the Chua. I have not been able to find anything about how they reproduce.
posted by poe at 12:06 PM on June 14


"Real" aliens are more likely to be, like, fifty-foot gas-filled bags of floating air

Ah Slylandro, how I had fun talking to you about your probes and asking about your glowy bits that indicated sexual dimorphism.
posted by Avelwood at 12:06 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


They give the females these skinny little upper arms. I personally know only a few human females who look like that, and most of 'em are on my 8-year-old daughter's softball team.
posted by Mister_A at 12:07 PM on June 14


FOR SERIOUS i hope their only gender determinant is pheromones and the prudish section of their society wants everyone to carry tiny vials of outlandish scents to mask them.

Our only valuable export to the aliens will be vast tankers of Axe body spray.
posted by winna at 12:09 PM on June 14 [17 favorites]


A bigger yet unasked question is why would a silicon-based life form have two genders that correspond exactly to our gender constructs.

So you could have four genders to choose from, none of which correspond to human genders because the aliens don't reproduce that way? Like, Urg, Nig, Brg and Zg are the genders. You can tell them apart by different color/shape/size (none of which look particularly human), and they reproduce by releasing/capturing different kinds of cells (not just two like us but others; like you need three types plus your own to reproduce, and then the new life is attached to another symbiote species' specially-evolved hollow in its head, until hatching in its baby form. It spends its childhood being raised by all four parents at different stages).

And none of that backstory would have to show up in gameplay unless you for some reason had characters hooking up/having offspring; all you would have to do is tell people they can choose between the four. Undoubtedly some would assume they were all male, and that's when you send them to the page on how that species reproduces.

I mean, that took me three minutes to come up with. I'm sure a talented writer team could do even more with it.

I'm sure it would put some people off who prefer wank-fodder but if the characters had sufficiently interesting abilities and personalities, it could be fun.
posted by emjaybee at 12:13 PM on June 14 [10 favorites]


Here is a video of all of the body types in wildstar.

They could have done better (even within the caroony world they are creating) but the articles exaggerate the case.
posted by poe at 12:18 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


It doesn't have to be this way.

I agree about the Charr. I'd be happy to play either a male or female character in that game, because they're both badass and plausible. I had a graphic designer friend who would create scientifically and anatomically plausible semi-human or alien creatures (like a skydiver with eagle DNA, or a Himalayan rock muncher, made of rock, or an alien similar to a manta ray) and her characters that also had to be obviously male or female for game development did so in a plausible and downplayed way without getting all tangled up in issues of secondary sex characteristics. I'm not sure if some characters had an obvious or inflexible gender, for that matter, but I never heard complaints about her work.
posted by quiet earth at 12:18 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


It's still no Saint's Row though.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:20 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Hey, if there are no IP hurdles preventing it, I would love to see her work, quiet earth.
posted by Mister_A at 12:20 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


*Or privacy hurdles of course.
posted by Mister_A at 12:20 PM on June 14


I'm not a huge gamer and I don't usually comment on things like this, but those alien character designs are so goddamned stupid. I, a young male, like video games so much better when the objectification of female characters isn't de rigueur and built into the game. One of my favorite games ever, Metroid, had a kick-ass female protagonist* whose body wasn't just eye candy for horny, frustrated boys.

Character design is so central to making a game fun, and it's a wonderful domain for a creative mind because you can make anything you can imagine! You can make a tough bounty hunter, who happens to be a woman, in an awesome exo-suit who hunts alien monsters on another planet, or you can make female characters whose bodies are obviously designed only to be sweatily perved-out over, and are not strong or even resembling an average woman's body nor suited to that character's purposes or identity. I can understand why video game developers would do that from a strictly amoral and pecuniary perspective, but I think that actually backfires, because women and girls will likely be alienated and dudes who aren't 14 are probably more interested in a cool, complex, or unusual kind of character than bodies which are obviously taken right out of a lad mag.

*Granted, in the original Metroid, Samus' armor would come off when you beat the game really quickly, but they thankfully didn't continue that tradition.
posted by clockzero at 12:23 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


As poe pointed out above, you can choose your body type in this game.
posted by I-baLL at 12:40 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


If a game is not going for cartoonish sensibilities, then yes, I want a decent spread of representation for ethnicity, sex, gender, etc. However, absolutely nothing at all in the WildStar promos that I have seen gave me any indication that the game was ever intended to make any goddamn sense at all.

It's okay for some things to just be relaxing and fun. Sheesh.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:41 PM on June 14


FWIW, Wildstar does have a gender-ambiguous character option for one faction. The customization options include turning their fur pink or loading them up with weird facial hair or both, but the character creator doesn't let you select a gender for the Chua, and I believe you could make one for which gender would be unreadable.

I think the objections about the other species are reasonable, though, and I'm not fond of the Chua, so I'm certainly not saying people should get stuck playing them for lack of alternatives.

Incidentally, while we're making a Wildstar wishlist, I'd like to add that I like the gameplay but for me it crashes ridiculously often with a memory leak error, although my rig exceeds the minimum specs.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:43 PM on June 14


It's okay for some things to just be relaxing and fun. Sheesh.

But the whole point is, this stuff makes the game LESS relaxing and fun for a lot of people.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:48 PM on June 14 [43 favorites]


Although it's not precisely on point, I would be all over a combination dancing/dating game where I got to play a male peacock spider trying to impresses a sexy gal with my bad ass thorax wiggling and legs spaying moves.

All the better if it uses old Dance Dance Revolution pads as the game controller.


Four of them.
posted by rifflesby at 12:49 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Outside of mammals sexual dimorphism is usually shown in nature by the male of the species being larger than the female, and more brightly colored. The size thing is done often in games but I suspect the brightly colored thing is not usually done because a nonzero number of people will think that makes it "gay".

*ahem*, and amen.

Thing is, there's more to it than that. It's worse than you think.

Brightly decorated males etc. are generally seen in species (and human cultures) where females choose their suitors and the males compete for their attention, whereas larger males are generally seen where males physically compete with each other for dominance and in essence ownership of all the females.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:49 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


A bigger yet unasked question is why would a silicon-based life form have two genders that correspond exactly to our gender [distinction]

Actually, this is about sex, not gender. The one alien thing is impossibly muscle-y; that's obviously the male one. The other alien thing has boobs; that's obviously the female one.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:52 PM on June 14


The arguments about whether or not this kind of character design is realistic or not in a sciency or sci-fi kinda way are interesting enough but I also think that, regardless of this point, it's still sexist.

Like, if the game designers managed to gin up some really plausible explanation for why all their rock-women have giant rock-breasts and it made perfect sense from a fictional standpoint, it would still be sexist and terrible and they should be ashamed of themselves.
posted by my favorite orange at 12:53 PM on June 14 [7 favorites]


Isn't mocap the standard animating approach to video game design these days?

It hugely varies based on the project. Generally speaking most AAA projects are going to use a shit-ton of mocap for the majority of the animation, but hand-tune anything physically improbable, fatal, or (the surprising bit) likely to encounter extremely close scrutiny. The latter is because minute disagreement between the mocap data and the way the character is rigged can, during extreme facial close-ups, plunge users straight into uncanny valley territory - which means that the bulk of your best animator's time is going to be spent hand-tuning facial anim. for intimate cutscenes.

In general, though, most of the tools and workflow available (and that your team is likely to be familiar with) are oriented around bipedal skeletons. You can make minute modifications (ie Bio Infinite's Songbird has a multi-segmented neck and wings stapled on), but at just about every stage of the pipeline up to and including the engine's foot IK solver you're going to encounter some basic assumptions that make non-humanoid skeletons... problematic at best.

As far as the issue at hand, you can *nearly* always assume three things about game developers on this topic:
1) they're as liberal as your average Metafilter user,
2) they're hyper-aware of their industry's issues with women, desperate to fix it, and
3) they're ultimately slaves to accounting and corporate shareholders that could give a flying fuck about social agendas.

Their allies, for what it's worth, are marketing/PR who are (if even possible) yet MORE keenly aware of all these things.

At the end of the day game developers are going to be constrained by two things: memory budget and actual budget. Separate skeletons for each gender, let alone each body type, eat up an *enormous* amount of very limited memory and severely hampered the entire industry last console generation. In the coming years, with 8GB to play with on every platform, we're significantly better off and the primary technical hindrance is removed. Look for this to change on the 3-year horizon for games with little financial limitations.

That leaves, for everyone else, budget - setting up animation for multiple skeletons is incredibly costly. As in several million dollars worth of animator and rigger time. While I have no inside knowledge, it's reasonable to assume that the team for Wildstar had the budget for one female skeleton and were required to go with what was most likely to appeal to the broadest userbase.

Unfortunately, awareness of social issues is not exactly a thing Joe Internet Gamer is known for. Nor the aforementioned CEO McDouchebropants. Time and education will change the former, but I haven't the foggiest how you start changing the latter prior to the market demanding it.
posted by Ryvar at 1:00 PM on June 14 [19 favorites]


Why would it be unacceptable when in-game female organisms have enormous breasts the same size or larger than their heads which are barely contained by impractical and tiny articles of clothing?

Those females are not showing off huge vulva that are not covered by clothing. IRL, it is hard to find women's clothing which adequately conceals the breasts. When I had a corporate job, I became painfully aware of how hard it was to find clothes that genuinely met dress code restrictions. A very high percentage of women's clothes is designed to say "Look! Cleavage!" and most people seem pretty oblivious to how sexist/sexual that is. (I have made the point somewhere on my blog that men do not wear muscle shirts to work so, honestly, it is not sexist to expect women to cover up the tits.)

So I think having huge genitals on display, for either gender, would be something of an issue. Breasts are sexy but they have no reproductive function. Huge penis or huge vulva I think is where it would become a problem, especially if you do as bswinburn suggested and have him -- an actual human -- actually thrusting and gyrating wildly to impress a female spider in game. I think that would make a lot of people hella uncomfortable with the whole thing.

Genuinely baffled as to why that requires clarification.
posted by Michele in California at 1:02 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


they actually want the standard modern North American gender distinction to exist among the characters.

Are there plans to release Wildstar in Asia, since the owner of Carbine is NCSoft, a Korean publisher? I wonder if this changes certain character design decisions, since you have to consider how an international audience would see things.
posted by FJT at 1:03 PM on June 14


It's okay for some things to just be relaxing and fun. Sheesh.

But see, you are basically saying, I could enjoy this game more if I didn't have to hear about the things that make it hard for other people to enjoy it.

And you also seem to be saying, I know we should worry about some games being open to everyone but surely there can be some dumb games that are just for people like me that don't have to worry about including everyone.
posted by straight at 1:06 PM on June 14 [16 favorites]


Genuinely baffled as to why that requires clarification.

Because breasts are sexualized throughout all of human society despite having no sexual function? Obviously? Because women cannot walk around topless in most US jurisdictions while men can do so freely, and if they do it is treated as shocking scandalous indecent exposure the same as if some dude had his dick out?


I think that would make a lot of people hella uncomfortable with the whole thing.

Wow you mean more than the women who are already uncomfortable with the way female characters are drawn in games? Imagine that.
posted by elizardbits at 1:09 PM on June 14 [19 favorites]


That leaves, for everyone else, budget - setting up animation for multiple skeletons is incredibly costly. As in several million dollars worth of animator and rigger time.

Do you have any idea how Saints Row 3 was able to do it?
posted by straight at 1:19 PM on June 14


elizardbits, the females in the game have their nipples covered, even if it is "just barely". That is the same standard we generally apply to female breasts -- their size is not an issue, as long as the nipple is covered. If they had uncovered nipples, that would likely be a problem and get rejected based on porn or indecency or the like, same as if either gender had visible genitals. So, sorry, your snippy reply does nothing at all to make it clear to me why my earlier remark required clarification.
posted by Michele in California at 1:26 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Like really you would never see a male video game character as this brightly colored creature with all kinds of frills and fronds and eye-catching things going on, as well as with enormous and barely contained genitals.

I find games tend to also overemphasize certain physical characteristics to emphasize maleness as well, to be honest. Just not the way you're talking about. Giant biceps, impossibly wide shoulders, enormous pecs etc. It's less problematic in the male example for obvious reasons, but it's not like they usually have my actual body type as an option in games either.
posted by Hoopo at 1:30 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Why, yes. Yes, I am a character designer that works in the game industry. How could you tell???
posted by rewil at 1:34 PM on June 14 [17 favorites]


On the other hand, why wouldn't a silicon-based species have extreme sexual dimorphism? It's not like carbon is intrinsically gendered in a way that silicon isn't.

It's kind of silly for them to have secondary sexual characteristics similar to humans though. Consider the diversity of sexual displays among terrestrial life, from the brilliant plumage of the birds of paradise to the distended throat of the bullfrog.

I guess what I'm saying is, why can't we have male characters with huge air-sacs in their throats?
posted by baf at 1:35 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


It's okay for some things to just be relaxing and fun. Sheesh.

Relaxing and fun for who?
posted by kmz at 1:42 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Like really you would never see a male video game character as this brightly colored creature with all kinds of frills and fronds and eye-catching things going on, as well as with enormous and barely contained genitals.

Can you do me a favor and go look at these armor sets and here because really, there's not a lot of skin showing stuff (unless you consider spaghetti strap tank top as especially revealing) and anything that does show some skin appears to show a similar amount of skin on the male models.
posted by Talez at 1:44 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


that is some badass armor omg. and while you are correct, i was only working from the stuff shown in the OP's link. so i think we can both be right.
posted by elizardbits at 1:47 PM on June 14


Do you have any idea how Saints Row 3 was able to do it?

Looking at this, you can see that the skeleton isn't changing at all as the slider is pushed out to 100% fat.

Based solely on what I'm seeing here I'd say they went with lower-fidelity content and used the extra memory to support gender-specific skeletons - which is definitely going to become increasingly the norm now that we have 16x as much memory as last console cycle, as I mentioned above.

They may have also made the investment necessary to support scaling bones, which is something most projects eschew for reasons of performance and animation memory budget (it's cheaper in terms of CPU cycles to compute bone transforms without scaling, plus you boost how many animation keyframes you can fit into your budgeted memory by up to 50% since you don't have to store scale values).

Finally and most importantly - unlike nearly all AAA products on the market they apparently handled clipping issues (ie leg and chair meshes overlapping each other while sitting) from the larger mesh by shrugging and saying "fuck it".

...which is fine for a game that doesn't take itself too seriously, honestly. There's an enormous technical investment that goes into rolling a completely custom character generator like this that most projects simply can't justify from a budget perspective. But since their emphasis was on third person truly free-form characters, they could make an ROI case to the CXOs.

The answer to why Dark Souls doesn't do this, btw, is attachments - lots of solid armor bits hanging off characters leads to hugely increased clipping issues once you start scaling the mesh around a smaller skeleton, well beyond what most users will casually accept.
posted by Ryvar at 1:48 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]


Wasn't there a thread here recently-ish that basically said "Everything you think you know about the demographics of gamers as they break down by gender is laughably wrong"?

Why are game designers appealing to only (if memory serves) 50ish percent of their market while alienating the rest? I mean FFS, Dragons Age had explicit options for men to fall in love with men (and women with women).

tl;dr GROW THE FUCK UP GAME DESIGNERS
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:51 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


The demographics of Wildstar aren't the same as for games as a whole. But like we were discussing in the other thread you should do the right thing with regard to avatars not because of the demographics of your gamers but because it's the right thing to do.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on June 14


so basically, we're upset when they don't make female models, and we're upset when they do.

Sort of.

If you consider the set of crappy, over-sexed, female characters. You must also recognize that the empty set is a subset of that set (as it is a subset of all sets).

So really, we're upset when super-sexed characters are created with no other options.

Here's Ashly Burch's take on it from 2011.

And while you're at it, just watch all of HAWP because awesome covered in awesomesauce.
posted by plinth at 1:55 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


A bigger yet unasked question is why would a silicon-based life form have two genders that correspond exactly to our gender constructs.

Because this is a video game made by humans to be played by humans for fun. It's not meant to be a rigorous exercise in speculative exobiology.

If they were going for "realism", they'd have far fewer attractive warriors doing epic things and far more ugly, incompetent specialists in intergalactic accounting slacking off in their space-cubicles.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:58 PM on June 14 [7 favorites]


Why are game designers appealing to only (if memory serves) 50ish percent of their market while alienating the rest?

This is the crux of it right there.

I'm sure video game designers are the most wonderful people in the world. But the traditional thought in marketing is that women don't play games.

But... why? Is that really what the numbers say? And if it is, why is that? Why is there a huge demographic for your product that you're not even trying to exploit? Imagine the conventional wisdom was that only twelve year old girls went to the movies. Wouldn't there be people out there thinking, "Well, wait, is that true? And if that's true, why? Is there no way to get other people into cinemas? Is there no product that might interest anyone else?"
posted by Sara C. at 2:04 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


There is something sort of fucked up about our culture in the way we feel like we have to project ourselves into an animated fantasy world by.. not being ourselves. Even non-interactive animation wants us to project ourselves onto impossible "ideal" people most of the time.

Like someone mentioned above, even the male versions of these characters are -- strange. I generally don't identify with either -- the gender is not important to me other than the female characters sometimes having better costumes or the male characters being easier to see. And I will admit to a vague titillation from seeing a sexualized female character, but usually it's not the point of the whole exercise.

Ideally, I would like to put *myself* in that world, maybe with some decoration or body modification. I'm surprised video games haven't done this very well because it is the one thing they *can* do narratively that passive fiction can not.
posted by smidgen at 2:05 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


If they were going for "realism", they'd have far fewer attractive warriors doing epic things and far more ugly, incompetent specialists in intergalactic accounting slacking off in their space-cubicles.

Yet again, why must there be a dichotomy between "complete 100% realism without any regard for fun gameplay whatsoever" and "titties titties titties"?
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:13 PM on June 14 [33 favorites]


That's one of the reasons I love LittleBigPlanet. Yes, ok, they gendered the character by calling him Sackboy... but you can put Sackboy in a dress and scuba flippers and Groucho glasses if you want. It's really well done in a way that allows people to express themselves largely as they wish.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:15 PM on June 14


But the traditional thought in marketing is that women don't play games.

But... why? Is that really what the numbers say? And if it is, why is that? Why is there a huge demographic for your product that you're not even trying to exploit? Imagine the conventional wisdom was that only twelve year old girls went to the movies. Wouldn't there be people out there thinking, "Well, wait, is that true? And if that's true, why? Is there no way to get other people into cinemas? Is there no product that might interest anyone else?"


Women constitute 52-54% of all gamers. Every designer I have ever worked with knows this. For "core" games (ie Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War) it's pretty much anywhere south of 31% depending on the franchise, although I'd put solid money on Team Fortress 2 and World of Warcraft being significant exceptions in this regard. Nearly every designer I have ever worked with is aware of this fact as well.

Here's the problem: late teens/early 20s males buy a lot of games, day one at full price, and marketing to them is an extremely straightforward process that produces neat little ROI graphs from your marketing team that spell out exactly how much you should invest in exactly which advertising channels. Games like Call of Duty? $75-100 million development budget, $250+ million marketing budget (for ~$1.5 billion gross revenue). The bigger the budget, the more risk-averse the people pulling the strings, always, because they think exclusively in terms of cost proposition.

That marketing budget, by the way, also means that the most visible games are catering to that core audience. It is by no means the majority of games, and the gaming press is only just now starting to include significant coverage of indie games where there's considerably different market forces and substantially more creative freedom.

People with an interest in social issues are not yet an as-easily quantified demographic with well-defined advertising and development ROIs. AAA game developers would, categorically, *kill* for the opportunity to do something more inclusive (at least now that the animation memory budget handcuffs are off), but are ultimately constrained by the particular business case the Project Lead & Producers are able to present to the publisher.

It gets better, as they say, but it's going to take a pretty long while yet.
posted by Ryvar at 2:29 PM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Why, precisely, does a species of silicon-based lifeforms have breasts?

Because carbon-based lifeforms are unimaginatively sexist. Next question?
posted by dendrochronologizer at 2:29 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Ok the next question is why do game designers think that so many human men want to fantasize about putting their weiner in a rock lady

she's a rock

it would be really gritty
posted by elizardbits at 2:37 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


I've been playing a Chua medic named Weezer. It's nice to play a race and just kill things as a naughty evil space hamster and not worry about whether someone thinks my avatar is hot enough.
posted by keli at 2:40 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


eh, enough lube solves any problem
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:40 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


sir step away from the zen garden at once
posted by elizardbits at 2:45 PM on June 14 [28 favorites]


Urf. Read the second (usgamer) link and agreed with the WTF-ery. Though it was sad to see 4/8 of the ads at the end of the article were involving links to view hot celebrity female bodies. I even checked the link out again in incognito mode (lest a late night wander set some cookie thing like that Team USA soccer jersey I already bought that follows me around the internet) and it was still 50% clickboobs.

So I guess the reason rock aliens and plant aliens and whatever other alien you can think of have curvaceous bods is due to evolution after all - the evolution of advertising and promotion. Sad and frustrating for both the people who don't want to play Page 3 girls and designers who do not want to make games populated with the same.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:47 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


marketing to them is an extremely straightforward process that produces neat little ROI graphs from your marketing team that spell out exactly how much you should invest in exactly which advertising channels.

So whoever upthread said that game marketing/PR people were the nicest and most liberal and caring people evar was incorrect, then?

Because, yeah, if it's just about doing whatever is the easiest, you're not that nice, and you're not that liberal, and you don't really care.
posted by Sara C. at 2:48 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Because, yeah, if it's just about doing whatever is the easiest, you're not that nice, and you're not that liberal, and you don't really care.

When I was studying marketing, I definitely got the impression that there was a whole lot of research which basically went: start with unexamined underlying assumption; do a bunch of research based on that assumption; look, now we have charts and graphs, so we were scientific and thorough. And it's not that this is a knowing con job; people think they ARE being rigorous, because they don't know how to do better.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:51 PM on June 14 [12 favorites]


So whoever upthread said that game marketing/PR people were the nicest and most liberal and caring people evar was incorrect, then?

I said that because it's consistently been my experience and I stand by it. They're not doing what's easiest, they're doing the research and generating the graph the publisher demanded (or YOU'RE FIRED and the next person in line does it meaning your refusal accomplished exactly nothing except damaging your career) and then making the channel investments the publisher gave them money for (or YOU'RE FIRED), and at the end of the day sending a final spreadsheet showing that they invested X amount of money in channels Y and Z, thus demonstrating fiduciary responsibility, sir, please may I have another?

And it's not that this is a knowing con job; people think they ARE being rigorous, because they don't know how to do better.

There's some of this in the lazier marketing departments, to be sure, but the people fronting the investment for the big franchises essentially have a sure thing going and they're not going to mess with, let alone question, 500% returns every other year. Eventually either inequality starts impacting the bottom line or someone figures out how to financially exploit women as consistently and easily as they do male gamers, and everyone goes home equally miserable.
posted by Ryvar at 3:05 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Why are we looking at two posts from December of last year? Wildstar already a) reduced the curves of the characters, and b) offered a variety of body styles (maybe not as much as people wanted).

Has there been some other issue that has recently come up?
posted by zabuni at 3:09 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Came for discussion of hortas.

DISAPPOINTED.
posted by allthinky at 3:11 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


sir step away from the zen garden at once

But I'm just getting my rocks off.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:16 PM on June 14 [15 favorites]


Ryvar, but ultimately the chain ends somewhere. Somebody is making some decisions, and that person has control over how this stuff all shakes out.

I work in film and TV production. Like video games, it's a highly collaborative medium, and there can be an awful lot of money involved. And like video games, there is a big problem of marketing and demographics and conservative-minded executives who just want to do the easiest thing to get the money and go home. And all of these people see themselves as socially liberal and hip to all the latest issues or whatever, and mostly are not actively trying to make life worse for marginalized people. And most of these people -- even the conservatives who just want to do the easy thing and go home -- are very nice.

But at the end of the day, there is somebody driving the bus. And when those people try to do better, better movies and TV shows happen.

My favorite TV comedy right now is Broad City. It's about two young women who live in NYC and get into hilarious vaguely stonerrific adventures. It comes on Comedy Central, which is a network with a typically young male demographic. The "stoner buddy" comedy genre is usually considered the purview of male comedians. Comedy, in general, is really really male and it's hard to even find women working in comedy that aren't being portrayed in pretty gross ways. And yet not only is this show happening, it's happening without anyone even having to pander to the male demographic at all. Clearly somebody at Comedy Central, who could have said, "Our market research shows that men will change the channel unless we cast Anna Faris," instead said, "This is fucking hilarious, we have to make this."

And thanks to that person, women are watching a channel that previously mostly had male viewers, and in fact which was probably designed for male viewers. And all it took was some people who were willing to actually do a little bit of work, for once, instead of digging out some charts and spouting some management speak and greenlighting another show about guys who fart and going the fuck home.
posted by Sara C. at 3:28 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Hi, all. I play video games. Online games, and I mostly play with Americans. There's this newish game I play which allows me to choose my character's gender.

You know what I have learned to choose? I choose the female and make her uniform the one which is body-hugging. No pack, no bulky clothes, no extra gear. Previously, I was choosing the guy with the same uniform, but now I'm choosing the female because that character is even smaller.

Two things came about from this:

1. Because I don't choose the bulky guy, I get attacked less often. Just because I'm kinda svelte, and when I lay down or crouch to camp, people just don't see me. They can't attack what they can't see. This gives me an advantage and this is an active incentive to play the female.

2. Because I do camp, I'm stationary, and someone who sneaks up on me can kill me pretty easily if I don't have some kind of countermeasure set up. What I've noticed here is that every so often...probably 1 out of 50 incidents, someone sneaks up on me when I'm laying prone, aims at the crotch of my character, and just stares there for a few seconds before attacking me there. I see it through their perspective in the instant replay.

It's FUCKED UP! There is incentive to attack the head, but they bypass that, waste time...and go for what ends up feeling like 'holy shit...that's some messed up shit".


More context: since this is a first player game, I don't get to see my character until I do the instant replay. But everyone else sees me.

Most people who camp, have adopted the female character too. It's just practical to choose someone who has less of a profile when camping.

You also get to pick the skin color. The default is white (just as is male), but there is a practical advantage if you choose the darker tones. So im playing this male oriented game, and there are tons of people playing the character of black females. First time I've ever seen that.

But, we all have to put this into context: this is just a fucking video game, nobody is become enlightened about shit playing this.

Yesterday, I had a messed up experience. Some dude attacked me, and then started talking to me. I usually mute it, but I wanted to hear how others reacted to this. We'll because of skin and gender, he called me "Michelle Obama". He went off on a rant about stuff that I can't even say on here. I LITERALLY cannot repeat it on here without something serious happening. I was so damn upset. I couldn't even aim straight.

So I just sat and sat and sat feeling like there is nothing I can do in this situation. Then a huge light bulb came on.

Even though it was 3am in the States, I was able to report his exact words to the secret service. They said that in cases like this, they do a quick investigation. But because this fool kept using the term "when I see her in real life", they considered it 'credible threat' Within 4 hours, his username had been disabled. All those months or years of hard work, just down the drain...and that's prolly the least serious consequence he will face.

Moral of this story: Don't talk about Michelle Obama that way, she's awesome. Also, fuck you, you fucking fuck. I would pay hundreds of dollars to see how hard you will sweat when you're hauled off to your local PD and interrogated by a bunch of suits who take your words very seriously.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:31 PM on June 14 [39 favorites]


I was utterly prepared to roll my eyes and dismiss her. Really I was. I typically would. I was in the middle of doing so. Then I got to the pictures and the juxtaposition with the Charr from Guild Wars 2 as an example of doing it right. And there she just knocked the wind right outta my sails. Yeah, I think she's right.
posted by tyllwin at 3:32 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


1) they're as liberal as your average Metafilter user,

Being liberal doesn't mean you're socially aware. Plenty of "liberals" who believe that sexism and racism are things that are more or less solved.

2) they're hyper-aware of their industry's issues with women, desperate to fix it, and

I work in the tech industry and read a lot about the games industry and I find that very hard to believe. I mean, sure there's always lip service blah blah blah but anytime there's actual pushback the excuses just come flying out.

Separate skeletons for each gender, let alone each body type, eat up an *enormous* amount of very limited memory and severely hampered the entire industry last console generation.

Wildstar is a PC-only MMO.
posted by kmz at 3:40 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


But, we all have to put this into context: this is just a fucking video game, nobody is become enlightened about shit playing this.

It sounds like somebody is.
posted by Sara C. at 3:46 PM on June 14


The problem of showing very alien civilizations or aliens is an old one in science fiction and, for the most part, authors end up throwing up their hands in the realization that if you want to tell a story humans are interested in you have to have things that are mostly humans in dress up with, maybe, one or two differences.

Also: boobies!
posted by acb at 3:48 PM on June 14


Makes me think of Mulan:

"They're bound to notice a couple of things..."
posted by Michele in California at 3:50 PM on June 14


Ryvar, but ultimately the chain ends somewhere. Somebody is making some decisions, and that person has control over how this stuff all shakes out.

Sorry, let me try to address this with a little less bitterness: the people I've met in marketing are every bit as liberal and caring as I said, but they don't make the decisions about how and where the money gets invested. Those decisions are made by various Vice Presidents of X in the publishing companies, who view the world solely through the lens of return on investment.

None of those VPs got into their current position without demonstrating a fair amount of amorality well beforehand, to say the least. As I said much earlier in the thread: I don't know how you reach them. I don't think there is anything they care about or will listen to other than the market, and right now I don't think anybody except indie game developers has the freedom to try to grow the market in the direction of social justice.

I work in the tech industry and read a lot about the games industry and I find that very hard to believe.

I have worked in "the tech industry" as well, and there is no means by which I can readily convey to you the magnitude of difference between a AAA game design team and your typical startup programmer's locker-room. My first job in this industry as an intern tools programmer at age 16 was on Danielle Bunten's last project before she died. My most recent was with Steve Gaynor right before he went off to make Gone Home. This shit ain't Grandma's Boy.
posted by Ryvar at 4:00 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Those decisions are made by various Vice Presidents of X in the publishing companies, who view the world solely through the lens of return on investment.

This is 100% fully true for all media that gets distributed through corporate channels.

On the one hand, that's why this is so hard, and such a constant battle. It's really hard to get through to that one decision-maker who ultimately just wants to make his money and go home.

On the other hand, that decision-maker exists, and she or he doesn't have to take the easiest possible way out at all times. There are examples of people who are trying a little harder and doing it right and reaping the rewards. People who are not teesny little indies, too.

I don't think there is anything they care about or will listen to other than the market, and right now I don't think anybody except indie game developers has the freedom to try to grow the market in the direction of social justice.

I think this is the entire problem, right here. This mentality. I don't mean to single you out, and I know you don't mean anything by it. But there are two huge problems with this approach.

1. "listening to the market". Dude, the market is fucking crying out for games that aren't like this. The video game companies are not listening to the market, like, AT ALL. The market is only being tapped 50%. If that guy who has the moneybags who cares about his ROI hears that the marketing team thought it was OK to only turn on the money tap halfway, he's gonna be pissed.

2. "in the direction of social justice". It doesn't take social justice warriors to make progress on this. It takes one person willing to actually use their brain for a second. Nobody is asking for Ms. Magazine The Game. Just, like, seriously, maybe some slightly less fucktoy-styled female playable characters and some storylines that aren't straight out of Tropes vs. Women. It would cost almost nothing and take almost no effort.

As long as video game companies are thinking "Well, we have to listen to the market on this. We can't afford to be in the social justice business," this is going to keep being a problem.

But, hey, eventually someone's going to come along and develop something women actually want to play, and take all the naysayers' money away, and the system will change without them. That is also perfectly acceptable as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Sara C. at 4:15 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Those decisions are made by various Vice Presidents of X in the publishing companies, who view the world solely through the lens of return on investment.

But that's exactly my point. If they look at the world solely in terms of ROI, they are letting free money walk away. By pandering to half (just under half, actually) of their userbase while alienating the rest, they are losing money they could actually be making. Their business model makes no sense at all.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:21 PM on June 14


1. "listening to the market". Dude, the market is fucking crying out for games that aren't like this. The video game companies are not listening to the market, like, AT ALL. The market is only being tapped 50%. If that guy who has the moneybags who cares about his ROI hears that the marketing team thought it was OK to only turn on the money tap halfway, he's gonna be pissed.

This is true. But in order to FORCE the market to appeal more to 14-35 year old girls, than just 14-35 year old boys, points have to be made with dollars.

Then it becomes a case of 'which came first, the chicken or the egg'. I can't play ps4 with my female friends because they don't have one. I end up playing with 17 year old boys from Alabama.

Then the argument is, 'well we would have a ps4, if there were games that appealed to us'.
Then the counter argument is 'well we would make games for you, if you demonstrated your purchasing power '.

So what comes first:
Girls buying games so that more companies make shit that appeals to them?
Or
Companies making games that make girls want to buy it?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:27 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Sara: It's okay, I mean ultimately I'm here and I'm listening to the excellent points you're making - I'm just trying to describe the forces I see at work, while most assuredly being on your side in terms of desired end-state.

Personally? Since Irrational shuttered I've gone indie, am now fully funded and the player character description for my project is currently "fully-clothed girl engineer with +5 staff of asskicking." If that sounds a lot like Jade from Beyond Good and Evil then, oh fuck, you caught me. Here's hoping she sees the light of day.

At any rate, re:

Dude, the market is fucking crying out for games that aren't like this. The video game companies are not listening to the market, like, AT ALL. The market is only being tapped 50%.

I think the part missing is that it's not at all clear to those making the decisions what that other 50% are willing to consistently spend $60 on every year, nor in the case of multiplayer titles how to insulate them from the infinite toxic cesspit of teenage male COD gamers even if they did make the jump to console.

it becomes a case of 'which came first, the chicken or the egg'.

Pretty much - that said I think as an industry we're slowly but steadily making progress at unwinding the World's Largest Ball of Twine, here. Each success like Gone Home helps establish the business case that much further. See also: Dr King's quote about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
posted by Ryvar at 4:41 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Bizarro Mirror-Universe MetaFilter: I was so damn upset. I couldn't even aim straight.
posted by XMLicious at 4:42 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Man I wish they'd come out with a Mac version of this so I could run around in what looks to be Ratchet And Clank: The MMORPG.
posted by egypturnash at 5:17 PM on June 14


Why, precisely, does a species of silicon-based lifeforms have breasts?

They feed their infants a substance similar to caulk
posted by Renoroc at 5:21 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Like really you would never see a male video game character as this brightly colored creature with all kinds of frills and fronds and eye-catching things going on, as well as with enormous and barely contained genitals. Even though by both the laws of nature and the apparent laws of video gaming "how else do we know it's a lady lol" this would be perfectly acceptable.

I'd play the shit out of a game with male characters like that


There was the mankini-gate incident, but it was only meant as joke and the designers were dismayed that players actually wanted to keep it.
posted by homunculus at 5:22 PM on June 14


My point is: it's possible to accept the premise of "rock aliens who are human-looking enough to be understood by humans" and not revert to lazily designing them to look EXACTLY like burly ugly men/skinny big-breasted women. There is a middle ground between a rock alien who looks like a rock and a rock alien who looks like a human porn actress.

Case in point: Shale from Dragon Age: Origins (spoilers if you haven't played DAO yet).
posted by homunculus at 5:25 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Those decisions are made by various Vice Presidents of X in the publishing companies, who view the world solely through the lens of return on investment.

I have a feeling, even if you were to talk to a VP and they were receptive to your message, at the end of the day, they would say, "My hands our tied on this, the shareholders would kill me if I tried this" Or the board, or the CEO or the customers, etc. and the circle would continue. Which is why I don't think any of the change will come from the largest AAA developers and publishers. They're too reliant on the current way of doing business, and just by looking at their games they're okay with putting out nearly the same thing year for year, and cribbing stories, settings, and plotlines from TV and movies made in the last 25 years.

I think you need like a "LEGO Friends" thing to happen. Yes, LEGO Friends definitely has problems, but it's forced a change in the market. Before, nobody really thought of putting out a building toy for girls. Now, there are Barbie and Hello Kitty building toys and newcomers entering like Goldie Blox and Lite Brix.

You don't need to come up with something pink or princess-like at all, but you need a company like LEGO, someone big enough to shake the industry, yet also independent, not publicly traded, and is hungry to unseat the industry leader.
posted by FJT at 5:27 PM on June 14


Ryvar, but ultimately the chain ends somewhere. Somebody is making some decisions, and that person has control over how this stuff all shakes out.

This crosses over from the Unity thread but seems more appropriate here. Part of it is that a decade ago Ubisoft made "Beyond Good and Evil". It was a girl, an olive skinned girl at that, who was sensibly clothed and propotioned, not about the T&A. The game was utterly fucking fantastic that to this day we still clamour for a sequel.

Nobody bought it. It scored insanely high in every review magazine and it bombed. Absolutely fucking bombed. So you tell me where the gamers are. Because I watched the best, strongest female character in a generation go down in flames. So when Ubisoft say "a reality of game development." what they really meant is "where were you a fucking decade ago when we tried to spin this idea of strong female characters to the boss and we got caught with our god damned pants down".
posted by Talez at 5:28 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


the designers were dismayed that players actually wanted to keep it.

See, this is what I mean when I say that somebody is falling down in marketing.

When designers are playing around outside the box as a joke, and they release it to the public, and the public is like YEAHHHH THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE WANTED, and still nobody figures out that, really, the public is not demanding rigid gender roles and T&A and only male playable characters and the most sexist storylines ever, and maybe there is a little more room for creativity than was previously assumed. Instead they assume that they must have heard that wrong, and just keep making more of the same shit.

I really really don't think the problem is the public demanding more of the same terrible shit. I really don't. Because the more I hear about stuff like the above -- and frankly the more I talk to gamers that I know, and the more I hang out with people and see how they interact with video games -- the more I really think the people who make and sell video games obviously know fuck all about how to do their jobs.
posted by Sara C. at 5:32 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


where were you a fucking decade ago

The video game industry is an area where you really can't rely on research from a decade ago. Ten years ago might as well be a century in video games. That's like saying "Ms. Pacman didn't do as well as Pacman, so nope, no Charlotte Corday for you."

I also kind of feel like having a woman be the only playable character in a game is a little different than refusing to include a female option. Fucking Mortal Kombat had two female characters, and that was way longer ago than Beyond Good And Evil.

I mean sure in an ideal world I would like a utopia where everyone will play any games and you don't have to offer a special dude character so guys can feel like the game is "for guys" or whatever. But in the meantime I want to be Charlotte Corday and assassinate Marat kthx
posted by Sara C. at 5:36 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


(FWIW I haven't been that involved in the Unity conversation and don't know whether Charlotte Corday was ever really an option they were considering, or she's just such an obvious perfect choice that some blogger used her as an example and I decided I really needed a video game about Charlotte Corday.)
posted by Sara C. at 5:37 PM on June 14


When designers are playing around outside the box as a joke, and they release it to the public, and the public is like YEAHHHH THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE WANTED, and still nobody figures out that, really, the public is not demanding rigid gender roles and T&A and only male playable characters and the most sexist storylines ever, and maybe there is a little more room for creativity than was previously assumed. Instead they assume that they must have heard that wrong, and just keep making more of the same shit.

I really really don't think the problem is the public demanding more of the same terrible shit. I really don't. Because the more I hear about stuff like the above -- and frankly the more I talk to gamers that I know, and the more I hang out with people and see how they interact with video games -- the more I really think the people who make and sell video games obviously know fuck all about how to do their jobs.


Except GTAV sold 26 million and COD:Ghosts shoveled 12 million units of heaping shit out the door. Nobody else cracked eight digits. So yeah, the public are demanding more of the same terrible and not-so-terrible shit.

But thankfully gaming is one of those wonderful things where you can literally vote with your dollars. Buy games like Transistor and Child of Light and bask in the awesomeness of strong female leads. Buy games like Titanfall where they have an equally awesome looking female character. If we build up franchises that have terrific female leads or don't discard females to the second-class citizen pile the balance will shift.
posted by Talez at 5:47 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


There was the mankini-gate incident, but it was only meant as joke and the designers were dismayed that players actually wanted to keep it.

So, I read the linked article, and it states the following, which does not jive at all with 'the designers were dismayed':
The order to remove the mankini from the game had come from the highest level within Funcom: management. In his post to the players, Joel stated: “Funcom management feels strongly that the Mankini outfit goes against what The Secret World intellectual property (IP) is all about and they did not want this item to stay in the game permanently.” He goes on to say that “The item was pulled due to concerns over the integrity of the IP – not because of the gender or skimpiness of the outfit.”
Which says nothing about the designers. Or the people who actually make games. But it says everything about the suits cutting the check.
posted by Ryvar at 5:47 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


This crosses over from the Unity thread but seems more appropriate here. Part of it is that a decade ago Ubisoft made "Beyond Good and Evil". It was a girl, an olive skinned girl at that, who was sensibly clothed and propotioned, not about the T&A. The game was utterly fucking fantastic that to this day we still clamour for a sequel.

Nobody bought it.
Beyond Good and Evil was released quietly for the PS2 on November 6, 2003.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released on November 11, 2003 to spectacular marketing fanfare.

This is not to say that The Sands of Time didn't make an impact on me, but I thought that scheduling was weird at the time, and continue to believe that it was simply not a prioritized release for Ubisoft.
posted by lumensimus at 5:52 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


A thought to ponder:

Women (as dictated to by society) have more things they 'must' spend money on that men simply don't: makeup. Pantyhose. More expensive hair treatments (my old hairdresser, a woman, charged by hair length and complexity of cut, period. I miss her). Stupid magazines. Etc etc. Not to mention a disproportionate time spent in cooking/cleaning/childcare. (NB: I am talking about societal messages to women--largely coming from men--and not anything else. If this comment reads as sexist, please read again; I am bemoaning the very messaging that is telling women they must do these things.)

Leaving men with more disposable income (and time) to buy videogames, even though at least half the market is women.

Just a thought, musing on how sexism is affecting something that women and men do in equal measure. Please pick apart that thought because I suspect I'm going wrong somewhere.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:03 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Except GTAV sold 26 million and COD:Ghosts shoveled 12 million units of heaping shit out the door. Nobody else cracked eight digits.

There's a lot more to market research than "This is the game that sold the most units last year. Let's make a clone of it."

If that's where the research sector of the industry is at, that's not great.

Though I guess it is great for a scrappy young company that's more interested in finding out what people actually want to play and getting it to them.
posted by Sara C. at 6:04 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Which says nothing about the designers. Or the people who actually make games. But it says everything about the suits cutting the check.

You're right, I shouldn't have put that on the designers.
posted by homunculus at 6:05 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


There was the mankini-gate incident

I was following that and I very much got the idea that it was FC management who forced that removal, against Joel's will, and called him on the carpet for it. And that yeah, to an outsider, it seemed like it was more about "this is a distracting joke that ruins the mood" than it was about sexism.

It was really only AFTER the item's removal that people raised hell about a double standard that allowed very sexist female outfits. But I still think it's worth noting (and speaks well of them) that they immediately followed up those accusations that they didn't care about sexism if it was a female outfit by pulling the (maybe) most reviled-as-sexist female outfit out of the store.

But really, Secret World (with which I hate a love/hate relationship) is a product on what must be fairly shaky financial ground, and I think they are mostly just paralyzed with fear of alienating anymore more. I don't think you'll see any more cute or sexy outfits for either sex released there for a long time.
posted by tyllwin at 6:06 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Frankly I would buy a console and a few AAA titles in a hot second if there was anything I was particularly excited about playing. I tend not to worry too much about the content of the casual games and cheap indie titles I play, because I'm not blowing a significant amount of my entertainment budget on that. But for the kind of money it would take to invest in a console and the games for it, and the amount of time I'm going to be spending playing those games, I want to know that I'm going to enjoy the experience and not feel gross about it afterwards.
posted by Sara C. at 6:06 PM on June 14


Then again, in terms of cheap indie games I've played for hours and hours and adored, Don't Starve has three playable female characters. I actually prefer playing with Wilson for various reasons, but I like that I have the option.
posted by Sara C. at 6:08 PM on June 14


COD:Ghosts shoveled 12 million units of heaping shit out the door.

Count me as one of those shovels. It's rather violent and fast-paced. But THIS is the game I was referring to above.

I mean sure in an ideal world I would like a utopia where everyone will play any games and you don't have to offer a special dude character so guys can feel like the game is "for guys" or whatever. But in the meantime I want to be Charlotte Corday and assassinate Marat kthx

Um, if you're down with the violent games, why not get Ghosts? I mean I would love to play a video game where I get to be the Indians that received Colombus. But I also understand that people would rather buy Ghosts than one that is grounded by actual history. I won't ever get to burn down the Pinta through an xbox.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:10 PM on June 14


Though I guess it is great for a scrappy young company that's more interested in finding out what people actually want to play and getting it to them.

I'm sorry but if you had the market that you imagine that cared about strong female role models more than anything else then Amir Rao would be driving multiple Ferraris like waterskis.

But he's not. So I question your assertion with a giant [citation needed].
posted by Talez at 6:15 PM on June 14


if you had the market that you imagine that cared about strong female role models more than anything else

I don't think anybody is asking for a video game company that cares more about strong female role models than anything else.

Just, seriously, less constant emphasis on T&A, make a playable female character every now and then, and less grossly sexist storylines. I highly doubt men are going to stop buying video games because you can play as a woman if you want or the story doesn't feature any brutal rape scenes. It doesn't have to be Call The Midwife: The Game*, it just has to be slightly less toxic about gender shit.

*Would totally play this.
posted by Sara C. at 6:19 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Also, Transistor came out three weeks ago. For all you know it's the next big thing in games and Amir Rao is flicking through the Ferrari Waterski catalog as I type this. Seems like an extremely odd person/company/title to single out as proof that all video games should be sexist.

Both Transistor and Bastion look badass. Bastion is available for OSX, so I'm definitely getting that one soon.
posted by Sara C. at 6:25 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


They're both amazing - I consider Bastion to the new high-water mark for isometric action game mechanics, and the first real major step forward on that front since A Link To The Past back in '92. Seriously. It's in some way informed virtually everything I've touched as a designer since.

Transistor features an amazing female lead but due to the hybrid turn-based mechanics seems likely to have some difficulty connecting with an audience (I sincerely hope to be proven wrong). That's a damned shame because the weapon-slotting mechanic is the single most interesting game system I've seen since Path of Exile's character tree.

To quote my best friend "Okay, can we just have Supergiant make all games from now on?" In The Perfect World Which Will Never Be(tm), this is already the case.

I mean I would love to play a video game where I get to be the Indians that received Colombus.

I would play the shit out of this game, even if it seems destined to be a very short experience.
posted by Ryvar at 6:42 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Reminder that in Hyrule Warriors you can play as MOTHERFUCKIN ZELDA. There's your perfect game right there.
posted by Talez at 6:49 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I for one would love to play as a kickass Zelda.

Someone send me a WiiU.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:02 PM on June 14


Like really you would never see a male video game character as this brightly colored creature with all kinds of frills and fronds and eye-catching things going on

That would be a Final Fantasy game.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:09 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Some of this conversation is getting bizarre-- it's like a conversation about how we'll never have a female Supreme Court Justice and we really ought to have one and it's a pity we'll never have one and, um, did anyone notice we already have three?

These are all big-studio games that had female playable characters: The list provided by seyirci has some additional titles where the single-player game doesn't offer a female PC but co-op does.

The point being, not that things are OK, but that it's baffling to say that the suits will never allow female PCs. The suits approved all the above games. Which is precisely why it's sad and retrograde that some execs seem to think it's not necessary or it's too much work or whatever their excuse is.
posted by zompist at 7:20 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Most of the games on your list feature female characters with 38-18-24 measurements. Not realistic depictions of women; fanservice for less than half the gamers out there,
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:25 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


(Portal is the obvious glaring exception that proves the rule: a female protagonist (two, if you really want to go there) who doesn't fit that mould. It's the only game I have ever played where the gender of the main char is a) irrelevant, and b) not a Barbie doll)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:27 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I know this isn't where this discussion is going, but this is pretty much my reaction to the models in Wildstar:

Michele in California wrote:
these games are powerful examples of the mental models we have about how reality works, so this utter and complete bullshit does a real harm to the way a great many people think who never take the time to question the science behind it and learn why it is completely broken.

It's kind of amazing that we have this cutting edge technology and rooms full of writers and designers, but all we can come up with is endless variations on Space Barbie.

What's interesting about our biology is that human-style "sex"* is only one of the existing alternatives. You don't have to look far to find completely different arrangements based on the same diploid/haploid cycle. I'm not suggesting that anyone is going to sell more video games by learning anything about biology - more that there's some weird shit going on out there that could inspire us to take one tiny step away from the fucking status quo.

*Whatever the hell that might mean in the context of a video game...
posted by sneebler at 7:29 PM on June 14


It doesn't have to be Call The Midwife: The Game

OMG would totally play Obstetrician Simulator 2015.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:37 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


It's the only game I have ever played where the gender of the main char is a) irrelevant, and b) not a Barbie doll)

Fallout 3/NV, Mass Effect, Saint's Row, Borderlands 2 if you play Gaige...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:46 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Ahahaha! I've got to give it up to Wildstar for consistent boob branding. I don't even play video games, but when I saw the female Draken's outfit, I immediately thought, That dumb boobtastic neckline looks just like that other boobtastic neckline I keep seeing in that one video game ad on garbage bins and taxis around town. And yup! That was a character in Wildstar!

Give that boob marketing team a raise!
posted by cadge at 7:51 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Because this is a video game made by humans to be played by humans for fun. It's not meant to be a rigorous exercise in speculative exobiology.

You're acting as if those two things were mutually exclusive. Besides, I wasn't going for "rigorous" because we don't have any facts to check our fantasy alien biology against. "Imaginative" "fun" and "surprising" would be fine. "Has internal consistency sufficient for gameplay but also makes geeky types spend hours debating whether their biology actually works to the point of flamewars" would be great also.
posted by emjaybee at 7:55 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


OMG would totally play Obstetrician Simulator 2015.

would totally watch a playlist of xXX OBSTETRICIAN SIMULATOR 2015Xxx | PRO | NO SCOPE 360 [MLG] [ULTIMATE NO EPI] videos with the terrible dubstep and all...
posted by hap_hazard at 8:02 PM on June 14 [7 favorites]


Frankly I would buy a console and a few AAA titles in a hot second if there was anything I was particularly excited about playing.

Ok. Here's the problem. Even though tons of shit is out there, you haven't spent any of your money on this. Yet you still expect the companies to cater to you.

If you don't want to play video games, that's fine. But it seriously seems like you aren't interested enough in these games to spend your time and MONEY on finding the games you want. That seems to be the issue here, rather than the fact that the gaming experience you're looking for doesn't exist.


Also, Transistor came out three weeks ago. For all you know it's the next big thing in games and Amir Rao is flicking through the Ferrari Waterski catalog as I type this. Seems like an extremely odd person/company/title to single out as proof that all video games should be sexist.

Both Transistor and Bastion look badass. Bastion is available for OSX, so I'm definitely getting that one soon.


Awesome. But you should understand that these companies look at not only overall sales, but sales as soon as the games are released. They look at the rabidity of their fans to decide whether to continue making games like that or not.

Hell, I loved Air Jordan's when was a kid. All the 14 year olds knew when the new ones were coming out. Then I stopped caring, and do you see the crazy shit they have coming out nowadays? Golden plastic shiny shoes looking like something Hermes wears and calling them 'Lebrons'. I hate them. But I also understand that because I don't use my purchasing power, and. I dont stand outside of foot locker to get all crazy about 'the new shoes', I won't affect their decisions about which shoes to make and what they look like.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:35 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


A number of people have noted that you can choose your body type in Wildstar and either said or implied that the articles authors are therefor exaggerating the problem to have something to bitch about. I think its worth noting that regardless of how svelt or well-padded a choice you make for your female character, ALL have the same crazy hip-to-waist ratio. And of the 10 or 12 body choices for each race, only TWO offer the "smaller" breast option. Which is, by the way, in NO WAY small.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:41 PM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Most of the games on your list feature female characters with 38-18-24 measurements. Not realistic depictions of women; fanservice for less than half the gamers out there,

True, but I've never played a character in a game and been like "man, my portly self looks exactly like Link".

I mean shit, I could never look like the people in Ghosts. But I do also note that the women and men look like people who could survive combat. And no, they don't have big boobs.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:48 PM on June 14


Ubisoft made "Beyond Good and Evil"... Nobody bought it... "where were you a fucking decade ago when we tried to spin this idea of strong female characters to the boss and we got caught with our god damned pants down".

I'm sorry but if you had the market that you imagine that cared about strong female role models more than anything else then Amir Rao would be driving multiple Ferraris like waterskis.


I think it's condescending and kind of dumb to assume that an untapped market for games with playable female characters would mean that any game with a good female protagonist would be successful.

Beyond Good & Evil and Transistor might be fantastic games (although I will never, ever forgive BG&E for self-destructing in the last act), but they're not the games people are asking for when they say they'd like decent female character options in Wildstar or a playable female assassin in AC:Unity. Video games are not fungible.
posted by straight at 9:14 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Ok the next question is why do game designers think that so many human men want to fantasize about putting their weiner in a rock lady

I know that Shale's already been mentioned, but this is a great thing about her. Hell, you don't even find out that she is/was female; she uses "it" pronouns for pretty much everyone else, including in the second person, and seems to have left most of her identity as female from when she was biological at all behind.

I've been saying for ages that I want aliens or fantasy races in video games that feel alien. I spend a lot of time thinking about what the anti-Asari would be, because even though I fucking adore Mass Effect and really like most of the the individual Asari that you come across in those games but the overall concept of a species of hot blue women with big breasts that are really impractically bared some of the time on warriors (SAMARA WHAT) and EVERY ALIEN SPECIES IS ATTRACTED TO THEM EVEN THE ONES WITHOUT SEX DRIVES it's just aughhhhh, it's so ridiculously male gaze-y and it actually takes way more effort for me to suspend my disbelief about that than any of the pseudomagic shit in those games because at least pseudomagic doesn't serve some kind of agenda that helps marginalize women.

It's like with these they don't even know how to conceptualize how to make women without making them boobtastic and improbably thin-waisted.

Also, related to the motion capture stuff, I 100% do not buy that argument. You can make women move like men and it'll be fine. Hell, the fact that Shepard is unable to walk normally and ends up doing her normal video game run in heels was sort of a great character moment for her.

It's really depressing that Wildstar decided to come up with so many character races and then came up with so little way to create body diversity within them. I'm really sick of looking at female characters with ridiculously improbable body types. I'm also really sick of gendering robots. Seriously, guys, they're fucking robots. They don't need to be fucking robots.
posted by NoraReed at 9:44 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


You're acting as if those two things were mutually exclusive.

I think they are, practically. A human isn't going to perceive the gender of a four-gendered alien starfish character species as gender. If a game designer wants to put in aliens with relatable genders, they'll be human genders, because it's humans that have to do the relating.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:01 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


My favorite game character ever is Aria, a female dwarf duster from Dragon Age: Origins. I created her out of the sheer joy of playing a female dwarf, an option rarely seen in RPGs. (Usually, you can choose dwarf OR female, not both.) She was not glamorous or sexy in any sense. She was strong, hard and determined to prove that she was more than some whore's little sister. (That "whore's little sister" line punched me in the gut in DA:O. The despair and self-loathing of Dust Town really hit me then.) That Aria had no voice in the game was a plus; I imagined her as this taciturn, strictly-business character who had no use for idle chatter.

And that's my point: I created this character and I lived in her head. It's perfectly possible to identify with any character, male, female, insect, cloud of nanomachines, whatever, as long as they have a compelling story. I really don't need a massive chest or huge breasts to like a character. I need them to be interesting.
posted by SPrintF at 10:41 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Like really you would never see a male video game character as this brightly colored creature with all kinds of frills and fronds and eye-catching things going on, as well as with enormous and barely contained genitals.

Start playing. Wish there was an English language version of this. Sorry for the potato quality video.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:01 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


You'll forgive me if I'm not entirely buying that it's those damn suits who are keeping us from having a diverse selection of female characters to play. I'm especially skeptical that "the shareholders" drive those decisions. (Unless by "shareholders" you mean some venture-capital firm. If you're venture-capital funded, you're fucked anyway--nothing funded by venture capital ever retains whatever good or creative force it may have once had.)

As for "austerity" keeping playable female characters out, I know a guy who was employed by Sony for years to work on a Big Budget game employing hundreds of people. It was ultimately shit-canned--it cost well into seven, probably eight figures (he made six figures and there were plenty of clones of him on the team, all managers) and they just pulled the plug, wrote it off, moved on. So the idea that a few hundred thousand bucks, if that, to diversify the player's choices is too expensive sounds like obfuscation, not a real reason.

If your business is supposedly creative and yet risk averse because there may not be new Ferraris this year for the VPs, well, you suck. Unless you have a new offering of stock to take to market to fund something, stock price doesn't matter except for the number of trinkets your in-house 1%-ers award themselves. Pursuing high stock prices has killed so many "dotcom" businesses it's a punchline at this juncture. If that's your game company's main goal, you're not a game company at all.

Finally, a simple question: when there are female characters, why the giant boobs, always the giant boobs? That alone tells me that even when given budget for female characters, the default implementation is going to be a boyzone fantasy, with other boys as the intended audience. That does not support the assertion that the teams working on these projects are oppressed and are just waiting for the glorious worker's paradise where the suits will be gone and they can finally do the right thing.
posted by maxwelton at 1:12 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


It's not a shareholder issue or an austerity issue. It's a straight-up priority issue. Ubisoft's BS answer as to why they cut a playable female assassin from AC:Unity basically boils down to "fucking hips, how do they work?!?" Which is straight-up shady because the animator from Assassin's Creed III says "In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two's work." Same thing for Far Cry 4.

I find it really, really telling that neither production team is saying they didn't have the finished artwork. They had already invested thousands of hours into the artwork, but had somehow managed to forget their new characters were going to need another couple of hundred hours to you know, walk and speak. Which is fitting, because they really don't want to talk about it.

"If you had been able to work with a playable woman character in Far Cry 4, what would you have done? It sounds like you were in the planning phases of it, at least." The response from the game's narrative director? Total silence.

"If you could maybe ask about something else..." the PR rep eventually motioned apologetically.

So the real reason we don't have playable women protagonists in AC:Unity and FC4 is because women were the easiest thing to cut when the production deadline loomed. Fucking ASSHOLES.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:36 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


I am curious and interested, how many examples of non-binary sex do we have here on Earth? I just tried some Googling and wasn't very proficient at getting biology-type hits within the majority of gender-type hits, though I did find this about bacteria.
posted by Evilspork at 8:00 AM on June 15


Evilspork: are you looking for something like sexual reproduction with more than two genders? I suspect it doesn't happen as it increases the difficulty of reproducing with little extra benefit. Standard sexual reproduction makes it more difficult (you have to find a mate) for a fairly substantial benefit (significant genetic mixing), but adding a third gender makes it that much harder to get a mate without the same jump in benefit. You might just as well wait an extra generation for the same gain.
posted by edd at 8:15 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Joey Michaels: In City of Heroes, I could create stupidly tall lanky or short plump heroes of either gender. Best characters design system ever.

In City of Heroes, I created and played: a short, tomboyish teenager with spiky green hair and enormous robotic hands and feet; a slim, soft butch martial artist in black leather; a tall, muscular shieldmaiden who looked as if someone had tried to rip her face off in the distant past; a spinsterish witch with a cat on her shoulder; a chubby Catholic schoolgirl with an assault rifle; a sneering punk with a white mohawk and an anarchy T-shirt; an android without a face--all female characters. And lots more. And I don't consider myself a particularly visually imaginative person. The character creator in CoH was amazing, and the quibbles that people had with their choices--the chest slider for female characters wouldn't go below about a B cup; piercings weren't an option--were laughable when compared to the options in most other MMORPGs.

CoH was owned by NCSoft, which shut down the game over a year ago, and didn't entertain buyout offers for the IP; apparently, even though the game was making money, it wasn't making enough, and they wanted to concentrate on other properties. Such as Wildstar, which they spent several years developing. And this is the result. I downloaded the client during the public beta, and yes, there are some cute aspects to it; I guess that the studio was founded by World of Warcraft refugees, and it reminded me strongly of some of WoW's more twee bits. But the mandatory wasp waist on the female models irritated me, and it didn't suck me in enough to make me want to risk $60 on something that the company could simply pull the rug out from under, again, if it underperforms (CoH wasn't the only game that NCSoft has done this with).
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:45 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


(You can still mess with the City of Heroes character creator. This needs the original game files.)
posted by Evilspork at 9:29 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


True, but I've never played a character in a game and been like "man, my portly self looks exactly like Link".

Link isn't sexualised though. Breaking the mold of the young, buff male protagonist would allow for greater representation and we could see more fat characters and more women in games - hell, maybe even fat women that aren't a wink wink joke Don't google Fat Princess.

And yes, Transistor will not sell a million copies (though its combat system is fantastic and it has interesting music and art direction), but that's because indies don't usually sell a million copies. I notice Tomb Raider did sell a few million though. The question is why can't I play a female character in GTA V and why do so many games go for marines (in space!), which is such a bland character choice.
posted by ersatz at 11:13 AM on June 15


Link isn't sexualised though.

Yes, exactly. Remember the outcry a couple years ago when all the dudebro gamer types freaked the fuck out because it was possible--not required, at all, only possible--for two dudes to smooch in--actually I think it may have been DA.

Everyone needs to stop pandering to these sexist, homophobic assholes. There is literally no reason to alienate potential customers just because a vocal minority want T&A and go EWWWW GROSS HOMOS.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:23 PM on June 15


I am curious and interested, how many examples of non-binary sex do we have here on Earth? I just tried some Googling and wasn't very proficient at getting biology-type hits within the majority of gender-type hits, though I did find this about bacteria.

This may or may not be what you're looking for, but the first place my mind went to was this group of illustrations by humon (that artist who draws Scandanavia and the world) on different animal sex characteristics. There's more on her deviantart page, including the ruff bird.

But yeah, 'males posing as or looking like females to sneak-mate' is a recurring theme with some animals. See alternative mating strategies here, also.

I'm also going to point out that humans aren't all that sexually dimorphic compared to other species. I mean, we aren't penguins, but a lot of the secondary sex characteristics in humans (men are taller and have more body hair, women have wider hips and larger breasts) are pretty fungible or only true on average. Our hair is the same color, nobody has antlers, the stature ratio between men and women is about 1.07 worldwide, and that body hair thing is really inconsistent. But we tend to exaggerate the differences because they're important to us, especially in media. If the male/female nonhuman species in games were actually based on what humans looked like, they wouldn't be quite so dimorphic. Instead, it's based off of an exaggerated view of what we think we look like.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:39 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Also, Guild Wars 2 (the game that the Charr are from) does a pretty good job with the character designs for most of their races*. All vaguely human based, male and female options for all races, but not weirdly sexualized all the time. Their costuming choices often leave a lot to be desired, but the actual character builds are pretty awesome.

*I wrote 'all of their races' then forgot about the norn. And honestly, the Norn would probably bother me less if the default costuming wasn't boobplate.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:06 PM on June 15


how many examples of non-binary sex do we have here on Earth?

This does happen. Olivia Judson's Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation gives some examples: there's a slime mold with over 500 sexes, and a type of mushroom with over 20,000.

"Sexes" here means different types of zygotes (like our X and Y). If you're one of these slime molds, you don't need to find 499 partners; you just need to find one that's not of the same sex. It's thought that this system is an advantage for very low-density species, as the chances are higher that two randomly meeting individuals can mate.
posted by zompist at 1:06 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Women (as dictated to by society) have more things they 'must' spend money on that men simply don't: makeup. Pantyhose. (ETC)

Leaving men with more disposable income (and time) to buy videogames, even though at least half the market is women.

Just a thought, musing on how sexism is affecting something that women and men do in equal measure. Please pick apart that thought because I suspect I'm going wrong somewhere.


I think that is relatively minor compared to the fact that women tend to make, on average, 2/3s of what men make. Said another way: Men make 1.5 times what women make. Thus even if they had the same demands for makeup, pantyhose (ETC), they would have more disposable income. Period.

I am curious and interested, how many examples of non-binary sex do we have here on Earth? I just tried some Googling and wasn't very proficient at getting biology-type hits within the majority of gender-type hits, though I did find this about bacteria.

'spork, you do not even have to get outside of binary sex to find real world examples of different arrangements biologically and thus also socially. Off the top of my head:

Gators lay eggs instead of giving live birth. The clutch of eggs gets guarded (I want to say by both parents, but this may be wrong) and after they hatch any adult will respond to a distress cry until they are past a certain age. Other than that, they really do not get parental care after hatching out. They fend for themselves. Gator males and gator females appear to have relatively little differences between them. They are pretty much equally bad-assed hunters and size is mostly a function of age (they keep growing as long as they live, thus bigger = older) rather than of gender.

Bonobos (a type of ape) have promiscuous sex, obscuring who the father is, and the females raise babies basically as single moms but as part of a community. The males do not know who their offspring are. When females hit sexual maturity, they leave the tribe and go elsewhere (an arrangement that de facto prevents father-daughter matings). The only sexual pairing not tolerated in bonobo society is mother-son pairings. Otherwise, it is a sexual free for all and they all appear to be what humans would call bisexual. They do not have "the nuclear family" and they do not have monogamy. Bonobo females also form coalitions and largely control food supplies. There are alpha males but bonobos do not have the kind of (controlling to a frequently abusive/oppressive of females degree) patriarchy commonly found in human and chimp societies.

Bees and I think ants have binary sex but males are haploid instead of diploid, thus they inherit all of their DNA from their mother alone. Again, as above (similar to how bonobos work), this only works because they go elsewhere to reproduce. They do not stay with their original group.

If you are, as I am, interested in social things, you do not need more than two genders per se to find lots of variety in nature of how different biology results in different social structures. You can read up on how bonobos and other apes differ and the evidence that the social differences are strongly intertwined with biology. Whether cause or effect, biological and social differences very much go hand-in-hand.

For example, gorillas are very strongly patriarchal where one physically large male basically "owns" a bunch of females and they have relatively small testes because their sperm do not compete with the sperm of other males. Their females only mate with the alpha male. Chimp males and females are much closer in physical size and the males have much larger testes than gorillas because there is sperm competition -- in other words, the females sleep around a bit. Humans have relatively small testes given that the males are not that much bigger than the females and this is very likely strongly related to the high value most human societies place on monogamy and the nuclear family and getting the male involved in parenting.

Bonobo females only reproduce around every five or six years. Doing the single mom thing puts a serious bottle neck on reproduction. Humans could not have taken over the planet with billions of people without our capacity to have a baby practically every year and this is feasible because of evolution towards preferring a nuclear (two parent) family in which the father is relatively confident he is the father and thus willing to put additional time and resources into caring for her offspring. In fact, human babies have a tendency to physically resemble dad. Mom knows that is her baby because it came out of her body. It is dad who has to wonder. Thus humans have evolved a biological mechanism to help reassure dad that it is his baby and, please, kindly stick around and help raise him because the two parent family is important to our reproductive strategy as a species.

There is, further, lots of evidence that human women are "feminized" in part by being sexually active with a man and reproducing -- of living the lives of "traditional" females instead of "living like a man." In order to reproduce, a woman needs to carry 25,000 calories in fat stores. Some American women can improve their odds of getting pregnant by simply gaining five pounds instead of sticking to the cultural expectation of being super model thin. Being extremely athletic can cause a woman's fat stores to drop below that benchmark and one of the results can be she starts having fewer periods and this negatively impacts her periods. It can also impact her bust size in a manner that makes her look less like a woman and more gender neutral. (Etc ad nauseum.) So it is likely that historically, when some women pretended to be male in order to serve in the military, the physical hard labor they were performing and lack of a sex life helped keep their bodies looking more like boys than women.

So, for just a shitload of reasons, the porn star look is particularly ridiculous for women warriors. In a culture of women warriors, they likely would have fewer obvious sex differences and there would likely be less difference in size between the genders. You do not have to come up with a species with three sexes to come up with substantial evidence concerning the likelihood of that kind of outcome.
posted by Michele in California at 2:25 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


You do not have to come up with a species with three sexes to come up with substantial evidence concerning the likelihood of that kind of outcome.

My last sentence really sucks. Let's try that again:

You do not have to come up with a species with three sexes to come up with significant, meaningful variety with which to inform game design.


That's a lot closer to what I wanted to say and I guess I kind of petered out after writing so much.
posted by Michele in California at 2:35 PM on June 15


Wildstar isn't speculative science fiction, it's cartoonish science fantasy more akin to Duck Dodgers than Alien. It's a game where I put on a bubble-helmet but wear short-sleeved armor in space missions. Granok don't make sense as gendered characters because Granok don't make sense except as heavy-drinking mildly stupid mercenaries. I think they should have licensed Zappa's "The Radio is Broken" for some of their promotional materials.

I think they could have done better in pushing the cartoon aestheics of gendered characters while keeping the exaggerated outlines. Yeah, it's a problem, and one of my less favorite aspects of the game.

On the other hand, there's been a refreshing lack of boobplate, balanced by an astonishing number of armored shortpants. And both factions have key NPCs of both genders, while Blizzard devs have declared that the next WOW expansion is going to be an unapologetic sausage-fest ("a Boy's Trip.")

The costuming of transistor weirded me out until it was explained in-game.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:42 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


"Outside of mammals sexual dimorphism is usually shown in nature by the male of the species being larger than the female, and more brightly colored. The size thing is done often in games but I suspect the brightly colored thing is not usually done because a nonzero number of people will think that makes it "gay"."

Just to put my virtual nerd glasses on: Outside of mammals, sexual dimorphism is usually the female being larger — just because that's the norm with insects, and insects make up the vast majority of animals on earth.
posted by klangklangston at 3:13 PM on June 16


and inside of mammals, it's too dark to sexually dimorph!

i am so sorry
posted by NoraReed at 3:16 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


-SEX OBJECT BS
-Models With Unrealistic Bodies
-Theology Of The Imperfect Body
posted by kliuless at 7:07 AM on June 20


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