“What if the fault lies in the nature of the corporate product itself?”
July 5, 2018 6:26 AM   Subscribe

How video games demonize fat people [The Outline] “When I encounter the fat body in a video game, the disappointment that follows is so hot and pure that there is, as a matter of self-care, an urgent need to remove myself from the moment and get on a plane. I refuse to accept that in the world of prestige video games — AAA in industry speak — a body like mine and those of the people I love and admire, can only exist in one of two ways: a cheap laugh or a site of disgust, usually both. [...] In 2018, the AAA video game remains our most persuasive and powerful cultural product. And yet it almost exclusively depicts the fat body, my body, as a noxious threat, a monstrosity, an object of ridicule, something to be dealt with violently.”

• Professor highlights gaming's tendency to shame overweight people [Polygon]
“From Wario to Fat Princess, from Justine Divangelo to generic "Sumo Guy", fat characters in games are generally shown as being obsessed with food and eating. They are sometimes delusional about their attractiveness. They are often engaged in a quest to become not fat. There is almost always an assumption of ugliness or physical grossness. Fat characters are either villains or they are the butt of a joke. They are morally suspect and / or weak. Their fatness is their defining characteristic. They are rarely allowed to be comfortable with their bodies, and neither are the players. All this is entirely in sync with our broader culture. Fat women characters are often shown as "failing" in their duty to be attractive to men. They are defined by their desire to be thin, to change into a different shape. They are both objects of possession and also objects of shame.”
• For everyone’s sake, games need to have better fat characters [Let's Play Video Games] [Spoiler warning: this article contains spoilers for Prey and Outlast 2.]
“The problem with these characterisations is that they ignore the true reasons for obesity, which run much, much deeper than “they’re bad and lazy”. Rising food costs that push people in poverty towards unhealthy, but cheap, fast foods, sedentary jobs that don’t allow workers time to even eat a decent meal, let alone exercise, poor availability of care for those with disabilities, and a whole host of other external reasons all lie behind the “obesity epidemic”, not the hideously Victorian scapegoat of “moral failings”. Yet you never see games frame fatness with an understanding of those factors, because it’s an easy way to make a character look bad, things like poverty or disability be damned. All the blame is placed on to the person for their “failings”, meaning the cycle of people being simply awful to fat people can continue unscrutinised”
• Whole Hog [Chaotic Blue]
“Like many people in the gaming culture/press/business/what-have-you, I have spent many a moment over the past couple days looking at my Battle.net client longingly, hoping I too will suddenly receive a beta invite for Blizzard’s upcoming TF2-alike, Overwatch. To kill some time, I decided to look through their bios for the various playable characters. While many of them are colorful and cool and fun, I definitely get a Street Fighter-y Cavalcade of Ethnic Stereotypes vibe from the cast, which… isn’t that great. And then I came upon Roadhog. The weird stereotype parade had me already a little on edge, and then this happened and I got kind of upset, because Roadhog basically breaks a ton of the suggestions I might have offered in, say, my GDC talk from this year. It was seriously just a checklist of Shit I Don’t Want To See Fat Characters Do Anymore. (For an example of a similarly lazy, irritating approach, see my rant about changes to Birdie in Street Fighter V). So because it’s a thing I do, I’m gonna run through the aspects of Roadhog’s design that really get under my skin. Before I do though, I want to say one thing: I am not, nor would I ever want to be, the “authority” on how fat bodies should be presented.”
• The Search for Positive Portrayals of Fatness in Games [Fem Hype]
“At first, I breathed a sigh of relief when playing Atelier Sophie. Oskar may be the butt of all the fat jokes, but at least he doesn’t lose weight to become a better person! That is, until now. The Atelier series is releasing a new installment in their franchise, and they will be reviving some of the old characters from Atelier Sophie. Just look at Oskar now (below, left). What was once “lazy and unfit” is now being described as “goes through life at his own pace.” Now that this Oskar is no longer fat, he can’t be lazy anymore, so instead they reworded the exact same trait as just going “at his own pace” (because all fat people are lazy, right?). I also can’t believe they actually wrote out, word for word, that he is “much better” now. Alas, these are the woes of fat representation — not just in video games, but also in every aspect of our media.”
• The Challenges Of Letting You Be A Fat Video Game Hero [Kotaku]
“"It takes a substantial amount of time [to animate more body types]—especially in a high action game like ours," he explained. "In an RPG where you're just swinging a sword over and over or something, it's not as much work. But we have all these traversal moves. The hundreds of animations that go into just flipping up and down while grinding depending on what gun you're holding and trying to make the clothes all work on the bodies, the possibility of things clipping through other things." Insomniac head Ted Price then got to what is, for better or worse, the heart of the matter. "It's almost like we had so much complexity everywhere else that this had to be one of the simpler constraints for us," he said. "You have so much other complexity in all the things you can wear, the hair, the animations. We had to pick our battles, and that was kind of where we chose to draw the line."”
posted by Fizz (44 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also Governor L Phatt from Monkey Island 2
posted by Damienmce at 6:35 AM on July 5, 2018


One of my disappointments with the character builder in City of Heroes, which otherwise was pretty fantastic, was that they didn't have an overweight option. You could move the hips and waist slider all the way out, but that just stretched them laterally, not fore-aft.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:04 AM on July 5, 2018 [3 favorites]




I know that as soon as I had the ability to, I plumped CJ up dramatically in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It actually helps get him some... hot coffee at one point.
posted by delfin at 7:08 AM on July 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was thinking of the Metal Slug series, in which it can be desirable to transform into a fat version of your character. This makes you more powerful in some ways, but it also makes you slower (and possibly kind of waddling?) And there's some joking about it, like you use a fork instead of a knife for close attacks.
posted by cardioid at 7:12 AM on July 5, 2018


I plumped CJ up dramatically in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Yeah this was the first thing I thought of as well. The only game I can recall that let you adjust your build through game mechanics and didn't judge you for it.

Likewise I thought of Michael's son in GTA V, who I'm sure is made fun of for being a bit fat, but it feels like the game has a bit more regard for him than his father does.

If the most positive examples I can think of are *Grand Theft Auto* then yeah, the industry has a huge problem with larger bodies.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:17 AM on July 5, 2018 [9 favorites]


"Name a game that has a cool, fat female protagonist. Name a game that even gives you the option."

Literally can't think of any (have never played any Saint's Row games, though). Can't think of any that let you play as an unattractive woman either, really. Even where female characters aren't explicitly sexualised, they've got to at least be fuckable, it seems.
posted by Dysk at 7:52 AM on July 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


One of my big disappointments with Wolfenstein 2 was its treatment of Sigrun.

On the one hand, the only character in the story who directly mocks her for being fat is her mother, who is not only the primary antagonist but also, like, a fucking Nazi. So it's totally in character, and it's clear that we're meant to see that mockery as an extension of the inherent cruelty of Nazi ideology and as something that is definitely not supposed to be emulated.

On the other hand, the scene where Bombate is fucking her in the helicopter is super gross on multiple levels. It's funny because the black guy likes fat chicks! It's funny because the fat chick thinks she deserves to get laid! For a game that's normally pretty careful to portray the Resistance/Nazi dichotomy with a consistent theme of empathy versus cruelty, that was a pretty fucking cruel joke for them to make.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:55 AM on July 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's funny because the black guy likes fat chicks! It's funny because the fat chick thinks she deserves to get laid!

I actually saw that part as setup for later where you see that even being a part of the Resistance doesn’t stop you from being a misogynist douchehat - when he’s flirting with the other girl and doesn’t have the time of day for Sigrun. Like, YMMV and it’s been a while since I played, but my read was that that part was slipped in to get dudes to examine their own behavior.
posted by corb at 8:07 AM on July 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is also fascinating to read through, an interesting comparison, in chart form. Worth clicking through. It clarifies a lot of what has already been mentioned in the articles up above.

Let's look at Tropes Vs. Fat Guys in Videogames [Destructoid]
“I would have liked to do another feature on fat women in videogames, but there's a big problem with that idea: women still aren't allowed to be fat in videogames. I was only able to find about four characters that would work, with half of those from Phoenix Wright (and another being Fat Princess), so "fat guys" will have to do for now. I came up with 6 common tropes to use in my charts: Fat people are usually comic relief, stupid, and food obsessed. They are also usually non-playable and have no love interest (love interests are always reserved for thinner main characters, because media acts like fat people aren't deserving of love, not even from other fat people). If the fat character lacks most of these, they are often a villain, because fat usually = greedy and therefore evil. I ended up with 28 different characters after a long time of searching.”
posted by Fizz at 8:09 AM on July 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


Literally can't think of any (have never played any Saint's Row games, though).

I started a game in SR2, and while it didn't grab me enough to compel me to continue, I did appreciate that aspect of character generation.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:14 AM on July 5, 2018


That's a valid read, corb, and I don't think that the idea of having Bombate and Sigrun hook up is a bad one at all. But the framing of the scene where you actually come across the two of them in flagrante was still pretty distasteful and came across like a joke rather than the human moment it should have been. One of the pitfall of leaning into the grindhouse style, I think.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:21 AM on July 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can't remember her name, but there was a female NPC in GTA V who was pretty important to the story line - she had cornrows and was sort of butch or at least not super-sexualised and 'feminine' She was one of the characters on the posters all over the local bus shelters- depicted about 100lb smaller than she appeared in the game.

The only other non-terrible fat characters I can think of are Ellie from Borderlands and Sir Onion from Dark Souls 3.
posted by cilantro at 8:27 AM on July 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


Dark Souls has a decent slider and so too do the more recent Fallout games. I always appreciate more variety and customization in character creation. I know that it's more complicated than just wanting cultural/social/physical representation, that there is programming that has to come with all of that, and much of that is driven by the gaming/corporate culture and money.

But, I feel like we're at a point where it really should just be more common and available. That Kotaku article up above mentions how these are choices and that's straight up the truth, a choice is always being made when it comes to how we conceptualize certain people in the games we play and engage with.
posted by Fizz at 8:32 AM on July 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


Can't think of any that let you play as an unattractive woman either, really

Inquisition's cc lets you make both unattractive men and women.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:43 AM on July 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


I feel like character creation giving you the option to do something is kinda different to having an actual character with those traits.
posted by Dysk at 8:46 AM on July 5, 2018 [13 favorites]


Dark Souls has a decent slider and so too do the more recent Fallout games.

Yeah, we can talk about characters that can't be customized, and also about what options are available for characters that can be customized. There's a whole range.

The game I play a lot, Destiny, allows customization of faces but not of bodies. But there are different programming challenges there, because the real focus of character building is collecting and customizing a wide range of armors - the actual body is more like a mannequin than a fleshed-out character. You can make an "ugly" face but the bodies are all the same conventionally attractive shape. Even the NPCs don't have much variation, though, and you'd think that would be easier to program.

One thing I do appreciate, though, is that the female body is the same height as the male body. And they toned down differences in body shape in Destiny 2, so that females are less wasp-waisted and look less silly in armor that was clearly designed for the male model first.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:47 AM on July 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


I feel like character creation giving you the option to do something is kinda different to having an actual character with those traits.

You're right, the two shouldn't be conflated. An important distinction worth remembering, thanks for being really clear about that with your comment.
posted by Fizz at 8:50 AM on July 5, 2018 [7 favorites]


I feel like character creation giving you the option to do something is kinda different to having an actual character with those traits.

Yeah, that's real. Like - I feel like we don't have an explicitly fat PC in part because the impression - whether accurate or not, it might be with AAA demographics - is that the people who buy AAA games won't want to play if they have to play as a fat person because that's not how they want to see themselves. But I also feel like the point in which we are all still naming the two fat NPCs that are 'pretty good' and they themselves have problems, we aren't even kind of close to being there yet.

I would like to see them make a fat NPC that is just kind of there and her fatness is not her defining character trait. I would also like to see just mid-range fat people - instead of having the world be populated by the very thin and the very fat, just have people be the actual normal makeup of the world.
posted by corb at 9:03 AM on July 5, 2018 [9 favorites]


Good points made so far, lots to think about, what I'll say for now is that I'm currently playing Super Mega Baseball (the first one, haven't played the new one) and while the art is very cartoonish, the randomly generated opponents seem to be actually totally randomly generated within fairly wide bounds, so there are plenty of large and small players of all races and genders and everything. I know it has a fairly well made customizer but I haven't played around with it much. It reminds me a lot of things like church/beer league softball, where people of all bodies play, and it has just been kinda nice. My best pitcher is a chunky bearded person with breasts named Wanda Heat, and it's fucking rad.
posted by neonrev at 9:05 AM on July 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


Name a game that has a cool fat female protagonist

Ms Pac-Man
posted by w0mbat at 9:06 AM on July 5, 2018 [20 favorites]


Trying to think of slightly less problematic fat characters in AAA games...
The latest Tekken has a decent fat dude for players (e.g. Bob, maybe others), but the ladies are about as disappointing as you'd guess for a game primarily targeted at young men (speaking of character defaults).

I play some with my nephew a bit, and I am glad that using the customization options, I am usually able to find an outfit for the lady characters that is not immediately objectionable to me on grounds of over sexualization. That was not really possible for lots of previous fighting game women. So I see this as a (VERY SMALL) move in the right direction...
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:19 AM on July 5, 2018


Even Ms Pacman was heavily sexualised - just look at the cabinet.
posted by Dysk at 9:20 AM on July 5, 2018 [11 favorites]


"Name a game that has a cool, fat female protagonist. Name a game that even gives you the option."

WoW allows you to be a literal cow. or Moose. Or Panda. Or even undead, if that's your thing.

And granted, there is only one female model per race - there is only one for the males, too. There has been some movement on that front though - the Kul Tiran human female model, for example.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:26 AM on July 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


I keep hoping Borderlands will make Ellie a playable character someday.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:26 AM on July 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


Mario's kind of a fat dude and he's the star of lots of video games.

But yeah, I can't think of any games (without a character creator) where you play as a fat woman.
posted by JDHarper at 9:35 AM on July 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


Ellie's mom wouldn't stop bothering her to lose weight, so Ellie stopped talking to her and moved out of town.

When the local bandits made hood ornaments of her to mock her, she paid the player characters to kill the bandits and bring the ornaments back and put them around her workshop, because while they were meant as taunts, she loves and is proud of herself.

Ellie rules.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:41 AM on July 5, 2018 [19 favorites]


Dark Souls has a decent slider and so too do the more recent Fallout games.

Hmmm, in Fallout 4 the closest I could get to fat was "muscular like Gina Carano", but maybe I missed a trick.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:52 AM on July 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


You can be fat in Sims4! I had an awesome curvy character in there-- but I wanted her to be an astronaut, and the 'homework' for that is exercise, so she kept trimming back up, and I'd have to go into the editor and plump her back again, dammit.
posted by The otter lady at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2018


Ellie rules.

I agree, but there's still a whiff of sexualization in how her relationship is framed/marketed, the recent e3 trailer for The Last of Us 2 wants to linger in a way that feels very stereotypical hetero-normative in reinforcing this gay/lesbian relationship through the eyes of a very specific male gaze.

It's good that Ellie is strong/powerful (we definitely need more of this), but that won't stop these corporations from trying to use her in ways that I feel are sometimes gross. Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but it was something that flashed into my brain with this trailer.
posted by Fizz at 10:04 AM on July 5, 2018


I'm talking Ellie in Borderlands 2, sorry. I've never played The Last of Us.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:04 AM on July 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


Can we just all agree that the whole entire fucking world needs more fat women, period. Like, i really cannot express enough how much my choices, experiences, opportunities are limited to me because I am fat. I run in almost exclusively intersectional feminist spaces, and fatphobia is rarely talked about. There are almost no spaces where I am given the same amount of humanity as a skinny person
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:21 AM on July 5, 2018 [25 favorites]


I'd like to add that I love game devs who are making the "default" something other than generic white bro. This speaks more to race than to body size, but still. For example, Dandara.
“Dandara lives in the world of Salt, and life in Salt isn’t going all too well. So Dandara takes it upon herself to fight back against the oppression and turmoil that she and her fellow citizens are facing. It is her personal mission to restore freedom and balance to her chaotic world.”
She's black and that's it. You can ONLY play as her, so if you want to save the world, just accept that you're a kick ass gravity defying black woman. I want more of this kind of thing. We need to make larger body sizes and other colours of skin feel more "normal".
posted by Fizz at 11:10 AM on July 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


I just want to play an RPG or MMO as a chubby, grumpy, old witch. I thought Black Desert would the answer to my prayers, but if you want to play a female character you're stuck being young and lithe. (You can add wrinkles, but they look like lines drawn onto a young face.)
posted by Stonkle at 11:27 AM on July 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Name a game that has a cool, fat female protagonist. Name a game that even gives you the option."

Doris in Wild Guns Reloaded. She hurls grenades and has cybernetic arms that shoot lightning. I think that's kinda cool.
posted by FJT at 11:28 AM on July 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


I just want to play an RPG or MMO as a chubby, grumpy, old witch.

It continues to boggle my mind that these developers are leaving so much money on the table by not realizing how much demand there would be for this level of customization and diversity. Banging my head against a wall level of madness. Ugh. I know there's so many other things involved, programming, money, time, corporations, etc. But damn....
posted by Fizz at 11:31 AM on July 5, 2018


I feel like character creation giving you the option to do something is kinda different to having an actual character with those traits.

Not only are character creation options like this different from having well-built in-game characters outside of the traditional young + white + skinny mold, I think the character creation systems are unfortunately pretty fraught territory, just from a basic conceptual level.

In the abstract (as a fat dude), yeah, I want to see more options. In reality, I know from years of experience that any character creation choices outside of the presumed straight-white-probablymale-athletic mainstream are magnets for ridicule, often taking on a life of their own as joke choices (e.g. "it's funny because my character has a hairstyle traditionally associated with black people!")
posted by tocts at 11:38 AM on July 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


"It takes a substantial amount of time [to animate more body types]"

People should be embarrassed to output lines like this. The same sort of nonsense has been said to justify not having female PCs at all. Oh, the animation is so hard, and by the way, here's 100 different hats.

Saints Row manages to have a fatness option, and it has a huge range of costumes and animations. I doubt they re-did any costumes based on body size; they just proportionately resize them.
posted by zompist at 1:53 PM on July 5, 2018 [13 favorites]


Doris in Wild Guns Reloaded. She hurls grenades and has cybernetic arms that shoot lightning. I think that's kinda cool.
posted by FJT at 2:28 PM on July 5 [1 favorite +] [!]


Found my new wife! But also, I've literally never seen a video game character (and few TV characters, film characters, comic characters) that have my body shape! wow!
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:05 PM on July 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


Saints Row manages to have a fatness option, and it has a huge range of costumes and animations. I doubt they re-did any costumes based on body size; they just proportionately resize them.

And sometimes there are clipping errors, but you know what? It's a video game and that's okay.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:28 PM on July 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it's not as though embarrassing clipping errors already happen constantly, just all the time, in high-profile games like Street Fighter 5. It sure would be embarrassing! Just, you know, constant clipping errors in basic things like hair and boobs.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:54 PM on July 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


You can be fat in Sims4! I had an awesome curvy character in there-- but I wanted her to be an astronaut, and the 'homework' for that is exercise, so she kept trimming back up, and I'd have to go into the editor and plump her back again, dammit.

Can you make her eat extra to go along with the training? I haven't played, but if you slam her full of sweet spaghet that might fix the problem without the editor.
posted by Caduceus at 8:24 PM on July 5, 2018


Thank you for this post, it's fantastic!

I don't play video games so I have no knowledge of how they do or do not depict fat people, but just based on my experience with literally almost every other media ever in my life I'm sure there's a looooong way to go to rehumanize fat people.

Fat people as a trope is a very, very deep and utterly vile (and oft times barely perceptible!) cultural norm because it's become such a widely espoused, accepted societal narrative. I'm really heartened that the video game community is also waking up to this pernicious dehumanization. And I hope changes are realized, not just for the sake of video game manufacturers' bottom lines, as is commonly the case with consumerist culture "body love" or "body acceptance" advertisements; but to genuinely give voice to the countless human beings who dare exist in this world with more adipose tissue.

I am heavily involved in my local Health At Every Size/Intuitive Eating community, and we are witness to small and even not so small victories almost every day now in the overall cultural conversation. (See: last week's Self magazine cover, with fierce byline and even fiercer cover story about Tess Holiday.)

It's about time we wake. the. fuck. up. Fat people are human beings, with all the literal and metaphorical depth and roundness of those of "societally acceptable weight." I urge all of us to call BULLSHIT to these tropes where we see it. It doesn't just help us fat people exist as entities worthy of dignity and respect; it helps all of humankind to see others for what they actually are -- human.
posted by bologna on wry at 8:35 PM on July 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


The fatness related moment in a video game that stung me recently was the sidequest in The Witcher 3 involving the guy/monster who pretends to be a god in order to get surplus food as tribute. Geralt defuses the situation and the "good" choice is to just give him a stern talking to instead of killing him, but the stern talking to involves Geralt calling him a "lardass."

Sure, the guy's greedy and a villain--but I don't really want to be a part of any story where the good guy calls people "lardass."
posted by zeusianfog at 9:21 AM on July 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


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