Saturday, January 8, 2011

Clothing in Games - Part 1

It's 2011! As many of you may have noticed, things have been extremely quiet around these parts for almost half a year now. I have been extremely busy helping to finish up a project for a game studio located out in Illinois, as well as adjusting to life with a new addition to the family. That's right, I'm a daddy now! Things have finally calmed down a bit, so I can start making regular updates. Let's get right into it then, shall we?

I want to take this update and do something a little different than my usual tech update, I'm going to take this time to rant on a topic that has been bothering me for quite some time in the gaming industry: Clothing. The topic of hyper-sexualization in video games has been discussed almost to death. We've all heard the arguments of Laura Croft (Tomb Raider) and her seeming counterpart in this argument, Alex Vance (Half-Life 2), and that's all well and good, but that's not quite the angle I'm talking about here. What I am talking about is the realistic use of clothing for whatever flavor of "realistic" the game in question may represent. If your game is about barbarians fighting in some medieval fantasy universe, then chainmail bikinis and hulking male leads are completely okay within the context of your universe. No, what irks me and ruins my immersion in a game is when a character's clothing is completely ridiculous even within the context of the world provided.

This is seen far more often with female characters, especially in the MMO space, than it is with male characters. I was browsing the other day and ran into some art by Mr. David Rapoza ( that got me thinking about this whole topic. Lets take a look.

Here we have your standard MMO-flavored male magician of some sort. They come in many varieties, but in general, a male magician in an MMO will have light clothing and be equipped with an item or two to aid them in battle, as one might expect from a magician. This style of clothing would fit in nicely with whatever fantasy world this magician happens to be part of. Pants, boots, gauntlets, and I'm sure he'd dawn a cape should the need arise to travel long distance or through harsh climates. All terrain mage, ready for battle.

In the other corner, we have your standard MMO-flavored female magician. While her clothing may be loosely similar in design to that of the male magician if you are considering only style and material (what little material there is), one could hardly say that this is any kind of way to go into battle. While it may be nice for guys to look at, it totally does not fit into the game world, unless we are playing a game where all female mages also double as ladies of the night. By looking at the male magician, we know that this world is not lacking in cloth material with which to cover oneself, so what's the deal here? Does the Mage Guild have a dress-code requiring all female mages to dress in as little clothing as possible? Is someone playing a prank on her, having stolen the rest of her outfit?

Let's take a look at another example. Here we have a soldier, covered head to toe in armor. This guy is seriously ready for whatever battles await him. Full plated armor, shield, sword, and helmet, he's pretty much what you would expect from a knight in any medieval fantasy. Better not get in his way, he's ready to mess you up.

And then... wait, what? I guess one could technically say there's a sword, shield, and some kind of armor, kind of. This clothing serves no purpose at all, unless she is constantly bombarded by enemies who can do nothing but swing straight down from overhead, and even then wouldn't a helmet at least be nice?

To my fellow game developers: I have done extensive research over many years and I have learned one very interesting thing: Women wear clothing too. I know, shocking, but it's true. I am in no way asserting that all games are this way, but game after game that I play has a world where all male characters and fat people (yes, we seem to stick fat women in the same category as men) are dressed sensibly to the world around them. Why can we not apply this to everyone? Is the female form too tempting for artists to cover it up modestly? Are our games so marketing and executive driven that we absolutely have to make sure that no moderately attractive person in the game is dressed in a manner that makes sense in their environment? Or are we as an industry so childish that we are still saying "Boobies, they are for the 'mature' crowd," defining "mature" as "almost naked" rather than "sensible and deep." Just a thought, really. Leave a comment or two for me in the comments section.


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  2. Not enough of this is being brought up. Maybe I'm insensitive to the underlying sexist issues, but I am totally with you on this argument. When I'm getting sucked into a world seeing examples like this takes me out of the experience.

  3. This article is great, but I fear it doesn't even go deep enough into the issue ...

    The fact is it isn't just women that are represented badly, its gender in general. The examples here are from eastern-influenced games, which obviously eschew the muscle-bound hulking frames of western games, but both have stereotypes for men as well: in the east, lithe, beautiful, handsome men and in the west, muscle-bound hulksters.

    I've actually been irritated and disgusted by male colleagues who have proclaimed this "a positive stereotype", but personally I find it every bit as insulting. I don't really have the frame for gigantic muscles. For me to get that physique, I'd have to work out beyond my natural rhythms, push myself, possibly take supplements ... at the same time, I'm not that lithe or good looking.

    To use a cross-media comparison, where amongst the Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenneger characters are the Seth Rogans, the Micheal Ceras, and the Dusty Hoffmans? Where are the awkward heros, the lovable losers, the imperfects?

    (These are genuine questions - please let me know if there are any out there!)

    If games want to strive for maturity and believability, they have to start learning to portray people as more than just a gender-based caricature.