A discussion about sexism in Guild Wars 2

Even though really excited about Guild Wars 2 coming out in the near future, I can’t really be silent about the failing it still has on issues of gender and race. So when someone posted an article on reddit pointing out (among others) that, you know, the presentation of women in GW2 leaves something to be desired, I was expecting the usual redditor scumfuckery galore.

Among the usual fanboi/geek sexist responses of “Who cares/I think it’s fine/More Bewbs/Sex Sells” poop however, I did manage to have a more thoughtful discussion with a person I’m familiar with on the issue of sexism in the game. I thought I’d repost the argument here and hear what y’all think of this.

Quotes in yellow are mine (Indented quotes were new comments that were replying to a specific point, I’ve put them like that to avoid re-quoting the same things all the time)

Can we stop equating revealing clothing with slutty? Thanks.

I wouldn’t call it “slutty”, because I hate the word for its woman-hating vagueness, but I would claim that some of the sample armor for women is meant to be titillating. The female mesmer is a striking example. OTOH GW2 fortunately did not make this a rule, so we fortunately have some awesomeness like the female engineer armor.

The problem is not so much that the armor is titillating as such, but rather that this is only the case for female armor.

I don’t think the solution is so much straight equality (because that may not please many people) but to try to please both male and female audiences, and offer both audiences the ability to choose whether they wish to be dressed in revealing or less revealing clothing. The trouble comes when game designers force that choice on either side.

Come on now, those people don’t deserve to be pleased. I really don’t care if bigots are left unsatisfied :-/

Yes, the choice is to allow both sides to be dressed as they want. But that should be done with an eye for equality, not with an eye for pleasing the male gaze.

I think you’re misinterpreting what I mean–take for example TERA. TERA “solves” this problem by objectifying both male and female characters to a staggering degree. This only “solves” the problem by allowing female characters to still be objectified while technically being equal and politically correct.

No. Not even close. While there is some equal opportunity objectification in Tera. It is not even close to an equal scenario. Women are ridiculously objectified in Tera, even for the very low standards of geek culture.

http://gomakemeasandwich.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/tera-followup-no-male-castanics-are-not-as-bad-lots-of-pictures/

But having both be covered up all the time would just be conservative and would be equally objectifying, and it’s not what female players want either. I want my character to show some skin, as do many female players I know–when male players jump out and say, “stop showing so much skin”, they speak for female players and as usual miss the point. Male players need to STOP speaking for female players.

This is not what people are asking. And no, it’s not just male players that are asking for this. In fact most women I know ask for equal representation (not* conservative attires). I’m glad you like to show skin, but understand that not everyone does and that forcing that as the default, for women only, is extremely problematic.

The real solution I think is in trying to please both male and female players, rather than pleasing one or the other. Is it really a big deal if the game starts me out in a skirt when I’m a spellcasting human? No, because I think it would be equally annoying to ME, a female player, if the game started me out in a turtleneck and a Corduroy ankle-length dress with stockings etc etc.

It’s reasonable for a game to make that choice with your very first outfit. They can’t please everyone with the first armor, that’s why they give you different choices as you go. But I myself found it easy to very early on acquire clothing that covered up and looked far more realistic than the starting armor.

This is a false dilemma. The option is not only between the tu-tu and the Corduroy. Female characters might start just fine with a normal attire for an adventuring woman, much like the men are! If you want to dress up like you’re going to beach party later on, you should have the option, but making that the default for women only, is sexist, plain and simple.

I don’t see why realism for women needs to be done as an extra step, rather than, I dunno, the default as it is for males. Yes you can’t please everyone and as I said, in such cases it’s the bigots that should be left unsatisfied.

1. I’m not disagreeing that women are ridiculously objectified in TERA–but TERA was known for having skimpy outfits for both men and women. While they’re not 100% equal (is anything?), it still shows that blindly calling for equality in clothing isn’t the answer.

2. I think you misunderstand. Just because I want the option to have revealing clothing doesn’t mean I want to force my preference on anyone else. You don’t want more revealing clothing forced on players, other players don’t want less revealing clothing forced on them. Neither option is inherently more or less objectifying, it’s the act of forcing that choice throughout the gameplay that objectifies women and denies female players the ability to feel comfortable and represent themselves how THEY, not the male audiences, want to be represented. That’s what I want. Forcing conservative options is just as bad as forcing revealing options. There’s an inherent problem here, an inherent patriarchal bias it betrays, to find it more objectionable to have revealing armor forced on players than non-revealing.

3. (Continuing from above) Yes, as you say, it’s not a choice between lingerie and the turtleneck. But “normal attire” still forces a choice on someone. Starting gear simply can’t please everyone, and frankly I think when the argument comes down to “okay, the game in general offers enough variety to please most of the spectrum, but for the first few levels you have to wear something you don’t like!”, then that argument has frankly lost sight of the point. The game offers plenty of choice once the player spends some money or does some quests. It did not take me long at all to switch from a miniskirt to a more realistic adventure gear. And keeping that in mind, I just don’t see where anyone is coming from when they make a big fuss over what’s maybe an hour of wearing something they don’t like. The game designers spent a lot of time offering choices that range from realistic cover-alls to lingerie-esque clothing. They simply cannot please everyone with the default outfit, someone is going to have a choice forced on them straight out of character creation. The fact that the game offers easily-obtainable, multiple options that can please most people, and that the game allows the player to transmute their armor to look how they want with the stats they want, just makes me scratch my head at people’s reactions.

Plenty of choice is offered for both male and female gamers, at all armor tiers, and all armor types (medium, light, heavy). You can change your armor appearance. It is really not an issue that some people don’t like what they wear for the first hour of the game, imo.

1. This is not “blindly calling for equality in clothing”. I don’t see how having a little bit of skimpy clothing for males somehow makes up for the extreme sexism and objectification in TERA. I don’t see anything you said there actual proves that “asking for equality isn’t an answer”.

“Neither option is inherently more or less objectifying, it’s the act of forcing that choice throughout the gameplay that objectifies women and denies female players the ability to feel comfortable and represent themselves how THEY, not the male audiences, want to be represented. “

No seriously, having tittilating clothing be the default only on women players, or having less options for sensible clothing than males is absolutely more objectifying to females.

You keep insisting that the options for clothing that they gave (or forced at the character examples, and starting clothes, and majority of available outfits) are just to provide an option for women to dress their toons like that, and I don’t know if you’re deliberately ignoring the fact that this was done primarily by male designers for the benefit of a male audience. I’m glad you feel this is empowering, but most feminists I know disagree and this is the primary reason many women avoid male-dominated geek culture.

Forcing conservative options is just as bad as forcing revealing options. There’s an inherent problem here, an inherent patriarchal bias it betrays, to find it more objectionable to have revealing armor forced on players than non-revealing.

You keep mentioning that as if it’s an argument someone is actually making. It’s really annoying. Stop attacking that strawman.

But “normal attire” still forces a choice on someone.

Any attire “forces” itself on someone. What you’re trying to justify is that having a disparity in the starting or default attire for men and women, which conveniently is far more titillating/objectifying for women, is just the same as having the same kind of attire for both and letting both choose to be more or less titillating later on by themselves. This makes no sense!

One option provides equality and treats both genders as equals, while the other treats one gender as being there by default for the enjoyment of a straight male demographic. These options are not equal. The fact that women can later choose more sensible choices (less options of course than males have) does not change how they’re treated by default or how the game expects and/or forces them to dress and behave. As a sexual visual gratification for the male gaze.

You’re going to force a starting attire on male and female toons no matter what you do. All I and other feminists are asking is that the initial choice be equal and not reinforce cultural norms of female objectification that continue marginalizing women and driving them out of this hobby. Specifically I wouldn’t have a problem with, say, the female mesmer, if the male was dressed similarly. Btw, I don’t see you defending this option for all those males that want to start by default titillating to others. I wonder why.

 

My apologies, this one is going to be a bit of a ramble. But I feel this ramble is long overdue, because I think the majority of people are dead wrong when it comes to what exactly is wrong with the game industry’s portrayal of women, and how to fix it.

I don’t know if you’re deliberately ignoring the fact that this was done primarily by male designers for the benefit of a male audience.

This is incorrect, much of Guild Wars 2’s armor was designed by women.

I’m glad you feel this is empowering, but most feminists I know disagree and this is the primary reason many women avoid male-dominated geek culture.

db, I think we owe each other a little better than to downgrade each other’s opinions just because we or people we know disagree. I can say exactly the same thing, but in reverse. But my point is: what I find empowering is having a choice, not having someone else demand that there be less of what I am perfectly happy with because they, a male, find it sexist. That’s all. If your feminist friends feel insulted and denied power just by the fact that sexy clothes exist in games, then quite frankly, they are being threatened by empowered women just as much as empowered men.

Maybe it’s because I actually work in the epicenter of geek culture, but I can’t help but feel like you are letting the vocal majority drown out the content, silent minority.

You’re saying that women have less sensible options than men, but that’s only true by a small margin–the armor itself is by and large equal. Women actually wear armor that covers their bodies and can be called armor–while leather and clothing ‘armor’ are in a large number of the cases, equal between the genders, unless you’re a real stickler: here are some great examples:

1 2 34 5 6

The differences we are talking about are just not that big. The majority of armor in Guild Wars 2 is like that–reasonable, not lingerie, and only venturing into lingerie-for-women territory when you get to scholar armors. And even then, it’s not the vast majority of armors. The ONLY real big difference is in starting human caster armor. The starting heavy and medium armors for women are not remotely objectionable.

I’m sorry, but calling this lingerie while armor like this  gets the same amount of outrage is not helping the problem. (Not that I think you actually did call it lingerie–don’t think you do–but someone along the line did and jesus christ this has become a long, convoluted thread! Why do we always do this to ourselves, db? lol!)

How exactly are we to expect that game designers will bother to provide more varied options for men AND women when the most progressive AAA MMO title out there gets just as much flak as TERA? Really, why should they bother when they are still getting raged at just as much? ArenaNet is leaps and bounds ahead of their competition and they deserve some credit for providing a lot of variety.

The only point at which they don’t provide you with variety is the very, very beginning of your character’s life. And it is only for one small portion of the characters (female, human, caster) to whom they don’t provide reasonable, non-sexy clothing. All of the other female races and classes start out perfectly fine. It is honestly a very silly thing to get up in arms about.

I’m not saying that revealing armor SHOULD be forced on players to start off. Of course the developers should strive to start off all characters in neutral, reasonable armor that will offend as few people as possible. But when the developers have made a very big effort to provide so many non-revealing or equal clothing options, it’s such a very small point to get angry over. And frankly I can’t take it seriously.

Here’s my problem–revealing =/= objectification. People love to jump on the women’s studies and feminism bandwagon without really thinking this over. Female clothing designers produce revealing clothing because it’ is sexy, and many of us like how it looks. The female designers of the armor for ArenaNet were not thinking,

Being sexy is not an objectification thing. Women want to feel sexy, many of us want our characters to look sexy. Because WE want it, not because it was forced on us. Sexy clothing is not inherently or by default an act of sexism–and suggesting it is not a method of objectification. When Guild Wars 2 starts me off with TERA armor, then I’ll see your point. Starting characters off in lingerie is certainly objectifying. But a skirt? Really?

Wanting skin to be shown is not just for men!

What you’re trying to justify is that having a disparity in the starting or default attire for men and women, which conveniently is far more titillating/objectifying for women, is just the same as having the same kind of attire for both and letting both choose to be more or less titillating later on by themselves. This makes no sense!

I’m not trying to be argumentative but I think the sentence got lost grammatically somewhere along the way. I am seriously confused :S

P.S. I’m not defending that option for males because I don’t SEE any men actually wanting to wear revealing armor. Most men don’t, while many women do want to play characters who wear revealing armor.

 

Unfortunately you still continue missing my point and attacking strawmen. ):

  • I am not saying that GW2 is as bad as TERA, hell I think GW2 has made very good progress in this issue but it still has a long way to go. There is nothing wrong about pointing out the failings of GW2, even if they’re not as ridiculous as TERA. I, and the OP, are not angry at GW2 and its developers. Hell, I’m still planning to play the fuck out of it. Not every criticism comes from anger for crying out loud and there’s nothing wrong with making criticism about improving the game in gender equality.

This is why I don’t understand why you keep bringing TERA up. I did not say that TERA is better, or even as bad. TERA is attorocious and the rampart sexism is the primary reason I never even bothered to look at the game. GW2 is much better, but it’s not perfect, and while you may be able to ignore some things, me and others can’t, and I’ve already lost people who I’d like to play with, such as my wife, who took one look at trailer I showed them, saw the Barbarian Bimbo, rolled their eyes and dismissed it…

  • I am not saying that there should be less revealing armor in the game. I am not trying to take away your options to dress sexy, or revealing or whatnot. I want equality!

You insist on acting as if the choice to dress some female characters more revealing, and make them universally more appealing (without option to avoid this, such as in the face) is like a standalone example of catering to players like you. As if we do not currently live in a patriarchical society with rampart objectification of the female body. As if the geek culture is not unbelievable sexist and catering to the male gaze at every chance it gets. As if we’re living in an age of egalitarianism and I’m being a prude. This is frustrating to hear coming from someone who knows better!

The game is not trying to be empowering to you. The game is reinforcing the common tropes of female objectification rampart within normal, and especially geek culture! It’s fine and all that you find ways to be empowered by this expression of patriarchy, but don’t dismiss the criticism of those who aren’t. I’m not asking you to lose your options to express yourself, but myself and many other women I know of, feel it’s degrading that the default or only type of female adventurer of some class is protrayed in a style that is impractical, whimsical and caring more about appearance than function. The reason why male characters are not shown this way, is not because males don’t cater for it, it’s because it’s not a cultural expectation that a male would act this way and thus if they did make a male mesmer look like the female mesmer, there was going to be an outrage from all the males who were offended. It’s only ok to offend people as long as they not straight white cis males…

  • I am not saying that all revealing/sexy clothing is objectifying. I don’t understand why you keep insisting on this. I am saying that a disparity in clothing and appearance for males and females, that is in line with the greater patriarchal culture we live in, shows that the game attempted to please the male gaze, and not to provide for players like you. I am pointing out that you are not the target of those decisions except incidentally. And I am saying that you should not be happy with the general state of affairs merely because you are catered to, even when significant number of other women feel excluded because of how male-oriented games such as GW2 are. (And again, yes GW2 is more friendly to women. But it’s not there yet)
  • I am not making a big deal out of this. I am making a big deal out of how much this very small criticism is blown out of proportion by people who think GW2 can do no wrong, because it’s taken some steps in the right direction. It’s OK to say that things can be improved. We’re NOT saying it’s as bad as TERA whenever we ask for more inclusivity for women (and LGBTs, and PoCs, and and and).

 

Bah, I think I’m losing track of who said what. I’ll just say this: I disagree that ArenaNet is the group of sexist hounds you seem to think they are. The game doesn’t need to empower me or anyone else, it doesn’t need to try. I and other women shouldn’t be looking to commercial developers to empower us in the first place.

I completely disagree with your assessment of the development team for Guild Wars 2 as working solely for the male gaze. As I said, there’s a great deal of women on the team–the design of female Charr (and the story behind their design) says a lot about the development team. As I said, I think our disagreement at its core comes down to just the starting equipment for one small segment of the possible characters in the game, and I just don’t think that’s evidence of rampant sexism when the rest of the game provides so much more in both the starting and later levels.

 

I disagree that ArenaNet is the group of sexist hounds you seem to think they are.

I don’t think that exactly. Most males and females are raised sexist (Patriarchal expectations etc etc) and it takes significant work to overcome. I’m sexist on some issues as well (and I’m working on it). “Sexism” is not an ultimate denouncement. It just means that we, as humans, need to work on our shit. As I said before, I think ArenaNet is doing a lot of good things in that regard, but they still need work.

The game doesn’t need to empower me or anyone else, it doesn’t need to try. I and other women shouldn’t be looking to commercial developers to empower us in the first place.

I never said that either. I and I believe the OP, is not asking for direct empowerment (altough tools to allow women to achieve it wouldn’t be bad either), but merely to not be objectified/marginalized.

I completely disagree with your assessment of the development team for Guild Wars 2 as working solely for the male gaze. As I said, there’s a great deal of women on the team–the design of female Charr (and the story behind their design) says a lot about the development team.

While the female Charr are awesome, this does not change the fact about how Humanoid women are protrayed. Women can be just as bad at reinforcing sexism btw. The fact there are women designers who might have designed the human women is not proof that they can’t be sexist.

As I said, I think our disagreement at its core comes down to just the starting equipment for one small segment of the possible characters in the game,

Not exactly. I have issues with

  • The lack of options for creating humanoid females that do not look like Bimbos or Dolls.
  • The disparity between clothing between males and females. Occasionally the female clothes are designed to appease the male gaze, rather than be functional for their role (i.e. armor with midriff/cleavage showing etc), while the same is not true for the male version.
  • The general protrayal of women NPCs in the world, such as the aforementioned Barbarian Bimbo in the Norn storyline.
  • The disparity in number between Female and Male NPCs and their roles in the world.
  • The almost complete absence of People of Colour NPCs.

While ArenaNet has done a lot of things right (I totally dig a lot of badass female clothing options, and the fact that not every outfit shows “tits & ass” and the female Charr are great) they can still do better. They’re still sexist, but they’re merely less sexist than most.


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