Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Half-Naked Elf Problem

Shamus Young | 20 Apr 2012 21:00
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Have you heard about Tera? It's an action-combat based MMO by the unfortunately named Bluehole Studio. I checked it out it at PAX East this year. As someone who is sick of the "toolbar icons and cooldown timers" system of combat, the more action-focused stuff in Tera is a huge selling point for me. It's an interesting feature, but sometimes the action combat stuff gets overshadowed in conversation by the other big feature of the game, which is the abundance of boobs and asses.

Every time Tera comes up, someone brings up the fact that the women in the game are dressed like strippers while the men are dressed like normal fantasy characters. (i.e. like idiot emo circus clowns.) Tera is by no means the worst offender in this regard. This sort of thing has been going on for years. Even in World of Warcraft I've found articles of clothing that appear as jackets on men and as corsets when placed on a female avatar.

In Tera, you've got a character type that wears a miniskirt that is so short, when she leans forward to run you can see her underwear. The usual assortment of bare midriffs and cleavage windows abound, shrinking heavy armor to the point where, if you melted it down, you wouldn't have enough metal to make a decent set of flatware. Some footage seems to show they've even got boob jiggle physics in there.

Like I said, this is an old issue. We've been talking about it for years, and the trope of armor-clad men fighting beside bikini-clad women is older than videogames themselves. It's not that the problem is worse, it's that more women are trying to get in on this hobby and finding the aesthetics of the young male fantasy to be off-putting. It drives some people away from the game who would otherwise play it. Issues of fairness and respect aside, there's now a strong financial incentive for developers to fix this in order to make their customer base as large as possible.

Women enjoy a good power fantasy now and again, just like men do. They want to cast spells, slay dragons, and kick ass. Generally speaking, most of them don't dream of doing this while wearing metal underpants. At that point, it's no longer her fantasy, but his - the guy standing behind her in the raid party.

Some women want to play as a beautiful avatar, but they don't want to end up dressed like a stripper. Other women actually do like the idea of dressing as a stripper. Still others are okay with it as long as the men get the same treatment. Some guys want to play as a half-naked chick, because those are fun to look at. Some guys don't want to have to be ashamed of their videogame of choice because it looks like cheap, pandering trash. Some guys want to play as a male, but they wouldn't touch a game if it made them dress like a Chippendale dancer. Some people don't care what anyone looks like because they're here for the powergaming and not for playing dress-up.

No matter what they do, the developer is going to end up angering some of these people by pandering / catering to the others.

But why is the developer making these broad decisions about how my avatar is or isn't dressed? The solution to the whole problem is obvious: Unhook the avatar dress-up system from the loot-gathering mechanic. Let each player dress the way they want. Let everyone choose to be practical, or practically naked.

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