Video Games, Cleavage, and You – Player Agency in Character Customization

7 comments

Recently I was asked what my opinion was on large bust size of female video game characters and I thought that would be a great topic for a longer post. The short answer is: The size of a female character’s bust surprisingly does not matter. What does matter is whether that particular physical trait is forced on the player and if or how a character’s attire and animations (chest thrust, “come hither” expression, etc.) highlight it. Some gamers love to play seductive characters, while others prefer reserved or practical looks. Both are fine! The key factor is player agency.

Who needs armor that covers the heart, anyway?

On the /r/girlgamers subreddit you’ll see the ladies there often complain about sexualized armor with “boob windows” or plate armor that fits the bust in such a way as to expose a weak point or bare spot right over her vital areas (or is simply not designed in a way that would effectively protect the wearer). They justifiably get annoyed by character creation in games when they cannot alter breast size and body shape, or wear armor options that make logical sense for the role of the character.

Big breasts are fine if you personally want them, but not if they are the only option available. Same with skimpy outfits in games. More power to you if you want to look like a succubus in a bikini– Not a problem! However, the problem is usually the lack of choice.

An issue related to revealing character cleavage is the frequency with which overly sexualized design occurs in any given game. Let’s say you’re a MOBA developer and somewhere around 95% of your heroine characters have giant breasts and an hourglass body shape with little variation (cough-RIOT-Games-cough). Well, that would be a rather obvious case of “sex sells” pandering. Why is this bad, though? Who cares? Many women care. And why should developers worry about those players? Human decency– Just kidding. Money! Specifically, slightly more than half of the world’s population with money to spend, many of whom are gamers.

Appearance breakdown between male and female heroes in League of Legends

When playing as a top heavy, hourglass shaped heroine in a revealing outfit, with no option to change the character’s appearance, the player may become aware that the character was likely made to be eye candy largely for the straight male gaze. In effect, if someone want to play a specific character for an unrelated reason (such as their an appealing ability loadout) the player is sometimes forced to play as a female character whose physical appearance was created as a sexual object to please the visual desires of someone else.

Yeah, it can be kind of gross to think about. As realization of this fact dawns, the player may become acutely uncomfortable with similar situations the future. Suddenly they see it in so many games, all the time, and oh man is it irritating! Hyper sexualized female characters are the opposite of what I usually refer to as “female friendly design”. Character design like this creates an atmosphere surrounding a game which very clearly communicates to many female players that “this game was not made with you in mind,” or “this game is not for you.”

You might wonder— what about games like Subverse? Subverse is a wildly successful Kickstarter, fully funded at over $1.6 million with an original goal of $100,000, a game specifically designed as a sci-fi RPG adventure all about busty alien babes and your… interactions with them. The female characters in this game do not bother me at all.

Why? Because Subverse is extremely up front with what exactly it is, it’s titillating design direction to the point of satire, and the developers literally describe it as a hentai game, referring to the female characters as “waifus”. Subverse does not try to disguise itself as a game appealing to everyone. It’s meant for people who want to enjoy sexy space women, and that’s fine!

One of your squad mates in upcoming Subverse

What can game developers do to combat the dreaded boob windows, you ask? A great example of providing player agency in character creation is Guild Wars 2. Despite being known for having sexualized attire for female characters (there are a lot of very cool non-human races to play too), Guild Wars 2 has the best character creator and in game customization I’ve ever personally seen. When characters look sexy, it is because the player chose that aesthetic. Perhaps by coincidence, or not, I’ve also run into more fellow female players in Guild Wars 2 than I have in any other multiplayer game.

In Guild Wars 2, you can adjust body shape, face shape, bust size, lip size and shape, etc. Almost everything! Your character can be the most alluring creature in existence or she can be the most rough, wiry battle maiden you’ve laid eyes on, or anything in between!

Once you’re past character creation and out in the MMO world, you can use any combination of armor piece skins you can find or buy, with the ability to custom dye four different areas of each piece of gear independently. You can be so creative with Guild Wars 2 outfits that the community often refers to the game as Fashion Wars. Yes, some of the gear is revealing, and some is not at all. There is a balanced array of offerings. The important part is that it’s entirely up to you how you want to express yourself through your character!

The point is– Every video game that does offer robust character customization should be considerate enough to include physical trait templates or adjustable sliders for body types, and include armor options that are attractive as well as practical in equal measure. Honest representation of the female form is important. It’s really not that hard and it is blatantly obvious to most players when it has not been considered. Don’t be that game dev.

Thank you for reading!

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7 comments on “Video Games, Cleavage, and You – Player Agency in Character Customization”

  1. Whilst I’m not going to sit myself on the Rad Fem bench, and whilst I do enjoy playing as a sexy, female character from time to time, it’s so incredibly frustrating how sexualised the gaming industry is. It feels, to me, like women are the punchline to a joke that belongs in the 50’s.
    Games aren’t, generally, built for women to play. Sex sells, and exploiting female sexuality seems to be the baseline in game design, which is so disappointing.

    Ithlinne

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I somehow stumbled across a site called One Angry Gamer and it’s full of particularly toxic individuals who spend their time raging about the “cencorship” of video games. As in, the reduction of breast size in characters. There are entire articles dedicated to this, a most recent one with Tifa from the FFVII remake and what’s happening there.

    I created a Disqus account to wind them up, but to put it mildly they’re an unpleasant bunch. Utterly vile. I really find it astonishing that they consider it an affront on their ideologies that digital sprites aren’t “boobed” up.

    Frankly, I think the best defence is to keep encouraging gaming devs to support progressive values. Teach the petulant ones a thing or two.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I remember when people were freaking out over one of Tracer’s pose’s in Overwatch being changes do something more appropriate to her character and a bunch of dudes were like “stop censoring the gaaame” on the forums. Why tho. Chill.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reddit sent me, this made for a very good read. One problem I had with Guild Wars 2 though was the lack of hair styles for dark skinned characters, but it’s been a very long time since I played the game so perhaps they’ve added some by now.
    To be honest this is a problem with a lot of games with character creators. Progress is slow, but as time goes on companies are realising that merely representing a variety of people can open them up to gaining new customers easily, as you pointed out, which may not be as good as ‘doing the right thing’ but at least it’s progress.

    Liked by 1 person

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