[GW2] Feminist issues
I would like to try this game. I'm willing to pay for the pre-purchase, even though I know it's a pernicious business move for the consumers, because I'm curious about testing it myself in the beta. What I am not sure about is whether I should. My concern is not about the legitimacy of the business practice, but with some of the game decisions that perpetuate a kind of gaming community which I feel uncomfortable with. It is a question of integrity.
My qualms are about female representation in video games. Guild Wars 2 does nothing to alleviate the problem, it even fosters it. Its female characters are tall, extremely thin and scantily clad, wearing high heels and revealing armour to the battle. Their faces could have been modelled after any doll of our childhood: lifeless, perennially smiling, childish or aloof and seductive. Perhaps there will be alternatives at character creation, but so far I have only seen these impossible figures that appear in every commercial, and in so many games, where we get to embody them and be flawless too.
I have also felt disappointed at Blizzard for their female characters in Diablo III. I was fine about the Wizard, to some extent, because I had grown with the Diablo II Sorceress, and was accustomed to her looks. I didn't perceive her as sexualized or seductive, or ridiculously clothed for the job. The Demon Hunter, however, perpetuates the notion that women would keep wearing high heels and revealing neckline (not in the trailer, but in the art works and early armour of the game) as if it were natural, instead of the handicap it actually is; not to mention in life-or-death situations such as fighting demons. Any real woman would wear what is most comfortable, that is a truism. But why don't developers ever acknowledge the artificiality of high heels, and subsequently of their female constructions?
In Diablo III I solved my qualms by playing a male Demon Hunter. It is not the first time I do so. I was not comfortable with the female Blood Elves in WoW, and thus picked the opposite gender. Besides, the (male) Blood Elves were the first WoW race that were aesthetically pleasing to women. The other male characters are built to accommodate to the idea of heroism and physical prowess, even the traditionally slender and graceful (Night) Elves. It is a fantasy designed for men, and not necessarily related to what women find attractive in men. That is why most of the conversations about superheroes with enormous muscles as sexualized for women are wrong, because their characterization is based on a male aspiration. Needless to say, this aspiration is as artificial as the hypersexualization of women.
I left Age of Conan earlier than most people, and probably because of different reasons. I was not comfortable with my characters. Any female I would create had the biggest bosom I had ever seen, in such slim bodies. That constitution is either very rare or artificial. Then I decided I would have a male healer, as slender and unimpressive as possible, as you would expect a caster to be. No chance. He looked horrendous, and still much bigger than any men I had seen which was not coming out of a gym. Both the female and the male characters were designed for men who ascribed to the superhero/Conan fantasy, in which women are sexualized and men are depicted as powerful beasts. And, despite being half-naked in their barbarian attire, the intent is not for them to appeal to women, but to be a vessel of masculine power. The patriarchy system works in both directions, it supplies unattainable ideals for the men too.
What will I do in Guild Wars 2 to tackle the issue? I might yet again create a male character. I could discard the game completely, but I don't want to deprive myself of an enjoyable experience. I had been playing video games which are disrespectful towards minorities since the dawn of time, and it doesn't look like it's going away. I shall be content with drawing attention to the problem, so that more people will perhaps reclaim an accurate representation of 50% of the population. Speaking of which, Borderlands 2 will again feature three male protagonists and one female. Such an old issue. There is one little test I sometimes put to practice when watching a movie, called The Bechdel Test, which accounts for the number of females that actively participate in a movie, without being related to the male leads. It's surprising, and disheartening, to learn how many movies fail this test, reinforcing the notion that male is the default, and female the Other. I wonder if we could adapt this test somehow to the gaming genre. I know of at least one rule that I would propose: "Do the female characters wear comfortable clothes when required?" Can you think of other rules?
If I had to divorce myself from every cultural activity that conscious or unconsciously misrepresents minorities (although women are not a minority at all, they might still be so in the gaming sphere), I would not participate in any mainstream entertainment. I do not watch TV anymore, do not go to the cinema, do not read best-selling books. I read the canon, and sci-fi with a clear notion that it is also full of ideologies. I am on guard most of the time. I would have my games not misrepresent me, but if I had to adhere to that creed I would not play almost any games. What is one to do?
Edit: I received some info through the comments about the gender structures in the game and I feel that, even though the physical representation of women is way off, I couldn't discard the game completely because of its treatment of gender: 3 out of 5 faction leaders are women, and women are constantly featured in the game as prominent figures in power. That is indeed a step forward. Still, a battle has to be fought regarding the sexualization of our characters. Here's a post by Kadomi which adds more to the issue than I had.