Category Archives: MMORPGs

The logo for Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn.

No Marriage Equality in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

The logo for Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn.

The logo for Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn.

The upcoming MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which has been in beta testing, was looking promising.  The game has been getting positive reviews and folks have generally been having fun.  I had been meaning to write a positive review of the game and community.  Folks on my server, Balmung, are generally friendly and I met anyone obnoxious, offensive, or hateful (yet!).  I was also delighted to find that the character design doesn’t seem to just be pandering to straight men.  Body types could be more diverse, but at least the female characters don’t look like pin-up girls in floss for armor.  I am excited to play a seven-foot-tall, muscular warrior woman:

Lake Desire's FFXIV character, a tall roegadyn woman with short, red hair.  She leans into battle, holding a sword and shield, with fire behind her.

Lake Desire’s FFXIV character, a tall roegadyn woman with short, red hair. She leans into battle, holding a sword and shield, with fire behind her.

Some of the armor that is skimpy on female characters is even skimpy on male characters, such as the infamous subligar armor:

Male Miqo'te in a Subligar. Source: redcloud16.tumblr.com/

Male Miqo’te in a Subligar.  He is a blue-haired, light-skinned guy with blue-hair and armor that reveals his abs, chest, and thighs. Source: redcloud16.tumblr.com

Some straight male players complain about their avatar in a speedo and don’t see the irony!

So, despite a lot to be excited about, there is a big problem with FFXIV so far: homophobia.

Those of us planning to role-play have been researching the game’s lore in preparation for launch on August 27.  One big question is: what are the in-character views on homosexuality?  For those of us playing gay and bisexual characters, should we plan on stories dealing with being a sexual minority in a homophobic world, or should we expect sexual orientation is no big deal?

Well, according to the development team, most Eorzeans don’t really care what your sexual orientation is:

In general, how open-minded is the average Eorzean? (ex. Accept same-sex couples? Those who do not believe in the Twelve?)

Answer: Though many of the races experienced rocky pasts, currently, tolerance is, for the most part, the norm in Eorzea. The main reason behind this being that the region is a veritable melting pot of races who have worked together throughout recent history to survive the hardships thrust upon them. This does not mean that there are do not exist groups which are significantly more closed-minded. For example, while Gridania and Limsa Lominsa are fairly open about having dealings with the some of the more amicable beast tribes (such as the sylphs, goblins, and Qiqirn), the sultanate of Ul’dah are wary of the tribes, in part due to their prolonged conflict with the Amalj’aa.

OK, so some characters might be homophobic, but most don’t think anything of someone’s sexual orientation.  Then, what doesn’t make sense is the in-game policy on marriage:

Q: Will it be possible to get married? Also, will same-sex marriages be possible?

A: [...]

As for same-sex marriage, this is an extremely controversial topic that has been under discussion in the MMO world for the past few years. First we would like to start out with opposite-sex marriage, and then consider the feedback from our players in order to make a careful decision.I can’t say whether or not it will be possible at this point in time. I’d like to keep dialog open with our players as we deliberate the matter.

Continue reading

Presented Without Commentary: Planetside 2 models stand more feminine now

Before: The female soldier in Planetside 2 stands in full armor, with a similar body type to the male avatars.

After: The female soldier in Planetside 2 stands in the same full armor, but has more rounded and fuller hips and one shoulder is in front of the other. Her feet are slightly closer together.

Sony Online Entertainment’s Planetside 2 shooter game just updated their female character models to stand a little ‘more feminine’.  For commentary, check out this thread on the GirlGamers subreddit.

Do any of our readers play this game?  How do you feel about the change?

Games Imitating Life: Rape Culture In MMORPGs?

The following is a guest post from J.E. Keep:

J.E. Keep, and his partner M. Keep, write romance and erotica, administer their adult forum Darknest (a fantasy erotica site for gamers) and read simply everything. All while playing games and leading a guild. They can be found at The Keep and their blog, Keep It Up where they write about all of the above.

A curious event happened to me recently while roleplaying, and I’ll use direct quotes whenever appropriate. For those of you not familiar, I’ll explain things. Roleplaying, being the act of taking on the role of a character that’s not yourself, is traditionally done through tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. With the rise in popularity of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) it’s taken on a different turn in the online space with people playing out scenes as their avatars (their usually three-dimensional computer generated character) in an online world.

These days I play Guild Wars 2 (GW2), a recent and fairly popular MMORPG set in the fantasy world of Tyria. GW2 has the trappings of traditional magical fantasy, mixed with some steampunk elements. It has rather medieval humans facing off with curious beast people, short little goblinoids from beneath the earth, faerie-like plant beings, and giant nordic people of the mountains.

I bring all this up because of a scene that was roleplayed out one day in a tavern. I, playing a human woman named Sylvia, happened to observe a curious sight at the bar. A human male giving a single drink to a female character, who then promptly passed out.

Out of character (OOC), as the player, I recognized what they were doing. The player behind the unconscious woman had to drop out of the game and used a convenient ‘out’ as an excuse to take off from an in-character (IC) perspective.

From my in character perspective though, it looked highly dubious at best, and out of character I saw it as a great opportunity to pursue some roleplay. My character, who was already standing near the exit, questioned him on his way out about the woman over his shoulder. She wasn’t even aggressive about it then, it was casual. Mild.

His mutterings were nervous and dubious at best. He spoke about how he had “papers” to allow for such a thing, and he just had to get her back to his place. While my character found this all terribly suspicious, he continued to murmur about how this “wasn’t how [he] saw the evening turning out at all”.

My character, Sylvia, was quite alarmed by this. So with a growing suspicion she insisted the man either leave the woman with her or be escorted to a healers to see her taken care of. The man refused, and immediately got defensive about how these implications were “libellous” and insulting.

Troubled by his agitation, Sylvia then called for one of the local guards. You understand, in these sorts of roleplay environments there are usually one or two RPers about who take on the role of the Seraph, one of the local guards. This time, however, there was no such luck.

Left to her own devices and ignored by other players nearby, Sylvia got more forceful. She demanded he not leave with her and that she would see to it that this unconscious woman was taken care of. Things grew more heated, and she took to trying to enlist some aid from other patrons of the bar.

Instead of support, however, she was met with incredulous stares and mutterings about what a “nuisance” she was, and how much of a “loud mouth” she was “making such a fuss” about “nothing”.

As the encounter drew out, the irritation with Sylvia’s insistence that the man not “abscond with an unconscious woman” grew. Instead of muttering about her being a “loud mouth”, they were now actively interfering. The other characters were showing support for the nervous man, one going so far as to call Sylvia a “bitch” and several offering to distract her while the man got away. One even went so far as to try and physically restrain Sylvia while ushering the nervous man out the door.

All throughout it only one person offered even momentary support for Sylvia’s suspicions. A character playing a priestess wandered by and showed concern at Sylvia’s distress. However, once the man stated that the woman passed out from a drink so he was taking her home, she shrugged it off and informed Sylvia that her accusation was “very serious” and she shouldn’t say such things so lightly without hard proof because of the consequences it could have for the man.

I had initiated RP with the other player for the sake of fun, but I had increasingly become more and more unnerved by the turn. It’s only a game and it’s fantasy and roleplay and silliness, of course. The other players undoubtedly took cues from the out of character nature of things. It’s not, after all, as if anyone could force another player to RP out something they don’t wish.

However through the time spent playing this scene out, the manner in which it mirrored real life behaviour that I’ve either seen or read about in such detail was unpleasant, to say the least. Not only in the casual disregard for the unconscious woman’s well-being from an IC perspective, but OOC the things that were said were so jarringly similar to the sexist and harmful things you hear in real life.

My female character, showing concern, was deemed a “loud mouth”, a “nuisance,” a “bitch”. While every ounce of understanding was given to the nervous, muttering man. Sylvia was informed of “how serious an accusation” such things were, and how damaging such things could be to the man, though not a single one seemed concerned for the seriousness of the accusation if true.

I’m not making any real case to argue how much of it was based upon real sexism of the players behind the characters, or how much the players were aware of in their actions.

It’s noteworthy because of how unnervingly true to life it was.

(Originally posted at Keep it Up)

Star Wars: The Old Republic and Same Gender Romance

Makeb: the new planet that will be available in the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion pack.

Makeb: the new planet that will be available in the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion pack.

Players of the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic will soon see a long awaited option available to them in game: same gender romance! This has been discussed for awhile (see our January 2012 review of the game) but we now know that it will become official this spring.

The expansion pack Rise of the Hutt Cartel will increase the level cap, create a new area and story line, and include a new option for same gender romances.

A blog post written by Jeff Hickman (Executive producer of the game) states:

Same Gender Romance:  Any news on this front would be great… Answer: First of all, I want to apologize that this is taking so long to get in the game. I realize that we promised SGR to you guys and that many of you believed that this would be with a companion character. Unfortunately, this will take a lot more work than we realized at the time and it (like some other pieces of content we talked about earlier in the year) has been delayed as we focused on the changes required to take the game Free-to-Play. As we have said in the past, allowing same gender romance is something we are very supportive of.

Secondly, I want to reveal today that we are adding SGR with some NPCs on Makeb and do intend on pursuing more SGR options in the future. More details to come!

I am glad to hear that this will be available in the game. In an ideal situation this would have been implemented at launch, but it is great news that they will be adding it in the future rather than ignoring it entirely.

[WoW] Rescuing Mina Mudclaw from a rape joke

I’ve been slowly wandering through the new World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria.  Cultural appropriation aside, I’ve been quite enjoying myself.  The pace is nice and relaxed, the quests have been charming, the world is beautifully designed with bright colors and attention to detail.  However, I ran into a quest line in Valley of Four Winds that felt just a little too problematic to completely ignore.

In The Farmer’s Daughter, Den Mudclaw (a Pandaren farmer) asks you to sneak down into a virmen hole to rescue his daughter.  Naturally.  Virmen are these creepy rat-mouse looking critters that are obsessed with carrots and stealing things from farms around the Valley of the Four Winds.  Yes, it’s a damsel in distress again.  The farmer’s daughter character stereotype is problematic in itself, being that it references a naive yet promiscuous young women who is always the object of sexual attention to provide the hero with a always willing yet “girl next door” romantic love interest.

However, it gets worse.  When you finally get past all of the virmin in this hidey-hole and find Mina Mudclaw, she is standing up on a raised area of the cave surrounded by these creepy rat people.  Who have been forcefully making her do “horrible, horrible, silly things” with carrots.

A screenshot of the quest journal in WoW. Quest name: “Seeing Orange”. Text: “Those virmen….they make me do horrible, horrible, silly things. All involving carrots. I couldn’t tell you how many carrots they threw at me. Let’s not waste anymore time, Get me out of here!”

You could see this through a pretty innocent lens, since she also mentions that they keep throwing carrots at her.  It’s not an ultra blatant rape-joke, but it’s quite clear what the innuendo was supposed to be here.  You are seeking out the naive farmer’s daughter, the object of all sexual affections, who happens to be captured by a group of rabbitpeople who are making her do horrible things with carrots.  It doesn’t involve much imagination to figure out what Blizzard was trying to hint at here.  And I’m not the only one who caught on.

The top most-upvoted comment on the quest on WoWhead.com. A player says “Horrible, horrible silly things involving carrots. My imagination is running a mile a minute.” Another player replies “Dirty Blizz, very dirty”. A third player says “I just completed this quest and came here to check the comments!”

I was hoping Blizzard had learned from previous critical analysis of problematic quests within World of Warcraft.  It’s not a game that generally features strong female character design, so I don’t look to it as the shining example of how things should be done.  But it definitely took me out of my zenlike experience in Pandaria when I stumbled across this quest.

What is the social class of an adventurer?

Coins arranged in the shape of a question mark

A while back, Mattie Brice tweeted a very interesting observation about her play style. She said, “For some reason, I really dislike using items. I usually just sell them.”

Adam Flynn then responded with a link to this article, asking “I wonder if this relates to your internal metaphors of value and income”. The article paints different characters of middle class graduates with different metaphors about money, arguing for example that entrepreneurs don’t consider $1m to be an obscene sum of money but instead see it as one year’s running costs for a 6-person startup.

Mattie pointed out that her own background doesn’t match those identified in the article, “I’ve never (on by own) been financially middle class,” she tweeted. She said that it was perhaps significant that she grew up lower middle class, surrounded by upper middle class culture.

Reading this conversation got me thinking: does class affect play style? How might we expect it to make a difference? And is this something neglected by game designers?

Does class affect spending?

Before looking at how class affects item use in games, I tried to find some studies of how people of different economic classes use money in the real world. We all, I think, have a habit of using social class to explain idiosyncracies, so I didn’t want to take Brice’s class-based explanation at face value.

To contradict her statement, it would have been very useful to get evidence of the kind of phenomenon described by this Cracked article on stupid habits you develop when you grow poor – ‘stupid’ here meaning ‘no longer rational if you have money in the bank.’ [Editors Note: The author of this post is not endorsing Cracked's use of the word 'stupid'] I want to be able to confidently point to the situation described by Zygmunt Bauman in Wasted Lives – he argues that consumer culture has created a social need for brand-name clothes among people whose means would suggest that it is more rational to buy the most basic clothes possible.

However, I’ve had trouble finding evidence to back up the anecdotes and opinions. The Consumer Expenditure Survey asks people ‘what do you spend money on?’ but not ‘do you buy the cheapest clothes possible?’ or ‘what do you do with your tax rebate?’ Measuring spending isn’t the same as measuring the attitudes to commodities that Mattie seems to have been referring to.

Fictional economies are different

Eventually I realised that no real-world evidence would really be applicable to virtual worlds and fictional economies, because the models of wealth, production and labour are deliberately constructed around a fantasy of a simpler, more forgiving world. This is something I looked at in a term paper on Final Fantasy games last year – the economic models of video games often reflect the economic changes happening in the real world at the time the games were made, but they are deliberately recalibrated to give players a great deal more agency. Often that agency is a kind of virtual artisanship or mercantilism, with game mechanics that encourage crafting items out of found materials and the exchange of goods for virtual money made relatively frictionless. Selling off your possessions for cash in the real world is not nearly as easy as in video games.

The means by which middle class people generate and hold onto their wealth are not available in most video games. Keeping money in the bank to accrue interest is not an option. There’s no investment, no leveraging of debt, not even the ‘three for two’ shopping deals that John Cheese writing for Cracked identifies as a rational purchasing decision that he fails to take advantage of because of his experience of poverty.

In the majority of video games, there’s just objects, gold values given to those objects, and gold received in exchange for time spent grinding. The economy is simple. You put time in, you get gold back, and you spend the gold on better goods. They are giant virtual shopping malls, and players are effectively made into lower-middle-class consumers by the fictional economics of the game itself – money is earned, rather than grown as wealth.

So do personal money metaphors, or class-based experiences of wealth or poverty, affect play style? In most games, probably not – the question is whether the economic landscape of a given video game world really gives that much freedom for class differentiation. But I think the economic behaviours engendered by the constrained economic structures of video games could tell us a lot about the relationship between social class and gaming. It’s something we should look into more often.

Guild Wars 2 and the misogynistic bad guys

Guild Wars 2 features five playable races: humans, sylvari, asura, norn, and charr. Each of these races includes an antagonist faction who will fight against the rest of their race, and be one of the enemies of your player character. So for instance, if you’re playing a sylvari, you’ll encounter members of the Nightmare Court: a group of sylvari who reject the typical sylvari traits like compassion and curiosity and strive to replace them with fear and violence.

Right now, I’d like to discuss the Sons of Svanir and the Flame Legion, who are the antagonist factions for the norn and the charr respectively. One thing that these two groups have in common is a “no girls allowed” sign hung outside their metaphorical clubhouses. I’m not certain how I feel about this.

If you dig into the lore, you’ll find they have pretty similar rationales for the exclusion of women. In both cases, there was a woman hundreds of years ago who stood up to them, and they decided to generalise from that woman to all women, decide that women can’t be trusted, and ostracise them thereafter.

I want to say that this is just cartoon supervillainy, with the evil turned up to 11. I want to say that it’s as if they revealed that these factions stand for punching kittens and pouring toxic waste in duck ponds. I want to say that, but I can’t, because that kind of ridiculous exclusion of women is too prevalent, still, in real life.

How many women have never been in a situation like in xkcd’s comic How It Works? As women gamers, many of us are used to being on trial as a representative for our gender every time we game. We know that if we mess up then there’s a chance that someone will decide that it’s because girls suck at gaming, and decide that their guild should be an exclusively male affair.

It has to be reiterated, though, that these groups are the bad guys, and are not being held up as at all admirable. The Sons of Svanir worship a dragon who wants to destroy the world, so I sincerely hope that nobody thinks that they epitomise good judgement and should be taken as role models. I’m certainly a whole lot happier seeing this than I am when the alleged heroes are misogynistic jerks.

At the same time, though, I think that I’d prefer not to see it at all. One of the purposes of gaming is escapism, and it’s nice to be able to get away to a game world where this sort of sexism just doesn’t exist. I get enough of it in the real world without seeing it in games as well.

I think that ultimately, my own opinion will depend on where they go with this in the story. Will I be given the agency to confront them about their misogyny and come away victorious? Or will the storyline directly confront the sexism and provide social commentary on it? Maybe their exclusion of women will come back and bite them in the rear, directly resulting in their defeat at the hands of their would-be opressees?

Since the game is still new, I have no idea how things will play out. If any of the three situations I just outlined come to pass, then I think  I will see it as a net positive in the game. If it’s just a case of “yes, some bad people will treat you shoddily if you have a female player character, but that’s what bad people do so you’ll just have to deal with it” then it will likely end up being a net negative to me.

For now, I think I’m willing to give Arenanet the benefit of the doubt; they have a pretty good record on this sort of thing, and I’m enjoying the game a great deal, so I want to see how this turns out.

Play With The Border House in Guild Wars 2!

A beautiful vista from Divinity’s Reach in Guild Wars 2, with lush green foliage, and steampunk-styled globes hanging from the ceiling.

We’ve posted about this before, but now that the early access for preorders has begun and the game will be launching in mere days, here’s another reminder!

Many of us at The Border House will be joining up with Praxis, a guild that has a similar mindset as us and a great guild charter that upholds a lot of the same ideals as we do.  We’re set up on the Crystal Desert server, which is the unofficial LGBT server community in Guild Wars 2.  Due to high demand, this server is often full along with many others, but there is a full week of free server transfers so you can watch the server list and transfer over at any time.

Join us on Crystal Desert in Guild Wars 2!  Readers, feel free to leave your account names in the comments if you’d like to friend each other, but do remember that this is a public post.

Win a Beta Key for Guild Wars 2 Here at The Border House!

A screenshot from Guild Wars 2 featuring a statue of Kalla Scorchrazor, Charr Feminist Revolutionary.

 

Edit: This contest is now closed.  Congratulations to the winners, who have all been emailed with their keys!

Darketower, Josh, Chris, Tyler K, Rillifane, Gralsh Oon, Henry, Skennedy, XvShadow, Hyacinth, Ehsan Kia, Ramenhotep, Primal Zed, 3Jane, chooseareality, DystopianGibberish, Richard, Ashelia, Eccentricity, washuu, Rabab, Romulus Hawk, Augusto Mendes, Sabrina, TomW — congrats!

The great folks over at ArenaNet have been so gracious as to allow us to give away 10 beta keys to the upcoming FINAL Guild Wars 2 beta event, which takes place July 20-22.  This is the last chance to try out the game before it releases on August 28th.  We’re big fans of Guild Wars 2 over here and we know many of our readers would love the opportunity to try out the game.

How to enter:

We’re going to make you work just a little bit to be eligible to win.  Hypothetically, let’s say that you’re a consultant for a large game studio who has employed you to help make their upcoming game more inclusive to marginalized groups (women, LGBT gamers, disabled gamers, people of color, etc.).  What is one tip that you would offer to this game developer to help them achieve their goals?

We will be choosing the 10 winners at random from the comments and will be giving these keys away on Monday, July 16.  You must have a real email address associated with your comment so that we can send you the keys if you win.

Good luck!

Note: Leaving a comment here with your tip is giving The Border House permission to use the tip (credited to you) in an upcoming compilation post of all the entries.

The Secret World Open Thread

The Secret World logo, featuring a white Illuminati male in a black mask on the left, a blond white female Templar in the middle, and an Asian Dragon on the right.

 

Funcom’s latest MMO, The Secret World, launched this week!  I’ve been giving it quite a lot of playtime, and I thought it’d be good to start up a thread to connect players together who are playing the game, or give information to those who are interested in playing.

The game is set in a modern setting, taking players to locations like Japan, the east coast of the U.S., Transylvania, and Egypt.  Players choose a faction, either Dragon, Illuminati, or Templar and quest their way through the world.   The Secret World isn’t a cookie cutter MMO, it features an interesting classless skill system, no overall level, the ability to combine interesting weapons along with magic, a rich story, and puzzles.  The parts I’m finding particularly enjoyable are the creepy environments, immersive sound, high quality voiceovers, and the Gaiman-esque vibe (read more about this from our friend Kate Cox).  The quests are more interesting than “Kill X creepy bad guys” and sometimes require you to hit up Google to figure out the intricacies of the puzzles.

The Secret World plays more like an adventure game than a standard traditional MMO, which is something I’m completely okay with.   And the Creative Director is Ragnar Tørnquist, who was the producer & designer on The Longest Journey.  We actually are such fans of that game here at The Border House, it’s how we got our name.

A modern world gives plenty of opportunities for problematic elements, and I’m sure we’ll dive into some of those within the next few weeks.  So far I’ve been mostly impressed with the diversity in the game, and the only bit of othering I’ve experienced has been when I’m referred to as “man” by various NPCs despite my female avatar.  I’m not very far into the game though, so I’d love to hear the perspectives of our readers.

So are you playing The Secret World?  Comment away!