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Rift: Meet the new MMO, same as the old MMOs
The following is a guest post from Zaewen: Zaewen is a white, straight, cis woman and avid feminist gamer, with MMOs being her favorite genre. She has a degree in psychology, a Texas accent, and spends most of her free time playing games, reading blogs, and very occasionally doing some blogging herself. Zaewen hopes to one day get a PhD in awesomeness (or sociology) and do her best to help change the culture we live in. Trion’s Rift, the newest competitor in the MMORPG market, is fresh out of its launch month and has just released its first major content update. The game has become widely known for taking the best parts of previous MMOs, mashing them together in new ways, and polishing it all to a high shine. However, as the players gain access to more of the game’s content and as the developers patch in more, we’re beginning to see that they’ve also decided to incorporate some of the same old and tired tropes about representing women and female characters into the game. In particular, the idea that women are mainly there to be sexy with their heroism coming secondary to that. [caption id="attachment_5067" align="aligncenter" width="440" caption="A divine and winged Messenger of the Vigil is one of the first people an Ascended Guardian meets upon entering the game. Her face is obscured by her helm and her armor consists of a plate bikini top, a plate mini skirt, and thigh high plate greaves."][/caption] One of the most obvious ways this shows up in the game is in differently rendered armors for male and female characters, with the female character armor sets being much more revealing and sexualized than the sets for male characters. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having sexy and revealing armor in a game as they can be a great source of fun and enjoyment for a lot of people. It does becomes problematic, though, when the sexy and revealing armors are restricted to female characters only and when they are the majority of what female characters are given to wear. This dynamic is, unfortunately, very prevalent in Rift’s armor sets. While there are a handful of armor models that leave their chests partially bare, male characters spend the majority of their time fully covered from head to toe. Meanwhile, there is an even smaller handful of armor sets that give female characters that same full coverage protection. Instead, most of their armors have at the very least some form of cleavage or low neckline. Many sets also leave the midriff and back exposed or have ‘pants’ that only consist of bikini bottoms that may or may not be paired with stockings, greaves, or a chest piece long enough to keep their bums and crotches covered. Some of the differences in the armor sets seem innocuous individually, just a lowered neckline here or a small bit of cleavage there, but when looking at all of the armors together, a very insidious message is revealed. The message being that even though these female characters are the Ascended heroes of Telara, they are rarely, if ever, allowed to forget or forgo their status as sexual objects. The picture below is a prime example of these dichotomous armors in Rift and the message sent. On the right is an Ethian man wearing the crafted Thick Hide armor set. His chest piece is a long vest-like leather tunic with a baggy, long sleeved shirt underneath the vest and a shawl wrapped around his shoulders. His leggings consist of a pair of baggy pants worn underneath leather pads strapped to the front of his thighs. On the left, is an Ethian woman wearing the exact same set, but it is drastically different. The leather tunic-vest is now a halter top with a plunging neckline that goes down to her waist. Her back is left bare except for some stringed beads and the long, baggy shirt has transformed into strips of cloth loosely wrapped around her forearms. The shawl is nowhere to be seen. Her leg ‘armor’ consists of a pair of bikini bottoms (which are barely hidden beneath the lower portion of the tunic) and leather pads that are strapped onto the outer portions of her bare thighs. The overall impression is that the man is dressed ready for battle and that the woman is dressed ready for a LARP themed dance party. The message, intended or not by Trion, is loud and clear here: he is a hero, full stop, but she is there to be a sex object first and foremost, and a hero only after her sexiness has been fully established. [caption id="attachment_5068" align="aligncenter" width="411" caption="An Ethian woman and man modeling the Thick Hide leather armor set for rogues. The man’s armor covers every inch of him below the neck while the woman’s set leaves all of her back, most of her front half, and a lot of her legs exposed."][/caption] That message is also reflected back to us in the way the NPCs are armored. Below are screenshots of guard pairs from the two main faction zones and cities. In one pair, the Defiant Centurions, the male guard is literally covered from head to toe in a set of full plate armor without a speck of skin showing, not even on his face. The female equivalent, however, is wearing an actual bikini-mail set that shows way more skin than it covers. They are of the same rank and position, and supposedly wearing the same uniform, but only one of them looks heroic or like they could actually guard something without getting a sword through the belly. Hint: its not the one using swimwear as battle gear. [caption id="attachment_5069" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="From left to right, the Defiant Centurions, the Guardian Sentries, and Ardent Glade Guards. These are the guards from the main zones of each faction and for each set the male guards’ full set of armor is dramatically contrasted with the bikini armors and ‘sexy school girl’ outfits of the female guards."][/caption] We see this armoring schema again in the storyline NPCs, the people that are the faction leaders and major personalities within the game world. Orphiel Farwind, the head techno-mage for the Defiant, is in full robes and is wearing more (and more protective looking) armor than Asha Catari, the high general of the Defiant forces. Asha, a very powerful arcane warrior, is clad in only a golden plate bra and tights that look like they have been painted on. It’s the same on the Guardian side as well. Cyril Kalmar, leader of the Guardians and stand-in king for the Mathosians, is in a full heavy and ornate plate suit. Standing next to him on the royal dais, is Shyla Starhearth, the leader of the High Elves, in a very intricate and small battle-kini. These are the leaders of the game’s major factions and are all powerful Ascended heroes, and while that’s readily readable from Cyril’s and Orphiel’s armor, Shyla’s and Asha’s armor mostly just broadcasts that they are hot babes. [caption id="attachment_5070" align="aligncenter" width="454" caption="Faction leaders of Rift, from left to right: Cyril Kalmar the Guardian leader in a full set of onrate plate armor, Shyla Starhearth the leader of the High Elves in an intricate plate bikini top and bottom, Asha Catari the high general of the Defiant in a gold plate bra and skin tight cloth pants, and Orphiel Farwind the head scientist of the Defiant in a set of layered, open robes over a tunic and pants outfit."][/caption] Thankfully, there are some storyline NPCs that don’t fit into this mold of women wearing super skimpy armor and men being covered head to toe. There were two in particular, Anthousa Mona and Kaspar Massi, that actually broke this mold quite nicely. Anthousa was fully covered and mysterious looking while Kaspar was burly and bare chested. Then they received character model updates (which, granted, were needed as their models were just default NPC models) and everything changed. Now Anthousa Mona, High Priestess of the Kelari, is sporting a new and greatly enhanced bust size and a strappy, cleavagey mage robe. The fact that Anthousa’s breast size was drastically increased to be much larger than other Kelari character models significantly impacts the overall sexualization of her new character model. Meanwhile, Kaspar’s new model has been decked out in a set of layered leather armor that covers all but his head and forearms. With these updated models, Trion literally took one of the very few fully clothed and non-sexuzalized female storyline NPCs and dressed her down and sexed her up. At the same time they took one of the even fewer sexualized and skin-baring male storyline NPCs and put him in full armor. The message from this and all the NPCs is, again, that men aren’t here to be sexy, they’re here to be heroic, and women can be heroic, but they must be sexy first. [caption id="attachment_5071" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="On the left is Anthousa Mona’s before and after picture. Before she was in a long, green robe with the hood pulled over her head and a veil covering the lower half of her face. Now she is in a blue and gold robe with a strappy top that leavers her cleavage and midriff exposed and a split in the skirt that lets you see her partially bare legs. On the right is Kaspar Massi’s before and after picture. Before he was bare chested, wearing only golden gauntlets and baggy brown pants. Now he is in a set of leather armor that covers everything but part of his forearms and has a new mechanical peg leg."]