Tag Archives: character design

WisCon Panel “Feminism in Gaming 2013”

Stealth elf - a dual blade wielding character from Skylanders

Stealth elf – a dual blade wielding character from Skylanders

At the end of last month, Madison, Wisconsin was home to the annual science fiction feminist convention known as WisCon. Gaming has made its way into some of the panels in recent years and the following will be a summary of some of the points made during the Feminism in Gaming 2013 panel.

Panel description - 2012 was a watershed year for discussion of misogyny in gaming, in many ways: Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter to examine misogyny in gaming, the backlash against it, and the counter-backlash; discussion of art direction in D&D Next; attacks on Felicia Day; the launch of the Gaming as Women blog; and other developments. What has happened so far in 2013? Is the amount of backlash more an indication that misogyny is getting worse, or that we’re finally getting around to the painful but necessary conversations? How much progress have we made, and what still needs to be done? #FeminismInGaming

There was a wonderful handout available at the panel and it is still online for those that would like to see it: Links to websites and interesting articles from 2012/2013

 

Some important moments from the last year

- the interviews during promotion for Tomb Raider that referenced wanting to protect Lara and threats of sexual violence against her character

- the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter but also the counter-backlash that quickly funded the project

- the closing of Glitch, the multiplayer game

- #1ReasonWhy, the Twitter hashtag used by women in the video game industry describing some of the misogyny that they have experienced in their careers

- Dungeons and Dragons Next art direction

 

Does buying problematic games mean that we end up supporting their further development and also continue to support the stereotypes that the games portray?

-Having limited funds for games also means you limit your choices – if you can only get one or two new games a year, it can become difficult to decide where to spent your money.

- One possible way to experience a game that you feel may have problematic elements without first purchasing it is to either rent it or borrow the game from a friend and then make the decision if you want to purchase the game itself.

- These decisions are further complicated when games have things that you love and want to support but still have problematic elements. One example mentioned was 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. It is a puzzle/adventure game that is text heavy which is an under represented type of game, but it had sexist representations of female characters. But the game as a whole contains both of these elements.

- One way to deal with problematic elements in games is to spread the word about those issues. Take screenshots, post blogs, talk about it on Twitter, write messages on the game forums,  tell your friends, spread the word however you feel comfortable that you are dissatisfied with different aspects of games and gaming culture. Discuss good aspects of games, but also discuss the things that upset you.

- Some people dislike financially supporting games in which violence and military action are the only solutions to a problem.  There is clearly a call for more creative games or simply more games that go outside the first person shooter genre.

- In the end, we all choose where we draw a personal line when it comes to financially supporting developers that make problematic games. There is no ONE WAY that will work for everyone.

 

Tabletop gaming

- One positive aspect of tabletop gaming is being able to create your own worlds and rules/alternate worlds and rules to circumvent problematic rules sets. While this is possible it also puts an additional burden on the players.

- One problem with tabletop gaming can also be the players themselves, and not just the game world. People bring their own assumptions to the table. One person mentioned a group that would always threaten any female player character with sexual violence at some point during a campaign. Those types of situations can occur even if those threats are not present in the game’s official campaign or storyline.

- Some groups attempt to make sure that everyone is comfortable by first discussing topics that should be kept out of campaigns. Someone mentioned the use of Safe Words and other tells so players could freely express when a campaign was making them feel uncomfortable.

 

Gaming Communities

- At times it can be the gaming community, rather than the game that is not inclusive.

- Audience members mentioned muting players when going online, never speaking up so that people don’t hear a woman’s voice, or only playing with friends when going online. The harassment drives people to cope in a variety of ways.

- Another person mentioned only playing single player games because they found online interactions to be too hostile.

- Yet another person mentioned not finishing Mass Effect 3 after having a traumatic experience with a multiplayer group.

- Communities have the potential be more harmful than games themselves in making players feel unwelcome and diminished.

- Alternately, it is wonderful to see when games attempt to bring community together. You can see that in some cooperative games or in things like Guild Wars 2 where the incentive is there to help other players rather than hamper their progress.

 

Clothing/Art Design

- There are a lot of examples of failure in this specific category! This occurs in terms of artbooks, game design, character design, and miniatures.

- In the family friendly game of Skylanders there is a character called Stealth Elf that is a dual blade user and she wears what is essentially a bra as a top. Even in games aimed at children there are female characters that wear revealing clothing as their default. This type of character design is pervasive in the industry.

- A comment was made about the character design changes of Samus Aran since the start of the Metroid series. The suit has become slimmer over time.

- In terms of art design, let’s not forget the failure of the headless torso figure from Dead Island.

- Another art design failure can be seen in the upcoming Dragon’s Crown game.

- To avoid some of the problematic female character design, some people mention only playing as male characters in games. We’d all rather see a change in character design rather than players feeling forced to do this to avoid problematic art direction.

- BioWare was praised specifically for their art direction with the female Commander Shepard when compared to the male Shepard.

 

Games/things we look forward to in the future (let’s be hopeful for a moment)

- Remember Me

- The next Dragon Age

- Roll 20 : a KickStarter project that focuses on bringing tabletop rollplaying online

- Minecraft mod ScriptCraft

- Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management – a tabletop game guide done by the Gnome Stew blog that has a cover showing a woman of color as a game master.

 

Other points made during the panel

- The solution cannot simply be “Then go make your own games!” when people point out issues in the current batch of games. Yes, it is wonderful that more toolsets are available for general use, but putting the burden solely on the players is unjust. Independent games are wonderful and are part of the solution, but they are not the whole solution to the problems facing the industry.

- As always, there was a call for more diversity in characters and character creation options. Why must the default always be straight, white, and male?

- There is needs to be more of a focus on the discussion of games and the industry. Let’s keep reading good stories, listening to good podcasts, checking out reviews that go beyond “was it fun?” and spread the word about these things.

- We WANT to give the industry our money. Give us something we WANT to support!

 

One final point!

- Don’t let jerks strip us of the gamer title! There have always been, and always will be a diverse group of people that play video games and tabletop games. Let us not let them fool us or others that we don’t exist because we have ALWAYS been here. Don’t surrender that title over to them because it is not, nor was it ever, only their property. Be gamers and be feminists. They are not mutually exclusive!

Heroines in Dota 2

The following is a guest post from Max Seidman:

Max Seidman is a game designer at Tiltfactor, a game design and research lab located at Dartmouth College dedicated to developing games for meaningful social change. He posts design philosophy and game concepts on his blog.  Max lives in New Hampshire with Clementine, the Crystal Maiden to his Lycanthrope.

I love DotA.  I’ve been playing for over eight years at this point, and over that time I’ve sunk an absurd and unspeakable number of hours on the game.  I played it as a custom map for the original Warcraft III, then in the expansion Frozen Throne, then on the Garena client, and now in Valve’s standalone Dota 2.  And while I love the game, there’s one think I don’t love about it: its representation of women.  These are my thoughts on the things Dota 2 is doing poorly on this front.

Lack of Representation
A dearth of female characters is endemic to video games.  In games with a protagonist the argument is often made, “We’re marketing our game to men, so we’re going to make our main character male.”  While this is bullshit, I at least understand the argument.  However, not even this is a shield that games in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre, games like DotA, can hide behind, as these games often have dozens of characters to choose from.

Dota 2 itself currently boasts over 100 heroes that players can play.  As you can see below, exactly 16 of them are female, identified either by their backstories, names or voices.  This is rather pathetic, and seems to imply that male players would be offended and turned off to the game by the mere presence of female characters, which I find fairly insulting.

Women: 51% of the U.S. population, 16% of the Dota 2 population. (Hero selection screen alternating all heroes, and just female ones.)

Women: 51% of the U.S. population, 16% of the Dota 2 population.
(Hero selection screen alternating all heroes, and just female ones.)

Continue reading

Dragon’s Crown — Basically ‘Boobs & Butts: The Game’

Sometimes, you see an artistic interpretation of anatomy that just defies all expectations.  One that makes you wish that everyone else on the internet could experience it along with you.  Today that title is Dragon’s Crown, an upcoming 2D “multiplayer action beat ‘em up” game for Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. I will try to find words while I write this post.

Let’s start out with the Sorceress character.  According to the game’s website, they are “bewitching women….weak of body” but have great knowledge.

The sorceress character is show.  She has a large witch hat, is wearing a black corset with basically her entire chest showing, has long red hair, and is wearing a long purple skirt with slits in it that show most of her legs.  The image to the right shows her chest and backside in the common Escher Girls pose.

Certainly not “weak of boob”.  A shot of the Sorceress in gameplay shows that she’s clothed just the same while actually being played in game, and watching the video on the website shows quite a bit of jiggle while she’s casting spells.  Umm…yeah.

A shot of the gameplay of Dragon's Crown.  Sorceress is wearing the same outfit from above.

And now, the Amazon.

The Amazon in Dragon's Crown.  She is shown with a large axe, henna tattooed legs, a tiny head, and an enormous body.  Her butt and boobs are giant compared to her waist (which sports chiseled abs).

Where do I even begin here? Those proportions!  I’m not sure how she manages to have such large boobs and a gigantic rear end without her waist being wide at all.  But even more  fascinating is how small her head is.  One of her boobs will quite literally cover her face and then some.  It’s amazing that Atlus attempted to make a strong muscular woman character who still remains completely sexualized with her Escher Girls pose, her complete lack of any armor, and her stereotypically feminine face and hair.

Dragon’s Crown will be out this summer, in case you actually want to give this company money.  I won’t hold it against you, but you better send me some ridiculous screenshots.

(h/t to Nush B on Twitter for the tip)

Edit: We need to add a link to this awesome set of revisions that turns the table around on the male characters of Dragon’s Crown.  Thanks to @gygaxis for the tip.

No Excuses: It’s Time for More Female Protagonists

A black-and-white photograph and portrait of a dark-haired woman taken in 1944.

Violette Szabo, a secret agent in WWII.

If the game design of 2009′s Velvet Assassin were half as interesting as its history, I might be able to bring myself to play beyond the first mission. Velvet Assassin is loosely based on the story of Violette Szabo, a Parisian-born, British-educated woman who enlisted in the elite Special Operations Executive after her husband died in the Second World War. Although the game takes substantial liberties with the facts of Szabo’s life, the premise alone makes for a compelling game pitch: still grieving the loss of her husband, Violette devotes herself to sabotage and subterfuge behind enemy lines.

Velvet Assassin wastes this rich history on a clunky, tired game. The Metacritic average for the game settled at a failing grade: fifty-six out of one hundred. But, having played and enjoyed some poorly-reviewed games, I decided to take my chances. By the end of the first full mission, I was ready to watch the rest of the game on YouTube. Suffice it to say that Velvet Assassin is a frustrating and thoroughly uninteresting experience.

But this game’s story deserves “AAA” treatment. Consider all that it has to offer from a back-of-the-box perspective: a compelling female character with strong motivations, a well-known historical setting (World War II), and a delicious mixture of stealth, deception and demolition. Despite this strong premise, Velvet Assassin didn’t get picked up by Electronic Arts or Activision or Ubisoft; it was produced by a team of “about 35 people” (according to a developer interview) and published by Southpeak Interactive. With those financial limitations in mind, it’s a miracle that Velvet Assassin was playable, even if it turned out to be a mediocre game.

The conversation surrounding female lead protagonists in games is louder than ever. When Grand Theft Auto V was announced, podcasters and journalists speculated about the possibility (and the viability) of a female protagonist in a Rockstar game. Could she kill? Could she fit in a GTA story? The inclusion of playable female characters in Gears of War 3 left fans asking if the Gears franchise would ever have a female character in the starring role. And Mitch Dyer at IGN, presumably prompted by the portrayal of Aveline de Grandpré in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, asked Ubisoft if there would ever be a female protagonist in a main entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

It is astonishing that, in 2013, the inclusion of female leads in mainstream video game releases is still a faraway dream. Rare games like Tomb Raider and Bayonetta bet big on their female leads, but the discussion surrounding them rarely moves beyond the (de)sexualization of their protagonists. Meanwhile, Grand Theft Auto V will have three protagonists, all of them men. Adding to the trend, Chris Perna from Epic said that it would be “tough to justify” having a female lead in a Gears game given sales expectations. And Ashraf Ismail from Ubisoft told IGN that, when designing the lead character for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, his team “actually never thought, ‘could this be a woman?’” 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?

League of Legends’ new badass female ranger Quinn

Quinn, a league of legends character is shown drawn on a parchment paper.  She holds a large colorful bird in her right hand, and a crossbow in another.  She is fully armored.

I have talked here before about how I much I am a fan of Sr. Concept Artist for Riot Games, IronStylus.  He has shown that he acknowledges the many character design fails in League of Legends, and has a personal commitment to working on female characters that don’t fall prey to oversexualization.  His latest creation, Quinn, is a female archer who looks strong, badass, and is actually wearing reasonable armor that one would wear if they were going into battle.

I’d just like to share the text from a post from IronStylus today on the League of Legends official forums (emphasis mine):

Some quick context:

Quinn used to be a guy, then I turned her into a woman. That woman is a ranger, she’s prepared for a fight, she’s wearing thicker armor but not plate aside from key places where she would have to interact with an enemy’s face.

Quinn was not designed to be in a skin-tight outfit. That was tried, and look, again, like a woman with a cape, in a skin tight outfit, which had been worked to death by Zyra, Syndra, Elise, and Diana. She does not care about looking feminine, she cares about utility. Baggy fatigues which have hardened pockets, knee pads to dig into the ground to take a shot, no exposed flesh to take a graze.  Continue reading

League of Legends to remove pole dancing from Xmas Katarina skin

A champion from League of Legends: the long red haired Katarina in a skimpy Santa suit, holding two blades in her lands and clinging to a candy cane with her legs as if it were a stripper pole.

Riot Games has released their new set of exclusive holiday champion skins on the Public Beta Realm this week, and it included a special Christmas Katarina skin.  Katarina is an assassin, one of the more iconic and most-cosplayed champions within League of Legends.  This skin puts her in a short little Santa dress, the kind that every MMO in existence dresses the female characters in around the holiday season.

But more than one player noticed that her recall animation (the anim that plays while Katarina goes back to base) is her whipping out a candy cane and swinging around it in stripper pole fashion.  And several of these players spoke out against it on the League of Legends forums:

I don’t care that she’s dressed like a hooker, I don’t care that she has a tacky hair color (IMHO). But the stripper pole? C’mon, Riot. That is WAY over the top. Until now, the sexy skins have been plentiful but somewhat tame, and this one is just a bit too much. I will happily buy this skin if (AND ONLY IF) they take out the stripper pole recall animation. There’s no reason for it at all. The skin can stand on it’s own apart from that.

Let’s show Riot that there is a point where it becomes too raunchy. A significant amount of sexy is acceptable, but lets keep these Trampion skins to a minimum.

And:

This. It’s obviously yet another in a long line of “for the entertainment of our teenage boy audience” skins, so it’s ridiculous to assert that it’s all about women’s rights or exercise.

Frankly, I think I’ve about had it with Riot’s attitude toward women. I’ve spent a significant amount of money on this game, but when paying customers complain about the way that women are depicted, it’s nothing but nice-sounding things about how they want a variety in design, then more skins with scantily-clad females dancing and talking in very suggestive ways.

If Riot wants to keep designing the game for insecure teenage boys, go for it, I’ll take my money elsewhere.

Thankfully Riot have listened, and the pole dancing recall animation will be removed before this champion skin is ever released and purchasable in the live game.  Senior Product Manager Volibar says:

You’re right. This doesn’t really fit with her thematically, and it’s too much. We’ll be removing it.

I’m always happy to hear when a developer listens to player feedback and admits their mistakes.  I’m not going to give them a pass for coming up with this idea in the first place though — how does this even make it past that many eyes and onto the test realm?  Why is it the player’s responsibility to point out sexist character designs when Riot themselves have acknowledged their own failures in the past and offered up a commitment to better representation of women in their game?

If you want to watch the animation of Xmas Katarina, here it is on YouTube:

Gaslamp Games and the saga of continuing awesomeness

You all remember Dungeons of Dredmor, right? And you remember how its developer, Gaslamp Games, was pretty awesome?

I’m happy to report that they seem to be at it again. In a recent blog post, they talk about their attitude towards featuring characters of different races in their upcoming game, Clockwork Empires. Here’s the money quote:

We feel it’s important to have people of all colours in the game, basically. I’m not going to get into the exceedingly grim history of 19th century colonialism here, but I assure you we’ve had a lot of internal discussions about how we can possibly approach making a game vaguely based on the Victorian era without being ridiculously offensive.

Honestly, I don’t envy them having to make those sorts of decisions, because they’re certainly not trivial to make. (I am reminded of how Failbetter Games approached the same issue for Echo Bazaar but seemingly reached different concusions.)

What I don’t expect is for Gaslamp to suddenly find a solution that will be perfect in every respect. I highly doubt such a solution even exists. What I do expect is for them to give it their best shot, and for it to be a whole lot better than if they didn’t even bother trying to address it.

It’s very gratifying to see at least one developer continue to take this sort of issue seriously.

Omega: Writing one of Mass Effect’s wrongs

I’ve written here before criticising Bioware for only featuring male Turians in their Mass Effect series. As a quick reminder, Bioware essentially didn’t include female Turians because they had no idea how to denote female characters other than by adding lipstick and breasts.

However, I’m happy to be able to say that with the release of Omega, the latest DLC for Mass Effect 3, they’ve now fixed this oversight. Omega contains a female Turian called Nyreen Kandros who, shockingly, does not actually look just like a male Turian with breasts and lipstick.

Nyreen Kandros from Mass Effect 3: Omega.
(Image courtesy of the Mass Effect wiki)

Instead, they’ve given her less prominent crests (which is reminiscent of many real life bird species, where the males tend to be more highly decorated), but more prominent mandibles. She’s clearly the same species, but also clearly not the same as the males we’ve seen before.

So, kudos to Bioware for finally getting with the program. That wasn’t too hard now, was it?

Dad of the Year Changes Pronouns in The Wind Waker for his Daughter

A screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker showing Link holding a sword up high with the caption ‘On a certain island, the custom is to dress young girls in green as they come of age.’

Mike Hoye has been playing through The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker with his daughter Maya and got tired of making the pronoun translations on the fly while reading the game’s text aloud to her.  This was the motivation for creating a mod for the game that will automatically change all the pronouns to female.

It’s annoying and awkward, to put it mildly, having to do gender-translation on the fly when Maya asks me to read what it says on the screen. You can pick your character’s name, of course – I always stick with Link, being a traditionalist – but all of the dialog insists that Link is a boy, and there’s apparently nothing to be done about it.

Well, there wasn’t anything to be done about it, certainly not anything easy, but as you might imagine I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers.

There definitely aren’t enough games for young girls to play where they can do something truly heroic.   Tom Abernathy from Microsoft Game Studios noticed the same thing while his daughter was yearning for more games to play.

This is a pretty complicated mod to get set up and working, so I’m not recommending you all go out and try playing his version of the game unless you have a lot of time on your hands.  But I still wanted to give kudos to a dad who recognizes that little girls want to be heroic and that it’s not aspirational to play male characters all the time.

(Via Flip all the Pronouns)