Tag Archives: fashion

Style Savvy’s Fashion Limitations

A screenshot from Style Savvy Trendsetters. It shows a woman with long black hair and a thoughtful expression in a shop. The text box reads, Maybe what I need is... something... with an edgy kind of feel to it.

I’ve borrowed a 3DS and have been playing Style Savvy: Trendsetters, the sequel to the 2009 DS game Style Savvy. They are both fashion games that are part business sim: players take on the role of a manager of a fashion boutique and are tasked with picking out items for customers according to their taste and keeping the store stocked. With these two elements, the game combines strategy with creativity in a fresh way. A customer will come in and ask for, say, a bold shirt, and if the player picks a shirt of that taste, the customer will buy it, adding funds to the shop, which the player then use to buy more stock. Customers will often ask for entire outfits in a certain style, or if the player puts together a good outfit on her window mannequin, someone will buy the entire thing. That’s the creative part. The strategy part comes in when the player heads to the buyer’s center to stock up on items. There are a number of brands in different styles, and the player needs to decide which items will best meet her customers’ needs. Trendsetters is different from the original in that it adds men’s fashion, a slightly creepier art style as far as faces are concerned, and 3D.

I enjoy both games a lot, and yet there’s also something deeply limiting about them. Items in the game have a number of different attributes, but the most important are brand and taste, which are related. There’s an edgy brand, a gothic lolita brand, a pop brand, a preppy brand, an athletic brand. So when someone comes in asking for a pop t-shirt, the player just looks for the Mint Sprinkles brand and the customer will be all over it. In the original game, the player had to memorize which brand was which (most were obvious, but some were less so), but Trendsetters adds the ability to search the shop inventory based on any number of factors, including brand and taste, which are separate. In the sequel, if someone asks for bold pants, but the shop doesn’t have anything from the bold brand, AZ USA, something from the edgy brand Stage Dive may do.

So there’s a little more freedom this time around, but it still doesn’t quite capture what’s fun about fashion, which is putting together an outfit with unexpected combinations that somehow totally work, or combining styles that balance each other out. In the world of Style Savvy, only the expected is allowed. Successful outfits generally mean dressing head-to-toe in a specific brand. My favorite kind of outfit is to mix girly dresses with tough boots, jackets, and accessories, but in the game, that would be fashion blasphemy. You can’t mix Stage Dive and Cantata Modo! That’s just ridiculous!

But in the real world of fashion, rules are made to be broken. Traditional rules like “don’t pair brown and black” just don’t hold any more. But I’m a programmer, I know how computers work, and computers need hard and fast rules. A computer can’t judge something as subjective as style (not yet, anyway). So unless a game is purely creative, there are going to be these limitations. I don’t fault Style Savvy for having those limitations; after all, it does quite a good job of making the player feel like a boutique manager within them. But I can’t help wishing that the game gave the player a bit more freedom to mix things up, to create something unexpected.

These boots are not made for walking, but I would anyway.

The Type of Woman I Want Others to See: Why I Wore Heels to PAX East

A black and white photo of Aldo black heels, taken from ground level and behind.

A black and white photo of black heels, taken from ground level and behind.

It was probably 40 degrees American and windy. Being from South Florida, I tend to lose track of how different the temperature feels after I get goosebumps on my knees. I spent my first night in Boston clinging to the inside of my detective coat, which was apparently poor at insulating heat. The air felt more brisk as the night went on, as if the energy of all the fans and artists of the game industry dispersed in the atmosphere. In my own room, I went through my meticulously rolled and sectioned outfits in my luggage, choosing which would be the first casuals and professionals alike would gain their initial impressions with. Cue my horror when I notice all of my leggings missing, forgotten on a dresser drawer, from my dresses-of-rather-courageous-length-only wardrobe.

I decided to take a trip to Harvard Square in the morning with the set of casual attire no one would ever see me in- comfy jeans, fluffy yellow hoodie, and feminine flats with a famous checkered pattern. Being a recent admirer of Esperanza Spalding, I decided to let my hair go free, messy but weightless. I figured a quick trip to Urban Outfitters wouldn’t be criminal, since the majority of the gaming community seemed to own everything plaid anyway. I remember enjoying the feeling of being lost in a city crowd, until I was called sir.

At first, I didn’t think the person was talking to me, because I’d first have a panic attack before entering a public space without makeup. It wasn’t until they mentioned a resemblance to Lenny Kravits that I turned to a man staring at me, since I was the only person of color within a few yards radius (something cities like Boston made me extremely sensitive about). Despite my pointed flats and twice-mascara’ed lashes, this gentleman felt it necessary to remind me that everyone saw who I ‘really’ was. That I wasn’t fooling anyone. On the train back to my hotel to change before the convention, I told myself I’d never dress like that again.

There’s two sides to these mass gathering of gaming folk, one being that I can talk with anyone about my interests, but I must also appear professional at all times. An unfortunate part about being a professional who is transgender is to be convincing. Whether my new acquaintance or I likes it or not, they will make a snap judgment of me, that I’m a woman, or I’m obviously not a woman. In an industry dominated by heterosexual men, my appearance is closely tied to any form of success. I have to battle with the implicit tension of possibly threatening their sexuality, or just their reputation with being associated with someone like me. You see, people don’t believe that I’m a woman because I say so; even self-proclaimed liberal and open-minded individuals will backdrop my identity thinking that I wasn’t always a woman, and that it’s perfectly okay that I made this ‘choice.’ What’s worse, just wearing clothing from the women’s section isn’t enough. In order for men to feel comfortably heterosexual around me, I have to be near porn-star grade in appearance, as if to make up for what’s different about me. Everything may be unintentional and reasonable considering the unlikelyhood they have experience with people who are transgender, but it is far from innocuous. This is why I wore heels every day at PAX East.

About 17 minutes after I read Leigh Alexander’s “Types of Women Men Like Better Than Me,” I cried. I cried because it prompted a good string of tweets about how insecure I felt over managing my image in a professional space. I try to make it a policy to not say depressingly self-conscious things in public, but it was a needed catharsis. I was also tired with the amount of effort it took just to appear average, to have a fair shot as just being a person. I lied to all of my friends who expressed concern over my heeled travel methods; I shrug and smile until I go home and tear up in pain because that’s what I have to do. There, I said it.

These boots are not made for walking, but I would anyway.

These boots are not made for walking, but I would anyway.

I wore knee-high laced up leather boots to the “Death of Vox Games” panel, where the group metamorphosed into Polygon. Standing in line during Q&A, I was anxious because I was only woman going to engage the panel. I wondered if my dress was too short, if my hair was okay, and if I was legitimate enough to press the Polygon staff on their growing but still lacking diversity. This isn’t unique to Polygon, but most publications both paid and hobbyist. They took a bold step of attempting to set a new standard for writing about games, and are self-aware about the precedent they should be taking on this issue. What shocked me about their response was the small amount of women that applied to write for them. Upon memory, out of about 650 applications, 12 were women writers. Doing some quick calculator work, that’s not even 2%. Assuming their newest recruits were headhunted, I was in the physical presence of a quarter of the women applicants that very day (I included myself in that). Why is this? Obviously, since there was a mess over Polygon’s opening line-up, people would aim to fill this need they have, right?

It wasn’t until I went to another panel that day that someone recognized me from my question. She told me that she aspired to write about games but, after her foray into the scene, bowed out because of the homogenous mastheads of online publications. Since videogame culture started from an angle that marginalized minorities, she found staff that didn’t explicitly support diversity issues to be the ones to hand wave these sorts of concerns. Having now personally met some of Polygon’s staff, I’m confident that their representation of diversity is definitely a concern. However, I can see how their involvements with past publications show they stayed either silent or blissfully unaware of minority concerns.

She made me realize that not everyone is like me, that not everyone feels like they have to contort themselves in order to fit in. Some people give the system the finger and move on with their talent elsewhere. Polygon limits its diversity by being a super team of established writers, because minorities are still catching on that there’s a need for their voices in the industry and that not everyone in gaming excuses discrimination with all of the usual flawed arguments. I was part of the rarity that came knocking on their door; most minority talent needs to be discovered for the first time and cultivated. It’s not until minority voices are valued on teams such as Polygon’s that people like her would take a risk and apply. She made me reflect on the example I’m setting for other writers, and that possibly one day, others would look to my path.

I’m not quite sure what to change yet, but I figured I should be candid. That while I love the things I do and try to love the person I am, there’s an incredible pressure to be attractive just to have a chance. Past this ramble, I will continue to wear heels and be incredibly conscious of my appearance. This is my personal path that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, but there needs to be stories of transgender experience in writing about videogames. About being a woman in videogames. I wonder, with the next person I meet, will they see the woman I want them to see?

Style Savvy’s Most Glaring Issue

I played and finished Style Savvy earlier this year, and I kind of loved it. If you’re unfamiliar, it is Nintendo’s aggressively-marketed fashion game for the DS where you play as a stylist and boutique manager. You buy clothes to stock your shop, and help customers find pieces that fit their style and preferences. For example, a customer will say something like, “I’m looking for a skirt that matches my quirky style!” Based on key words (like “quirky”), what the customer is wearing, and sometimes the person’s personality blurb, you can figure out what brand they like, and then it’s just a matter of picking the item they asked for from that brand. Although there are occasionally variations (for example, if a person is wearing all blue, they might buy something that isn’t their favorite brand, if it’s blue), that’s how it works.

Despite how the game (perhaps necessarily) simplifies fashion and style, I quite enjoyed it. There’s a focus on using clothes as a creative outlet and a mode of self-expression, an attitude similar to that of many folks in the style blogosphere. But the game has a glaring problem that cannot be overlooked: your character, and every single one of your customers, all look like this:

A screenshot from Style Savvy. On the right are five different necklaces to choose from, on the left is a female avatar shown from mid-thigh up. She has a tiny waist and narrow hips.

While there are a few NPCs that have unique character models (though they are all thin, also), every other character has the exact same size-zero body. Since this game is on the DS, it’s possible that there are technical reasons for this, but that’s not an excuse I accept. And it certainly explains why I don’t need to worry about buying clothes in different sizes. But thinking about it, it becomes kind of disturbing. It’s not just that everyone is thin, it’s that everyone is exactly the same.

But also, fashion is notoriously sizeist and fatphobic. It’s no coincidence that Pepsi’s “slim, attractive” new can debuted at Fashion Week. (Really, the entire “bodies” tag at SocImages is ample evidence.) And yet, while the target audience of the game may be fans and followers of high fashion, the game seems to evoke the sensibilities of the democratized online world of street-fashion blogging, with its emphasis on self-expression and experimentation. But the vast variety of bodies that make up this world are nowhere to be seen in Style Savvy. Where are the women like Stéphanie (whose blog subheading is “Style is not a size but an attitude”), or the Fa(t)shion February crew?

(This is not to say that the fashion blogosphere is a happy shiny fully-inclusive space–far from it. The young and thin bloggers are the most likely to get well-paying advertisers and free designer clothing. But due to the nature of the internet, it is still far less exclusionary than the fashion industry and traditional press. It’s possible to carve out fat-positive and inclusive spaces, like the Fa(t)shion February project.)

Sometimes games present worlds that conflict with our own experiences, breaking our suspension of disbelief, and in that conflict we can tell something about the biases and assumptions that went into creating that world. The world of fashion in Style Savvy is comprised entirely of very thin people, which is simultaneously a discouragingly accurate depiction of high fashion and a completely unrealistic depiction of the broader realm of street fashion. In Style Savvy, clothes and makeup and hairstyles are all that separates one person from another, but in the real world, a person’s body can be, and often is, an intrinsic part of their style. It’s certainly always a consideration–fashion is part sculpture, where different fabrics and cuts can change a person’s proportions: clothing and body work together to create art. The game mouths the ideals of fashion as self-expression, but it falls flat when the actual physical self is taken entirely out of the equation. People are different, and those differences should be celebrated, not erased.

Why The Border House has a need to exist

When we first launched The Border House just over a week ago, I posted to the wow_ladies LiveJournal community about its existence.  Being that the wow_ladies group is all female WoW gamers, some of whom identify as feminist –  I figured this blog would be a great fit for them.   One of the very first comments to the post was something along the lines of “Why does this even have to exist?  We might be females, but we’re gamers first and foremost.  Shouldn’t we be able to get our gaming news from any old regular gaming site?”

This post is why.  In the past week, just reading through Kotaku and Joystiq alone – I have seen massive amounts of sexism.  Let’s look at two posts from Kotaku, from just TODAY.

They reported that Melissa Joan Hart (of Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch fame) was seen at a Ubisoft event for the game Your Shape by Jenny McCarthy.  Why did they feel the need to post this?  To say:

Looks like Hart could use some Frag Doll fashion tips.


Let’s see here.  So the sole purpose of posting this was just to comment on her fashion sense?  I mean, I may be wrong – but as far as I’ve seen the Frag Dolls always wear black t-shirts and jeans.   Is it because their bellies show that makes them dress better?   And since when did Kotaku become a fashion site?  Females can’t attend video game conferences without being ridiculed for what they wear?

The Frag Dolls in black t-shirts and jeans on the left, and Melissa Joan Hart on the right.

The Frag Dolls in black t-shirts and jeans on the left, and Melissa Joan Hart on the right.

Even worse, another post from today serves no purpose other than to compare the boobs and the butts of two characters from the recently released Bayonetta game.  Seriously?  This is gaming news?  Of course, the comment thread is to be avoided but contains such gems as “Bayonetta is very close to converting me from a boob man to an ass man” and “It doesn’t matter who is bigger or smaller, I think the most important part here is that we’re all winners.”

Comarison of Bayonetta and Jeanne's boobs and butts, courtesy of Kotaku

Comarison of Bayonetta and Jeanne's boobs and butts, courtesy of Kotaku

And we wonder why female characters in video games are so objectified and overly sexual.  It’s because gaming journalism like Kotaku continues to create press over it.  Of course they’re going to report on this, because the men who read Kotaku are just as tuned to objectify female characters in games as the developers who create the games.  Why should women gamers have to read this kind of crap just to find out about latest releases and news about their favorite games?  This isn’t even the first time this week that they have written an entire article about female rear ends.

I didn’t even go into the horrible way they referenced our very own Sera Brennan in this article.  ”Seraphina Brennan is in fact the transgendered identity of the writer and is the byline she now uses for all of her work. Our commentary on this excerpt has been changed to reflect this.”  Why they felt the need to point out that she is transgender as a sort of disclaimer for her opinion on female objectification in games was beyond me.  Not to mention how they referred to her name as being a “transgendered identity” and a “byline” rather than just her name.  Not to mention they had to change their commentary because of it.  Sigh.

Homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, objectification, prejudice, and discrimination occurs everywhere.  Even in video gaming news, which is why The Border House exists.  We want to make sure someone out there isn’t just commenting in approval, but is drawing attention to the negative effects this causes.

Readers, what do you think?

High heels and female warriors

Battle attire?

Battle attire?

When going into battle  one must be prepared.  The best weapons available must be purchased or found. The best armor should be equipped.  All spells and techniques must be mastered. Then why is it then when I look at my female party members they are wearing high heels? Don’t the designers  know that we will be running into fierce battles to fight enemies? Running in high heels is not easy. Running in high heels in mountains, swamps, forests, and trap filled dungeons is even more ridiculous.

Reimi, Star Ocean: The Last Hope

Reimi, Star Ocean: The Last Hope

I have seen this high heeled look in many games. The main female protagonist, Reimi, in Star Ocean: The Last Hope sported a powerful bow and arrow and pink heels.  Other characters sporting this look include KOS-MOS from the Xenosaga series and even Sheva from Resident Evil 5. Because the logical attire for fighting off hordes of infected/mutated people is a pair of high healed boots. In Tales of Vesperia all 3 female main characters, Rita, Estellise, and Judith, have a heeled shoe.  Even the iconic Selveria Bles from Valkyria Chronicles wears high spiked boots.

So is there no hope for women wearing sensible footware to battle? Will we never see a combat boot or flat bottomed shoe? In fact, some of the games I just listed include characters that do wear appropriate battle attire (at least on their feet). Shion from the Xenosaga series does not wear high heels. Niether do several of the Valkryia Chronicles main female squad members. Alicia Melchiott, Isara Gunther, and “Rosie” Stark all go to battle in non-heeled boots.  A game I am currently playing and will address in future posts here is The Last Remnant. In that game Both Emma and Emmy Honeywell are strong women warriors that do not wear impractical shoes on the battlefield.

As more women are portrayed as warriors in games will these heels become a thing of the past? Or will female characters be required to wear painful shoes even when trudging through swamps just to satisfy a sort of female fantasy image?