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News & Features Discussion  » General: Editorial: Sexism in MMOGs

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Novice Member

Joined: 1/07/04
Posts: 2425

OP  11/22/06 10:37:49 AM#1

News Editor Jon Wood pens this week's editorial. He looks at sexism in MMORPGs and whether or not it is limited to just the way developers create female avatars. Wood argues, men too are affected by it.

"The portrayal of women in video games is disgusting."

That's a quotation I've heard many times, from both men and women alike. The truth is that they have a point. Most of the time, female avatars are portrayed with large breasts, small waistlines and finely toned bodies all around. Commonly, the blame for this is put on the fact that "sex sells" and game development is a male dominated industry.

You can read more here.

Dana Massey
Formerly of
Currently Lead Designer for Bit Trap Studios


Novice Member

Joined: 8/01/06
Posts: 1149

11/22/06 10:51:43 AM#2
Great article. And it's not surprising that men are affected by it, too. I find that sexism towards men is often overlooked, but very much a part in our society.

However, I'm a very short male (bordering 170cm, 5'7") and I have never really been the subject of discrimination because of my short stature. In fact, all my life it has given me numerous advantages - whether in fights (I practice martial arts), girls, or elsewhere. That may have something to do with my personal choice, however - I greatly prefer girls who are just as tall (short) as I am. And I'll be far more likely to find a girl like that being my length than if I were, say, 195cm. And most modern MMORPGs give you the choice of how short or tall you want your avatar to be, so I find it is not as much of a problem as mr. Wood makes it out to be.

However, what I do find to be sexism towards both men and women in MMORPGs is indeed the choice in female avatars. It sets an unrealistic (and often not pretty either) standard for women - and it makes men out to be sex-obsessed who somehow feel attracted to a cluster of pixels, while the vast majority of all men don't nearly think about sex as much as is often stereotypical.

Novice Member

Joined: 6/28/06
Posts: 17

11/22/06 11:09:36 AM#3
A great article - and a point that seems obvious even though I wouldn't have thought of it myself beforehand.
There's unrealistic images on both sides of the line - but time and time again people keep getting realism confused with the goal of making the game fun. Realism is for Real Life, keep it out of our games.
There should be more avatar choices in general, that much is true - both for males and females.

One point the article didn't mention is the exact same trend in movies, models, most modern bands, and even in books - the main character is rarely portrayed as a noticably obese, cross-eyed, pimply-faced-youth ( ^_^ )
It's just not how the average consumer visualises the main character - and thus the author of the image usually makes the avatar look more like the ideal archetype of a hero/villain.

Who wants to fantasise about being overweight, flat-chested, or a scrawny sword-swinger (for magic users this last one seems much more OK). Not many, there are some - and therefore these should be options. but they're not exactly the high priority.

More hairstyles ftw.

Spotlight Poster

Joined: 3/02/05
Posts: 1667

11/22/06 11:13:05 AM#4

Well, there are less than popularly "ideal" male and female characters - dwarves, orcs, undead, Tauren (in WoW), etc. Not all of the characters are Angelina and Brad (or Ah-nuld).

But the truth is, these are fantasy settings in an escapist venue. Looking better in game than you do in real life is as much a part of that fantasy as being braver, more heroic and more powerful than you are in real life.

Let's face it. If there was a fire breathing dragon in a cave in my neighborhood, no way in hell am I going in there with a sword. I'm calling 911 and moving my family to Iowa. But in game, I am Dudley Doright who wades in and bashes the bad guy to save the world. Is that a sexist view of my role as a man? You bet it is and I love every minute of it lol.

There is also the glass half full aspect of mmos. Sure, women may look slutty in some games, but they fight just as effectively as the men. They lead raids. They lead guilds. They win at PvP. I think this helps break down some sterotypes, even if it doesn't break them all down.


EQ1, EQ2, SWG, SWTOR, GW, GW2 CoH, CoV, FFXI, WoW, CO, War,TSW and a slew of free trials and beta tests


Novice Member

Joined: 5/29/06
Posts: 630

Has successfully forgiven SOE/LA for the NGE.

11/22/06 11:29:25 AM#5
Good article, and an interesting point.

Perhaps the true problem is society's ideals, and humanity's general inability to see past them.

There are some games that enable outside-the-box choices, such as SWG. The avatar creation system is still one of the best, containing the potential for all kinds of avatars, from thin to fat, busty to flat, and a bunch of alien races that society generally finds unattractive.

I will confess that I have no qualms about gawking at an attractively assembled assortment of pixels. I play games to escape from the real world for a while, and while I like to see realism in a fantasy environment, I have no problem with enjoying certain looks. Perhaps because they inspire my imagination, spark some sexual feeling, or just look really cool. It's hard to say. Though not to say that's the only reason I log on in an evening. For me the experience with others is defined by their heart and deeds. However, I have personally learned to look beyond society's labels. I can find attractiveness and insipiration and all kinds of things, and rarely could I give a flying monkey about what "the cool kids" think.

I think that we are all of us, especially as individuals, responsible for seeing past what society tells us is cool. Naturally, I'm as intune with my baser instincts as the next person, and affected to some degree by what the marketing departments say is good for me. But it doesn't define my actions. Close-minded acceptance of ideals and peer pressure is what leads game developers into creating so few options at character creation, and why so many of us /smooch every perfect female avatar that runs by.

Not to sound like an anarchist, but I feel there's nought wrong with thinking for one's self, and going one's own way; regardless of what everyone else says.


Novice Member

Joined: 5/28/05
Posts: 3

11/22/06 11:31:31 AM#6
You spell out the problem with your own article in the first half of your article. Yes, men are are as stereotypically portrayed in games as women, but men don't tend to have the same body-image pressures as women. Men, on the whole, don't feel that images in the media force them to change their eating habits in unhealthy ways or harm themselves physically or mentally.

Also, the way men and women perceive images of the opposite sex differs. Have you ever seen a group of female players clustered and whooping around a dancing male character?

I don't think the problems and pressures applied by games weigh in with anywhere like the same pressure as TV, movies and magazines, but the look of characters are definitely designed to cater to the male protion of the audience (which, considering the percentages involved, is hardly a surprise)

But to cry "Men are discriminated against too!' seems a bit weak. You aren't. The seriousness of prejudice has to be measured in the amount of risk of consequences that can occur. I'm pretty sure you'll be OK fella!

Novice Member

Joined: 9/19/06
Posts: 427

11/22/06 11:50:21 AM#7

The virtual world has simple deluded the normal "pretty" and "beautiful" and somehow believe it's the same as "hot" and "sexy"... The teens dig it and the young women probably believe "sexy" equals beasutiful at some points.

The ideals lie around looking like almost as if you were a homosexual guy, or some muscle tinman, with a pinch of stand-up comedian, while with young women it's about looking some sort of pornstar just because you happend to see Britney or Christina in almost no clothes, while the business looks seems to bring most on the escape route.

looks looks looks... i picked tauren just because of racial abilities, had i wanted looks i would probably been an orc or an elf (lol).



Novice Member

Joined: 10/20/04
Posts: 44

"You are not a beautiful and unique data packet." -Me

11/22/06 12:01:43 PM#8
I think every post on this topic so far has been very thought provoking. Although I can't possibly imagine some girl becoming anorexic over the fact that her avatar is a super model. I really don't think that we can compare these MMORPGS to the regular pop culture...our realm here is role playing in a fantasy world...our real life is having to be bombarded by pop-culture. And just like someone said there...we play these games so we may escape this life of pop-culture and the daily grind. If some girl is feeling extra self conscience about her looks and/or weight from RL and gets to forget about these troubles through her beautiful avatar...I think...thats where we should be focusing on. It all comes back to being addicted to these games because it allows us to be able to forget all about lifes tragedy.

There is no sexism in MMOs just like everyone has said so far...I have a huge muscular barbarian and my girl friend has a mage with a tight bum. There is no chauvinism in these girl friend is the leader of a guild. And YES sex sells.

When we put every factor that this editorial has produced together we get:
-There is no sexism in MMOs.
-Pop-culture causes depression by bombarding us with media that tells us how we should be and look.
-Some times depression can cause us to become lost in our own fantasy(MMO avatars).
-And that Fight Club is right, that our only tragedy is our lives now and that we should blow up credit card buildings (and microsoft) and grow corn off of some abandon super highway to gain our spirituality again.
(I don't know where that last bit came from, I think from the frustration of pop-culture and the fact that anyone should have to defend MMOs against sexism)


Novice Member

Joined: 5/29/06
Posts: 630

Has successfully forgiven SOE/LA for the NGE.

11/22/06 12:11:06 PM#9

Originally posted by berdoingg
You spell out the problem with your own article in the first half of your article. Yes, men are are as stereotypically portrayed in games as women, but men don't tend to have the same body-image pressures as women. Men, on the whole, don't feel that images in the media force them to change their eating habits in unhealthy ways or harm themselves physically or mentally.

Also, the way men and women perceive images of the opposite sex differs. Have you ever seen a group of female players clustered and whooping around a dancing male character?

I don't think the problems and pressures applied by games weigh in with anywhere like the same pressure as TV, movies and magazines, but the look of characters are definitely designed to cater to the male protion of the audience (which, considering the percentages involved, is hardly a surprise)

But to cry "Men are discriminated against too!' seems a bit weak. You aren't. The seriousness of prejudice has to be measured in the amount of risk of consequences that can occur. I'm pretty sure you'll be OK fella!

I would humbly disagree on some points you raise. But I do agree in part that perhaps women are more overtly discriminated against, and the sexism is perhaps much more readily visible regarding women.

I for one have seen female characters whooping at a half-naked dancing elf. Though it is fair to say that these people could easily be men behind the screen.

But there is an alternate side to sexism, and men are discriminated against. Have you ever heard the saying, "The clothes make the man"? Perhaps men are not so quickly discriminated against due to our looks, but we are just as quickly judged as women are on apperance. In reality, I have long hair, and tend to dress casual. But I am just as quickly judged as being scruffy, or a hippy even. Just as easily judged as a woman is for wearing a short skirt and being being immediately seen as a slut.

Varying levels of seriousness aside, we are all discriminated against according to society's ideals, in some form or another.

Novice Member

Joined: 12/08/05
Posts: 1387

11/22/06 12:11:22 PM#10

When I want to see real people in their true forms I go out and socialize.  I do this quite frequently even though I'm classified as a "gamer". 

When I game I do it for entertainment.  I also read for entertainment although the nature of the books I read could be disputed as entertaining; physics and biographies on physisicists. 

I am one of those males who almost always plays a female character.  Like a movie or a good story that focuses on the female heroine I tend to find enjoyment outside of the normal mussle bound bone heads who save the world in nearly every movie and story written. 

It *could* be possible to call me a sexist since I would rather view abnormal disportionate dimensions on my female character then the back side of a thick browed bone head.  T & A interests me. 

Like watching the latest Hollowood blockbusters with the summers largest explosions on screen does not mark someone as an anarchist, nor does watching SAW III denote someone as a potential murderer, liking phycically fit characters in a gaming environment does not make anyone a sexist.

And yes, I like large boobies.  That does not mean I descrimanate agasint women.  A friend I've known for *years* and I had a conversation about this last night.  Asking him what his wife thinks of him playing all female characters with large boobs he said she just rolls her eyes or whaps him on the back of the head without placing a second thought on it.  I think that's the best responce to something like this.  ;)


Novice Member

Joined: 7/07/05
Posts: 51

"Let Loose the dogs of war."

11/22/06 12:15:01 PM#11

I diasagree with the premise that avatars in games are a result of sexism comming from the developers, they design and create avatar options people will want to play. If they programed in a Female avatar that was over weight, odd proportions, skin blemishes, or even a way to exactly mimic the person playing, very few people, me included, will pick an avatar that looks exactly what I or they look like.

 The point of a Role Playing Game is to play a Role, to be something different than you are, and having played many MMORPG's and created or maintained many large communities of players within those games, I have had the oppurtunity to meet quite a few female gamers, and the thing that stands out to me is most of them pick thier race based on the attactiveness of the avatar. A friend of mine in World of Warcraft never wanted to play horde side based on there being no attractive female avatars, which Blizzard must have heard from droves of other female gamers as the tailored the next race for the Horde side to meet those needs. If I were to ask the question, "How did you pick the Race you play in game?" I would bet the majority of female gamers will answer, "because the way the avatar looked" and the majority of the male gamers will spout off stats or abilities they want in game as it pertains to the class they will be playing.

 It seems to me it is us, the gamers, who have the problem, if there was more demand for avatars that exactly reflected our proportions the developers would be all too happy to give us what we want, as long as we keep send in the check. I think the Developers understand thier target audience very well.

Rage - Head Honcho of the Revilers
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Joined: 5/06/05
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"Don''t take life seriously because you can''t come out of it alive."

- Warren Miller

11/22/06 12:17:07 PM#12

A great article and I completely agree with the fact "In-Game" both genders seem to fall victim to the whims of what seems to be the ideal physcial attributes of the human (or non-human) body.

BUT, take it one step further and I think it starts to become clear that the gaming industry is clearly sending a signal that, while it may also apply to men now and again, the over sexualization of the female persona is what they are going for.


Exhibit A: Game Boxes.

Look at the front of many games boxes with female characters in feature. To start with quite often that character doesn't even have anything to do with the game but almost every single time she's posted on the front of the box half naked or in barely-able-breath outfits, in some kind of sexy pose and almost always with "that" look on her face.

Exhibit B: Promo Material and Game Events.

Hmmm, how many slinked, oiled up, hulking cute boys did you guys ever see at conventions? OK so many every year there was a handfull if that many? Now! How many of super slinky, wearing barely there clothing 'booth babes" did you see, well let's just say we know that there was upon many of them.

How about promotional material, look at almost every poster L2 has ever released and notice what it is... yup, half naked elvish girls doing there best to look hot.

Oh and does anyone remember the Hunt for Antonia Bayle? The winner of which went on to be featured in a soft core porn mag in full Antonia Bayle get up. This was sponsored by SOE themselves by the way, oh right and was also supported by this very site. Side note here, the girl later went on to be in two full out adult magazines.

Exhibit C: In Games.

Sure both men and women in MMO are subject to the same perfect body stereotype and I'll be honest with you, I really don't mind that part.

Hell my body is far from perfect in real life and it never will be but boy can I have great abs and a great butt in EQ2! Even in SWG where it was easy to make a slightly pudgy, out of shape girl, you didn't see them very often though. And hey, how many guys make there toons all rounded off in the middle, especially when you can have those nice little six packs.

But look at everything else in game, armor sets for the female characters is a prime example. Usually it means having less material to cover up with from the very start and almost every single time it means having less and less clothing as the armor itself is supposed to protect more and more. While I love to have stylish clothing in any game to play with and I'd never be apposed to skin, when it comes down to it the female body is just very attractive, but at the very least have options for when you might feel like being covered up some.

Oh and how about jiggle physics anyone? I've yet to see much jiggle on any part of the male body in a game?

Exhibit D: Playing in Game and being in the community. This is a big one for me. 

Now I'm not going to say LOTS or most or TONS but there are many, many female gamers out there now and "many" of those are playing MMOs. Yet to this day if I'm playing an MMO and get on a vent server just to talk with friends, it will happen almost every time without fail that some sort of rude remark is made. Now I'm not bitching about it and I sincerely believe that you either deal with it or go read a book, but it's there. Beyond that, no one cares.

I've been torn to threads in public chats in games for being female and it's gotten to the point where I've actually reported it due to harrasment but was told that nothing would happen because it wasn't considered a violation of the TOS. Happens, whatever, shake it off and move on. But if someone had made a racist comment, boy can you bet that it would have been delt with real quick.

Same thing happens on these boards really, I've been called every name in the book here, from fat lesbian feminist to being told to be get back in the kitchen, yet surprise ! Nothing ever happens, which is fine but again, there's an obvious double standard there or at the very least a lack of willingness to accept it exists.


So all that to say that I completely agree that it's an issue and it affects both genders but I think it's important we keep an open mind towards the fact that it does affect the female gender just a bit more and that it's important it's talked about at the very least.

Young girls are getting into the market now and at some point we have to start to become responsible for they have portrayed in the industry. It does not have to loose it's sex appeal but it does have to be respectfull. For everyone in the commmunity.


Sorry for the long post if you managed to read through all of it, I just think it's very important topic and tend to get carried away.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 4/21/04
Posts: 384

11/22/06 12:18:27 PM#13
so like this warlock and hunter got caught in maraudon, i saved them and as payment she summoned her succubus for me, then they got so excited they joined in.

PS the hunter wasn't a dwarf

Which Final Fantasy Character Are You?
if I were to kill a titan tomorrow and no CCP employees showed up to say grats I would petition it.
Waiting for: the next MMO that lets me make this macro
if hp < 30 then CastSpell("heal") SpellTargetUnit("player") else CastSpell("smite") end


Novice Member

Joined: 5/29/06
Posts: 630

Has successfully forgiven SOE/LA for the NGE.

11/22/06 12:29:10 PM#14
All good points, Shae.

Regrettably, the marketing groups are perhaps more cynical that we forum users are. And as regrettable as it may be, sex simply does sell. Come-to-bed-eyed elf girls with oversized hooters, and a lack of protection triggers the simplistic and genetic triggers in the male of our species, leading to more purchases. Arguably, fully-armoured warriors covered in blood triggers a similar response in male consumers.

Now here's a thought: perhaps women of the world should perhaps be using these stereotypes, and this power that they can so easily wield over man to better their collective lot in life, and turn the tide of male chauvanism. Don't cave my head on or anything, it's just a thought, and meant with all respect. The possibilities aside, I know one thing: if the love of my life puts on a pouty face, even in jest, you can put any kind of contract you fancy in front of my nose; I'll sign it! :)

Novice Member

Joined: 8/11/04
Posts: 8

11/22/06 12:29:44 PM#15

Nice article! It's good to see that this issue is being highlighted.

I'm a fan of the Gothic series for instance but I'm annoyed how women are presented(at the few times they are at all presented) in it. Sure, it's a Dark Age era with a patriarchal society, but it's like the female gender can't be pictured any other way than vulnerable, sexy and unimportant. Gothic 2 was one of the "better" since it included some "named" characters. A witch and a prostitute. I haven't met a named female character yet in Gothic 3 and the voices are weak and vulnerable. *sigh*

When a woman is strong and independent in a game, they're also likely sexy. They hardly have any muscles, yet can wield double-bladed axes. And with the physics engines, developers can now fulfill their wet dreams of huge breasts bouncing after every single motion.

The males are of course also a victim of stereotypes with their big muscles. However I feel that it's more tolerated to have an "ugly" male character than an "ugly" female character. Just look at WoW where orc males are big and brutal looking while females have more of the human like beauty standards. The same with trolls where males are very nicely designed while females have only some fangs and pointy ears. For God forbid females to step out of the norm.

Of course the option should be there if you want to play a character that is sexy or brutal, but todays game doesn't leave much of a choice for female characters. It's either sexy and agile or nothing.

This is of course not a new issue. Every day we are feeded with these messages where women are presented sexy and available and men strong and determined.

The fight against sexism takes place on all fronts but somehow the gaming industry is still far behind. I hope the awareness in these questions increases. It's a good sign that forums like these discuss them however. Keep it up!


Novice Member

Joined: 9/11/05
Posts: 124

11/22/06 12:34:41 PM#16

Yet to this day if I'm playing an MMO and get on a vent server just to talk with friends, it will happen almost every time without fail that some sort of rude remark is made. Now I'm not bitching about it and I sincerely believe that you either deal with it or go read a book, but it's there. Beyond that, no one cares.


This has yet to happen to my wife.  I think a lot of it is a function of who you hang around with.

Teenage boys are juvenile and sophmoric whether they're in WoW or in High School. 

If you're jumping on some random vent server with folks, and getting flack, I'm willing to bet it's from someone who feels that way in real life, not *because* of the game.  The game simply allows them to express it (and often the anonymous nature of the 'net allows them to feel free to do so).  But is that problem the game's issue, or the person's?

As a random data point: My wife doesn't like playing Horde, because they're ugly.  Several other women I've talked to feel the same way.  Clearly, Blizzard felt that was the case as well, since we have Blood Elves on the Horde side now.

I also take issue with the sweeping nature of this article.  WoW has plenty of unattractive models on the Horde side.  Star Wars Galaxies allowed you to create characters as ugly and overweight as you wanted.  Even City of Heroes, with the idealized superhero, has the option to make some pretty downright ugly folks.  But I will agree that the cover for WoW still has a slinky night elf face, and the women on CoH and SWG's boxc art aren't ugly.

And sure, Lineage and Lineage 2 are sex.  EQ's blonde elf bimbo is sex.  I mean, Korean games are notorious for being horrible for women avatars....

And again, it all comes back to the question: Are the avatars sexy because that's all that sells, or is that all that sells because all the avatars are sexy?

I ramble.  But, you know, that's okay.

Who am I?
@Lorechaser on CoH
Badjuju, Splinterhoof, Plainsrunner on WoW (Moonrunner)
Shyy'rissk on SWG (Flurry)
ClockworkSoldier, HE Pierce, Letnev on Planetside
Gyshe, Crucible, Terrakal on DDO
And many more.


Novice Member

Joined: 5/29/06
Posts: 630

Has successfully forgiven SOE/LA for the NGE.

11/22/06 12:34:44 PM#17
One thing that perhaps disturbs me with regards to modern marketing and sexism, is that girls are being forced into more adult and provocative at terribly young ages. Reguarly I see young girls of 10-12 on the streets, dolled up with makeup, jewelry and fashionable (suggestive) clothing. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I don't see why girls of 10 should have the need to be making themselves more attractive (consider that word and it's meaning).

This is something I see as a very real and dangerous side to society's ideals, and I do entertain the belief that females are under considerably more pressure to conform to society's ideals of what is fashionable. Fair to say that males are under similar pressure, but dressing up as knights and wizards generally doesn't get us stalked by pedophiles and other such types. Dressing girls up in make up and revealing elvish princess outfits however...

Novice Member

Joined: 7/03/04
Posts: 3618

11/22/06 12:34:49 PM#18

Big boobs aren't sexist, anymore than being beautiful in real life is sexist.  If that was the case, then God is sexist since he made big boobs and beautiful people. 

The reality is, the ideals of beauty are hardwired into our brains.  It's in our programming.  So it makes sense to me that when we develop the capacity to create virtual worlds, we incorporate those ideals into its programming.

Beautiful people in life have advantages over ugly people....every study I have ever seen on the subject supports I refuse to now think of these beautiful people as 'victims'. 

And let's be realistic.  When's the last time you looked at a fat, ugly, short person in real life and said....I would love to trade places with him/her.  Ofcourse, there are probably some folks out there that reject beauty and find it repulsive.  But for most people, I think they would rather be beautiful than ugly, muscular than fat, shapely than anorexic.

Personally, if the avatars in a game are all ugly, I can't get past it.  I don't care how good the game is.  That avatar represents me to my virtual friends. 

On the other hand, if people are arguing for more customization options, I am all for that.  But let's drop the 'victim' mentality and save it for real victims, not people who have the luxury of time and money to play videogames.


Novice Member

Joined: 6/28/06
Posts: 17

11/22/06 12:36:34 PM#19
"Oh and how about jiggle physics anyone? I've yet to see much jiggle on any part of the male body in a game?"

As a guy - I fully support your suggestion of rippling-beer-belly moddelling ^_^

Novice Member

Joined: 10/18/06
Posts: 103

11/22/06 12:37:58 PM#20

Good article, nice to see men represented too.  Don't think you got it completely right though. Male characters are often designed to look masculine but female's characters are made to look undressed!

Imagine you found a piece of armour with super ACs that looked like King Henry VIIs codpiece, then discovered when you wore it you got a barrage of tells asking if you were a real  man and how old you were. I have a feeling that is not how you would like to be represented.

I don't think it is so much that females mind being made to look attractive, in fact some of us rather enjoy it, its more as a women I don't like looking like a sex-toy, there is a big difference. Of course if I chose to play a female Amazonian woman I would expect to be scantily clad.

Males = masculine

Women = sexy
But it should be women = feminine unless you want to play a female dwarf with a beard


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