Sexism in MMORPGs
Editorial by Jon Wood
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.
The theory is that the perception of a predominantly male audience wants to see gorgeous female toons when they're playing a game. That's why, so it's said, that the game's developers create unrealistic, fantasy women to populate their worlds. Let's face it, when's the last time you were playing a game and came across a female toon that was anything less than "ideal" unless it was a plot point?
Video games certainly aren't a new addition to this pop-culture phenomenon. Look anywhere: television, magazines, billboards, etc. They all show us unrealistic representations that really can and do cause real women, young and old, to feel inferior and imperfect in society. This can lead to feelings of depression, eating disorders and any number of other things.
None of this is anything new. We've all seen the articles, we've all heard it before. The thing is, the last time I logged into an MMO to make my character, I realized something. There are actually two sides to this coin. Yes, the female characters are all stereotypes of perfection. What really got me thinking was the fact that the male avatars weren't really any different.
Society worships the "ideal woman", but it also values an "ideal man". The ideal man, as it turns out is tall with well defined features, generally broad shoulders and a muscular body. Each and every one of my male options, much like the female options presented to players, was some kind of version of this ideal man.
What does this mean? I'm certainly not saying that women aren't victims of yet another unrealistic representation, but I am saying that men are just as much the victim. I'm also saying that we might want to re-examine the way that we think about this issue. There are those out there who feel that this is a one-sided problem, and that simply isn't the case. It also takes some wind out of the chauvinistic developer argument.
What then, is the cause of this? I have a theory, though it may be an unpopular one, which I would like to share with you:
We are, all of us, imperfect in some way or another. Very few of us can live up to the "ideal" that society has created for us. Whether it's having "DD" breasts and a size zero waist, or being 6'4" with chiseled abs. Not in our real lives, anyway.
The great thing about games and MMORPGs in particular, is that they allow us to be someone else for a few hours in the day. We sit down at our computer desks to play a game and we, male and female gamer alike, are generally looking for the same thing. It's an escape. It's not that our real lives are all that bad, but video games give us a chance to step into a world of fantasy, a world where not only are we members of this "ideal" world, but also where everyone else is. The judgments of the real world, the feelings of inferiority that we have (yes, even men can feel that way whether we admit it or not), become meaningless. In-game, people worry more about whether you have the gear and the skills to help out in a fight than they do with "that elf-sorceress' rack" or "that barbarian's ass".
What if video games, instead of being another means of inflicting gender ideals are actually an escape from them? Sure, the underlying problem of unrealistic perfection doesn't go away. Men and women still have to fight against the images of pop-culture, but a world where everyone is an ideal seems to me like a pretty good place to vacation for a few hours.