The truth is, hardly any of us have ethical energy enough for more than one really inflexible point of honor.

It is probably from a terribly male perspective that I agreed with Katy Perry when she sang that “girls are so magical, soft skin, red lips, so kissable”, but it also frames the reason why I often play female characters in MMOs: not because I want to look at a cute bottom, but because I enjoy the juxtaposition of taking such an incarnation of loveliness, wrapping her in a hulking suit of armour, and having her kick the ten living arse bells out of a muscleheap of ogres.

I find it strange, therefore, that this is one of the few areas where MMOs (and many other games) still seem to skirt around the issue; skirt being the operative word here, because finding a female suit of armour without a skirt component –more often one which barely offers protection for the pubic bone, let alone any major skeletal structures below it– is still uncommonly difficult.

It’s not an objection to the more sexualised style of armour, you understand – each to their own. It is the almost wanton lack of alternatives which serves as the basis for my confoundedness. It seems strange to have a general level of acceptance for, say, the curious dichotomy of orcs being mages and warlocks, with them wearing frilly robes and carrying little wands (which you’d imagine the stereotypical green brute would be more likely to use for picking its nose, or spontaneously shoving up the bum of a fellow orc for comedic effect), while still having such resistance to allowing the option of presenting the female form in a non-sexual manner.

Of course it’s not all bad: Lord of the Rings Online offers a splendid variety of armour items, and, as far as I’m concerned, is still the best fantasy MMO by far for allowing players the freedom to create precisely the character they wish to present to other players and the game world.

My recent experiences in Rift prompted this latest post on the subject. Rift has, in its Borg-like development process, assimilated the wardrobe function of other MMOs into its own MMO-mechanical systems, but upon searching through the cosmetic armour options for my female warrior, I found the armour designs to predominantly consist of bikinis, skirts and exposed midriffs. And this perhaps serves as a reflection of how I perceive Rift in general: it does its best to include those features which players often laud in other MMOs, but it does this in the aforementioned Borg-like fashion – indiscriminate. Thus I’m left with a general impression (which may be entirely unfair) that these features are included without understanding why the players want them, with the eponymous rifts being the feature of exception, which Trion not only absorbed, but really managed to improve upon.

As I mentioned, Rift prompted this post, but I’ve talked about the issue many times before. I’m also well aware that it’s one of those topics which endlessly haunts ships on the blogging sea, but shouldn’t that then reinforce the point that this might be a genuine issue for a modest section of the player base? It’s clearly not a big enough issue to drive the majority of players away, but I can’t help but feel that as long as an issue such as this persists, it maintains a perfect example of the MMO genre’s fabled stagnation and rigid inflexibility, an adamantine resistance to the penetration of consensus, which no steel skirt or bronze bra could ever hope to emulate against arrow or sword.

9 thoughts on “The truth is, hardly any of us have ethical energy enough for more than one really inflexible point of honor.

  1. Azuriel

    I am always confused as to the argument that gaming should/ought/will get ahead of this before TV/magazines/movies/music videos/etc. Artists design armor sets, not armorsmiths, and they design them to be visually appealing.

    Besides, full plate isn’t going to stop a crossbow bolt anyway, so they may as well go for the distraction factor.

  2. Melmoth Post author

    “It’s not an objection to the more sexualised style of armour, you understand – each to their own. It is the almost wanton lack of alternatives which serves as the basis for my confoundedness.”

  3. suzita

    I completely agree – please give us a choice :) The MMOs that give me that choice I have stuck with (lotro, eq2), I tried out Rift but part of the reason I didn’t gel with the game was the lack of choice with appearance. (I seem to remember a lot of chainmail bikinis and some seriously heavy make up… but was a while ago so…)

    As well as those two MMOs, Dragon Age and Skyrim also have some really gorgeous full on armour sets (as well as really cool roguey type sets too). Its possible to design for both crowds (and probably for those who fall between too) so I really wonder why they don’t…

    Anyway… guess where I spend my money ;)

  4. Capn John

    A lot of the appeal of female characters (to me) is that the Devs appear to have spent more time on their animations, so to me it feels as if female models move more fluidly and realistically.

  5. Pardoz

    TOR is an interesting case, being the only game I can think of in which I’ve seen people complain in /general about the relative paucity of, to use the lovely term causing such a fuss in the Wowblogosphere, “slut plate”.

    Captcha word: lollygagger. Seems somehow appropriate…

  6. Jim

    I’m in a guild with quite a few women and they absolutely love the female avatar models and the ability to go all slutty in the virtual world.

    Rift recently came out with an armor set that literally included stockings and garters and my first thought was “whoa, this is crossing the line” until 2 women in the guild were obsessively grinding sourcestone for them…they were giddy about sexing themselves up for adventuring.

    Sooo, perhaps the near scandalous ultra-masculine and ultra-feminine wardrobe options in our games is a reflex against the increasing homogenization of gender roles in our society? I dunno. Fortunately Rift has a wardrobe option and there are some very old school sets of armor for women in the game…just sorry you’ll have to spam Ctrl to find ’em.

  7. bhagpuss

    I’m not bothered by the effectiveness/realism/appropriateness of anyone’s armor in an MMO, be they male or female, robot or panda. The entire issue is moot from the moment you realize that you can swim equally easily and swiftly whether wearing cloth, leather, chainmail or plate.

    I agree entirely about the lack of options, though. I would love to be able to wear scruffy, ripped, beaten-up, dented armor. I’d love to be able to wear the high-fantasy equivalent of jeans and a t-shirt. I’d really love to be able to wear a thick, wolfskin jerkin over the top of my plate breastplate.

    In general I’ve found that it’s possible to get more interesting clothing combinations by using those no-stat, vendor trash cast-offs that mobs often drop. If your game has an appearance tab, it’s very well worth dropping those in and having a look. Some much plainer and therefore more satisfying looks can be obtained thereby.

    In Rift specifically there is a whole sub-game of quested appearance armor, some of which might be of interest. The sets I’m aware of are purchased with Plaques of the Mountaineer which come from daily quests in Iron Pine Peaks but there may be others.

  8. Vic Sandman

    @bhagpuss, I’ve found that DCUO is really good in this regard; it provides tons of flexibility in regards to character appearance, making the game much more enjoyable for me. On a related note, has anyone noticed that video-game character appearances are pretty much Barbie dolls for guys? Just sayin’.

  9. Phubarrh

    Ironically, given advertising and expectations, the one fantasy MMO that seems determined to keep female armor modestly dull (at least on player characters) is Age of Conan!

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