Over the past few weeks, since the cartel packs have become a thing, something else became a thing and I began wondering why. To date, we’ve had four cartel packs that have commonly dropped orange adaptive gear whose express purpose was to showcase a character’s… attributes. For the men, there was a single item of ‘armor’ that simply revealed the character’s torso. For the ladies, there was a three-piece set of items (hat, top, bottom) whose obvious influence was Slave Leia from Return of the Jedi. Over time, as more cartel packs were offered, the ladies wear items were recolored and reissued under new names, so that there are currently nine pieces of gear for female characters and one for male characters.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to set aside other pieces of revealing attire, although we all know they exist in the game, they’re just harder to acquire.
While I might personally be a touch disturbed that BioWare is asking its players to cheerfully use items that harken back to a character who was forced to wear such attire as a means to degrade and humiliate her (i.e. Slave Leia), I also fully acknowledge that the gaming industry itself is a fairly sexist place, and that me rolling my eyes and shaking my head at this isn’t going to do a bit of good. No point about how most women don’t wear bikinis in their daily lives whilst going to school, doing housework, at their job is going to impact on the minds of the straight male gamers who don’t care, they just want to see ta ta’s and booty (or T&A for all you adults out there). The really sad thing is that we can take the arguments about women’s gear in games and pretty much go down a checklist of how the argument will proceed. So, we’re not going there. Let’s take it as the argument took place, I noted my dissatisfaction as a woman, I got dismissively or mockingly replied to by several straight male gamers, nothing ever changes, we all go home and do this again for the next video game that comes down the pike. We’ve all been there, done that.
Instead, I’d like to focus on the disparity of things in Star Wars: the Old Republic. Now, let’s be clear here. I do not object to the reasonable use of such attire in-game (or in real life – I spent last Saturday drumming for several very beautiful and scantily-clad belly dancers who were doing things that would destroy the game’s ESRB rating). However, I do find it a bit ironic that the ‘naked’ avatar (the ‘we’re not allowed to let you see a fully nude character in-game’ look that you get if you take off all your armor) actually has more coverage in the areas that politicians and parents go bananas about than the character wearing the dancer top and bottom.
Let’s face it, we all know the old standard about women’s armor in video games following the notion of the metal bikini, the less coverage the better. We all know the stereotypes of male gamers playing female characters and male developers creating ‘armor’ (and I use this term loosely) for female characters that reveals more skin than it allegedly claims to protect (which means its protection per square inch stat must be an insane number!) We’ve seen the same trite stories about what sort of code it would require to allow for a female character’s breasts to jiggle just right, because this ain’t a bowl of Jello son, boobies are serious business! We all know the oft-used idea of T&A and the objectification of women that’s pervasive not only in video games, but in Western culture in general. So what’s the big deal, this isn’t any different from the rest of the industry, right?
Well, I have to ask you this… do we want this game to be a leader or a follower? The rest of the industry are lemmings, and the cliff is not too far away. Do we really want TOR to be the same as everyone else in this respect or be something of an innovator? Before anyone whips out the ‘it’s in the lore!’ argument, yes, yes, I know, we all know. I will remind those pedants in my bored tone of voice that Princess Leia didn’t continue to wear the slave gear beyond the time she was forced to do so, there was no act of ‘owning’ it or subverting it for her own use, no empowerment here.
At the end of the day, I have two main beefs with the items that I not-so-lovingly refer to as ‘skankwear’.
1) It’s presented to us as armor. It ain’t armor.
Now, if the game had an Entertainer class like Star Wars: Galaxies did where your character actually didn’t have to spend his/her days out fighting to gain XP and level up, or they let lead writer Hall Hood and his crew write up some quests or story to go along with why my Sith Warrior is wearing attire that would get you arrested out in public anywhere other than the beach, Vegas, or Dragon*Con, I’d be fine with that. It would be an epic undercover plot line for an Imperial Agent, or a comedic mistaken-identity chaotic adventure for a Smuggler, perhaps a bit more of a stretch for the other classes. But there is no story to explain this gear, why it’s out on the grid, why it exists beyond HEY, LOOK AT MY BOOBIES AND BUTT. Sure, I could make up any number of reasons why my Sith Warrior is running around bare-assed on Hoth, but they’d be stupid reasons that make no sense whatsoever. See this window? My suspension of disbelief’s on the outside of it. Did someone invent a Force power in any of the Star Wars RPG sets that would allow for a character showing that much skin not to swiftly die of hypothermia? Tatooine is also not all that awesomely forgiving to someone who trots around as if it were the beach (pro-tip: the desert ain’t a beach).
By the way this gear is being peddled to us, we’re expected to use it strictly for the cheesecake aspect of things, so let’s accept that and move on to my next point.
2) What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Remember, there are nine orange adaptive bits of gear for female characters, and only one for the male characters that drop from the current Cartel Packs. Through the whole Phantom/Spymaster/Preceptor/Trailblazer debacle, we learned definitively via gold-post that BioWare has tools to know precisely how many people have any item on any server, whether it’s equipped, in a cargo bay, how much it’s selling for on the Galactic Trade Network, whatever. By the way, they could also reasonably figure out the percentage of male players wearing the gear in-game on female characters, just by linking account details to character details. Whether or not BioWare is perpetuating the stereotype of the straight male gamer is almost irrelevant to the situation at this point. As a side note, I acknowledge that such attire might also appeal to lesbian or bisexual players, but I think we can all rest easy in the notion that it’s not very likely that any major mainstream video game company would deliberately increase the number of options to show some skin on its female characters to appeal to them. In my opinion, the gear exists in-game solely for the benefit of the straight male gamer, and there would be yet another hue and cry if they removed it from the game or even just toned it down a bit. So let’s not worry about toning it down, let’s focus on evening the scales, because no video game operates strictly on a basis of pleasing just the majority of players. There are ‘quality of life’ improvements that can be added to appeal to other demographics that won’t take away from the allegedly core demographic (see also: SGRAs.)
We know there’s a rather substantial market for dudewear, gear that will accentuate a male character’s attributes. It may or may not be as much of an easy-mode choice as providing skankwear for the enjoyment of straight male gamers, but there is considerable interest in the matter, judging from this thread on the forums. Therefore, I propose that BioWare provides us with an equivalent amount of gear that would allow straight female, bisexual, and gay male gamers a similar improved quality of life experience.
I want to be able to cheerfully discuss Force codpieces with my fellow ladies with in-game screenshots. I want to see my bisexual female and gay male friends showing off their male character’s abs, pecs, butt, legs, and entire package in an obviously sexual manner via equivalent numbers of dudewear, equally easy to buy or have drop in-game as the stuff we already have for the ladies. I’m fairly sure that multiple people at BioWare have seen Labyrinth and noted the reactions to David Bowie prancing around in those smashing tights, and he wasn’t even flashing any skin.
If we are going to be reasonably fair in our objectification of the humanoid body, I’d also want to see scantily-clad men dancing in the cantinas in equivalent numbers to the generic Twi’lek girls, not that one fully-clothed drunken male Bith dancing on a table to the enjoyment of a scantily-clad green-skinned woman in the Mos Ila cantina (although there was another guy watching…). I want to walk into a cantina and envision the voice of Christopher Lee as Saruman gleefully using the word “MANFLESH!” when I see all the dancers there. I want to be able to randomly wander into a building on Tatooine and find a woman watching a male dancer who is nearly naked, rather than only seeing variations on this, which is located in a building near the Bounty Hunter trainer in Mos Ila.
With the inclusion of same-gender romance content and impending Rainbow Apocalypse™ coming with the game’s first expansion, might we even get a whiff of seeing dude-on-dude NPC action in the cantinas? After all, there was that one guy watching the other guy dancing on Tatooine right? I wonder if there’s more in-game that I missed.
At the end of this particular day, we’re left with our own opinions on the matter. Do you think it’s fair the way it is now? Would you like to see a bit less of the lady-flesh showing and/or a bit more of a gentlemen-flesh? Do you think armor should be armor and sexy-wear relegated to roleplaying and an overhauled Social Points system?
Let’s hear your thoughts, TORWarriors! Please be respectful in your comments, because this can be a bit of a touchy subject for folks. Remember, there are real, thinking, feeling human beings on the other end of this bucket of bits.