Thursday, March 21, 2013

Scarlet Blade

Yesterday I'd started thinking again about gender mixes in the Final Fantasy series. I'm playing Final Fantasy VIII which has an even split, and I was wondering about how male oriented it was going to seem on this play through. I don't actually remember all that much in terms of details in the game, but I was making a mental note to try to pay attention while playing. Then last night while browsing for something or other (I think I was looking for Blood Bowl patch notes) I saw an odd advertisement. It was advertising the open beta for what it termed an 'adult MMORPG'. The picture featured a scantily clad armoured woman with a big sword, so pretty much par for the course in terms of a gaming ad. Even browser games with no graphics to speak of will stick a girl in a revealing outfit in the ad to draw attention, right Evony?

What, I wondered, is an adult MMO? Are we talking some sort of Sims style game with the sex uncensored? Does it feature a lot of colourful language and an epic amount of blood and guts? Cigarettes? I did some poking around and it sounds like, for the most part, a pretty standard MMO with a sci-fi setting. You have quests to go kill 10 monsters. You level up. You can group for dungeons. There are two factions with massively scaled PvP battles. (80v80, apparently? 40 per side in Alterac Valley was bad enough, though I guess computers have gotten a lot better since then!) There's a tank class, a healer class, and 4 DPS classes. It's also running under a 'free to play' model, with an item shop. The item shop seems to have gone in a good direction in that it doesn't seem to be 'pay to win' at all. There are things to increase your backpack size temporarily, or to give an experience buff, or non-combat pets, or new outfits for your character to wear. A lot like the League of Legends item shop, actually. Or the World of Warcraft one. Nothing at all like the one in Ultima Online where you had to pay real money to prevent people from stealing your stuff.

There is one item I've never, ever seen before, and which is the reason they're advertising it as being adult. It's the 'lingerie unsealer'. Which apparently does what it creepily sounds like. All MMOs pretty much have a base level of clothing your character has to wear. Take off all your armour in World of Warcraft and you've still got your underwear on. Pay $20 in Scarlet Blade and your character doesn't have to wear underwear anymore...

I don't know how I'm supposed to feel about this. On the one hand I was brought up to be quite prudish and the idea of nipples everywhere just seems wrong. But on the other hand there's actually nothing wrong with nipples. The game is going to get an appropriate rating to keep little kids from playing it if you think they need to be kept away. And really, you're on the internet. If you just want to see nipples, you can find them. Or you could just watch the Super Bowl or the Oscars...

Oh, and one other twist to the game... You cannot play a male character. Everyone has to play a girl. I'd say woman, but apparently one of the classes looks 12. Apparently there's quite the controversy since the publisher is changing the way that class looks, especially when naked, for the US version. Some people think it's sick that she exists in any version. Some people think it's appalling that it's getting censored. People on the internet... Angry about anything!

I read one blog that made the claim that this game is actually less sexist than other MMOs. The idea was that while sure, it's full of naked women, they're actually all awesomely powerful naked women. It's a game celebrating women, unlike most games which seek to set women up as worse than men. Pretty much every other game has sexist design choices. FFXI wouldn't let you play a sexy cat man. Mithran were exclusively female. FFXI wouldn't let you play an optimal female tank. Galkans were exclusively male, and they were the toughest by far. In WoW there were pieces of armour that looked to offer real protection on men, but had bare midriffs and exposed cleavage on women. Having it seem like plate armour is fully covering some of the time implies armour does something and makes it ludicrous when the female characters are all exposed. In Scarlet Blade everyone is exposed, so clearly something else is coming into play to protect people from grievous injury. League of Legends keeps coming out with cool skins for their male characters and revealing skins for their female characters. Doing some of both for each gender would seem to be more fair, but male gaze pretty much keeps that from happening. Did random blog have a point? I certainly think things would be a lot worse if Scarlet Blade just had the mage and healer classes be naked women while the tanks and melee attackers were clothed men, so maybe they were right and this, somehow, is a step in the right direction? I don't know, and I don't know how to find out. Anyone have any opinions one way or the other?

Apparently there's a real sci-fi plot going on that explains why all the player characters are female. I read a fair number of comments from people saying things along the lines of 'I only logged on to check out the boobs, but it was actually a pretty good MMO'. Part of me really wants to check it out. It's in beta which is normally a deal breaker for me, but I think there's an exception to my buying new games rant from last week. No, not the boobs. It's localization. This game has apparently been out in Korea for more than a year. I'm sure there will be bugs and translation issues with a localization, but the game shouldn't be an unpolished mess. It's not like the game isn't tested, or doesn't have all the features coded, or they haven't bought enough servers. All of these things presumably were solved in the Korean release. I recall that FFXI's US launch was a lot smoother than the WoW launch that happened later that year for these reasons. The FFXIV launch that was global? Complete disaster. Just like pretty much every other launch I've seen. Except Blizzard expansions.

Also it would seem that you can get an ultimate ability which transforms you into a mech... But for some reason instead of having your character inside a cockpit or something you're actually attached to the outside of the mech, exposed skin and all. This just seems really, really weird...


Jodie Page said...

I just heard about this game a few days ago, too. I'm glad to see you commenting on it! It's really nice when people actually question the perplexity of female avatars in MMO's. It's definitely not fun to be forced into a scanty, sexualized body when you want to play as your gender.

It's really interesting to see people saying Scarlet Blade is "less sexist" than other MMO's. I think maybe the difference is that it's more honest about it. Its target market is people who want to look at boobs and it's not pretending otherwise, unlike other MMO's which pretend to be all-ages while forcing boobs in your face.

I'm kind of interested to see what the internal story of the game is. While it's all well and good to have insanely powerful female characters (as, y'know, "empowerment" for women or whatever the excuse is), it still kind of boils down to whether they are in charge, or whether they're being taken advantage of. For example, if there's no real reason for them to be naked, if none of them EVER draw attention to the fact that they're naked, or if they squeal and moan every time they're hit by monsters, then even if they are powerful, they are in submissive positions. If it isn't their choice to be behaving that way, and there's no internal (plot) reason for them to be behaving that way, then they are being forced by external (developer) forces and that's still really sexist. ...I think! If you think that's wrong, let me know.

I'm still pretty new at analyzing female avatars, and I think there are a lot more layers that need to be studied beyond the initial "oh my god they're naked" gut-reaction. So it's really nice to see people talking about it!

Also, tangential topic: a few months ago I found out that the female avatars in the beta of WoW were actually more realistic (eg. the Tauren females were big and bulky like the males), but they were changed to their slim, more shapely models in the final release to be "more appealing" to their market. Ruth also pointed out to me that enemies like Nagas are solely divided into male melee fighters and female spellcasters. So... yeah, there's definitely an abundance of sexism in WoW.

Jodie Page said...

I'm curious if you've heard of the 3DS brawler game "Code of Princess". It's a really interesting example for the power fantasy VS sexual fantasy debate.

The main character, Solange, is a princess setting out to defend her kingdom from evil forces using a gigantic mythical sword that only she can weild. Sounds pretty neat, right? But the reason Code of Princess has come under such heavy scrutiny is Solange's wardrobe... or, well... lack thereof:

I've been struggling to figure out whether I think the game is horribly sexist or feminist for months now, and I still haven't come to a conclusion.

Beyond the fact of her wardrobe:
She's a slow and powerful melee fighter; rare for a female character. (The other main party members are a female thief who uses bombs/knives/kicks, a female spellcaster, and a male bard who fights with the POWER OF MUSIC.)
She has a gentle personality. Is this bad, because the game is taking advantage of her? Or is it good, because it's showing that not only cold, distant, hate-filled women with troubled pasts can be fighters?
The game is very tongue-in-cheek with its humour. At one point a guard complains that he was distracted by what she was wearing, and she defends herself, saying that it's the royal garb and it's the only thing in her wardrobe. There are also points in the game where her friends defend her honour when men make lewd jokes about her appearance. Having a game actually call out that a sexualized women is dressed inappropriately is very rare!

If you're interested in the portrayal of ladyfolk in video games, you might want to look up more about it!

Nick Page said...

I have not heard of that game. I haven't really touched my 3DS since I got a PSP, but that's mostly because I'm playing various Final Fantasy games on the bus. I'll keep an eye out for it, but I don't seem to end up in video game stores very often now that I don't work with Andrew.

I played an hour or so of Scarlet Blade, and the story doesn't seem to paint the scantily cladidness in a great light. The basic idea seems to be that there was some catastrophe or something and this godlike being created a bunch of powerful robots that just happen to all be nearly nude females. You don't actually play as one of these robots, either. You're an external controller who gives her commands directly into her mind and through the first 10 quests or so there's a ton of innuendo between the female robot and the presumably male player.

The hotkey based combat and quest system are actually pretty good. Better than Star Wars: The Old Republic for sure.

Humbabella said...

I recently played a bit of Wartune to pass the weeks until HotS came out. Wartune is a kind of terrible browser MMO where the men wear armor and the women wear thongs. When I joined a guild I was a little surprised that the ratio of men and women playing seemed pretty even (or maybe I just joined the guild where the women were).

The weird thing was a week after I started playing they added a new clothing system where you could actually wear a bikini. The bikini's honestly just seemed like more sensible clothing than the default female armor.