Video games are kind of notorious for gendered discrepancies in character outfits. When it comes to heavy armour, many of us are tragically resigned to the fact that men will get full plate while women will get chainmail bikinis – even if both cases are supposedly the same armour set. MMORPGs are prime offenders here… some worse than others.
One of the things I have always liked and appreciated about Guild Wars 2 is that this tendency is a lot less pronounced than in other games I have seen. Skimpy armour certainly exists, including some sets where the discrepancy between genders is pronounced (the winged armor is a prime example) – but not every set is like this, nor is it the norm. Players can choose to dress their female characters modestly without going out of their way to find an outfit that works, and the majority of armors look similar in male and female versions.
Today, Guild Wars 2 lost a little of that credit from me.
I’m not denying that GW2 had heavily gendered or sexualised outfits before, but the new sets in the gem story with today’s release struck me at particularly blatant and unreasonable in their gender discrepancies. They moved from a balanced approach that I had always appreciated in the game into the kind of exploitative and sexualised design that I came to GW2 to get away from. The problem with these kinds of styles is that they support the assumption that women are there to be looked at, and their purpose is to be sexy for men – ‘the male gaze’. Designs which support this attitude toward women exacerbate and validate some of the worst parts of gamer culture, while often getting support from men who really do think that’s what female characters should be there for. But I digress – let’s look at the new armours first.
I started by logging in to try on these sets with my human warrior – gem store armours often look best on humans after all, since they’re designed with a human frame in mind. Here’s what Jayna looks like in the ‘Phalanx’ (heavy) armour:
We have a boob window. We have some kind of miniskirt/wrap that barely covers her hip on one side, no pants or leggings under it or the greaves, and what look like the armour version of garter straps? This is supposedly heavy armour, but it looks far from practical. I know for a fact that Jayna looks totally badass in full plate, but this kind of just looks ridiculous, and the sexualisation implied in exposing breasts and thighs like this is pretty blatant. This turns my warrior into a sex object.
BUT! To add insult to injury, here is what the same set looks like on a male (modelled by BlueJay’s character Basch, so that we’re comparing humans):
Serious full plate. No skin showing anywhere – even the helm is fully encompassing. The whole thing is faceless and imposing. The armour looks as though it was intended to protect someone in melee. So why doesn’t a female warrior get the same? Even the passing similarities in the gauntlets and greaves here are weak, and the pauldrons are totally different. This is not a male version of the same armour set – the female one is entirely different. That means someone went out of their way to design a set for females which was ‘sexy’ and ridiculous rather than practical and badass, and that annoys the hell out of me.
Let’s move on to the light armour – the ‘Trickster’ set.
This one isn’t such a bad offender, and it’s pretty obvious why – the female Trickster set is what Marjory Delaqua has worn since her first appearance (like Braham’s armour, it’s turning up in the gem store long after her introduction, but its eventual appearance there was to be expected). The male set is thus, we can presume, an adaptation of something originally designed for a female character, and one we were meant to take seriously (so no sex kitten look here). My only complaint about the female set is a minor one – the bare legs look very out of place in such a heavy outfit and I’d have preferred leggings or tights. The male set echoes the female in the feathered shoulders and scarf, with the ‘trickster’ motif a little more obvious (it reminds me of this old necromancer armour). Overall, both are actually nice armour sets. Thank, Marjory, for getting us at least one good female set!
Now, here’s Basch in the male version of the ‘Viper’s’ (medium) armour:
Relatively simple, a couple of neat snake motifs. ArenaNet is always fond of asymmetrical arms on their medium armour (historically, too). I think there are a number of sets already in the game that are similar to this, but it’s a nice enough set of armour with some good detailing. Pants, boots… sensible enough.
Jayna’s version is also armoured down one arm, with part of her right arm showing – but she also has a largely bare left shoulder. And a random gap showing skin on her side (why do people think cutting random holes out of one’s tunic is a thing that people do?). The bottom of the tunic has exactly the same diagonal miniskirt line as the Phalanx armour (lazy as well as exploitative design, great) and bares most of her thighs, making it short enough to be scandalous if one was out clubbing, let alone on a battlefield. High boots, with again no pants or leggings underneath. Running in that has to suck. As with the Phalanx set, it feels like random chunks have been taken out to expose skin for someone to ogle at.
Sadly, the designs which I find ridiculous and blatantly sexualised – the female heavy and medium – are pretty normal for other MMORPGs across the internet. Previously, Guild Wars has been pretty good about giving players choices, so that one can make a sexually provocative character if one wishes, but it’s not the default all the time. They’ve also been most good at making the skimpier sets still look cool and/or practical to some extent. These sets strike me as straight-up sexualisation of my characters, though, and this disappoints me greatly. I actually conceived Jayna as someone for whom it might be in-character to wear some of the skimpier, less practical armour that I would normally avoid, but I can tell you this – she wouldn’t be caught dead in that Phalanx set.
ArenaNet, I am disappoint.