What the Skimpy-Armor Debate Misses

Hey remember the sylvari? They have genders. That’s weird. I mean, I know their story gives a reason for their having genders, and I’m happy with the sylvari lore because it shows that ArenaNet is conscious of how odd it is that their plant race has breasts and beards. They made a bold move simply by doing so—by explaining how their form was inspired by the human form when the Pale Tree created the sylvari—and I don’t hesitate to say that the sylvari are more interesting for their connection to humans.

But it doesn’t fully explain why they have those two distinct shapes and sets of features, why a thick line still divides the female-coded sylvari from the male-coded sylvari. As I said, ArenaNet worked to accommodate and explain their dimorphism—why is it there in the first place?

I bring this up because there’s a lot of sexism in the world of videogames, just like everywhere else in the world. It’s obvious in places and invisible in others; it informs what we see and how we see it. Even a company like ArenaNet, who continually show themselves to be progressive and conscious of their place in a larger cultural context, operates within this context and can’t escape it. They do a lot of things right in both Guild Wars games: the sylvari’s sexuality, the gender dimorphism of the non-human races, the diversity of clothing options for characters, the focus on people of color in designing Elona (especially) and Cantha, and the overall message of diversity in the games, to name a couple. While there are aspects I would criticize (the running animations for female characters in GW1 come immediately to mind), they are easily overshadowed by the praise I have for ArenaNet.

And yet (wait for it)… skimpy armor. Despite what you’re likely to read in discussions on the topic, it’s an important issue. It’s important as a reminder of the culture we live in, which often reduces women to sexual objects. First things first, however, ArenaNet made a statement long ago on how they approach the issue: “We’ve always intended to create outfits for male and female characters that are appealing and attractive without making our players feel uncomfortable about what their character or other player-characters are wearing.

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