I've spent too many hours over the past couple of months playing Guild Wars 2. GW2, for the uninitiated, is an online fantasy RPG where you run around as a hero, completing quests, learning to be awesome, and ultimately trying to save the world.
The thing is, I'm kind of a girly player. All my characters are women. I tend to spend quite a while picking out my characters' armor based on how they look, my mesmer has ribbons in her hair, and my badass level 80 thief wears a pretty fabulous swoopy bright pink coat. Not subtle, but she seems to like it. I could happily spend a good chunk of time having a fashion show of different armor and weapon types.
And then I started to notice something about the armor: half of my choices were... impractical at best.
Since my first character was a thief, a class that typically wears big coats and leggings like Robin Hood, I didn't come across any strange armor until I considered buying some of the best and most expensive armor in the game: human cultural armor. This is what the top set looks like:
My character is going to fall out of that the moment she does one of her signature backflips. Not to mention the fact that her leggings have been replaced with fishnets that are very revealing from the side. (At least the game is saving me in-game money by making it so unappealing, right?)
I'm not opposed to skimpy or sexual armor, per se. If it's done well, it can be awesome. And lots of the armor is done well. I kind of covet this high-level armor that is impractical but gorgeous:
(Only about a million more dungeon runs until it is mine!). The difference, I think, is that this is impractical, but it's part of a look, and the look isn't "hey guys, look at these boobs." The outfit seems like part of the character, rather than something used to display parts of that characters.
And the female armor didn't get truly frustrating until I created a magical character, aka a character that wears light armor. "Light armor" seems to be code for "no armor," characters that wear clothes rather than anything that would actually protect them. Or, in the case of female characters, character who wear nothing at all.
It's one thing if some of your armor choices are a little inappropriate -- you have plenty of other ones to choose from. But for much of the beginning of the game, light armor female characters are stuck in this:
Yes, she's wearing a garter. How that increases her magical ability, I do not know. Her skirt is so short that you can see her underwear from the back as she runs. And there's no choice. This is how all magical female characters (or human ones, at least... I don't know about other races) look when they start the game. I was really excited when my character got new, good-looking armor about 8 levels in... only to find out that she wasn't wearing a skirt and leggings, as I initially thought, but a skirt and thigh-high stockings, meaning that every time she rolls (which is often, since I grew up on Legend of Zelda and still feel compelled to roll when I run), we still get a lovely shot of her underwear.
Sure, my character wants to attract the attention of the attractive guard captain/hero/mentor Logan, but she'd much rather do it with her sparkling wit and awesome fighting skills, not with the fact that you can see her unmentionables every time she dodges. And looking through the armor choices that await my character as she levels up, including the high level stuff I should want to aspire to... there's not exactly much choice that isn't similarly problematic.
The frustrating part is that, armor aside, Guild Wars 2 is a pretty great game, with total integration of badass male and female characters of all races. Even the player culture, although wrapped up in the usual bickering that comes on these games, is fairly sexism-free. Once someone called me a "selfish b*", but you always get some over-intense weirdos on any game, and considering a lot of gaming cultures, that's pretty darn serene.
But the armor. The armor.
As long as my female character has to wear this sort of armor, I know that she isn't meant for me. She isn't designed as a character for me, as a female gamer, to enjoy playing. She's designed for male players to ogle at. And that pretty much sucks.