Avatar Imagery

Blood ElvesI enjoy videogames, but I regularly have problems with the avatars that are presented to me in them for various reasons. Anyone who’s looked at my I Want to Play Her” page might have noticed that there is exactly one videogame represented there (and I’ve never actually played it, I just liked the cover art). Believe me, it’s not for lack of looking for interesting female avatars in videogames. It’s just that if the avatar reminds me of a porn star, a Disney princess or an anime school girl, I don’t really want to play her – and that pretty much rules out most female characters in videogames these days.

Andrea Rubenstein has written a paper about the body types of avatars in World of Warcraft, the most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game on the market right now. It’s not exactly anything new (I could point you to a couple of papers that say essentially the same thing about comic books), but it is quite well done and well worth reading. What I particularly appreciated about it was Rubenstein’s thoroughness in looking at how the avatars changed from Alpha to release and why those changes were made as well as the differences in the gender imagery and some of the meaning behind those differences (e.g. women are more overtly sexualized, with exaggerated hourglass figures and focus on sexual areas, while men are more focused on sexually based strength with their actual sexual features minimized). It’s a good, and surprisingly quick, read. I definitely recommend it.

What it did not do is give me any more hope for finding decent avatars in games that don’t annoy me. Take the image above, for example. It’s again from World of Warcraft. Those two are the male and female avatars from the blood elf race. Notice anything about the imagery there? Maybe that he’s about three times bigger than her? Or that he’s fully clothed while she isn’t? I first noticed that she’s hiding behind him for protection while he’s being strong and taking action. I hadn’t noticed until I was cropping the image for this post that she appears to be barefoot. Why would you ever go barefoot in a game where goblins roam around the starting zones? That seems really dumb! You start the game with free shoes! You are never, ever compelled to go without shoes! So what’s with the lack of footwear? I suppose it does set off her helpless little girl dress, but still! This is supposed to be an avatar, not an elf version of Heidi! Speaking of helpless little girl dress, I’m not wild about that either – she does have an oversexed little girl look about her, and there is something distinctly creepy about that.

My character in World of Warcraft was a dwarf. A dwarf with a very large axe. The elves bug me. So do the humans and most of the overly attractive evil races. I’m sorry, if I’m going to play a goblin, she’s not going to be “pretty”. Until I can make a goblin who isn’t fundamentally attractive (saggy breasts, hunched back, missing/rotting teeth, sharp curled claws, etc.) I’m not playing one, it’s just not right. Goblins are not supposed to be “pretty”. Neither are orcs or undead. That’s creepy. Maybe all this is part of why the game failed to hold my attention for longer and I’ve since moved on to other things.

So I’ll keep looking for some videogame women to add to my “I Want to Play Her” page, but my hopes of finding many aren’t really high. Until I can find more women with waists bigger than their heads and armor that actually seems to serve some function other than covering enough to please censors, I’m not going to be attracted to playing many videogame women just on how they look. The industry can do better, I know it. I just want to see it, now. There is so much creativity in videogames, some of it eventually has to spill over into variety in avatars, right? Besides, there are enough reasonable people making games these days that it’s going to have to occur to one of them that if they allow players to design a woman avatar who actually does look like she could kick butt not only would it be cool but it might improve sales. Maybe. Or, you know, I could be dreaming. That’s been known to happen.

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