Gender swap: SMITE’s newest character – Sol

I’ve done a lot of writing about serious subjects recently, and in trying to find something more light-hearted to post about it occurred to me that it’s been quite a while since I’ve done a gender-swap. And really, I do love doing gender swaps, if only because I think that attempting to objectify men as much as women are objectified in games is both 1) an interesting intellectual exercise and 2) hilarious.

In which I pick on SMITE

Several months ago I wrote about SMITE, a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) that has been gaining in popularity. At launch, it had three million players, and as of July they have passed the ten million mark. Unfortunately, its character designs are impressively, almost comically sexist, not to mention racist and culturally appropriating.

(And let me be clear, when I say that SMITE has some of the most sexist character designs that I’ve seen in video games outside of kMMOs, that really means something given that the base level of sexism in video games is really fucking high. I mean, this is a character that actually happened in a major video game release by a major game studio in 2015: )

Quiet
Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Anyway, when I was thinking of where I should look for material for a new gender swap, SMITE was the first game that came to mind. Since I’ve been criticized in the past for going after “older” skins in previous critiques of similar games, I wanted to make sure I got something current. So I loaded up the SMITE website, not with any particular character in mind, and this is what I got:

Smite-Website

…okay then. At least they solved the problem of which character I was going to gender swap without me having to actually bother looking through their website. If they’re going to be objectively awful, I do at least appreciate them being upfront about it so as to save me tedious minutes of research.

So, meet Sol. Sol is a gender-swapped interpretation of the Roman sun god for whom our sun is named. Since driving the solar chariot across the sky is still a thing that has to happen, Sol-the-character is an elemental manifestation of fire, a projection of the sun god’s will, or some such nonsense. To be honest, I really didn’t bother reading her background that closely, since it was a blatantly transparent attempt to design a female character that is completely naked:

Sol-screens

“She can’t wear clothes because she’s made of fire” “Those aren’t actual breasts, she’s just using her power to look human” “She’s an elemental being, she doesn’t care about human morality”, etc etc etc. I could come up with more such justifications if I cared enough to try, but I don’t.

Now to be fair, her anatomy at least isn’t all that terrible. She’s got a moderate case of sphere-boob, and given the width of her hips, her waist is improbably narrow. (It’s not impossible, but in many people it would require a certain degree of corseting to achieve.) In fact, her anatomy is actually less improbable than some of the goddesses who wear more clothing (I’m looking at you, Aphrodite!). Though now that I mention it, “goddesses who wear more clothing” is still setting the bar depressingly low.

Despite being generally okay in terms of non-distorted anatomy, it’s hard to deny that the rest of her design conveys nothing but “sexy fire girl”. The “tattoos” on her shoulders point RIGHT AT her creepy nippleless breasts, and the “tattoos” on her thighs draw attention to the fact that YUP she is TOTES NAKED. But really, it’s fine, because she has a Barbie-doll crotch, and, you know, fire. Right? Except for the fact that her quotes only emphasize that she is meant to be seen as a sexual character that you could totes have sex with, because she is WAY HOT:

Sol-quotes

“Let’s make it hot”? “Oh I look hot… If I do say so myself”? “If you play with fire it enjoys it”? Seriously, the last one is just kind of creepy, not to mention awkwardly worded. Can’t they hire an editor to vet their creepy innuendos? Ugh.

And now the Gender-swap

So my mission was clear. Gender-swap Sol. Which I knew, even with her complete lack of clothing, was going to be a challenge:

Sol-genderswap

First, you’ll note that I gave male-Sol a g-string. That’s pretty much entirely because game studios are dominated by the sorts of dudes who have no trouble having a naked female character in their game, but a naked man? With full frontal nudity? Well they can’t have any of that, because that would make them gay. Because REASONS. Or cooties. Or something.

So right off the bat, male-Sol winds up losing a lot of the punch that female-Sol has. But even without the g-string, I think male-Sol still would have lost a lot in translation. The original portrait of female-Sol is intentionally in what I call “boob perspective”, to emphasize her, uh, feminine attributes. You still get a little of that, what with male-Sol’s junk being thrust toward the viewer, but a lot of the objectification inherent in the camera angle gets lost, since male-Sol doesn’t have breasts to be emphasized by that perspective.

There’s also the issue that, unfortunately, in our culture there are a lot of shitty gendered assumptions surrounding nudity. For female-Sol, being posed in this manner from this perspective combined with her nudity, the implication is that she is sexually available and is being presented for the enjoyment of a (presumed) straight male viewer. Because we don’t have the same assumptions surrounding men, male-Sol, ridiculous g-string and all, doesn’t convey the same level of sexual availability.

And yet, had male-Sol actually been put forward as a character design by the developers as a new character, doubtless there would be hoards of gamers decrying the design for being too gay, or for pandering to women, or any other number of homophobic and/or misogynist reasons. Character designs that cater to the straight male gaze in games are A-okay, but heaven forfend if someone actually attempts to cater to the the gaze of people who are attracted to men. Because at the heart of it, things that present men in ways that are objectifying threaten the sexist assumption that men are people and women are sexual objects, and not the other way around.

9 thoughts on “Gender swap: SMITE’s newest character – Sol

  1. I think what needs to happen is that more male gay artists get jobs working for video game companies. Then characters will start resembling Tom of Finland artwork. Which I’m totally okay with! Just imagine gamers learning to accept male characters designed with impossibly large “packages” and scantily-clad buttocks.

  2. Male Sol looks kinda like Gill, the boss of Street Fighter 3.
    http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/streetfighter/images/4/4d/Gill.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20110709000702
    As for the Tom of Finland thing, I don’t think we’re all that far off; dude’s love Wolverine.

    “Character designs that cater to the straight male gaze in games are A-okay, but heaven forfend if someone actually attempts to cater to the the gaze of people who are attracted to men.” I’ve noticed the opposite to be true. I don’t know that I’ve seen any complaints of pandering toward women that weren’t being done ironically to point out that both sexes can be and are objectified in media.

    • The blood elf redesign in World of Warcraft comes to mind – the original male elves were a relatively “normal” build, sexy in a realistic way (speaking as a straight female). Enough guys complained that they “looked gay” and “looked girly” that the models were redone to be burlier and beefier – the male power fantasy, not a female sexual fantasy.

      I’m guessing a lot of the time, the “catering” is done before the game/art actually reaches the public to begin with. It’s just that deeply entrenched.

      • (Which is to say, the complaint isn’t usually “you’re pandering to women” – it’s “you’re not pandering to US.”)

    • Well, there was a mobile Final Fantasy game where the male main character’s stripperific armor got toned down for being “too sexy”: http://www.polygon.com/2015/4/6/8352651/mobius-final-fantasy-sexy-costume-video-gameplay

      (Then again, they ended up with some pretty amazing designs in the final release — like this, for instance: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/6xR4ubj8beM/maxresdefault.jpg — and appear to have kept their concept of leaving the backs open on as many costumes as possible in order to show off the main character’s tattoo, so who knows what they’re thinking?)

  3. One thing which might give a male Sol the same sexually objectified “feel” as the female character is an obvious erection (even hidden under the g-string and the firey render). It’s something which is socially coded as a very clear signal of masculine sexual interest (to say the very least) and it draws attention to the package. Look, he’s all turned on by you and he can’t hide it!

  4. To me the curved spine is also a big part of female Sol’s objectification/disempowerment, because it makes her look less ready to fight. Male Sol looks better because he is standing upright. (Or more upright.)

  5. Are you sure she’s not based on norse goddess Sol ? I always heard of a goddess named Sol being the sun in germanic and norse mythology.

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