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: )
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:
…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:
“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:
“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:
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.