No fat women in games; a look at 10 of the most popular MMOs

Recently, I got back into playing Star Wars: The Old Republic when a friend of mine dragged me back into it. I’d played when it was first released as a subscription-only game, and again briefly when it went free-to-play, but I aside from occasional experiments with games like SW:TOR and Final Fantasy XIV, I haven’t seriously played an MMO for at least five years.

And it’s been fun! I’ve missed having a game to play with friends, and being the giant nerd that I am, I actually really enjoy MMO crafting and auctioneering. I’m also enjoying that SW:TOR gets story-based RPG all up in my MMO peanut butter – being able to group while playing story quests is quite a lot of fun, especially when grouping with people of different alignments.

One thing I have NOT enjoyed, however, is the bullshit gendered double-standards for body types. Because while ordinarily I would be happy that I can actually play a character who actually looks like me in terms of body shape, my character is actually at the top end of the body-size slider. Additionally, the bottom end of the female body size slider is anorexic-verging-on-impossible, and even the middle of that range is improbably skinny. Worst of all, however, is the fact that if you play a male character, you can be slim, average, muscular, or actually fat. (Which, you know, sucks. A lot. Because in effect, BioWare IS CALLING ME FAT. Bastards.)

It got me thinking, because honestly, my character in SW:TOR is actually the “fattest” female character I’ve ever played in an MMO, and I’ve played a fair number of MMOs. (Dark Age of Camelot, Warharmmer Online, World of Warcraft – several times, City of Heroes, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, plus maybe one or two others that I’m missing.) And I’m not super familiar with the current MMO landscape, but I was fairly certain that my SW:TOR character would be at the top end of body sizes available for female characters in most MMOs.

So I decided to put it to the test, by taking 10 of the most popular MMOs and examining what the “fattest” female character in each one looked like.

Methodology: Determining Sources and Finding Screenshots

One of the difficulties in deciding which ten games to look at is that there are a good number of MMOs that don’t publish hard numbers on the numbers of subscribers. World of Warcraft publishes fairly comprehensive quarterly data regarding subscriber numbers, but others like RIFT and EVE Online do not. Additionally, figuring out a total number of players can get tricky when you look at the fact that a lot of MMOs have a mix of paying subscribers and free-to-play players; frex, Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, and World of Warcraft are all games that provide a mix of free and paid content.

So it’s important to note that these games might not be THE top ten in terms of player numbers. But the games presented here are actually taken from this list, compiled by Justin Olivetti at MassivelyOP, which examines a wide variety of sources like Reddit, Twitch, Steam, and others. (Although with one tweak, I substituted RIFT for RuneScape, because I’m not quite sure that RuneScape deserves a top ten spot.)

Once I had my list of games, I then dug up character creation videos on YouTube to scope out the character creation process before searching around for the best screenshots that would highlight the “fattest” female characters possible from each games. And the results were… well… predictably depressing.

The Results! (From thinnest to “fattest”)

[Note: these results are pretty subjective. The range of body types is pretty goddamn narrow, so it gets hard to compare.]

One of the things that disturbed me about EVE Online’s character creation is the fact that the body model is actually incredibly customizeable. You can shorten or lengthen the torso, or otherwise distort the figure in a number of ways. However, this is what the female model looks like with both the muscularity and weight sliders at maximum. On the thin end of healthy and not particularly muscular at all:

Eve online

I am reminded of Ford’s infamous slogan about the Model T: “any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it’s black”. You can customize your female character’s body in any way you like so long as she’s supermodel-thin.

However, the next few games’ “fattest” options were the same size as in EVE Online, only without any sort of body-size slider. Rather, all female characters are created exactly the same, as if some sort of eugenics program happened that left only women with impossibly thin physiques and large, incredibly firm breasts:

Archeage-GW2-WoW

Truly, I’m really not sure which is worse – a complete lack of diversity of body shapes or a range of body types where the “fattest” bodies are the default shape in other games that are otherwise equally sexist. Because having a world where women are all stamped from the same horrifically sexist mold is obviously problematic, but having a world where body diversity exists only for the sake of the aesthetic of the cishet male gaze is also problematic. Deciding which is worse is like trying to decide which I hate more: brussel sprouts or Rush Limbaugh.

An interesting additional complicating factor here is the fact that both Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft have female character types that are definitely large and muscular. In both instances, however, they are also monstrous:

Monstrous-women

So, you know, the fact that the only way to see a female body type that actually looks powerful is for that body to be actually monstrous is pretty fucking awful. Having impossibly slender, not-at-all muscular characters as the default body type for women in MMOs is bad enough without ALSO defacto saying that women who actually have larger bodies are fucking monsters.

That said, I will at least give Guild Wars 2 credit for almost getting it right with regards to their nonhuman female model. It’s always bugged me that the cow people in World of Warcraft have breasts. If you’re going to have bipedal cow-people with actual cow legs, then the lady-cow-people (Tauren) should have udders, not breasts. GW2’s Charr don’t have humanoid mammaries, so I can at least pretend that there are, like, 6 nipples under all that fur. Although they screwed it up by giving her that stupid top, because that implies humanoid breasts all over again, which. Arg. If you’re going to have a monstrous race, then let the women be actually fucking monstrous. (I’m looking at you, WoW zombies!)

Then you had the interesting middle ground of RIFT, in which there are no body size sliders, and all of the female models are the same damn size, except for the female dwarf:

riftrogue

Bullshit armor design aside, I actually like the muscularity of the dwarf model, at least compared to any of these other models so far. Unfortunately, the fact that she only has something resembling “normal” proportions because she’s not “human” is problematic, especially when you consider that the dwarves have the proportions of some actual real human people with dwarfism.

…[facepalm]

Near the top end of the scale (and let’s pause for just a moment to think about how fucking depressing that these next two games classify as being “near the top”) are two games where the largest female body types are actually models that I quite like. Body Type 4 in Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually quite a good model, in that she is muscular without being unbelievably slender. Similarly, the Roegadyn in Final Fantasy XIV are pleasingly sturdy and muscular. Where things get problematic is their contrast to their male counterparts:

dimorphism

The Roegadyn are bad enough, because it’s yet another example of the male power fantasy/male sexual fantasy theory of sexual dimorphism as applied to games. It’s problematic, sure, but it also doesn’t represent anything at all new in games. SW:TOR, however, is more upsetting because of the fact that they do have something new and unique – the ability to play a character that is both FAT AND HEROIC. …but only for men. Because while men can be both fat and heroic, women can only be heroic so long as they are also fuckable.

…please excuse me for a moment while I set the whole goddamn world on fire.

Which brings us to the two last entrants, which are the only games that offer the ability to play characters even slightly larger than myself – Neverwinter and Elder Scrolls Online:

Fat-ladies

Oh man. So many mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I definitely appreciate that the Neverwinter model is presented as beautiful. And I also like the fact that the Elder Scrolls Online model is the only one that I’ve ever seen that looks like I could play a badass mama barbarian who wears her newborn baby in a sling around as she kills shit and smites evil. (Seriously, the first person that makes me a game where I can do that that isn’t terrible or sexist, I will throw money at you SO GODDAMN FAST.)

However, while both models are technically “fat”, it’s also true that their bodies fit a certain narrow range of socially acceptable fatness. Their breasts, hips, and butts are large, but the extra weight around their middle is not carried on the stomach and their stomachs are still quite toned, which still falls into the trap of idealizing the hourglass figure, which a lot of women just don’t have.

Not to mention that it’s a bit hard to miss the fact that the names that Neverwinter offers for it’s body types are “toned” (positive connotations), “slim” (positive connotations), and “heavy” (mild negative connotations). So even when it’s being presented as an option, it’s being presented as one that is inherently inferior. Which is something that Star Wars: The Old Republic at least did get right by choosing to label its body types with numbers and not descriptors.

In conclusion: I’ll stick with the devil I know

So for now, given that the Star Wars mythos is one that appeals to me, the gameplay suits my play style, and I can play with friends, I’ll be sticking with Star Wars. There are still things that piss me off, like the preponderance of too-thin female NPCs and the fact that there are fat dudes but no fat ladies. But all of the female NPCs I’ve encountered have been fully clothed, with one notable exception. And I have as yet only found one piece of chest armor that didn’t fully cover my torso, and have not yet encountered leg armor that wasn’t fully covering as well.

And as much as that sounds like damned by faint praise, that’s honestly about as good as I’m ever going to get.

28 thoughts on “No fat women in games; a look at 10 of the most popular MMOs

  1. It might be worthwhile to install and try out the character-creation menus yourself (at least for the free-to-play games) instead of relying on youtube videos. Often the different sliders interact in weird ways, so that on the thin/thick slider the extremes will depend on the narrow/wide slider, or the muscularity slider.

    I really want to find the RPG or MMO that has the best “paper-doll” type interface for trying out different outfits with different characters. I’m always disappointed when there is not enough variety in the outfits, or not enough opportunity to play around with them.

  2. This (and many other reasons) is why I like Dark Souls so much. Body types range from “very slim” to “very large”, and they apply indifferently to male or females PCs. Also, the very slim type is described as “skin and bones” and is definitely designed not to look attractive, and the description for the “very large” type reads “serious presence.

  3. “I am reminded of Ford’s infamous slogan about the Model T: “any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it’s black”. You can customize your female character’s body in any way you like so long as she’s supermodel-thin.”

    Much like the Model T, the World of Warcraft suffered/suffers from the lack of technology at the creation of the game to allow for much range in the body types of the characters. When World of Warcraft came out their characters were fairly detailed and allowed for some customization even if it was a handful of skin colors, hair styles, and faces. Nowadays the technology exists but the money doesn’t for World of Warcraft (I’m still waiting my my dance studio!)

    Personally if I’m playing a game for more hours than I wish to count, I want my avatar to be pretty and I don’t care if she’s realistic. The fact she’s fighting random badguys (or whatever needs killing that will get her loot) with a badass, magical, two-handed is already quite unrealistic and also really cool.

    • Yes, however, the fact remains that there are several different races, which presents an opportunity to use different racial models to present body diversity. And Blizzard does a great job of this… with the male models. But with the female models, they’re all essentially the same model. The female orc is sliiiiightly more muscular than the human. The female night elf is sliiiiightly more bulky than the blood elf. But there’s little to no variation in posture, size, or musculature, whereas all of those things vary tremendously for the male models of each race.

      So yeah. I call bullshit on technological limits.

      • Technological limits was probably not the best term, its more of time costs in scaling items. If the body types weren’t similar it would increase the time it takes to create a new pattern for each wearable item in the game that looks appropriate on each character model. If all you have to do is increase the size while keeping all the measurements proportional. In World of Warcraft the male models may vary a bit more in height and breadth than their female counterparts but they are still all similar in body type.

        Think about commercial sewing patterns. Each sewing pattern company has a ‘standard’ set of measurements that they then scale up and down to get the range of sizes that they sell. All the major pattern companies assume everyone wears a size B cup. If you make the pattern into a garment with the correct finished measurements but you are a size F cup then you get weird gapping and it just looks wrong. In order to get the garment to look correctly with a size F cup you have to take the original pattern and do what is call a ‘Full Bust Adjustment’ to add in the extra inches for the bust without adding in the extra inches in the under-bust which is takes a bit of time. (Go, Go tiny ribcages!:-/ )

        If all the only adjust needed was to shorten the torso, lengthen a sleeve, pretty much everything that is direct scaling of the pattern without changing the body proportions is a quick and easy fix, that often involves folding the patter or cutting the pattern and adding in the extra length.

        For example, Bridesmaids who are all wearing the same style dress but they are not all the same body type. Usually, one body type pulls off the look and the others look okay even though each dress technically fits each individual’s measurements. Analogy for the menswear: An off the rack suit, looks okay and fits acceptably. A tailored suit fits a bit better, tends to look like the wearer bought a higher end suit than they did. A bespoke suit is created from scratch for each individual person, fits them perfectly and costs a small fortune.

        • Uh, no they’re really not. The troll male is lean, wiry, and hunched, with proportionately long arms and long ears. The Orc male is taller, muscular without being bulky. The human male is most traditionally “heroic” looking. The Worgen models are wolf-shaped, hunched, but also bulky. There are lots of different sizes, shapes, and postures.

          Seriously. If they have the resources to do it for the dudes, not doing the same for the ladies is fucking sexist. Especially with the metric asstons of money Blizzard has been making off of WoW.

          • Slight differences and not nearly the breadth of body types of men in real life. None of World of Warcraft character models are realistic. What I’ve been using for comparison: http://orig11.deviantart.net/2cf9/f/2012/157/c/b/best_wow_race_comparison_chart_by_onesockwolf-d4bo1cr.png

            While the game still makes a decent amount of profit ($212million in Q2 of 2015) it is hemorrhaging subscribers. It took almost a year for flying to be available in the latest expansion. World of Warcraft is no longer the powerhouse it once was and will most likely focus on keeping the subscribers it has. Although with the latest acquisition of King, it appears that Activision Blizzard is still a healthy company who is looking to diversify their holdings to include mobile gaming which means they will need to cater to a diverse audience of video gamers. Of which is almost 50% women. It will be interesting to see what new video games come out in 2+ years from them as a result of this acquisition and to see how they manage their holding in the meantime.

            • [Nowhere do you actually address the point that I have made repeatedly that men in WoW get diverse body types whereas women do not. Therefore further responses to this particular line of discussion will be deleted for derailing.]

  4. I worked at Bioware-Austin on SWTOR, and I know exactly why there is no option for a fat female character. When I worked there (2010-2011) the ratio of male to female employees was so bad that they converted one of the women’s restrooms to a third men’s room to accommodate all of the guys. (I cursed under my breath every time I had to hike all the way across the entire building to use the bathroom.)

    There wasn’t a single female artist on the animation team (that I remember).

    At the age of 43, I was one of the oldest employees who wasn’t a manager. ALL of upper management was male.

    When the majority of a studio’s entire creative team is young (under 30) and male, the potential for realistic representation in female characters is significantly decreased.

      • It is depressing. Feel free to ask me whatever you want about the game. I’ll answer to the best of my recollection. I don’t work in the games industry anymore and probably never will again. The quality of my life is too important to me.

        • Hi Leslee,

          woman working in the industry here. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you some questions myself, even if I am not Wundergeek but just one of her readers.

          How was your work environment? Have you ever witnessed the typical issues of a male dominated environment, and did you ever speak up?
          While I’ve almost never been openly discriminated, the environment gets suffocating at times (I don’t even know how to explain it properly, but I do feel left out or just… like I am a person of lesser value), but I am afraid that speaking up would make things more difficult.

    • I’m with wundergeek, interesting and sad. I really love Star Wars and I do enjoy TOR, but things like this piss me off. I guess I’m glad I don’t pay them to play? I dunno.

    • The thing is toxic masculinity tend to make tthe taste of men more uniform then they would be since their is peer pressure to not be different from the rest of the group. This is why a group of young men will tend toward uniform thinking and an unrealistic standard even when one a few and I would say maybe even the majority of them might prefer bigger women.

      • Male tastes are incredibly diverse; the biggest push for unrealistic uniformity comes mostly from the fashion and women’s magazine industry which actually bully women into thinking that men’s preference is uniform. In any artistic medium, however, the style tends to reflect what the individual artists find attractive, usually to exaggeration, whether it’s the ridiculous big boobs or Hartman hips. The mark of a good artist is the ability to accentuate without having to exaggerate. When you only have a couple character designers, you’ll end up with a more homogeneous aesthetic, which will be amplified if the artists aren’t very good. Yet even in the examples above, it’s different characteristics that are accentuated and/or exaggerated in each instance.

  5. While most women athletes and fighters tend toward low body-fat, it would be interesting to allow the flexibility to start out as unfit or out of shape (male or female character) and then see the progress you make as your adventuring tones you up. I mean, if GTA: San Andreas can make character fitness a game-able system, I don’t see why other games couldn’t give it a try. Ironically, it would give players another incentive to play regularly; if your character stays home and doesn’t get regular adventuring exercise in, he or she will pack on the pounds and suffer some stamina related stat drop.

    • This is one of the things I liked about the Sims, actually – not only can you make an overweight sim who doesn’t look like some weird funhouse-mirror-style warping of a “normal” (read: skinny) avatar, but your sims can also change body shape depending on how much they exercise. It’s a really subtle difference, and nothing you’d ever actually see unless you play zoomed in a lot, but it’s a neat mechanic to have.

      • It’s really a feature I’d love to see played with more. Outside of San Andreas (I don’t know others use it, I haven’t really played any other GTA games) and some super-serious career-oriented boxing games, body weight, body shape and overall fitness are underutilized not only cosmetically but mechanically.

    • That would be cool, as long as the epitome of fitness isn’t always skinny. It’s very possible to be extremely fit and still be bulky. And I don’t just mean absurd muscle bulk, some very fit active people still have fat on ’em!

      Imagine a survival-type game where the characters are actually starving and eating/exertion are game mechanics. Then starting your character with extra weight could be an advantage.

      • Oh, of course. I’d imagine you’d have some sort of axis of fat-lean, non-muscular-muscular that would be modified in different ways by different activities. It wouldn’t have to be something as extreme as some of the Hajime no Ippo boxing games where different types of food intakes affect bulk and lean body mass (your boxer pigged out on dumplings and doesn’t make weigh in because of water retention, oh noes!), but it would be a cool modern twist to the old hunger daemon scripts of old text games that would require certain activities at regular intervals. You wouldn’t want it to be something that you could grind to one extreme or another quickly (maybe have it sync up with an internal day/night system).

        But this is probably veering into off topic territory, so I’ll leave it at saying it’s a neat idea.

  6. I’d be curious to see how much of this (if any) is due to the way the models work. Judging from the head size in Neverwinter and Elder Scrolls Online, I’m guessing there are some proportions that are set as “default” and don’t scale properly with larger body sizes – so the toned stomach and thighs are probably more a product of “these work with all the other sliders” rather than “we made a “cellulite” skin specifically for heavy avatars.” (Which probably would have prompted its own backlash anyway.)

    That’s not to say that making “toned/slim/pretty” the default is a good thing, obviously, but it would be good to hear from someone on the programming end to find out how much of this is known sexism and how much is technological limitations.

    • I’m a huge ES fan, but they’ve always been pretty lazy with their character models. Oblivion used pretty much the same body frame for all characters regardless of race, Morrowind literally just copied face texture and hair polygons to generic frames for each race. Arena and Daggerfall used paper doll character models. Interestingly, the sprites for NPCs in the old PC games showed a much wider range of physique, though most leaned toward the healthy side of voluptuous (for lack of a better way to describe the style; not planning on defending the depiction of women in Daggerfall). Women in Oblivion were all scary emaciated thin.

  7. After playing around with the free character creator/benchmark for FFXIV, I have to wonder whether that promotional image intentionally exaggerated the sexual dimorphism in the Roegadyn.

    When the height of both male and female Roegadyn is maxed out, the difference in height is ~8cm — much closer than what’s shown in the promo image, which seems closer to the 40cm max difference in height between genders. It also looks like the promo image features a female Roegadyn with the softest facial features available, the lowest musculature option available, a larger-than-standard bust size, and a pose that hides whatever bulk is left as much as possible.

    If I just had that image to look at, my reaction would probably be, “Really? That’s the best you can do?” The model as it exists in the character creator, in contrast, is much more effective at looking powerful (it probably helps that her idle animations involve flexing her muscles at the camera). While the character creator appears to be under the strange impression that breasts are made of muscle given how they react to the musculature slider, it’s possible to put some impressive muscle tone on the female Roegadyn and push her outside of the usual standards for female appearance (if not in a way that increases the size of her waist).

    But that just makes me wonder where PR’s mind was at when they made that promo image (and the one for the other type of Roegadyn, which is even worse), because the type of attention that image would draw likely isn’t the type of attention that could easily be transferred into interest in playing as that character type in the game itself. Do they just not understand that there are other options for posing female characters?

  8. With all due respect, your title should read “few fat women” instead of “no fat women”. Speaking only of WoW (as I play little else) the female Pandarans could definitely be classed as “fat”, while female gnomes and dwarves are definitely curvy and husky respectively. Male characters are, on the other hand, are uniformly ripped body builders. Only the male Pandarans represent my body type – rather chunky to put it mildly. My point? Please remember that sexism is a double edged sword. Thank you.

      • Thank you. I meant no offense. I haven’t read your blog before this – I followed a link from a D&D OSR blog because it seemed of interest. I’ll be sure to read that, thank you for the link.

      • Read the article, and while you make a valid point that a number of male body types are represented I could not help but notice that most of the fatter male characters are of a cartoon style (as opposed to realistic). Regardless though after far too many years I finally learned that arguing on the internet is pointless, thus I shall respectfully bid you adieu.

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