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 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:


…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.

Reflections on Autonomy and embodied experiences of patriarchy [LONG]

This post is fragmented, and maybe bit disjointed, because my thoughts are similarly fragmented and disjointed; my apologies if it’s a bit hard to follow. I’ll also note that the people named in this post are all friends who were very influential over the initial game and my thoughts in the aftermath. So many thanks to Mikael, Aaron, Drew, and Amelia for agreeing to let me write about them.

Several months ago, I came up with a game concept that started out as an elaborate misandry joke. I’m honestly not sure what inspired it, beyond the fact that something happened to remind me of the debacle that was the House panel on contraception and religious liberty that actually featured an all-male lineup of witnesses, after the one female witness – Sandra Fluke – wasn’t allowed to testify. And suddenly it occurred to me that taking that entire scenario and simply swapping the genders would make for a gloriously misandrist LARP. I could teach men to behave like women, women to behave like men, and then we could sit around and torture a bunch of men for an hour of so of hilariously misandrist entertainment.

It was an idea that I wound up sitting on for several months, mostly because I thought it was a joke idea for a joke game and the games I’ve been working on lately have all been quite a bit more serious. That is, until there was a flap about game design and gender in a gaming community that I am a part of that made me think, “hey wait – maybe this isn’t a joke game I’m thinking about. Maybe this is a thing that needs to exist”. So I started tentatively talking about it to a few people in my gaming circles, and was surprised when it was men who were the most vehement about this needing to be a thing. It was over dinner at GenCon, after talking about my idea for the game and how I didn’t know if I should write it, that Mikael told me very earnestly that I should write the game because men needed to be uncomfortable.

Ultimately, we made a deal that led to me writing the first draft of the game. He agreed to run a different game I’d played at GenCon (and really wanted to play back in Canada) if I would finish Autonomy and run it at an upcoming mini-con we were both attending at the end of August. And it’s a good thing that he got me to make that deal, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing it.

Anyone who has read my blog for any amount of time knows that I love misandry jokes – and with good reason. Men are shitty to me online (no, of course not all men, but enough), and to other women that I care deeply about. There’s only so many times you can be called a fat, ugly, jealous, man-hating feminazi before you start needing to find ways to distance yourself from the abuse that people are hurling at you. And misandry jokes are a way to do that, at least for me. KILL ALL MEN, amirite?

The problem is that at the heart of the joke, there’s a kernel of truth. The people who have hurt me the worst, that I am most afraid of, that I have to be most careful around are all men. There’s a reason why I used to describe myself as a misanthrope and now mostly describe myself as a misandrist. Because I realized that I don’t actually hate humanity, I just hate patriarchy.

I knew that in order for Autonomy to be successful, I would need to force players to have an embodied experience of gender opposite to their own daily lived experience[1]. And for that I knew I was going to need help, because while I was sure that I could teach men to assume typically feminine posture and body language, I knew that I needed help in knowing how to do the reverse.

Which is how I wound up having coffee with Aaron, as the two of us chatted about typically masculine body language and how to describe it. He wound up surfing PUA blogs (so I didn’t have to) to mine them for material, and the two of us were laughing and groaning and generally having a good time as we talked about “OH MY GOD that is a thing that men do isn’t this hilarious”.

At some point, Aaron observed that a lot of typically masculine body language is simply being willing to take up space – to say this space is mine, and that space in front of you is also mine. And then he abruptly leaned forward, keeping his spine very straight and looking straight at me as he planted his elbows so that he was occupying two thirds of the small table we were sitting at. And it was incredibly threatening.

As soon as I said so, he backed off immediately, but that feeling of threat was itself a revelation. Aaron is someone who describes himself as “approximately mannish”. Despite being tall he tends to slouch, and generally does a lot to not seem terribly masculine. As such, he is one of the least threatening men that I know. So the idea that he could intentionally perform masculinity at me and make me feel threatened was a bit unnerving.

After talking for a minute, Aaron said that he’d like to try it again, but a slightly different way. When I said it was all right, he repeated the gesture, but that time he made it slow, deliberate. Lean, plant one elbow, plant the other – keep eye contact the whole time. And despite knowing that it was going to happen, knowing that he was going to try to make me uncomfortable, it still worked. The slow, deliberate display of masculine body language was actually more menacing than the first time.

Running the game at the mini-con was quite an experience.

Despite being completely terrified (I had never written or facilitated a LARP before), I made a point of taking charge and not showing my discomfort. I took up space. I performed physical dominance and verbally dominated men, using the social power that the LARP’s scenario gave me to shut them down and humiliate them for the simple “crime” of playing real people with real emotions. The essence of the idea for Autonomy was creating a situation and social dynamic that would make men feel the way that I have felt, and I ran with that. I pushed the men to their limits, and beyond in a few cases – something I regret intensely.

Because contrary to my initial conceptions of “oh hey, wouldn’t it be fun to turn this around and be the one with all the power for a little while”, it wasn’t fun. While having coffee with Aaron, the two of us had giggled gleefully about his suggestions for sadistic things that could be done to the male players. (Make them apologize for introducing their characters! Have them introduce their characters while the female players listen with silent expressions of disgust!) But actually playing the game was agonizing. Because here I was, replicating an experience that has literally made me sick in the past, and I was doing it on purpose.

The instant the game was over and we sat down for the debrief, the very first thing I did was to cross my arms and ankles as I all but folded in on myself, going from masculine to feminine body language in an instant, and the very first words out of my mouth were a plaintive “I’m sorry”.

Because I should have known! I should have known that being “men” wouldn’t be “better”, because hurting someone the way that you’ve been hurt just because you can is a terrible feeling. And teaching other people to do the same is even worse. And being the person who had conceived of what seemed like this horrible idea? That felt the worst of all.

Autonomy consists of three distinct phases. There is a workshop on gendered body language, a workshop on gendered speech, and then there is the actual roleplaying portion where the hearing itself is played out. And the game did exactly what I thought it would do, which was equal parts surprising and not. (Imposter Syndrome Me was worried about running an alpha draft of a game, while Game Design Me was fairly certain it would do what it said on the tin.) What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard it would be to facilitate as the person who designed it.

I spotted cracks in facades almost right away. Amelia played the lone Democrat. She had the unenviable position of trying to play a clueless privileged person who still got crapped on by the less progressive people in power, and I knew that she wasn’t doing okay. I tried to keep an eye on her, but it was hard; it was raining and we all had our hoods up and she’s pretty good at keeping up a stone-face when she wants to. Then there was Aaron, who almost inverted himself over the course of play, taking the instruction to not occupy space as literally as possible. Near the end of the LARP, he actually called brake, which I’ve never seen him do. And Drew…

I’d actually talked over the design with Drew, and once play began he started out by giving me little smirks to acknowledge well-delivered twists of the knife. But as things kept going, the looks he gave me got less amused and more angry, and I could watch the wall he had set up to distance himself from the experience crumbling until I had to stop looking at him all together because it was just too hard to keep punishing him for his gender when I could see how it was making him feel.

When play ended, Amelia went and hugged Aaron and sobbed. Once she’d calmed down some, Aaron bowed out of the debrief – when he came back he said that he’d almost puked. Drew couldn’t even speak when it was his turn – he asked to be last and we skipped over him until he was able to talk about it. And yet all three of them, indeed everyone there, thanked me for running the game and told me that it was important, and I hated hearing them say it.

“I should have known,” he said. He was crying, and before that day I’d never seem him so much as tear up outside of a game. “It was only 35 minutes and I never want to feel that way again, and I have that option and you don’t.”

We were crammed in the backseat of a too-small-for-that-many-people car on our way home from the mini-con where we’d played Autonomy. As with any trip home from a convention, we were tired, slap happy, and in that sleep-deprived state where everything feels simultaneously too real and not real at all. The driver hadn’t played Autonomy, but was curious to hear about it since the rest of us had. And though this friend had been guarded in his responses during the debrief, now he was crying.

The same friend for whom arm punching and trolling were signs of affection, with whom I had joked about emotions being something that you bury behind humor and try not to acknowledge. And here he was crying about his sorrow about what his female friends experienced, and his shame that he hadn’t known, hadn’t understood, despite seeing it every day.

Part of the gendered speech workshop involves getting men to state an objective fact as personal opinion while women state a personal opinion as objective fact. In play, this devolved a bit into men saying things that were true and women telling them they were wrong – which was simultaneously hilarious and sad.

The day after the game, Drew turned to me and jokingly said “I think, I might, you know, be sort of hungry?”. He was smirking at his use of hedging statements, another part of the gendered speech workshop.

“No.” I said firmly. “You’re wrong. That’s not how hunger works”. And then I lost my shit as the two of us laughed uproariously.

Two weeks later, I found myself having dinner with some friends – a man and a woman. The woman asked what I’d been up to, so I started updating her on what was going on in my life and some of the convoluted bullshit I’m dealing with right now. Or at least that’s what I was trying to do, except the man kept interrupting me to explain “the context”. Of my life. That he hadn’t lived. And it kept getting more and more flagrant until I had to excuse myself and go to the bathroom, where I texted Drew about how angry I was about how I can’t even be trusted as an expert about my own fucking life. And suddenly my joke about “that’s not how hunger works” was a lot less funny.

[1] It’s worth noting that elements of the design of Autonomy are problematic with regard to issues of trans and nonbinary gender identity, in that there are only two choices of character gender: male and female. Autonomy also encourages the use of gender essentialist language and the equating of biology with gender. These are all intentional design choices; it is definitely a design goal that the flipping of this problematic language should highlight issues of cissexism as much as “vanilla” sexism, and that is something I am definitely focusing on playtesting.

Gender-swap: New Langrisser RPG, now with more crotch

(Credit where credit is due – I originally came across this thanks to the wonderful Bikini Armor Battle Damage.)

So it seems that Langrisser, a popular Japanese tactical RPG, might be getting its first sequel in fifteen years, and some people are really excited about that. However, in my case this bit of news caught my attention not because of nostalgia (I’ve never played the games, nor even heard of them previously) but because of the… interesting character designs.



The male hero is pretty standard JRPG fare, right? Unusually vertical hair, very bishounen features, grumpy expression, and ornate armor. So far so good. But the female character…? Well, really, where do I start?

So leaving aside the fact that this is definitely one of the most extreme cases of armored lingerie that I have ever seen (it actually covers less than Fran!), and also the fact that the instant she even tried to lift that sword – much less swing it – her boobs would pop right out of that top, and also the fact that she must be getting Brazilian waxes on a disturbingly frequent basis… I think the thing that jumps out at me the most is this:

HOLY SHIT IS THAT A LOT OF CROTCH. Like, I don’t even know how they managed it, but that is more crotch than most of Blade and Soul’s costume designs, which is impressive because Hyung Tae Kim – the lead artist – sure loves him some crotch.

And of course, that made me think of Retaliatory Wang, which pretty much made me need to do a gender swap. BECAUSE WANG, AMIRITE? So here we go!



Changing the male hero to read as female was almost absurdly easy – it took me all of 8 minutes. (I timed myself.) I rounded out the breastplate; de-squared the hero’s jaw; and added eyelashes, blush, and lipstick. Interestingly, the last step I took was to de-verticalize[1] the hair; I guess I’ve just played too many JRPGs where the hero has vertical hair to read a fully-covered character with vertical hair as anything but male. And that was it! That’s all!

Gender-swapping Lingerie Knight, however, took a lot more work, and a fair amount of trial and error.

First, I removed most of the hair – since hyper-long hair is a common trope for emphasizing femininity. I also masculinized her features: the jaw was squared, the nose lengthened, the eyes narrowed, and the neck widened. The pauldron on her right shoulder was enlarged and painted in to widen the shoulders. And lastly, the part I had the most fun with, I painted in the banana hammock, complete with chest and pubic hair. (And giggled to myself the entire time, because I am super mature.) After that, it was a lot of trial-and-error.

I had planned on not bulking her up, since the male hero read as male despite having the same very slight build. However, in order to overcome the sheer ridiculousness of the outfit, I wound up going back and bulking up her biceps and legs. I also had to get rid of the boob cups entirely, as well as square off the contours of the lace, because even with no boobs and chest hair, the boob cups still made it look like he just had really hairy boobs.

And even after all that, I still wound up adding a goatee and mustache, because I felt like the prominent wang, chest/pubic hair, increased muscularity, and masculinized features were still not sufficient to read as male while wearing that outfit. And even then, the end result is a design that is hilarious, but not at all appealing as an avatar. Whereas the gender-swapped male hero? I would play her in a heartbeat.


[1] Yes it is a word. Shut up.

Gender swap! Yuna and Kuja

For this gender swap I wanted another pair of male and female characters. I liked the idea of the Fran/Balthier gender-swap, but didn’t really feel I nailed the execution. But as I was casting about for inspiration, nothing hit me. Then my husband suggested Kuja, and I thought yessssssssss! Kuja would be ridiculously fun to draw gender-swapped since he’s literally the only male character I can think of that is as sexualized as the ridiculous cheesecake women I mock here on a regular basis.

But then who to swap for the female to male? Well, I thought of this excellent pinup series of sexualized male comic superheroes, and that gave me the inspiration I needed. Yuna from X-2! I was going to turn those ridiculous shorts that expose half her ass cheek into stupid banana hammock shorts!

I was so, so psyched.

Now this involved more work than my previous gender-swaps, since I had to do an original drawing rather than just a trace-over (there’s a reason I stick to trace-overs. They’re easier and much less time-consuming), hence the lack of posts. Just to make things interesting, I decided to use poses from X-2’s transformation sequences. I searched around and found a pretty decent image of Rikku and Paine’s final pose for… whatever the hell they called the Gambler class in X-2. (Lady Luck? I’m feeling lazy here.)

Making myself draw these poses was quite a challenge and took quite a while to get right. I kept roughing in a body part, looking at the whole and realizing that the pose wasn’t extreme enough. And then I’d have to erase and start over. The resulting poses are pretty tortured. Rikku’s hips are arched forward even as she’s leaning backwards. It’s doable, as long as you have strong back muscles, but you’re going to regret holding that pose for any length of time.

Amusingly, drawing Paine’s pose made me realize that she’s pretty seriously over-balanced. I became skeptical that this pose was even possible when I failed to achieve it without toppling over after several attempts. When I called my husband in to look, he maintained that the pose is possible, barely, but only if you have really good core strength. As we didn’t have a mirror handy to verify, I’m not sure which of us was right. As yet I consider the matter unsettled.

Anyhow. Enough blather. Gender-swap time! First, Yuna and Kuja’s original designs:

and now… swap!

I can’t even begin to tell you how tickled I was to be doing this. I am so very, very pleased that this turned out as well as it did; I’m feeling a bit redeemed after the Fran/Balthier swap.

Yuna actually didn’t require much adaptation. I did have to do some *ahem* research into banana hammock shorts, since it’s not something I’m too familiar drawing. I’m pleased with how the shorts came out and consider male-Yuna to be one of my more successful swaps.

Kuja also required surprisingly little adaptation. I did change the top a little to make sure that the nipples (and yes, the areola too!) could stay covered – even if it would require much body tape.

I was told I had to scan this doodle in the margins.

All in all, I consider this to be a smashing success, and really – I think I had way too much fun doing this. I suppose I should do these more often.

Time for another gender-swap! (Fran & Balthier)

Well, folks. It’s that time again! A commenter (I forget who and am feeling too lazy to check, sorry) had previously suggested that I tackle Fran and Balthier as a pair for my next gender-swap, a suggestion which I found delightful. Final Fantasy XII was, in my opinion, one of the weaker entries in the series and while Fran was a pretty decent character, the transparently fetishized design of the viera was irksome, to say the least. Add to that the fact that Fran typifies the “lingerie ninja” school of character design and Balthier is completely covered from head to toe, and they seemed a ripe target for swapping.

So here’s the image that I decided to work from:

Fran and Balthier (Final Fantasy XII)And here’s my version:

Fran & Balthier - gender-swapped(Yes the quality isn’t quite as good as previous entrants. My printer is dead, which meant I had to color digitally. I work a lot slower that way and thus got lazy with stuff like shading, color blending, and background. Whatevs. It gets the point across.)

When I my last gender-swap, there were some people who argued that I shouldn’t have tried to use gender-equivalent garments and that I should have left the outfit unchanged. As an experiment, I decided to change absolutely nothing other than facial structure and anatomy to make them read as opposite gendered. The result, while a bit artistically disappointing, is certainly interesting.

As with previous entrants in the series, the changing of Fran from male to female causes a lot of the sexualization to be lost in translation. Here’s the thing. People like to look at faces – it’s a fundamental human impulse – so any face is going to be a natural focal point. In the original, Fran’s boobs and crotch are right next to Balthier’s face – a natural spot for our eyes to gravitate to. But that gets lost in the gender-swap. The weirdness of the pose does come through nicely, however. We’re so conditioned to seeing scantily-clad women lounging in almost torturous positions that it’s hard to really see how awfully contorted Fran’s pose is until you turn her into a man. So I will give my male Fran a thumbs up.

My swap of Balthier, however, was more disappointing. I wanted to keep as much as possible, including the hairstyles – since Fran’s hair style is so ridiculous. However, I’m not sure that the changes I made are enough for Balthier to read as female at first glance. (Thoughts?) The only thing that saves Balthier for me is that I think this is a great pose for a self-assured, not half-naked and not stereotyped female character. It makes me think of the maxim for writing great female characters – write a male character and then switch genders – and wonder if maybe that shouldn’t apply to making game art as well? Something to ponder.

So there we are. Not my most successful swap so far, but certainly not the worst either. If anyone has suggestions for a character I should tackle down the line, I’m all ears.

>Gender swap! The Magna Carta edition

>It’s been too long since I’ve done any original art for this blog, and I’ve been itching to do more! I knew as soon as I started working on that post about Hyung Tae Kim that I wanted to do another gender swap using his artwork, but it took me a while to find the time to sit down and do one.

Choosing an image was difficult. A lot of HTK’s art is heavily distorted, and I wanted to experiment with actually not correcting anatomy this time around to see what the effect would be. However, I also really wanted to see what would happen if I took on a figure with an unnecessarily detailed crotch. For some reason, I wasn’t able to find an image that was both very, very distorted AND very crotchular, so I settled for something crotchular and still a little distorted:

So this is Celestin Roaa from the Magna Carta series. This presented a huge challenge with the crazy boob perspective, and also with the costume – but I think it turned out well:

The costume presented quite the challenge, in that there wasn’t any real male equivalent of the clothing that she was wearing. I compromised and gave my gender-swapped version a codpiece and chaps. Amusingly, I didn’t realize how phallic the design on the codpiece was until after I drew it. I did try to give him a bulge, since Ken-doll superheroes with no visible bulge have always irritated me, but I think it was a bit obscured by the crazy codpiece. Alas.The figure is softer than I intended, but I think that’s more a result of me attempting to change as few lines as possible; I changed as little as I could to have the figure still be interpreted as male. (I’ll admit the beard was me hedging my bets.)

Anyhow, in all other regards I’m quite happy with how the ridiculousness comes through. The chaps + codpiece are a wonderfully ridiculous combination, and the codpiece especially draws attention to the “HEY EVERYBODY LOOK AT MY CROTCH”-ness of the original pose. I think the low cut of the codpiece also helps make the sexualization extreme enough that it actually reads as sexualization. Were he wearing pants, I don’t think that even the bare chest would really read as extreme sexualization the way the mostly bare chest with bikini top does with the original figure.

I think next time I’ll tackle something with more obvious figure distortion, just to see what happens. I suspect it won’t translate well, since the parts of the female body that get distorted don’t really have male equivalents. But that unknown is part of why I’m doing this. I enjoy highlighting the ridiculousness of the imagery, sure. But the experimentation of what works and what doesn’t is neat too.

I’d also like to do more re-designed characters, but I was having trouble deciding which character I should take on next. Anyone have any suggestions?