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.