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access_time February 16, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Culture by David Poole

Why Do People Care About Female Clothing in Games?

Video games have done a lot to make the medium more inviting for female players. There’s a lot more games with badass women like Control or Gears 5. Female characters in games have evolved from being a simple damsel in distress or sex symbols for men to ogle. We still have a long way to go, but things are getting better. With that being said, there are still some pretty bad behaviors relating to female clothing. Lately, whenever a female character shows less skin, especially when comparing to their previous appearances, it creates outrage in the fans. While it’s true that sex sells, is that a good thing to present with our video games?

Several games from iconic franchises feature female characters, and whether the developers intentionally do it or not, sometimes their presentation causes backlash. Take Mortal Kombat 11 for example. When the character Jade was revealed, she was presented as an undead warrior. While there is a representation of her when she’s alive, fans were focused solely on her clothing. While she still shows skin, fans were often comparing the outfit to her more revealing Mortal Kombat 9 appearance. This sparked a lot of heated arguments about the developers, fans accusing them of catering to the “SJW” crowd. Honestly, it’s a much cooler design and it’s more practical than…whatever she was wearing in MK9.

Lara Croft is another notable example for this behavior to show itself. It’s been well over a year since the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara’s latest adventure in the reboot series. Eidos Montreal released several DLC packs over the course of a few months to challenge fans with new tombs and content. Despite these challenges, many fans have been vocal about one thing in particular. Each content pack included a new weapon, perk, challenge tomb, and a new outfit for Lara. Those new outfits have ranged from tribal gear to full on military uniforms, and many fans weren’t happy. Even with the Definitive Edition releasing, the added “Croft Fitness” outfit still didn’t appease fans.

Anyone that has played through Shadow of the Tomb Raider would likely know that there’s a variety of outfits. Some of these outfits come from previous games while others are more tribal to match the setting of the game. Some fans have expressed the desire for a modern look of the classic Lara Croft attire. Short shorts, a tank top and boots were the norm of the classic Lara. A tank top is still an option for players, but this version of Lara doesn’t sport shorts unless you choose one of the nostalgic skins (from Tomb Raider 2 or Angel of Darkness). This has led to fans going out of their way to show their ideal depiction of the iconic heroine.

It’s no secret that Lara Croft was once a sex symbol in video games. While the 2013 reboot of the franchise strayed away from that, fans still continue to request something closer to the classic Lara. Classic Lara has coexisted with the reboot version with her own line of games. The excellent Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris both featured the classic look for the heroine. Unfortunately, it seems many fans won’t be satisfied until they get their classic Lara in a true Tomb Raider experience. They definitely make their comments heard too, sometimes coming off a bit hostile.

Now I appreciate the classic games as much as anyone else, but it has nothing to do with Lara’s appearance. The original Tomb Raider games pioneered the action adventure foundation that many games build upon now. Uncharted, Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War and many more owe a lot to the original Tomb Raider titles. It even came full circle when the reboot Tomb Raider games used Uncharted as inspiration. That being said, I don’t think the classic Lara would work in the settings of the Tomb Raider origin trilogy. Her appearance wouldn’t work well with the guerilla warfare tactics and it would change the tone for her to be so unrealistically clean. Her older personality also would have clashed with the newer and more mature narrative.

The modern look for Lara has sparked a current trope in modern games, one which fans have painted in a negative light. Female characters from games like the recent Resident Evil titles and Uncharted are being viewed as plain or generic. While it’s clear that the goal is to be more realistic, that goal seems to be underappreciated. Some fans prefer a little less realism and want something with more flair or style. Ultimately, it’s clear that many fans care a little too much about the female clothing in games.

While it doesn’t hurt to have a bit more style in character designs, it shouldn’t detract from a game to have something more realistic. Sure, some female clothing can appear as generic, but this has been common for male characters for years. It’s only natural that more developers treat female characters the same as male characters with this approach. After all, a lot of developers would like to avoid the various controversies that can happen. PUBG is a good example of a game with controversy over its female clothing and their models.

When Tifa was revealed in the Final Fantasy VII: Remake, there were fans that were upset about her updated outfit. I think it’s absolutely absurd that there are people complaining about this. The updated look still has plenty of sex appeal, but it has a more logical process behind the actual clothing. It also just looks gorgeous with the updated graphics. The ones that are complaining about it are mostly upset because of a sports bra. Many were even bringing up the classic look for Tifa in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT as an example of what they truly want. Personally, I’m a fan of the updated look, both in efficiency and just overall aesthetics.

Obviously, a lot of this behavior comes from modern updates to classic looks for characters. Sometimes fans have an ideal vision of a character, and they don’t want it tarnished by a change. It just so happens that a lot of these fans focus on what those characters wear, preferring more skin to show. Interestingly enough, these conversations don’t usually come up with characters with no prior history. When Overwatch was announced for example, nobody seemed to bat an eye that none of the characters were overly exposed. In fact, it was almost the opposite, as fans made requests to have less sex appeal, prompting Blizzard to change a victory pose for Tracer.

While not exactly the same discussion, fans have also been showing outrage from recent censorship. After Sony passed a new rule relating to showing underage characters with less clothing, it’s caused an outcry from fans. While I agree censorship isn’t always the answer, sometimes the reasoning is very justified. Even Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore has edited clothing and completely replaced outfits. While that doesn’t take away from the game itself, some people have outright refused to purchase the game because of it. It’s unfortunate too, because people miss out on amazing experiences just because they don’t get a sexy costume.

I know being a male, I’ll probably get a little flack for this piece. Either way, I’m personally tired of seeing people harass developers regarding clothing. Let developers make the games the way they want to. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to purchase it. It’s fine to give feedback, but if the motive is just to have sex appeal, then it’s sort of an undermining purpose. Developers aren’t purposely trying to alienate fans by making these changes. They’re just making new design choices that make actual sense. Game development is hard enough without fans making demands that contradict artistic vision.

Do you agree or disagree with this behavior? We’d love to hear other takes in the comments below. I fully expect a little backlash, but I’d love to see what the overall consensus is. Do you think it’s worth harassing a developer over some female clothing?

Comments:

  • Huang Qinyuan April 16, 2020 at 1:39 AM

    I don’t think it’s right to harass the devs (unless they attack the fanbase first like a lot of Hollywood celebrities do these days), but I don’t support censoring games just to push a political agenda or try to appease the mentally challenged SJW crowd who don’t even spend money on the products they fight so hard to ruin for everyone else. If a developer censors sex appeal in a game I was looking forward to, I just don’t buy it; instead I’ll torrent it and use lewd mods or fanmade decensor patches so I still get to enjoy the game with all the original sex appeal while punishing the developers for backstabbing their customers. #GetWokeGoBroke

    • David Poole April 16, 2020 at 2:58 AM

      Of all the examples in this list, only the Tokyo Mirage Sessions one is actual censorship, since in that case, they removed sexy outfits. All the other examples are just updates to classic costumes that make more sense in the context of the game. I don’t picture Lara Croft traveling through snow in Rise of the Tomb Raider in her shorts and tank top. Jill’s tube top/skirt combo doesn’t make much sense for Resident Evil 3, and the developers still included an updated version of the original for preorders, but people still got upset because you can’t look up her skirt (because they made it into a skort).
      I agree, if people aren’t affected by the game, they shouldn’t complain about sex appeal, but at the same time, if sex appeal has nothing to do with the overall enjoyment of the game, then it shouldn’t be boycotted either. It’s not always a political agenda, sometimes it’s just aesthetic design that someone finds more practical or in some cases looks better.
      Also, torrenting games from hard working developers is part of the problem. If you like the game enough to illegally download it and mod it, why make it harder for the developers to make more of those games by cutting into their profit?

  • Jacob Listerud September 18, 2020 at 7:33 PM

    If you really want to know why gamers tend to get angry whenever a female character known for being sexy is changed into an outfit that is less revealing, you can blame Social Justice Warriors for that. They, especially Anita Sarkeesian, caused a moral panic over female characters in video games wearing sexy outfits, and this caused gamers to believe that whenever a female character’s sexiness is toned down, it’s for the sake of an SJW agenda. By the way, I’m still convinced that the toning-down of the outfits of MK11’s female characters to be for SJW reasons, especially considering that some of the male characters still get to be scantily clad. Which if you think about it, is a double-standard. This url will send you to a video telling you why it’s an SJW game:

    (EXTERNAL CONTENT REMOVED)

    The reasoning boils down to this: “MK11 is so disrespectful and full of blatant insults to fans of the franchise. Not just because of the anit-consumer grinding and horrendous story, but also because of the social justice warrior propaganda injected into this game. Whether it’s Jax telling people to get woke, the cringe-inducing Trump references, or the stupid nonsense about the female characters wearing revealing outfits. In a game where everyone is brutally murdering each other in horrendous and gruesome ways, your primary concern was making sure that the female characters were appropriately dressed because you don’t want to upset any raging feminists accusing of looking slutty. Oh, you can beat the shit out of a woman, rip out her spine, smash her organs, dismember her, and torture her all you want, just make sure she’s properly dressed while you’re doing it. And don’t give me any of that ‘it’s not appropriate battle attire’ bullshit. If that’s the route you wanna go, why the hell are any of the male characters still walking around any shirts and pants and anything to barely cover their crotch?”

    So, I think that fans were justified in accusing them of catering to the “SJW” crowd.

    Bottom line: I know you said, “Developers aren’t purposely trying to alienate fans by making these changes.” But, come on. do you really think that’s going to stop fans from being alienated? And if you are willing to call out gamers for harassing game developers for toning down a female character’s sexiness, then you should call out SJWs for harassing game developers for doing the opposite. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrite and any flack you might get for this article would be what you deserve.

    Though, I’ll admit, I’m looking at the two back-to-back pictures of Tifa Lockhart, and her breast size doesn’t seem that much different.

    • David Poole September 19, 2020 at 2:41 AM

      I don’t typically give much energy to anyone that so confidently uses the “SJW” term, as the world isn’t so black and white, but I respect your opinion regardless. That being said, I still have a few counterpoints. First off, being more practical doesn’t just mean in terms of effectiveness in combat, but also in terms of good character design. Many of the female character designs in MK9 were atrocious and I can’t see how anyone can find them to be sexually attractive, yet here we are. I don’t find zombie Jade “attractive” (cause I mean, she’s a zombie), but I find her design (and the living Jade design) to look much better, even if less skin is showing. As an artist myself, I find the MK11 designs more appealing, and this goes for all the characters. Not only are their 3D artists better or more experienced, but the designs just have a lot of variety and offer interesting silhouettes.

      As for the argument about male characters still getting to show skin, I think the key factor is the reasoning behind it. The male characters aren’t showing skin to be sexually attractive, it’s just part of their character (Liu Kang is still very inspired by Bruce Lee, as is Johnny Cage inspired by Jean-Claude Van Damme, both of which often didn’t wear shirts in their martial arts movies). As for barely covering their crotch, I mean that’s mainly just Shao Kahn and Goro, which isn’t that way to be sexual in nature, that’s just primitive armor. Baraka I know has an outfit set which shows off his skin markings a bit more, which again, I don’t think is meant to be sexual (this is the most debatable one though, I’ll admit). Now when you have Mileena, Jade and Kitana in basically the same outfits with an overly exposed cleavage that travels toward their crotch in MK9, I think it says something a little different. They’re not being treated like individual characters in their design. They’re being treated like sex objects to be put in revealing clothing for a certain crowd. I don’t mind characters having exposed skin, or even characters being naked in a video game. I just think that the character design should be more than just “sex appeal”. SoulCalibur does this well with many of their characters, giving unique and flavorful designs while still maintaining the sex appeal for certain characters.

      Some characters like Cassie have skins with crop-tops and shorts, so it’s not like showing skin is the issue in MK11. It’s more about design versus catering to a specific demographic, which I believe they were trying to do before. I don’t think MK11 was doing this to be more “SJW”, but merely to have more variety and unique designs in a game where changing gear and outfits has an effect on the overall concept of the game. Sure, some skin gets sacrificed, but we ultimately end up with more interesting outfits and designs in my opinion.

      Getting to your last point about not calling out SJWs for harassing developers, I don’t see it very often, and I have definitely not seen someone issue death threats over a character being too exposed in a game. I’ve seen feedback and complaints (like the Overwatch example I gave in the article), but comparing to people literally insulting artists because they lost their sexy outfits (most recently for the Dark Queen in the new Battletoads game), it’s a night and day difference to me. I think feedback is fine from both sides, but if it’s “this design looks demeaning or offensive” versus “I can’t satisfy myself to this”, I definitely have to side with the former option. Again, I respect your opinion and I appreciate your own feedback, but I mean… there are places to go to get what that particular crowd wants.

  • Jacob Listerud September 19, 2020 at 7:28 PM

    Well, I’m afraid that if somebody does think “this design looks demeaning or offensive”, then it would be stupid to be offended by that design.

    • David Poole September 19, 2020 at 9:12 PM

      I mean, it’s not that different than seeing a racist caricature in a game. Not saying I was offended by these female outfits, but I know there are women that want to support a game they love, but just want better representation of women within it. I think that’s a fair request.

  • Jacob Listerud September 19, 2020 at 11:13 PM

    I meant “as long as the design doesn’t resemble a racist caricature. But in my opinion, if a woman wants better representation of women in certain games, they should stop and think about it and wonder if it’s nearly as bad as she thinks it is. If a female character wears skimpy clothing but has an engaging backstory, a dynamic personality, and a strong character arc, but gets written off as a bad character just because of their clothing type, that’s pretty sexist in my eyes.

    • David Poole September 20, 2020 at 12:17 AM

      Look at it from this perspective. Imagine a character like the one you described. Now ask “why is she in the skimpy outfit”? If the answer makes sense, you have a point. If it doesn’t, then you see why some people have issue with it.

  • Jacob Listerud October 2, 2020 at 8:05 PM

    I know you said, “Developers aren’t purposely trying to alienate fans by making these changes.” But, come on. do you really think that’s going to stop fans from being alienated?

    • David Poole October 3, 2020 at 6:29 PM

      Like I said, fans of that content can get it all over the internet for free. Putting the character in with less revealing clothes should be fine for anyone that just wants to play the game and enjoy the story. If you want it in the game, buy the PC version and mod it.

  • Jacob Listerud October 2, 2020 at 8:08 PM

    Remember when you said, “I don’t picture Lara Croft traveling through snow in Rise of the Tomb Raider in her shorts and tank top.”? Well, that made me wonder if you played Tomb Raider: Legend, which has a much better Lara than Rise of the Tomb Raider. In that game, Lara only wore shorts and a tank top in tropical environments, and you’ll need clothing that allows for ventalation in those places, and there are also two levels where she explores locations of snow and ice, and in them, she wears black pants, boots, and a brown leather jacket.

    • David Poole October 3, 2020 at 6:33 PM

      “Better” is subjective. I find Rise of the Tomb Raider Lara to be a much deeper and complex character compared to Super Lara from Legend (which I have played). As for changing clothes, she changes clothes in different environments in most games (including Rise of the Tomb Raider), so I’m not sure what your point is?

  • Jacob Listerud October 9, 2020 at 7:17 PM

    Rise of the Tomb Raider Lara sucks. Don’t believe me? Ask Zero Punctuation. His Shadow of the Tomb Raider review explains exactly why.

    • David Poole October 9, 2020 at 8:02 PM

      You have your opinion, I have mine, and Yahtzee has his. While she’s not my favorite character of all time, I find her to be a more believable heroine, which is sort of the goal of the reboot series. Point is that she’s not nearly as one dimensional as she used to be. It’s like Kratos in the original God of War games vs Kratos in the 2018 game.

  • Jacob Listerud October 9, 2020 at 9:54 PM

    Legend Lara did have a third dimension. You just ignored it.

    • David Poole October 10, 2020 at 7:49 PM

      “Nearly as one dimensional as she used to be” does not say I found Legend Lara one dimensional. I found her more one dimensional because back then, she was a sex symbol in games, and the developers banked on that. Her creator even dipped on the franchise because he wasn’t happy with them oversexualizing the character.

  • Jacob Listerud October 16, 2020 at 7:02 PM

    The way I see it, a blog called vicsorsopinion summed up the old-school Lara Croft by saying this:

    “[Lara Croft] is a character whose personality and backstory unfolds over several continuities in 10 video games, 4 spin-off games, 2 movies, several comic books, and an animated series. However, media critics are often incapable of looking beyond her breasts and reduce her to the status of ‘sex object’. The very mindset of slut-shaming they might even claim to fight. As you might have guessed from previous posts, I’m not a big fan of reducing characters to the single characteristic you take umbrage with.”

    And there were comments saying these:

    “The reboot just replaced her previous innate badass attitude with a grim and gritty version where she gets hardened by constant torture. In terms of story it doesn’t add all that much (I would argue the reboot is nothing more than an alternate, gory retelling of Tomb Raider Legend’s Peru level). I much prefer the larger than life Lara where her drive comes from the desire to one day discover what happened to her mother. ”

    “Honestly, there’s really two women running around that island… This weak willed but whiny teenaged Lara Croft and Lady Rambo who’s killing men while apologizing for it. I highly doubt that the reboot does Lara any true justice.”

    “I think critics of Tomb Raider ignored Lara Croft’s personality, skills, accomplishments, and origins, and judged the character on her physical appearance. I can’t tell if they’re being sexist, or just plain ignorant. ”

    “Most of these SJW morons have never played Tomb Raider as they would know she is a strong independent character that is apart of her appeal, not her breast size. Why can’t they look past that? Same goes with Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield. Some of my favourite video game characters are women some of them playable some of them supporting. It has nothing at all to do with their appearance. These are character’s both sexes can relate to. Isn’t that a good thing? ”

    Honestly, how is the old Lara Croft any different from Bayonetta?

  • Jacob Listerud October 16, 2020 at 7:10 PM

    Also, you mentioned the Dark Queen from Battletoads earlier, and she was on a Top 10 Worst Makeovers countdown on a gaming website called Blockfort and they said this about her:

    “The main villain in the Battletoads series is one of gaming’s first femmes fatale and arguably the hottest girl of the 8-bit era. The scantily-clad Dark Queen had her mind set on galactic conquest, and she apparently wanted to look good doing it. To that end, she wore a leather dominatrix outfit that highlighted her shapely figure and toned legs. Most players never made it anywhere near her since they couldn’t get past the notorious Turbo Tunnel, but the Dark Queen made her appearance felt by showing up in cutscenes. Her sex appeal was ramped up further in Battletoads Arcade, where she was depicted with erect nipples and bouncy breasts. Sadly, Microsoft and Dlala Studios decided to completely change her style in the ill-fated 2020 Battletoads reboot. Her initial design was akin to a Golden Age comic book villainess, but the new version looked like a Kim Possible reject. (Seriously, she looks like the bastard love child of Shego and Dr. Drakken.) For some reason, the developers were actually proud of their design choices. The Dark Queen even references how she used to dress, and makes a snide comment about fans who aren’t offended by the female form. She was covered from the neck down and stripped of her femininity, and her personality was also dragged through the mud. The original Battletoads painted the Dark Queen as a powerful woman capable of world domination, but the reboot gave her an obnoxious sense of humor that had about as much subtlety as a Melissa McCarthy fart joke.”

    Now, you’ll wonder what my opinion is. Personally, I don’t have much objection to her new mad-scientist look in the reboot, since I think it fits in well with the new cartoony art style, but to make a joke at the expense of those who prefer the original design is just downright mean, and I want Microsoft to remove it.

  • Jacob Listerud October 16, 2020 at 7:41 PM

    I think you summed up why gamers object to desexualization when you said this:

    “Obviously, a lot of this behavior comes from modern updates to classic looks for characters. Sometimes fans have an ideal vision of a character, and they don’t want it tarnished by a change.”

    In other words, they have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Which is why in addition to crying foul about previously sexy characters dressing more modestly, gamers also had a vitriolic response to the original announcement trailer to Ninja Theory’s DmC: Devil May Cry reboot with Dante looking like a meth addict and having short black hair instead of his usual brushed down white hair he usually has. And Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns actually had fans enraged over the exact opposite of what you’re describing here. They hated seeing the main heroine, Lightning, who previously dressed modestly wearing revealing outfits!

    • David Poole October 18, 2020 at 12:58 AM

      That blog fails to mention that she was marketed as a sex object by Core Design. It’s not that she has no personality or story, it was that there was intent in her being pushed as such, which like I said, caused her creator to leave. If the original creator felt that way, wouldn’t you think that’s a problem? It wasn’t until Crystal Dynamics got a hold of her with Legend that they started to deepen her (albeit sticking to her roots), getting used to the character for a couple games before making their reboot.

      As for the Dark Queen, the joke you’re referencing is sort of harmless to fans criticizing her new look. In fact, it’s sort of in line with her character since she would probably do that even if she wore the old outfit. Decades have passed for the character, and the new look keeps in line with the story and context.

      DmC’s announcement response was an overreaction, especially since it was meant to be a reboot origin story. The game was a work in progress and now many actually rank it pretty high in the series. It’s the second highest selling game in the series and it gave a pretty solid origin for the characters that sadly won’t continue.

      As for Lightning Returns, well that’s sort of what I was getting to. If there’s no reason for the character to wear skimpy clothes, then don’t make one. It was a fan service move starting with XIII-2, which carried over into Lightning Returns, but went further out of hand. The default costume is pretty modest and is actually less revealing than her outfit from the first game. It goes out of character for her, and fans have every right to be upset about that. They took the Final Fantasy X-2 approach with the job system and they just ran with it full steam. Sounds like you agree with that being an issue?

      I think we can start wrapping up this debate though. I’m sticking to my statement about needing a reason for more revealing outfits. If it doesn’t make sense for the character, then don’t. If it does, like say Ivy Valentine or Morrigan Aensland, then put them in whatever outfit works. If it’s a character that’s being grounded in reality (like reboot Lara Croft or reboot Jill Valentine), then a more logical approach to clothes is only natural, and fans shouldn’t be upset about that when the clothes don’t define these characters, no matter how iconic it looks.

  • Jacob Listerud October 23, 2020 at 10:04 PM

    Well, I’m afraid that this blog fails to mention that Lara Croft was marketed as a sex object by Core Design as well. Yet it also fails to mention that the makers of Lara Croft learned these lessons when Legend rolled around, and stopped doing that. And yes, you could argue that the marketing showed her as a sex object, but I highly doubt that the games themselves did.

  • Jacob Listerud November 28, 2020 at 9:23 PM

    Are you implying that it should be okay for developers to disrespect the wishes of the fans?

    • David Poole November 28, 2020 at 9:45 PM

      We stopped this conversation over a month ago, so I’m not sure who you’re asking this question to now.

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