The Future is Panty-free

Yeah, it’s an old story – and you don’t wanna hear it anymore. I don’t want to either, heck for most of the time I act as if the topic was water under the bridge. We’re way past that, the genre is, videogames are. This is almost 2012 after all!

You wish.

I get it: panties are exciting! To a few men, mind not many grown-up men but a few, seeing virtual panty (Japanese; pantsu) in a videogame is a bit like omg-christmas, outrageous and cheeky and *tehee* *blush* *chuckle* – add your random IRC emote…I guess we all have to accept that. I don’t even want to ask the reasons why, although I have a sound theory or two, about being stuck in infantile phases of boyhood, of over-sexed media or for the opposite case, cultures where social corset and conformity are so strict that everyone must turn into drooling lechers in front of their PCs at night, to restore at least some balance and mental sanity.

I don’t know. You dwell on that.

This is the important part: In MMOs I do not care to see panties. Let’s repeat this: In MMOs I do not care to see panties. I don’t think they do anything much for a female character’s credibility. Or for a “heroine” battling vicious fiends, for that matter. Still, they are out there and never quite out of fashion: plate bikinis, swinging hips, breasts the size of a small country. It’s not just the omni-present fake portrayal of the female form; nothing feels quite as unimmersive as having to play a combat class that looks as if she was on her way to a lolita dress-up party. Any player, male or female, looking for serious consistency in setting and atmosphere in their MMOs want to see proper armor in sync with their class and the world they are playing it in.

Yet, they keep coming. Lineage and TERA are my all-time favorite examples, but the bare midriffs can be found in plenty of more recent places, even in a perfect world. How cynical.

And I wonder: can we get over this yet? How many female online players worldwide will it take until a Blizzcon panel deems a large portion of their player base worthy of more than a flippant answer? Worse yet, if a company with a few million female players won’t care – who will?

I guess Dwism had it right all along:

Whatever you think of their response to this (and mine is in the comments on both posts), there is one thing painfully obvious for me, about these panel talks.

Every single employee with anything worth saying at Blizzard, is: 35+, white, a little overweight (some more than a little), balding and likes metal. And they only ever talk to other people like that.

It’s not about players, male or female. It’s about the men who make these games. If nothing changes up there, nothing will change down here. For now, enough devs don’t seem to care, not even for the underlying message of their indifference, which can only ever inevitably bring me to the following two conclusions:

A) MMO(RPG) developers are emotionally immature lechers in desperate need to get laid.
B) MMO(RPG) developers consider the majority of their male playerbase emotionally immature lechers in desperate need to get laid.

I don’t know about you, but as a male player I’d feel offended.

P.S. With all that in mind, I am officially and exclusively launching MMO Gypsy’s “No-Panties MMO seal of quality”, for a better and hopefully more serious online gaming future! You may spread and copy at will!


  1. “In MMOs I do not care to see panties.”

    I.. I want this on a flag or something. A t-shirt, maybe? Anyway, loved the post. I am all about MMO characters having outrageously awesome bods (both genders!) and the option of bikini plate! However I would also like the option of a female character that isn’t over-sexualized.

  2. The end-goal of character art is for the avatar/NPC to look appealing, not realistic (whatever that even means in a fantasy world). And no matter how long you concern-troll about it, plate bikinis, swinging hips and large breasts = Mission Accomplished.

    Besides, it is pretty ridiculous to hold videogames to higher standards than television, movies, covers of romance novels, and basically every other depiction of the human (female) form. Certain games can absolutely cross that invisible line into gratuitous titillation, no doubt. Internet advertisements are universally terrible. And it’s fine to say that panties et tal break your immersion.

    But the Blizzard guys have a point: which catalog would you want them out of?

    P.S. I find Objectification arguments less compelling when everyone who doesn’t agree is automatically “emotionally immature lechers in desperate need to get laid.” I’ll have you know I am an emotionally sophisticated gentleman with an entirely reasonable desire to get laid.

  3. @Liore
    Thanks! I agree to some extent that getting a choice is fine, there’s plenty of players who prefer playing attractive avatars, ı’m an aesthetic myself.
    However, there’s the matter of degree in my opinion; how serious do you take your own virtual world (blizzard is certainly no good example for this with its high popculture orientation). If you create options for avatars to look like pornstars rather than fighters, it’s a choice that ultimately affects the simulation you might otherwise try to accomplish. And even if many players choose other gear or bodytypes, it shapes the game as a whole. I prefer consistency over a fashion zoo, personally.

  4. @Azuriel
    It’s up to you to decide what group of people you belong to. 🙂 last time I checked, I did nowhere call male players that in this article, actually quite the opposite – but i’m happy somebody caught the bait. 😉

    I get your point, but I do very much disagree with the ‘mission accomplished’ part; MMOs are not just another branch of the fashion industry and the fashion industry is not the real world. This is not a question of ‘standards’ for me but purpose – what’s the point of MMORPGs? To sell fashion, or to allow a wide variety of players to create alter egos and experience cooperative adventures in a virtual world, fashioned to simulate fantasy/scifi/historic settings? How exactly do plate bikinis add to the ‘authentic’ experience? And who is being represented there or catered to?

    Frankly, I consider it sad how you put MMOs on the same level as romance novels. I don’t play MMOs to read steamy literature. so yes, I do very much ask for more there in terms of seriousness. I will also have you know, that I do not ‘troll-concern’ in this article, whatever that even means. I am also not impressed by the ‘defeatist strategy’ you go for in your arguments. no, it’s not “how the world is” and no, we do not have to go with the flow lalalala and accept that female avatars look like wit-depraved bunnies (as they frankly do in some of the examples I named). even IF I expected an MMORPG to simulate the real world (which is beside the whole purpose?), people wouldn’t look that way. that includes both genders btw, but sadly I cannot link to the great artice anymore written by Chastity from RO (and I do not have to cover all bases in every article, either).

    Apart from this, as I also told Liore, this is very much a matter of ‘degree’: it’s a long way from WoW’s customization (which I always found okay) to the blunt mis-proportions (I am not talking fashion here but aliens) and sexualization in some Asian MMOs, for instance.

    As for MY personal catalogue: how about armor that actually reflects its purpose and use? plenty to draw from in history. LOTRO is rather impressive in staying true and consistent to its MiddleEarth theme – and the fashion there is not exactly unpopular.

  5. This is one of my favourite debates. I am pro free choices in customisation, that includes ugly, fat, bald. I never play asian games because of the chicks, staring at strings is not the mmo experience I am looking for. i think i am not alone and i agree with you syl that it suggest us male players are drooling idiots.

    it bothers me how some male players like make this a feminist concern – its a concern of a game’s qualiuty, genre and atmosphere. guess its a matter of age too and what MMO generation you come from.

  6. @Corey

    Cheers for getting my point! btw –

    “guess its a matter of age too and what MMO generation you come from. “

    This is true. I’m not the pokémon age bracket either, so I guess it adds to what I don’t like about the MoP announcements for example. in general, I don’t like the trend of adopting pop-culture themes and values in this particular genre. all that said, I still don’t think it should be an “age thing” to question the world around you and what’s being presented to you on screen…

    it will be interesting to see which developers will pursue the pop-culture trend and which ones will actually choose to go the exact opposite way – drawing people in once more with settings of long ago / far removed from the real world, and a serious attempt at setting “authenticity”. to me it was always the second that made MMORPGs attractive.

  7. Um, I’m an engaged, 29 years old woman (I’m only saying that so you can have a little background), and for what is worth here is my thoughts: I like the scantly-clad, pretty women in videogames. Actually, I love them.
    I love just the same the fully covered ones, which are also, I think, easier to identify with… But when I play a videogame, I want eye-candy. I don’t care for that kind of realism for main characters in a fantasy world.
    To be fair, I would like for men to be sexily dressed as well, at least as much as women, and I’m bisexual (my partner is a man though) so I understand that could skew my perspective.
    But then again, the reason I like fantasy bikinis is the same I absolutely adore Transmogrification: I like cute, I like pretty, I like beautiful and yes I like sexy.
    Playing with mogging is just like playing with Barbie dolls to me, and furthermore I love the whimsicality of a scantly clad warrior taking hits like they were puffs of wind…

    So how about not taking bikinis out of mmos (and fantasy worlds in general), but having more *chioce* instead?
    More of everything: males and females both in sexy outfits, AND of the fully clothed sort.
    A better world for everyone? 😉

  8. Just playing Devil’s advocate Syl, in response to this line from your reply to Azuriel;
    “or to allow a wide variety of players to create alter egos”
    Surely in catering to the wide variety in their quest to create alter egos you have to allow them to create pseudo-porn stars if that is their desire (however strange that may appear to you or I).

  9. @Maddy

    Hey Maddy, thanks for your input! that’s the thing with MMOs, there’s so much room for different people, you’re bound to have big disagreements. I don’t mind that, but of course like everyone else I’d like to play games that are fashioned to satisfy my own wishes. I do play for immersion, setting, narrative and atmosphere.

    I could pretty much agree with your last point though, if the actions and choices of other players didn’t actually affect my experiences in cooperative games, too. in MMOs we aren’t islands, so a horde of pink-dressed clowns and bikini warriors can very much ruin my immersion.

    but this is a point you always end up at in basic design discussions: what if your better world, makes my world worse?

    at some point, we simply cannot play the same game. WoW has done quite well in that respect for a long time, although the most recent 1-2 years have lost that balance for me. in general I’m fine with wanting to look good in a game or collect dresses; but I will repeat myself by saying that it really depends on degrees and ‘how’s. there are worlds between Tera, WoW or LOTRO.

    I would also very much like to differentiate between sexy and sexism. the first is fine, the second not. and the balance between ‘hot chicks’ and ‘hot guys’ or ugly and attractive choices, are typically not there in many MMOs, just like you pointed out.
    there are also signs that things are getting better in that respect however…I would name Skyrim’s armor, but unfortunately that isn’t an MMO. 🙂

  10. @Stumpy

    Think I just responded to that in my last response.

    needless to add: I expect people to create alter egos that are in line with the world and consistent with its setting – just as you’d prefer players not to name themselves “rambo-lol” in WoW. it’s the devs who have the say here, what is possible and what isn’t – I’d prefer they have a clear line, rather than a zoo. of course, if they don’t give a fuck about their world, as Blizzard doesn’t, they won’t.

    I frankly also don’t understand WHY you need to play an epic MMO when all you’re interested in is pop-culture fashion (or items or achis). there are a TON of games that will give you more and better features to get your fix?

  11. I frankly also don’t understand WHY you need to play an epic MMO when all you’re interested in is pop-culture fashion (or items or achis).

    If you try to understand all the strange and weird choices (subjective ofc) that other people might make, you’ll drive yourself madder than you already are my dear 😉

  12. I like goodlooking characters too, but……….pornstars aren’t (about) goodlooking.

    I checked some of the links, it has nothing to do with attractiveness and everything to do with sexism and objectification. two different things. if you like goodlooking that doesnt mean you want meteorboobs or have your panties show everytime you turn around. thx for understanding the difference.

  13. I wouldn’t know what to add there…

    LOL – I am indeed. “WHY can’t these peopelz not just leave my games aloooooone???” =D

  14. I’d like to submit a corollary to No Panties, in that panties may be
    visible if and only if they’ve been pulled up in a massively
    uncomfortable wedgie, so high, that they entirely cover an otherwise
    bare midriff. The character must emote physical discomfort and walk
    slightly hunched over, however, in order to eliminate this as a loophole
    for hipster jeans with thigh-high panties.

  15. When it comes to this debate, I always try to look at a character as a design. If the character is well designed then I’m not too concerned about what is technically involved. If the character is just a tacky mass of cleavage fastened in a chainmail bikini, no thought or inspiration, then I have a problem.

    I think “scantily clad” has become more of an aesthetic sense. Initially there were probably shallow reasons behind it, but I think now it’s become much more of a design theme that concept artists are comfortable with. I think at the end of the day it all depends on the specific game and what that game is going for. If a game is going for gritty realism then of course these designs are misplaced. If the game is purely fantasy and not worried about apparent function, then (imo) go for it. And if you are going to go for it, include the guys in there too. I think I’m more concerned about the rigid, almost paranoid approach that male designs get rather than the free-for-all approach that female designs get.

    There is a line of course, and things can become trashy past a certain point, but a lack of cloth doesn’t directly mean something’s trashy. There can actually be something very classy about nudity depending on the approach; it all depends on the mindset, the intent of using the form, the design sense involved, etc.

    I think the idea that male players want a sexy avatar to drool over for hours is a myth. When you stare at an avatar for hundreds of hours I can’t see how you could possibly continue to hold even a shallow attraction. Maybe if you’re very desperate, but I’d think that those people would be few and far between, and if anything having this type of avatar would be more of an insult.

  16. @Melmoth
    LOL…now you’re just being silly! =P

    Some great clarifications, thank you. the distinctions you are making about scanty apparel, is what I would call the difference between erotic and “porn”; of course nudity can be appealing and be depicted in tasteful ways. it can however also be cheap, sexist and over-bearing. not to mention misplaced – which is where I agree too, it has its time & place.

    If a female character is wearing a tight skirt over her armor or shows some cleavage, I have no problem with it. if you’re however trying to tell me that my maintank is fine in three strips of cloth held together by spaghetti, I will roll my eyes at you. I want armor to look nice, sure, but it also needs to look ‘functional’.

    (if on top of that, the male version of my tank looks like a proper warrior in the exact same gear, while his female counter-part looks like Jeannie, I have a real problem with it.)

  17. last time I checked, I did nowhere call male players that in this article, actually quite the opposite – but i’m happy somebody caught the bait. 😉

    And yet you did. You recognized that “a few” grown up men get titillated about panties, and then launched into this idle thought:

    I don’t even want to ask the reasons why, although I have a sound theory or two, about being stuck in infantile phases of boyhood, of over-sexed media […]

    …along with this:

    MMO(RPG) developers consider the majority of their male playerbase emotionally immature lechers in desperate need to get laid.

    My point was never that you referred to all men that way. My point was that if I put Tifa from FF7 in the bottom character slot for the express purpose of the *teehee* upskirt that occasionally resulted during the victory camera pan, the implication is that I have a problem, or am deviant in some way.

    I love strong women. I love the rich, dramatic narrative possibilities of balancing strength with femininity; “being a man” is almost always one-dimensional (i.e. strength == man) in contrast. It is why I almost always roll female toons in MMOs. And yet, I’m not “above” enjoying the (exaggerated) visual aspects that coincide with that femininity either. Tifa was the deepest, best-written character in FF7, and I’m also glad they put her in a skirt; the contrast enriched the total experience. And, *teehee*, occasional upskirt.

    True “defeatism” is holding something up to a standard it cannot obtain, IMO. That is not to say I’m condoning sexism or gratuitous panties for all. I’m saying that expecting videogames to lead us into a gender-equal future is not something I find particularly useful spending energy on.

    I mean, let’s face it. What place would “armor that actually reflects its purpose and use” have in games where you get an arrow in the neck and lose 10 HP, swim through lava, and the armor itself never impacts your movements in any way? When armor becomes mechanically more than window dressing, we can talk about how exposed midriffs and cleavage windows.

  18. Unfortunately “strength and femininity” are hardly ever balanced in games, movies or other media. 🙂 it’s nice if you can perceive it that way despite the heroine flaunting underwear, when everyone else is wearing proper armor. I have played FF7 – I know what gear Cloud and Barret were wearing. maybe, just maybe, you’re so de-sensitized to details like this, you don’t notice them anymore? you decide. I’m not saying skirts don’t have their time&place, nor that the character must be shallow because we can see her panties – I’m questioning why we need to see them in the first place when she’s such a deep character and great fighter? And why don’t we ever see Cloud’s underwear?

    I have studied the effects of accepting the status quo of reality without question, the sort of “numbing process to what’s considered normal” in society quite throroughly in another context – there are plenty of problematic aspects about it. I don’t exclude myself here; we are all programmed and educated to accept what is “given” from the moment we open our eyes for the first time. from then on, we need to make conscious efforts every day to open them again and again.

    besides that, I don’t think any of us can say what standard things can/will obtain in this world, in their time. that is a futile discussion. videogames will hardly change the greater issues of the planet – but then, if you read my article in that context, you have really missed the point.

    I do btw stand fully for what I said about an overly sexualized society and that developers’ traditional approaches to female characters in games are either a mirror of their own, backwards state of mind or a rather offensive assumption about their male audience. but that too, is a matter of time and generation. luckily time always has the last say.

  19. The problem isn’t the Devs. The problem is 13 year old boys are the demographic that will spend money multiple times to see panties, or Megan Fox or whatever.

    I’d love to see the change but as long as marketing has input they’ll keep reminding devs that Sex Sells.

  20. it’s nice if you can perceive it that way despite the heroine flaunting underwear, when everyone else is wearing proper armor. I have played FF7 – I know what gear Cloud and Barret were wearing. maybe, just maybe, you’re so de-sensitized to details like this, you don’t notice them anymore?

    If you don’t think Cloud and Barret were drawn to be appealing and/or exaggerated, I don’t know what to tell you. Cloud’s “armor” is one metal shoulder-pad – he otherwise has completely exposed arms, and an otherwise chiseled physique that is even rendered through his shirt. Maybe his jumpsuit “counts?” And Barrett really? Look at this. It’s concept art, but the only in-combat shot I could get was this. Completely exposed chest. The closest thing to “armor” Barrett has on is the metal girdle or whatever that thing is that is wrapped around his stomach.

    You are correct, there is no boxers-shot for Cloud. Then again, would women find that appealing or titillating? You tell me. What I do know is that Sephiroth was not designed to be appealing to men; effeminate, long-haired male characters appeal directly to Japanese women, at least. Male/female eye-candy is certainly not symmetrical – panties versus Sephiroth – but I would not expect them to be anyway. Honestly, considering how magazines like 17, Vogue, and Glamour feature more scantily-clad women than men’s magazines like GQ or Esquire, I have no idea what women would find visually attractive either way.

  21. What you ignore is how (or for what) each gender is being stereotyped. there’s a fundamental difference between depictions that suggest a state of power and strength vs. suggesting sexual availability. that men are being stereotyped in popular media is not up for discussion – they certainly do, too. in fact I gave a negative example of that in this here article of that.

    but where men are generally idealized to be smart, economically powerful or physically strong (for which large shoulderpads or broad, bared chests stand too), the typical woman is being idolized for her sexuality, often in combination with being sexually available or physically weak. the successful female CEO, the smart scientist, the badass sports athlete etc. are not part of the popular palette. if we get a character like Tifa or Sylvanas for once, they still apparently need to be ‘sexy’ on top of their sufficient other qualities. Characters like Lucca in Chrono Trigger are a rare sight.

    So, while I absolutely agree that men are also affected by stereotypes (some of them certainly also negative), I hope you understand where the comparisons you’re trying to make fall short, and are most of all not a “counter-argument” for the basic concern about sexist female (character) stereotyping or discrimination. which is what this topic here is about.

    As for Sephiroth; I guess we can consider him a bishōnen character based on looks, which is increasingly popular in japanese anime/manga and videogame culture certainly. but then that is a new subject entirely – and I won’t go into what might be attractive to which gender in Japan (frankly because I also don’t live there, nor feel competent enough).

  22. Syl, elegantly argued, very powerful article. Sorry I am late to the discussion, but I’ve been unwell.

    I had intended to author an article about sexualization, but seeing how I have fallen behind the topic this week, and what a great job you did here I will need to do some editing.

    For the record, women are over-sexualized in games. Men are under-sexualized, no one need deny this or suggest that somehow the tables are even. I don’t know an honest man who would do so. Most of my guy friends enthusiastically celebrate the imbalance there and if I asked them, I feel sure they think that it’s ok. I don’t think it’s ok.

    I dismiss most female characters on face value when I see them in games *because* they’re usually a side show and pretty insignificant. I wish there were more female avatars with value, such that male avatars get. Until that becomes the norm, I’ll probably keep picking the value-added male characters in my games.

  23. That was a nice pivot away from the “why no proper armor for Tifa” argument, considering how a bare chest for Barrett is at least as ridiculous from a protection standpoint, symbolic power or no.

    But while we are on the topic of visually symbolic power, what would you consider symbolically powerful in a female character’s art design? Because when you say:

    if we get a character like Tifa or Sylvanas for once, they still apparently need to be ‘sexy’ on top of their sufficient other qualities.

    …I can understand that statement, but not the implication that sexiness reduced their qualities in some way. If we assume that my qualities (such as they are) are fine, I do not see how having a stronger nose and six-pack abs reduces or eliminates the others. Tifa in a sweatshirt and sweatpants, with an A-cup; Sylvanas in male-esque, shapeless armor. Did they suddenly become deeper characters? You tell me.

    As far as links go, I’m fond of this one I found while Googling around.

  24. @Doone
    Thanks very much. I am looking forward to your article.
    accepting the way things are without questioning imbalances is the easy road, and especially comfortable if you are not the one affected. tragically, it’s human to care less about issues or injustices that are in your favor and/OR simply do not considerably affect your personal life in any way. still, it’s not an excuse to be ignorant and dismiss/belittle other people’s concerns on grounds of lack of direct experience.

    To name a different example, I may not be directly affected by racism where I am living and therefore not be attentive to all the imbalances and implications all around me (also in popular media), but that is an ignorant viewpoint to argue from. it’s also wrong to assume that just because it’s “not a problem” in my eyes, it’s not a problem as a whole (this is how “everyday” race stereotypes are perpetuated). our society can do with a lot more empathy and more questioning the status quo, in my personal opinion.

    Besides that I find the whole argumentation of “but it’s okay in film or games, they’re not real” cynical old bores – and will therefore at the very least, happily make use of my own right to not find it all okay or trivial (and be vocal about it). as often as I have the energy to, anyway.

    That armor in general can be overdone or unrealistic in games, is hardly a point worthy of discussion. I think we can be smart and understand different implications though.

    As for the “sexy” about Tifa or Sylvanas; I never said it reduces their qualities. I ask why it’s needed that we see them in scanty outfits, if they’re such badass characters? what’s the message there exactly and why will their male equivalents not come with equal, sexual innuendo? I would also argue, again, that sexy and sexist are 2 different things for the case of many of the games I mentioned as offensive in this article. you’re the one who choose Tika as an example – it doesn’t end there.

    As for your link, interesting read. If the bottom line is that we should see more empowered but also flawed female characters in film, I’m all for it. I don’t agree though that just because film makers sometimes overdo/fail at that concept with women (which might be a sign that they are still amateurish about it), there shouldn’t be powerful or heroic characters. besides, plenty of strong male figures are overdone and one-dimensional in film? there should be both weak and powerful and/or flawed roles for women, just as for men – because that’s what we got in the real world: variety. so maybe film makers just need to do better.

    I am closing the discussion with you at this point. I think you’ve made your points clear and so have I mine, but I do not wish this comment section to become a back-and-forth between your views and mine. Also, I don’t think there’s anything more to be gained from it, but agreeing/disagreeing on some basic points. Thanks for keeping this a serious discussion.

  25. It seems every time I watch a female pop singer on TV, she is in her underwear, or if it’s a male singer, then his ‘girl’ is in her underwear. The stereotype is out there, and it’s not going away any time soon, unless female celebrities (Gaga, Beyonce, Rhianna, Katie Perry etal) stop promoting it as sexy and acceptable. Little wonder the men are all for it, if the women are doing it themselves.

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