Last week, I noticed that the maximum girth for a woman in APB’s expansive character creation program is considerably… less girthy than its male equivalent. I pointed this out on the games website I work for (intentionally without editorialising too much), and about half the respondents on the comments thread have made me go freakin’ insane. Of course, I love our readership, and that they’ve taken the time to comment. But there are a few common threads which I feel the need to pick up on and challenge – not just for my own sanity, but because I feel they’re pretty important points to cover, and I find it genuinely disheartening to see people appear to misunderstand why I feel strongly about this.
“They do this because they want to sell games, end of story.” – M
If that’s true, I’d hope it wasn’t the end of the story. This point’s been brought up a few times, and on most occasions the tone has ranged between dispondant acceptance and genuinely thinking that’s okay. If I want to market a game to racists, is it okay for my game to feature racist content? Seriously, is that okay, on a broad scale? I’m aware that’s a big stretch as an analogy, but it’s the logical conclusion of the argument, surely.
“Seems skewed to me, although I’d have to see the actual weight for them. That’s actually not that fat for a guy in reality (he’s hardly obese), and the girl still isn’t a super model. It’s hard to make an accurate conclusion unless you know height and weight numbers, otherwise it’s entirely baseless speculation.” – Firestorm
Okay, the guy isn’t stay at home forever large, but I think Firestorm would be surprised at how comparatively low the level of obesity is. I’ve known people who I wouldn’t even have thought of as being particularly large who were technically medically obese. The main thing that irked here, though, was the implication that I’d perhaps been telling a few porkies. I can absolutely catagorically state that the weight sliders were maxed out, and anything else that controlled outward size was set to middle (I’d intentionally done this to ensure fairness).
“They want to keep customization open but at the same time they want to make females recognizable at a glance. Thats usually why females in games have over curvy waists, large breasts, over defined eyes and longer hair.” – Christianity
It’s true that videogame characters tend to have exaggerated features, and perhaps this is true as a distinction between the sexes. What I’m not convinced about, however, is that this makes it sensible to conform to potentially harmful stereotypes in these presentations.
“Perhaps they didn’t offer large character models because it doesn’t make sense in the context of a shooting game. Why would anyone make a large character that has a large hit box when they could make someone very small who is harder to hit.” – Hyuzen
Which would be a solid argument if you couldn’t make a large man either. But you can, which is the entire point.
“A private company offers a commercial product you have the right to buy or not, and they decide they don’t want character models to be overweight.” – Andrew
This guy went on to suggest my post was a “throwback to 3rd wave feminism”. Anyway, as with the first quote I mentioned, I don’t buy that this should be an excuse. Of course I have the right to not buy it. Consider the racist game again. What are you suggesting I do? That I don’t buy it and instead bury my head in the sand and pretend the issue doesn’t exist?
“The woman’s weight actually is too high to be healthy, but the developers haven’t represented it ‘to scale’ visually, because they also need to convey the idea that the Enforcers in APB have to be physically in-shape.” – The Dude [paraphrased as it was a long one]
Sorry, come again? So it’s fine for men to be big and still go around shooting baddies, but women have to be super fit to do the same thing? Again, I’d ask the question: is that okay?
“It would make customization a lot harder to put in the game if there could be too big of a difference from one weight to the next. Right now there are outfits that are limited to male or female. If you could go too far enough with the weight there would also have to be weight restrictions on some clothing because it wouldn’t wrap around the model right.” – John
Sure. But they can manage it fine for male clothing.
“Have you ever considered how much more difficult it is to make a fat female? The way the breasts start to sag a little make them clip with the stomach, which is just just horrible to look at.” – Sassy
Now we’re getting to interesting comments. i.e. Is it actually more difficult to model and animate a large woman than it is to model and animate a large man? A developer, who I shalln’t name as this was said off the record, actually contacted me after I wrote this post saying it’s an absolute nightmare to convincingly render large women, which is why they tend to not use them. In their words: “Fat ragdolls cause a whole world of shit.”
“APB really does try to have a “style” which is slick cops and robbers stereotypes, the sunglasses wearing FBI agent and Fat Mob Boss. Obese women do have a place in that stereotypical world, but it’s not usually on the front lines.” – Shnyker
I think this is almost certainly the reason for the disparity, yes. APB does indeed try to present this image. But I don’t see this as a reasonable excuse to say, “Oh, that’s fine, then.” (To be fair, nor does Shnyker.) If the stereotypical world you’re trying to convey has a problem with gender equality at its heart, is it okay to apply that inequality unquestioningly? Genuine question. To me it isn’t.
“I don’t thing it is wrong if developers are merely catering for the audience for their game and I’m kind of tired of the “this is sexist and bad!!” attitude that regularly pops up in comments threads when this kind of issue is brought up. Why would people select an obese representation that goes against every media ideal of feminimity that we are fed every day, other than for (ill judged) comedy?” – Jockie
For serious? How about someone genuinely not having a problem with their character being overweight? How about them finding that to be just normal. Do you know how I noticed this quirk in the first place? Since APB’s been going on about how you can create any character you want, I decided I was going to use this to actually create a female character who wasn’t stick-thin. So I started dragging the weight slider up. It was almost at the top before I managed to get the size I was after – and the size I had in mind certainly wasn’t “MAXIMUM FAT!”, y’know?
“This topic actually came up in the beta and the developers said quite simply if the demand was there for larger female models they’d consider it. Instead the thread devolved into a lot of sexist commentary about large women from the playerbase.” – Jockie
Same guy, far more interesting comment, far more depressing scenario. In other words, Realtime Worlds allegedly knowingly catered to a sexist audience. There’s being sensible about targeting your market, and there’s something else. And I know which category I think this fits into, should it be true.
I want to also point out that there were a great many comments which I felt were bang-on, and equally there were a number of commenters who ostensibly agreed that there was an issue but were pretty nasty to those who didn’t share that view. It was a comments thread where a number of comments offended me regardless of their stance on the issue. But it would be unreasonable for me to claim that everyone was behaving in the same way. Those who didn’t are lovely.
So yeah, there’s that. I do feel fairly strongly about this. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there’s something up with this trend. I was careful not to accuse Realtime Worlds and APB specifically, because to be fair they do at least allow you to make a not-entirely-anorexic female character. But the extent to which you can model your guy or girl outside of this scenario unfortunately highlights a wider trend more strongly in APB than in any other game I can think of.