This post is about video games and women. I’ve played fantasy computer games since my dad brought home The Bard’s Tale II for the Apple IIGS. Computer roleplaying games have influenced my fiction in ways that range from my proclivity for epic scope to my use of strangeness and suspense. I am an educated woman who’s about to turn 44, and I give a lot of respect to video games. For the most part, in turn, I’ve enjoyed their growing respect for me. We’ve come a long way since the only woman in the video game was the princess whom Mario had to save. I could write a treatise here that touches on everyone from Samus to Lara Croft to Captain Shepherd. But I will settle it all on the fact that I play Bethesda’s Skyrim with a female protagonist, and that she slays dragons, and wins civil wars, and talks with gods, and is basically a badass whose fan-fiction journals have also generated more traffic on my blog than anything else I have ever written.
That said, I must confess that the fans of video games—the players like me—have a long way to go when it comes to women. I’m speaking broadly here. More and more gamers actually *are* women. (And granting the fact that women can make the worst misogynists of all, I’ll accept this as a net win.) But you don’t have to go far on gaming websites to find commentators who say that X female character is too athletic for their tastes, or that Y studio’s games have suffered now that they’ve brought in same-sex romance options. And then, Lord, there is the modding community. A mod, dearies, is a modification to a video game. It usually comes from the player base, where freelance programmers write little scripts that do everything from putting more clutter around a game’s town, to making whole worlds for others to play in. Mods are usually free; they have served as programming portfolios for many coders who have sought to break into the business; and in terms of games such as Minecraft and Skyrim they can proliferate to the tens of thousands, while achieving millions of downloads. When I write my little blog about Skyrim, I talk about my experience with mods. Yesterday, for instance, I found an orc, drunk and sobbing in a burned-out shack. He wondered if I could help him find his lost coin—which we eventually located in his pocket.
So I go hunting for these mods all the time. Some of them are as professional and thoughtful as any studio offering of interactive fiction. But it’s also here, on their download pages, that I want to get drunk and start sobbing too. This is what I found yesterday: Mod 1. Hairstyles! Hundreds of women’s styles to choose from. Dozens of styles for men. Mod. 2 Naughty Girls of Tamriel. Mod 3. High Heels for Vampires. Mod 4. Immersive Wenches. Mod 5. Harem. Mod 6. Spells to change bystanders’ hair. Mod 7. Spells to make people undress.
And this, dearies, is to say nothing of the body mods. I don’t think I would see as many breasts if I pursued a plastic surgeon’s job portfolio. I downloaded one very good body mod—something that made everybody in the game look more photorealistic. I used it to create the on-screen avatar of my female character. She had a stick neck and spindly arms. I upped the weight slider to give her some meat on her bones, and for the most part, the only thing that changed were her boobies. I picked something that looked mostly plausible. I logged into the game, and the women in the town had chests that ranged from noticeable, to opulent, to aggressive, to urban myth. This game takes place along some very steep mountains, and I don’t know how these ladies don’t daily tumble to their deaths.
I ripped out the mod. I found something else. And in my search, I did come across the Practical Female Armors mod, which replaces the bikini-style breastplate/platter with something that actually protects. And I also found a mod that allows women hips, and shoulders, and even a pot belly. (I tried to find the name for you, but my search results came back with Real Girls of Skyrim—and that was not, not what I was looking for.)
My point is that although sensible body mods are out there, they are literally hard to find. And although there exist tons of professional content from thoughtful artists, much of the fantasy about females is still very troubling. I understand that fantasy is the stock and trade of these games; it’s no accident that I partake of a hobby where I can depose an evil ruler, root out slavers, and stop an orc from crying. But I am also aware that in real life, I will not come across any situation where I’ll even have the option to shoot lightning from my fingertips, or play a manticore to sleep with my flute. And call me old fashioned, but I do worry about the fantasies that allow someone to force an impossibly buxom woman to take off her clothes.