Saturday, 24 May 2008

Age of Conan doesn't want your kind here

So, I'm not much into MMORPGs and wasn't eagerly awaiting the Age of Conan release, but I tend to keep up with news. I read interviews early on claiming that they were updating the conan-setting to make it a little more female inclusive, so women too could wander around in tiger skins swinging huge swords. Cool, thinks I.

Reading some of the launch reports, they mention that the newbie character proceeding through the plot will have women falling all over him.

"Several quests involve the local house of prostitution and its illustrious madam, and her tart dialogue leaves little to the imagination. Even the newly freed Casilda offers you her questionable services, so between that aspect and plenty of salty writing, it's obvious that Age of Conan earned its M rating."

Hrm, I think. I wonder how that works with female players?

Apparently not very well. While the AoC forums won't even let you in to read player impressions without a cd-key, a little google-caching was enough to let me read some threads. Sure enough, a female player was complaining that she'd started the game and was constantly being offered sexual services by female NPCs and ignored by male ones. Her objection, she specified, was not an anti-lesbian stance, but that the characters seemed to react to her entirely as a man, not as a woman. It felt like the plot writers had completely forgotten female players.

Depressingly, the thread is full of people saying charming things like "if you don't like it, go back to the kitchen" and "Conan is a sexist world, it would be a disgrace to the author to be inclusive!" and "if you care about something minor like that you must be a RL bitch" and "I was really hoping morons like you wouldn't play this game".

Then, of course, there was the quite serious, non-ironic "If the game has to cater to WOMEN, then someone might ask it to cater to HOMOSEXUALS, and WHERE WOULD IT END???"

I dunno... with a game that doesn't suck, maybe?


Jamey said...

Not to pick nits, but you repeatedly mention "female players," I'm not sure it's good to characterize these sort of issues as relative to the player's gender. Ideally, especially in a low fantasy setting like the Conan books, males and female characters should have very different experiences in life.

I love when games give different content to different gender characters, it makes the world more vibrant and enhances replayability. Pigenholing the problem as hurting the experience of female players only encourages two very bad things - it encourages assuming people always make characters of their gender, and encourages the devs to present the same plot/npc reactions to both genders of character.

Of course that would just give the game's forum trolls more fodder to bitch about, but I doubt they are too indicative of the actual player base. Squeaky wheel, and all that.

Whiner said...

Part of why I was saying "female players" is that when I was reading the forum thread, some people were arguing that female characters were commonly played by men and that the MEN would be creeped out by male NPCs reacting sexually to them, therefore the experience should stay the same.

I'm not sure how serious that argument was, though. A good number of men who play female characters seem to be looking for that sort of response. Healthy experimentation and all.

As a somewhat unusual female player, I'm amused by the idea of my chainmail-bikini wearing swordswoman rescuing a distressed damsel who feels obligated to reward me sexually and unsure how to go about it in an f/f way, but willing to give it a try anyway. It annoyed me in NWN when the female prostitutes got all snooty and wouldn't even talk to a female character... But failing to recognise that they were rescued by a woman and not a man sounds frustrating.

Jamey said...

I agree completely with that bit about NWN's handling of female chars and the like. A large amount of flexibility should exist, letting the players explore their characters within the setting of the game and NWN largely broke that (as do most rpgs.)

I find it annoying and sad that, in an M rated game where we presume the players are all adults, any of the males would get squiked out by getting hit on by males (playing male or female characters at the time.) One would think after their teens, these players would be secure enough not to have it bother them.

The things about male prostitutes though also make me realize, a "good" (heavily historically based at least) fantasy setting should feature:

Female prostitute <> Male Client (Common)
Male Prostitute <> Male Client (Common)
Female prostitute <> Female Client (Common, but client's income rarely permitting)
Male Prostitute <> Female Client (Uncommon and client's income rarely permitting)

So I'd also like to see male prostitutes hit on male chars more. More than they hit on female characters, as it would be more accurate (simple function of supply and demand.)

Sorry that I sort of switched topics to general rpg design from specifically Age of Conan. My general point though was that it was right to be offended that they seemed to offer a cookie cutter "male char" plot/reactions even to the female chars, but it was wrong to assume the female chars should just get a mirror image of the male plot.

Wouldn't it be interesting to have an mmo which let you pick a few backgrounds, and assuming you picked a common female background, your early quests and training were largely adventuring in secret to avoid public scorn? The option of alternate more "open minded" backgrounds could exist too like Gypsy or such, allowing female adventurers more freely. Discrimination exists in most fantasy settings and it's much more interesting to explore it as viable plotlines. Again, sounds like Age of Conan got this wrong, but still has a chance to get it right.