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Xenoblade Chronicles and gender issues
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
I've been playing a *lot* of Xenoblade Chronicles lately. I'm over 80 hours in, and nowhere near the end yet. It's almost as big as an MMO, despite being a solidly single-player game. Great combat, unique world-building, good story and voice-acting. Solidly recommended if you're into JRPGs at all.

[For more details on all of this, Tom Chick has written extensively about the game on Quarter To Three.]

One topic he didn't particularly address in his many posts, was how the game treats gender issues. Which turns out to be somewhat complicated, and an interesting example of how differing departments can affect the final game in varied ways.

Game Mechanics:
You get your first female party member pretty early, and will get more as the game progresses. They never reach 50% of the party, but by the end of the game, you'll have 3 out of 7. All of them are valuable in combat, and with just as much utility and versatility as the males. There's a bit of traditional gender-role-ing going on in the fact that all of the best healing and ranged skills are to be found with the women, but none of the women are limited to such roles.
Grade: B

Story:
No blatant sexism in the world. While the majority of important leaders you meet are male, there is significant female representation in the power structure, and no one treats that as a bad or unusual thing. The female "heir to the empire" character does have palace intriguers plotting against her, but not because she's a girl. Woman are not solely defined by their relationships to me (though that is a big part of characterization for most of them).

The story loses points by featuring a prominent "fridging" incident early on, where the hero's girlfriend is killed in order to motivate his quest for revenge. They do eventually subvert that trope, and move towards a more progressive theme of "Reconciliation With Other", but given the pace of the game, you're left with the problematic themes for a few dozen hours, so I gotta count it as points off.
Grade B-

Artwork:
Ugh. As is all-too-traditional, the "armor" for female characters is far more concerned with showing skin than with any for of protection. There's a little bit of beefcake on display with some of the men, but it's not even close to equal. While the Imperial Princess gets strong writing, she walks with a perky little sway in her butt that makes her look like flirtatious even in the most serious of dramatic moments. Even the race of "mechanical people" that gets introduced late in the game are strongly gendered and highly sexualized. One prominent "mechanical" NPC not only has armor that leaves most of her large breasts exposed, but there clearly was extra effort involved to make those breasts *jiggle* when she walks.
Grade: F

So it's an interesting case, parts of the development team seem to have at least partial sensitivity to gender issues, and be making an honest effort to not be regressive, but their work gets badly undercut by less-enlightened parts of the team.

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Kes: I was listening to you play this game, perhaps it was yesterday, and there was a long scene which sounded as if it was a fight scene, only it sounded as if, when the female fighter made a fight move, she made a sound as if she was orgasming. Repeatedly. Many times per minute. Am I getting the context correct?

It is true that the set of speech samples for the PCs is smaller than it should be for a game with this much combat, and they get repeated a lot. That said, I did not, myself, interpret any of them as "orgasming".

Though that does bring to mind an old pinball game with a very similar name, "Xenon", which *totally* was having audio sex with you while you played it :-)

For the past couple months I've been playing the beta of Card Hunter, a free browser based CCG/TBS (it just had its release, so the servers are somewhat overwhelmed at the moment). I'm pretty sure it was one of your posts that alerted me to its existence.

Anyway, it has the opposite problem: the stories (and meta story) are deliberate and thorough homages to classic table top RPGs, with all the stereotypes and cliches we had back then (it even has a damsel in distress adventure early in the game). Luckily, the story is probably the least important part of this game.

And the art is much better balanced. There are three races and three classes, and each combination has about a half dozen skins (skins have no effect on gameplay). One skin for each is free; of those 5 are male and 4 female which is about as balanced as you can get. The other skins cost money, but if you spent money in the beta or buy the Basic Edition ($25) you get 9 that are the opposite gender from the free ones.

And best of all, the women are wearing practical armor! Here are all the free skins: warriors, priests, wizards. The human wizard in the Basic Edition set is showing some flesh, but less than the male elf warrior there. I only wish they weren't so pasty white...

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