Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Star Wars: Men can be Fat but Not Women

Posted by Ethan Clow on January 31, 2012

Like a whole bunch of people, I recently started playing the new MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) Star Wars The Old Republic, the quasi-sequel to the Knights of the Old Republic games produced by the popular video game making company Bioware.

So far I’m enjoying the game, it captures a lot of the fun and exploration that I found in the stellar Knights of the Old Republic games. Players are able to literally make their own way through the Star Wars universe, choosing whether to be a dark side jerk or light side hero. Expectations were high for this particular game given that its competing directly with the current most popular game ever, World of Warcraft, as well as the added burden of following in the footsteps of Bioware’s other successful games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

You might be wondering what draws my skeptical eye to this topic. Mainly it’s Bioware’s odd perception of what constitutes being overweight.

Let me explain, at the start of the game you get to design your character, you pick the race, sex, and background of your character. No matter which race you pick you are given four body types to chose from, seen below.

Body Types 1 and 2


Body Types 3 and 4

As you can probably see, there are a few discrepancies here. The obvious question is why are the male body shapes allowed to be fat but the female ones aren’t? We have four general body shapes, one very skinny, one “normal” skinny, one “normal” large and one very large. At least that’s how it would look if you only looked at the male body types. When only looking at the female body types it appears to be go from very very skinny to “slightly normal sized” human being.

I’m not the first person to point this out of course, and of the many who have pointed this out, we are asking if Bioware is creating sexist body images? The question sounds awkward to me because it’s not like the female body types are weaker or less effective in the game, it’s that Bioware has apparently decided they don’t want any fat women in their universe.

And clearly it’s a issue with women because they seem to have no problem with fat men. In fact, while playing the game I’ve tried to keep track of how many different body types I’ve encountered. So far I’ve met a lot of NPC (non-playable characters) who have diverse body shapes, although they’ve all been male. Every female character so far has one of the four body types we’ve seen. Even when you encounter female characters of different races or ages, they all seem to have the hour-glass shape.

So, what are we to make of this? Has Bioware made a sexist and/or uncalled for judgement on women’s body types? Before gamers rush to their defence, this is the same company that was responsible for the groan inducing “butt shot” from another of my favourite games, Mass Effect 2

Yah, that one.

That butt belongs to one of the main characters, Miranda Lawson, a genetically engineered super agent, kind of like a female James Bond, I guess.

The controversy of the butt shot was sort of addressed by Mass Effect 2 project lead Casey Hudson in an interview here. It wasn’t a very good explanation though, basically saying how Miranda is supposed to be a femme fatale.

As far as I know, Bioware hasn’t commented on the “no fat” option for female characters in The Old Republic. That hasn’t stopped debate online though. A number of forums dedicated to the Old Republic have comment threads regarding this issue but mostly any attempt at serious discussion gets drowned in crude “no fat chicks” remarks.

I’m sure there would be a tendency to shrug this off as something silly and not to get worked up over. Who cares, it’s just a video game and who cares, it’s a Star Wars video game for goodness sake, shouldn’t we be raging against Grand Theft Auto or something? I guess one could make that argument. One could also argue that the Old Republic universe is meant to be made up of superhero’s. And in these worlds of superhero’s, everything is exaggerated. Men have broad shoulders and women have big boobs and they all look great in tight spandex outfits.

And yet, that doesn’t explain why there can be fat dudes but not fat chicks. In fact, it offers very little in the way of explaining this because in playing the game I’ve encountered a number of small wimpy looking male characters, lots of non-exaggerated characters who don’t look in place in a world of superhero’s.

I wouldn’t suggest that the Old Republic is at the top of the list of games that objectify women. In other ways the game is very good at giving female characters interesting personalities and strong story lines which is something we’ve come to expect from Bioware games. For the most part the female characters don’t just exist for men to gawk at, they actually have well thought out back stories and generally offer a lot to the game.

I personally hope that someone takes an opportunity to ask Bioware about this. It’s not like I would suggest we all boycott the game or something, but clearly someone must have realized while making the game “hey wait a second, why can’t you pick a overweight female character but you can make an overweight male character?” Surely this came up. I would just really like to hear what sort of justification Bioware has for this, or even whether they view this as problematic or a non-issue. At that point, I think I would have a better idea of the kind of people who are making these games.


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