Ask Anna #3: How About Those Skimpy Lady-costumes?

Q: How can you talk about feminism when you worked on a Playboy game? And Guild Wars has skimpy girl costumes!

A: You know how some people have a disclaimer on their Twitter accounts? Like these:

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They're not making disclaimers to imply that they have controversial opinions (necessarily). They're being upfront about their opinions varying from those of their employers. And possibly cats. It surprises me that I need to say this, but here goes: game companies are not hive minds. People from all walks of life come together to work on games. I have worked with people from all over the world, with wildly different political views and personal tastes. I have worked with people who think female game characters should wear clothes appropriate for their roles, and with people who think women should wear as little as possible whenever possible. ("If a mission isn't working right, throw in a half-naked girl and nobody will notice."—a designer I know.) I've worked with people who think it's cool to sexualize little girls. I've worked with Republicans and Anarchists. With alcoholics and AA members. With people who will actually put snickerdoodles in their mouths. Everybody contributes to the game; everybody leaves their mark on it. But the game has its own set of principles and aesthetics that are independent of what each individual wants. The vision for the game comes from the creators: the worldbuilders, the loremasters, the lead designers. Their task is to keep all these individual creative minds pointed in the direction of their vision for the game. A good lead designer or world-builder finds ways to incorporate individual ideas into the overarching vision. A bad one micromanages every detail into frustrating sterility.

Games are about compromise. I have worked on many games that didn't align with my personal philosophies. In those cases, it was my job to understand the creative director's vision and help them realize it. Wherever possible, I made a case for changing elements that I considered problematic, but stood down immediately if the director felt it was important. Many people don't realize how much a game changes during development. How many battles for features or content are waged silently behind the scenes. When a project begins, it's pure possibility, and you think optimistically of all the wonderful innovations you're going to include. Then the game falls behind schedule, or the budget dries up, or the vision drastically alters, and suddenly you're trimming features, cutting corners, and scrambling to get even half of the content in that you'd hoped to have. Making games can be a process of letting go. Sometimes this process is healthy: streamlining features down to the essential and integral. Sometimes it's wrenching: cutting a character or gutting a storyline you love because there's no time or resources for it. You have to be willing to let go and keep your eye on the greater vision.

So, to answer the question, the project has nothing to do with my personal views. It might surprise you to learn that I'm not philosophically opposed to the Playboy game. I'm not anti-sexy, by any means, but I have strong opinions about appropriateness and choice. That's not the question being asked here, though. As for Guild Wars 2, there was a hard-fought war behind the scenes at ArenaNet to make sure that players were getting what they wanted. We wanted them to have enough options that everyone could find comfortable armor. We wanted players to start out with a neutral look. We wanted faces that could be customized for any race or age. We lobbied hard for those features. At the end of the day, though, all those decisions were made by the creative director and the character design teams. And it's up to individual players to decide if they were the right decisions or not. I'm flattered that people think I have enough influence on these project teams to dictate elements like character models, but the truth is I don't. Perhaps someday. Some glorious, despotic day.