using Morrigan and Isabela as examples of When Sexist Design Is Okay is exactly the wrong strategy to take with me.
I love Morrigan as a character. But I change Morrigan’s outfit as soon as I start putting her into battles, because what she’s wearing is ridiculous fanservice. She’s running around in a string bikini with just that little neck cover thing. Even as a mage, it makes no sense. (And makes me shiver just looking at her. Ferelden is cold! She must be freezing!)
But at least I can change her outfit! Isabela’s wearing a corset and no pants through the whole game. And as the only WOC in any of the companions, that’s a problem. Yes, you can justify it through characterization (they went to plenty of effort to do so) and I do in all honesty enjoy Isabela’s thighs quite a lot but if/when Isabela reappears I’d love to see her in proper rogue armor or at least piratewear (with pants). Because if she’s supposed to be a world-class duelist, I want to see her in combat gear that will make people take her seriously as a fighter, and if she’s a famous pirate captain, I want to see her looking like one. As it is, people end up ignoring any side of her that doesn’t revolve around sex, and that’s a disservice to the character.
When you come to love these characters you come to love aspects of their design that initially put you off. Partly because they took care to add dialogue and details to explain why they’re dressed that way, so if you buy the characterization you end up buying the design. And I bought it, okay. I love them both to pieces. But what they’re wearing is still fanservice. And I’d really like to see less of that.
Yeah, I’ll never understand Morrigan’s default outfit. Thedas is apparently located on the southern hemisphere of the Dragon Age World (Thedaw?), and Fereldan is all the way at the bottom, and the Korcari Wilds are all the way at the bottom of Fereldan…so why wouldn’t she be wearing clothes that match the fact that, even if it’s still a temperate region, it’s not bikini weather all year round? Morrigan isn’t the type to care what others think of her, and she spends all of her time with an old lady who, at least in DA:O, gave no cares about fashion either. So yeah, I don’t see her outfit as fitting her personality, as seen in game, or being representative of who she is or how she was raised. MEH.
Then there’s Isabela, and don’t even get me started. In the first game, regular light armor was good enough for her, she kicked ass, and we were able to discern that she was attractive and desirable and interesting. Taking away her armor in DA2 didn’t suddenly make her better or cooler, it was done to telegraph her sexual desirability. And it was unnecessary. She was one of my favorite characters, and I find her attractive, but putting her in good looking light armor that looked like something a pirate rogue lady could wear in a fight would have been more awesome, in my opinion. Because it would have told me that that the designers of this character cared as much about other aspects of her personality as they did about making her sexually appealing.
And let’s be real, every time a female character is made who is supposed to be a fighter of some kind, and their outfits are designed almost completely ONLY with being sexy in mind, it’s clear that the designers don’t give a damn about making these characters aspirational or inspirational. These characters are desirable objects to them, for the player to use as objects, while in most every case, male characters are designed either to be sympathetic best bros to the player character, or to be the kind of character the player would want their character to be.
I really want someone to look at me with a straight face and tell me that when they designed Morrigan and Isabela, they honestly believed that the players would identify with them, or want to be them. I would bet a million dollars that it NEVER occurred to the designers in the initial stages. They were made to be desired as bangable, not to be relatable. And that’s a problem.
^^^This. I love both characters, but the excuses being made to defend their design are just that — excuses. The designers couldn’t come up with a way to make them sexxxay that didn’t fit a billion preexisting, overused cliches rooted in male wank fantasies. Maybe they simply wanted to throw in some wankbait to “make up for” characters like Aveline who didn’t fit the sexist-cliche norm. Or maybe Marketing demanded it in order to appeal to the 18-25yo straight white male one-handed gamer demographic; whatever, but the excuses are so mealymouthed and nonsensical that they’re adding insult to injury. The arguments I’m hearing used to defend this are all about creative freedom, but if you’re just gonna use creative freedom to do the same old uncreative (and also sexist, also racist in the case of Isabela fitting every stereotype of oversexed women of color out there) thing, that argument falls flat on its face.
Still giggling at “the 18-25yo straight white male one-handed gamer demographic”. Awesome!