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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Learning and evolving, or "Weight in games, Part 2"

Like most of us, I often unknowingly delude myself with the belief that I am the "reasonable person" (ask a lawyer about it) and that my opinions and points are sound, rational, and otherwise the objective truth. Well occasionally thought and a bit of a push from others can remind us that we aren't, and that sometimes we need to adjust our view. Milady's comment on my "Depictions of Weight in Gaming" post was among those, so I wanted to take a moment to clarify and adjust my position, which in the original post I muddled.
In the previous post, I advocated that weight in games should not necessarily be ignored. However revisiting it, I realize that this could look like a form of saying "Overweight people should be mocked" or "Less fit people should have less stamina" (from a mechanical standpoint). That was not my intention, but also was not made clear.

So in an attempt to rectify it, let me rephrase my stance. In the past, larger characters have been depicted as the butt of a joke (see my previous post) and are usually there with the express or implicit intention that they be mocked. Even in popular books, if a character is overweight I would almost guarantee that it appears in their initial description, while average sized or slim characters often go unmentioned. The first encounter we have with many of these characters (such as Samwell Tarly, below) is people pointing out how "fat" they are or mocking takes far too long for the writer or game to get around to pointing out that they are PEOPLE...with things like thoughts, feelings, passions, merits, flaws, etc that aren't tied to their weight. Crazy right?
Certainly his character reflects depth, but in the book and show, his initial reception is about his weight. Image from GameofThronesWiki (warning, spoilers!)
My stance is that this practice should stop. I want designers and developers to go the route of Ellie and introduce larger characters that are people FIRST, large SECOND (or third, fourth, etc). That is to say, overweight is a trait they have, not what they are defined as. I don't necessarily mean for this to have an impact on gameplay in the stat sense, but that the player might encounter people of different body shapes and sizes and have that be the norm, not some joke or exception.

After contemplating I cannot think of a way to actually address it in-game in a meaningful way, but in the initial post I was concerned more for the "sweeping under the rug" approach many games take. So the goal I think will be more about allowing the differing body-types without making them a joke. I will own that SWTOR did do some of this (though it's largest female characters were still very slim) by having NPCs and other characters of varying sizes without that being a joke per se. Larger characters appeared everywhere, their size was not constantly noted or examined, and (so far as I could tell) were treated equally to other sizes in the game world.  Otherwise, having the choice but then populating the game world with none of it seems odd; like letting players make a female character but having every NPC be male.

Image from RadioFreeThinker
To conclude, my belief is that integration requires more than simply giving the player the option of making their character a certain way, whether it be race, gender, or body shape. It requires the game world also be populated with characters of varying races, genders, and shapes. Make them fully fleshed out characters, not just one-time attractions/tokens or base their "character" on their weight.

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