Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What is eye candy?

A really interesting thread was deleted on the World of Warcraft forums today, which I think is sad, and a general comment on why you can't use the official forums in a useful way these days. The thread started as a request for "eye candy for female WoW players." It quickly developed many of the standard sorts of threads of comment that you'd expect. There were men posting (half jokingly) that no women play WoW. There were women (or those who claimed to be) posting about how hot Arthas or pick-a-Blood-Elf are. There were those that called for a male counterpart to the warlock Succubus pet.

Sylvanas Windrunner
Overall, it was a fairly reasonable thread. One person posted saying that "it's bad enough Sylvanas and [some other names I forget] are designed as teen boy eye candy." I had a hard time with that one. Sure, these characters are scantily clothed, but they were also all powerful women who shaped the destinies of their people. Are such women not allowed to be as sexually alluring as their male counterparts? Is it just fine for Thrall and Hellscream to bare their chests at every turn, but not for Sylvanas to have a bare midriff?

The standard fantasy trope gives us character after character who shun heavy armor in favor of displaying their raw, sexual power. This is the case with everyone from Conan to Jaina Proudmoore. So, why can't we have sexually alluring females in WoW without it being an attempt to pander to teen boys? Do adult women and men not think Sylvanas looks good in her lack of armor? For my money, that girl can wear the hell out of a little bit of cloth and leather.

Now, back to the "eye candy for women" which I take to mean "eye candy for straight women". Here's the problem with that: for straight men, there's a fairly simple set of buttons you can press. Bare some skin, pose seductively. That's pretty much all you need. For women, there's a more nuanced set of interests, and it's often influenced by the social setting. In WoW, there's a tendency for women to focus on the elves. Partially this is because they're the only races whose men are overtly sexual, especially the Blood Elves.

Partially, however, this is the culmination of a social phenomenon. Most in-game roleplay relating to sexuality tends to involve humans or elves, and that has shaped a lot of the focus. Sure, Draenei and Orc men like to walk around shirtless a lot, and Tauren are the biggest and strongest looking, but there's no social momentum in their directions.

So, the question then becomes: what isn't eye candy? I think that, before you go asking about adding eye candy in the game, you have to ask yourself what you're looking for and what you already have.