Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of virtual world and MMO fashion
Although DC Universe Online is still in beta, there's plenty to be said about its avatar fashions. I've also played City of Heroes and Champions Online extensively (and even applied their styles to Second Life), and in all these superhero games, I spend much more time developing a vision for my avatar than I would in a standard fantasy MMORPG. That’s because superheroes embody ideals and personalities, and every element of their costume is a part of their identity. And while DCUO has many strengths in that area, it also has a glaring weakness: the exaggeratedly buxom shapes that are forced on female avatars.
What's worse, DCUO's tagline is "The next legend is you." That perfectly crystallizes why my standards are so high for character creation in superhero games: You're not just creating a random mercenary or a rogue or a warrior, you're supposed to be creating a modern mythological figure. DCUO tries to fulfill this need, while also forcing female heroes into a very restrictive form. Here's how:
To test the different power sets and customization options available, I made three heroes and three villains. Clockwise from top left we have Prospera, a summoning magician inspired by Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest; Blanche Neige, an ice-powered archer heroine inspired by Snow White; Hadaly, a mind-controlling robot I've also made in City of Heroes and Champions, who takes her name from a gynoid in Fritz Lang's Metropolis; The Stenographer, a devious villain who employs guns and gadgets; Rose Red, the nature-powered, axe-wielding, forest-inspired villain counterpart of Blanche Neige; and finally, Divine Comedy, a character I created in the complete absence of a good idea for a fire-powered villain in cahoots with The Joker. All these women are -- despite my preference otherwise -- very well endowed in the breast department. Because of this, I can't say that I'm 100% happy with any of these characters, and that's not something I'm used to experiencing in hero MMOs.
- Tall and busty
- Medium-sized and busty
- Preteen and (you guessed it) rather busty.
If you think I'm exaggerating, take a look over my screenshots again. Every woman in this game is more or less forced to have the proportions of Power Girl, a character whose modern incarnation was designed to see how big a heroine's chest could get before censors would step in. She's supposed to be an exception, not a rule.
There is a glaring problem with this if you simply follow the game's world and backstory: the whole premise of DCUO is that Lex Luthor has turned average people into superhumans. So shouldn't an average person's body still at least be an option -- or do my supernatural powers come with free and mandatory breast implants?
The argument could certainly be made that the available female body types simply reflect the standard silhouette of women in mainstream Western comics, like the DC Universe. For me, however, that argument went out the window when I stood next to Batwoman (pictured on the right) and realized that her chest looked one to two cup sizes smaller than my avatars. And DCUO has an an army of female NPCs wearing jackets, suits, minidresses (see below left), and even police uniforms, who have completely average builds. Only the player-controlled female avatars seem to be subject to these particularly ridiculous breast proportions. Given the option, I don't think any of my characters would have large breasts; none of them seem to have a personality or concept to match them.
Unfortunately, it's not just the girls suffering from DCUO's narrowminded view of canon body types. Male heroes also get a limited choice of beefy, beefier, and preteen bodies. According to the beta user forums, both male and female athletic body types were developed, but have been excluded from the current release, because developers didn't have the time to fit the equipment and costume pieces to these different body types.
As breathtaking the worlds of Gotham City and Metropolis are, and as clever as some of the gimmicks of this game can be, the limitations placed on female avatars have really put me off. Avatar adjustment slliders would be a blessing, but even a more modest or acrobatic build would be an improvement. I'm hoping that the developers will see the light (and hear the many complaints on the forums) and make the introduction of more varied body models a priority. Then I can finally enjoy a leisurely stroll on the streets of Metropolis without worrying about popping out of my spandex.
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.