Star Wars: The Old Republic has gotten a lot of press since its launch. Most notably in feminist circles, it was criticized (and rightly so) for not having same-sex romanceable companions at launch. But there are some features of the game that are laudable from a feminist perspective — namely, the character customization options.
Let me use the example of my character, Zharra, intergalactic bounty hunter and stone-cold badass, to illustrate.
Zharra’s skin isn’t a flawless mask: it has weathering and texture that suggests that she doesn’t spend her entire earnings on skin cream. She’s tall and broad-shouldered — she towers over shorter male characters and has visible musculature in her arms, chest, and abdomen. She has a badass facial scar and cybernetics that she probably got from wrestling a manka cat or punching rancors in the face. In other words: she looks interesting and powerful, instead of just sexy.
The de-emphasis on making every female character look sexy is also supported by the gear in the game. How often in an RPG have you had a female character that was forced to wear hot pants, six-inch heels, and a bustier because it was the best choice for gear at the time?
Not so in SWTOR. Throughout the game, you can upgrade most armor so if you have a piece of gear that you particularly like, you can keep it and upgrade its stats to make it appropriate to your level of play. This means that you’re not forced to wear a particular piece of gear for the sake of its mechanical benefits.
Does this rid the game completely of the oversexualization problem? No. There are plenty of people who have customized the “Slave Dancer” outfit (think Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi) so their female characters or companions can always be wearing a metal bikini. And of course, there’s no male equivalent, and the game doesn’t allow you to put the outfit on male characters. But you’re not forced to wear a degrading outfit for the sake of gear optimization, and that’s a step in the right direction.
Besides, if I get tired of female oversexualization, I can always make my male companions take off their shirts and dance for my amusement.