Recently Funcom has found itself the center of attention in a discussion over sexism. It came about after an April Fools’ Day joke went wrong in The Secret World. The joke itself wasn’t the issue. Not directly, at any rate. In fact it had originally meant to be a jab at themselves. I’m talking about the drama around mankini-gate.
What is mankini-gate, exactly? Mankini-gate is the name the players of The Secret World gave to the controversy around the April Fools’ Day joke. It began on April 1st when Funcom put two outfits in the store: a full body wetsuit for women and a mankini for men. It was intended to be a jab at themselves, pointing out that yes, they know there is a bit of gender inequality when it comes to The Secret World‘s outfits. Often the women are highly sexualized while the men get more respectable clothing. Just a few days later the mankini was removed from the game. Players who purchased it got their points refunded and were given a random loot box. This infuriated the players. Many of them had loved the tiny neon green mankini, but most of all they wanted answers. They would have to wait several more days before game director Joel Bylos would take to the forums and explain what happened.
The order to remove the mankini from the game had come from the highest level within Funcom: management. In his post to the players, Joel stated: “Funcom management feels strongly that the Mankini outfit goes against what The Secret World intellectual property (IP) is all about and they did not want this item to stay in the game permanently.” He goes on to say that “The item was pulled due to concerns over the integrity of the IP – not because of the gender or skimpiness of the outfit.” Yet it is hard to ignore the fact that it was the male version of the outfit pair, not the female, that was removed. And at no point is it ever stated how the integrity of the IP is damaged by the outfit, if not by its skimpiness and gender. A weak argument is given that the outfit doesn’t belong in the urban, contemporary horror MMO setting. But if that were the case then one must ask if other outfits really belong in the setting either. Outfits such as:
A Sight for Sore Eyes
As you can see, Funcom isn’t afraid to put women in very little. In fact, you can strip down to a thong and smiley faces over the nipples should you so desire, though this obviously isn’t the intended situation.
They have another popular title that sexualizes women as well, Age of Conan. Though given the IP, the sexualisation of women makes sense. In Age of Conan female characters can run around completely topless. Yet there isn’t an equal for men to run around with their privates out. Age of Conan is really only a small piece of this much larger issue. Is there an overarching theme of misogyny forced upon the players of Age of Conan and The Secret World by the higher-ups in Funcom?
Perhaps Age of Conan should be taken out of the picture. As stated earlier, it is part of a pre-existing IP that already enforced the idea of women as sex objects. It can be said that Funcom is simply operating within the continuity of the Conan universe. So that turns our attention back to The Secret World.
The game itself doesn’t care if you’re a male character or a female character. If you play a Dragon you get the same… footrub no matter what. This could be called a win for equality. After all, everyone is treated equally. The lady in red gets on her knees for any who pass through her doors. So it isn’t the game itself that has issues.
In fact, most of the issue revolves around clothing. Of the three outfits mentioned earlier only one has a male equivalent: the Snake Charmer. As far as men go it is a pretty sexy outfit, actually. Plenty of bare chest and a nice man-skirt. What more could a girl want in eye candy?
The Secret World isn’t the first modern-based MMO to face these issues. City of Heroes was subject to this same kind of backlash after several costume sets were released that showed more skin than it hid. There was no arguing that sex sells, and that the skimpy female outfits were still popular with many. So they did the only thing they could to make everyone happy: make three of everything. When a new set came out there was the male version, the sexy female version, and the female version of the male version. But there was still some upset. After all, why didn’t men get two outfits too? Why couldn’t male characters have their own version of the sexier female outfit? Paragon Studios simply made a choice that that wasn’t something they wanted in their game. It wasn’t a topic they were ready to approach. And so life moved on. The overwhelming majority of players were satisfied, and people found new battles to fight.
When it comes down to it, Funcom made the same choice that Paragon Studios did. The only real difference was in how it was handled. What happens next will really cement how players view Funcom and their stance on gender equality. With luck they will take the Paragon Studios route. At the very worst they will stop making interesting outfits all together. Hopefully this won’t happen. But you only need to touch the stove once to know it’s hot. And hopefully Funcom won’t turn The Secret World into a sea of genderless outfits. Sex does sell, and some people still want to buy it. Still, it is safe to say that Funcom’s April Fools Day joke backfired. So it really is no wonder that so many are up in arms about it. But Funcom, the next move is yours…
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