Serendipity abounds. I’ve been slow posting, and in the meantime, several items on the topic of “It’s just a game, isn’t it?” have come to my attention. First up, bunny ears.
It seems that to celebrate Easter, WoW introduced a new achievement which required players to find a female character from one of each of the races and
catalog put bunny ears on her, presumably using some sort of gizmo. No permission of said female toon was required.
Some of the women objected. To them, a line was crossed and their avatars were sexualized without their permission. Many in the gaming community reacted just as is expected when challenged: It’s just a game. It’s just an avatar, it doesn’t mean anything.
Credit where credit is due, Raph got here first:
But boy, avatars is a pretty special case. We have a lot of “specialized hardware” around this in our brains, and avatars tend to trigger a lot of it. For example, the fusiform face area or FFA is a part of the brain that seems to be involved in facial recognition, and also seems to fire off when identifying specific objects with fine distinctions (for example, it fires in birdwatchers when identifying birds, and in car aficionados when recognizing specific makes and models). The interesting thing is that the FFA activates even with iconified faces — with stuff that we just think of as a face.
It may be a game, but it isn’t just a game. Your body and your mind reacts to it pretty much as if it’s life. Some people manage to be pretty detached about the experience, but then that’s true of life AFK, too.
Here’s how I feel about it. People take their appearance seriously. WoW has lots of “zap someone’s appearance” toys, but most of them only work on group members. So there’s some form of implied permission there. The height of a players’s avatar will affect their behavior, and so will the amount of “eye contact” another avatar is giving you.
So, I think WoW blew it here. It’s not the moral equivalent of murder, but the moral equivalent of slapping a “hottie” sticker on the back of women at the park. I have little patience for those who argue that “people wear bunny costumes all the time, it’s celebrating the Easter bunny.” There are two problems with this, first, the people who wear the costumes choose to do so. Second, that’s not the only meaning of bunny ears, which have been associated with sexual availability for at least 50 years.
Geez, just ask anyone who is a fan of manga and anime. The acheivement didn’t require you put ears on male avatars, did it? I think there’s be a lot less issue if it had. No, the female characters had to blow kisses at males. Doesn’t that strike you as being a bit, umm, one-sided.
Anyway, not a mortal sin, but a mistake on Bizzard’s part.