OPENING DISCLAIMER: Some screenshots and links used in this article may be considered NSFW. Proceed with caution, and also, stop surfing the internet at work.
Yesterday a friend of mine mentioned that they’d been participating in the open beta of Aeria Games’s new free-to-play MMO, Scarlet Blade. Though my design goals really lie within snagging a spot on the World of Warcraft team, I figured I write enough about Blizzard games as it is and may as well take the opportunity to apply my creative eye to another title for once.
Then said friend begged “Please don’t tell anyone I’m playing this game” and I became mildly concerned as to what exactly I was getting myself into.
I knew from the get-go that there would be boobs. Scarlet Blade’s official website features artwork of two female characters with only a few pixels meaning the difference between “barely covered” and “nip-slip.” This didn’t really bother me, because I will happily play a scantily-clad lady character as long as she still kicks a significant amount of ass. And to be honest, boobs are awesome. I actually like wearing low-cut shirts from time to time to show off my cleavage. It makes me feel sexy, beautiful, and strong to know that I’m showing off for myself, despite what some other people may think about women in revealing clothing.
Launching the game was a moderate pain in the ass, since you can’t go directly to Scarlet Blade from your program menu — you have to fire up Aeria’s Ignite client (similar to EA’s Origin), sign in there, start Scarlet Blade, sign in a second time, then enter in a six-character numerical PIN on a keypad within the game itself where the numbers randomly shift around with every click. You can’t accuse them of being lax in security, I guess, but their log-in procedures were dangerously close to becoming the stuff of internet memes.
Okay, Character Creation! Pretty standard — choose your faction, then choose from six different classes and tweak appearance. My unnamed-and-ashamed compadre mentioned that I might want to check out the Whipper class to satisfy my desire to play a curvy character for once in a game. I took their advice and moved on to outfit select…
I still haven’t figured out what purpose choosing an outfit serves. There are two “normal” outfits and two “lingerie” outfits to choose from and to be honest, they could have all been classified as “fabric scraps haphazardly glued to a sketch on the back page of a teenage boy’s homework” and fit together quite nicely. When I started gameplay, my character wasn’t even wearing the outfit I chose. From what I can tell, these fancy censor-bars are seen once on the creation screen and then never again. But okay, whatever. I mean, it’s not like they’re offering panty-shots on ambiguously aged character mo–
But it’s not like you could buy something from the game’s cash shop that basically lets any character model you choose run around the game bare-crotched, right?
Oh, and that aforementioned hypersexualization of extremely young/innocent character types isn’t just in-game. Check out the artwork in this blurb for Scarlet Blade:
At least this one actually has large enough breasts to deter Chris Hansen for another day, but they still infantilize her by giving her a cute little stuffed animal to cuddle with.
The text on the blurb talks about “womankind” fighting to save the future as if it’s some kind of girl-power game. Well, yes, it is, in that you can only play female characters. The handful of male NPCs offer “sexual harassment” and “thinly-veiled double entendre” as the only dialogue options. According to what’s outlined in quest text, you’re not even playing a real woman — they’re glorified Realdolls. You’re controlling an “Arkana,” a mostly-naked, completely obedient (and demure, to the point that your character will blame, chastise, and belittle herself for everything that goes wrong), and anatomically impossible avatar to do your bidding. Oh, and if the dialogue is to be believed, they all want to have sex with each other.
That’s not even the most eye-rolling innuendo in the game. The female NPCs you interact with will constantly accuse you of checking out their butt, admit to checking out your butt, ask you why you’re not checking out their butt… a good chunk of the script reads like it was written by the same teenage boys who designed the characters.
Some of it honestly makes me wonder how many anime girl-shaped pillows were rendered too sticky for use during the game’s creation.
They seriously tack it onto every line of dialogue that comes out of a female character’s mouth.
And then this happened.
This is just within the first four, maybe five levels. I started out trying to take screencaps of every ridiculous innuendo or tidbit of sexual harassment and I had to stop, because I was pretty much screencapping the entire game.
It’s pretty clear that Aeria is not trying to tell a story with this game. The “lore” offered on the website is essentially the bastard child of Avatar and every single post-apocalyptic/mecha anime ever created. The three spells I started off with used identical icons and I could not, for the life of me, tell you what was different about their effects beyond the fact that they had different titles — I think, anyway, the tooltips were so poorly designed that they could have been giving me a wealth of information and I wouldn’t have known. Talent trees are massive and offer you the chance to put skill points into various spells without clearly explaining the benefits of each. I didn’t even see a clear indicator of how to tell what oddly-named stats boost what aspect of your play and which are best for your class. There’s no traditional stamina-strength-intellect setup; the stats in Scarlet Blade read like the Results screen of a Dance Dance Revolution battle. Combat doesn’t have any real strategy beyond targeting an enemy and mashing a button until it dies. Movement uses the WASD control scheme or click-to-move, but the camera is less than intuitive and requires the player to manipulate it themselves if they want to actually be able to see where they’re going, which can be awkward to do while moving. Even the voice actresses sound unhappy to be involved in this game, with the audio quality making it seem like the entire sound department is using Windows Sound Recorder at best.
The entire point of Scarlet Blade, based on my experience with it, is to inappropriately touch yourself while staring at fake women (one-handed play made possible by the “click on the quest to auto-travel to the NPC or area you need” feature). They’re marketing it as a regular MMO with an M rating, despite the fact that it’s basically an ecchi game with slightly higher production values. I feel like if one of your armor sets consists of criss-crossed ribbons on top and what I’m pretty sure is nothing but a landing strip on the bottom (protip, character designers: a thong actually has sides and a back, otherwise you’re drawing fancy pubes) you’ve crossed the line from being able to market your game as a “mainstream” MMO and smack-dab into “seriously why don’t you just admit this is an ecchi MMO” territory. As it stands, they’re not labeling their cheesecake, nor do they seem to have a terribly effective age verification system in place. A precursory glance through the official Scarlet Blade forums in an introduction thread reveals profiles and photographs of players both male and female who, like the Sentinel class, do not appear to be anywhere near 18.
It’s also frightening to think of how many players out there may not be able to grasp the concept that the portrayal of Scarlet Blade’s women is completely mired in fantasy and should not be carried over to the real world. The route of association goes like this: here is an anime-style character that you can treat like a sex doll, who shows nothing in “brains” but everything in the “genitals,” and now you go to a convention where you have real women dressed as anime or videogame characters, potentially scantily-clad. Now look at how frequently cosplay harassment occurs and wonder to yourself, is this helping by being an outlet for these animalistic urges, or hindering by creating some very terrifying links in our minds?
I uninstalled Scarlet Blade after a couple of hours. I just couldn’t deal with it beyond that. I wanted to actually give it a shot, for it to just be a fairly generic MMO that happened to feature cleavage, but what I got instead was an example of how game designers and developers can so easily cross the line of “good taste.”