Parallel Dimorphism - Featured

The Parallel Dimorphism Issue

Parallel Dimorphism is a phrase I use to refer to the occurrence of identical sexual dimorphism traits (observable differences between genders) between humans and other races in games. Unfortunately, this exclusively applies to the females of said species, all sharing the same phenotypic traits of an idealized human woman; specifically a slim frame, leggy (but shorter than the males, of course), and with a perfect hourglass figure.

For the main example I’ve decided to use World of Warcraft because it is both has the largest player base and is a prime example of what I’m referring to. For the males of the species of WoW, all basic body types are accounted for: cylinder, triangle, inverted triangle, pear (granted the last wasn’t included until the most recent expansion: Mists of Pandaria). The more monstrous/bestial races also have a menacing, hunched-over poses, accentuating their unnatural forms. However the same cannot be said of the females. Even the races that would be weird to be considered sexy in WoW follow the all-hourglass, fantastic posture pattern: undead, tauren, and transformed Worgen.

Male characters project a wide range of personalities via their builds and stances which only serves to make the female characters seem even more bland. I see that as not just sexist, but bad game design. Why are all the females designed to attain a single manufactured metric of beauty? It’s boring. There is a ton of potential for making the various races dynamic, interesting, and diverse. All of it is wasted on the female side, and it seems to be in the name of pandering to a perceived section of the demographic.

Parallel Dimorphism - WoW Female Silhouettes

Parallel Dimorphism - WoW Male Silhouettes

The white silhouettes on the male image indicates the height of the character when they stand up straight.
Image source:

One of the more frustrating thing about WoW in particular regarding this is that the alpha model of the female Troll was so much more bestial, and if you ask me, troll-like, which should be the goal of the exercise.

Parallel Dimorphism - Alpha Troll

Ugly? Maybe to you, human!

Another race where the females suffer from parallel dimorphism is the Amani from Tera Online. While the females look like a supermodel painted grey and given elephant legs below the knee (somehow with a claw-heel so they are perpetually wearing high heels, but that’s a talking point for another time), the males are living dino-tanks, with stubby snouts and chest measurements that’d make a human bodybuilder weep. Their faces look nothing like a human, whereas the female face… well… it does, with a demure nose and soft features that are at odds with the chisel-like detailing of their torso.

Parallel Dimorphism - Amani

Aside from this sort of thing being damaging to the self-esteem of women who haven’t been genetically blessed with an hourglass figure — which according to a two-year survey from 2005 was 91.6% of the 6,138 women scanned with a TC(2) scanner — shouldn’t men find this insulting as well? Obviously this lack of diversity is done to pander to a specific demographic and it’s perpetuating the idea that if you are attracted to a different body type, you are wrong, because the 1.5:1:1.5 ratio is the only shape worth looking at.

There are some MMOS that allow for player “customization” of the character’s body. Of course, the use of quotes there is because often times while the male characters are customizable, the female characters don’t nearly have the freedom of body type that the males do.

Parallel Dimorphism - Champions Sliders

♫One of these people is more people-y than the other♫

In the above screenshot, all sliders for both characters have been set to max. While the female model isn’t exactly realistic, it is undeniably more within the realm of possibility than Mr. Big McLargeHuge over there. One could easily try to shift the blame onto the comic book industry regarding this specific example. However, the issue still stands: the male characters exhibit a wider range of variety than the females.

This issue is often times further accentuated by the armor design. This is something WoW isn’t very guilty of — particularly with the Tier sets that are almost identical between the two genders. This isn’t to say a fantasy game shouldn’t have unrealistic armor, but I’ve lost count of the number of times in other games I’ve had a male character and female character of the same level wearing the identical sets of armor where the female version is far far skimpier.

Parallel Dimorphism - Dragons Prophet Same Armor

This is the same exact set of armor, no lie. (Source: Dragons Prophet)

Parallel Dimorphism - Tera Armor

Really? (Source: Tera Online)

Thankfully a lot games are starting to incorporate transmutation, allowing the player to choose the aesthetics for their character they want regardless of the stats, so this part is becoming less and less of an issue. With games like WoW and GW2 you can make any piece of armor your character could normally wear have the stats of another, effectively allowing you to create a consistent “look” for your character that you like without being forced to sacrifice armor and stat boosts to do so. This is something I’ve done with my Sylvari in GW2, keeping the look of a combination of lvl20 and lvl40 armor with the stats of lvl70 pieces. It’s a feature I am a big fan of, and was thrilled to see WoW pick it up, since as WoW goes, so goes the genre.

A quick aside/clarification here: I’m not opposed to the existence of skimpy clothing in these games. What I am opposed to is freedom of choice. I’m against not being able to pick skimpy clothing for male characters, and I’m against to not being able to cover female characters.

All in all this is an issue that is slowly waning, although is still far too pervasive. I can only hope that more awareness will expedite the process. We, as a society, are so drowning in digitally manipulated images of idealized female forms that something like this becomes nothing but background noise, barely a blip on the radar.

Katrinka is an all-around nerd from upstate New York. She’s into cosplay, pen & paper RPGs, LARPing, and board games in addition to video games. The first game she can remember playing is Ice Hockey for the Atari 2600 (the one with the awesome Phil Hartman commercial). Her favorite games are Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy 9.

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  • IonutRO

    If I remember correctly beta testers complained that female Trolls and Tauren were too ugly to look at and that’s why it was changed blizzard. Honestly the only reason such sexual dimorphism exists is because that’s what appeals to the majority and therefore the companies must deliver if they wish to be successful.

  • T.J. Diggs

    I’m a male and I agree with you 100%. There’s no real reason for this other than the game designers aesthetics. We should be able to create large and powerful female characters if we wish!

  • aaron shinder

    I only wish a game existed where the model of armour was up to the player. Where smithing actually made the player assemble the armour piece by piece however they liked.