When I blog about social justice issues, it often tends to be leveled quite heavily at the game designers themselves, over something that is in their game. However, when you are playing a social game, the necessity of analyzing and critiquing the behavior of other players that you interact with is high. Interactions with other players is a fairly rare occurrence and toxicity or oppressive behavior can make someone leave a game permanently and we don’t magically leave behind societally-ingrained nonsense when we enter someone else’s fantasy world.
All of this started the other night when my guildmate Gracie and I were looking at various public houses on our server’s list. It can be a pretty fun pastime that a lot of us in the guild enjoy; getting ideas from other players on how best to creatively expand our housing plot or just marveling at their ingenuity can be a nice way to while away the hours. However, this was pretty different from what was going on as we were hopping from house to house. We were noticing a rash of houses designed to have stripper poles, strip clubs or in one case (that I didn’t screenshot) a brothel. It was less surprising and more confusing. I had joked when we had first heard about garrisons in World of Warcraft that at least one person would “use it as a brothel” and now my words were becoming all too true. The question remains is this: given how much time, effort and in-game money it takes to build something elaborate on your housing plot in Wildstar, why the hell would you want to waste any of those things on a strip club?
The more I think about it, the more it perplexes me. The purpose of setting your house to “public” (meaning anyone can drop by and see it if it shows up on their server’s housing list , or if they use an addon like The Visitor) is often so that you can find new people to become your neighbors or so people can come and gawk at your creations. This means that when given a sandbox with admittedly finite resources, especially only a week or so into the game, a bunch of people decided that the best use of that was to build a strip club. Not only just build it, but lay it out there for other people to see. The fact that there’s some level of pride about is the sleazy part, to me.
Where did the inspiration for this come from? I could make a few guesses, but strangely none of those would be “from Wildstar.” As far as I’ve seen in game, Wildstar keeps the overt sexualizing of the Nexus’ women or traces of sex work relatively absent (quibbles about body types or armor aside). This goes for not just for the lore but also the in-game structures. I have not run across a strip club or brothel in-game. There’s even scant few housing plugs that gesture at women in a sexual manner – Draken bar sign and Granok Poster Bed notwithstanding. Even those are fairly tame in comparison and don’t overtly suggest that any woman in the Nexus occupies this world in a capacity any stronger than a cabaret girl at a saloon. In that respect, it’s been nice to see a game keep the sexualizing a minimum and even being a universe where sex work basically doesn’t exist is nice.
This, however, does not mean that players are not recreating motifs found elsewhere, in other universes, including our own. Westerns and sci-fi have revolved around the same old ideas that our actual world does – that not only sex work natural and inevitable, but that it’s cool. You have brothels over saloons (which is historically accurate) or things like science fiction-based games like Mass Effect including sexy dance clubs where you can watch Asari shake their butts. In fictional universes that are a merging of the two, you even get the idea of the “enlightened prostitute” where women not only are respected for going into a semi-mystical profession of being a courtesan, but are treated well. (Firefly, I am looking at you, despite the fact that you weren’t even consistent on that whole “universal respect for the career” nonsense.) It’s really not surprising that players would emulate that, especially since it’s so ubiquitous here and elsewhere. Strip clubs are both a real world and a sexy space fantasy all rolled into one.
I guess it comes down to how I, as a woman, feels about it. It’s really fun to play a game where I don’t have to think about being sexy or that the world sexualizes my character inherently on a regular basis. When I run to see other player’s housing, for the most part it’s been to wonder at their efforts and creativity. Coming across a rash of strip clubs and brothels reminds me very firmly that I can’t escape any level of the world around me, that it keeps coming into the game spaces I play by hook or by crook. The fact that it is mostly other players this time only makes me feel even more unsafe and dismayed as it them injecting that into a public area where I can’t help but stumble into it, only to feel like shit for the rest of my evening.
One of the more depressing examples of this was that one of the server’s more well-known houses (at least to my friends and I) recently adding one (seen up in the middle of the article) to their elaborate town that they constructed on their housing plot. We had been spending quite a bit of time on their plot, looking at how detailed and “real” it seemed, and here we come back only to find out a strip club had been added. The owner of the plot was actually there when we were sad about it in /say, and he went around cheekily with me about how it might be a theatre, if I use my imagination (It looked slightly different at that point.) I got mad and left. When I came back later to take a screenshot, it had morphed into what you see now, an even more overt reference.
It just feels so unsurprising and depressing at this point that even my escapism doesn’t really escape this.