Millions of people play games every day, and how they dress in those games matters. So why is talking about fashion off limits?
Ask any gamer and they can likely recount tales of how they spent hours perfecting their look in any video game with character customisation, from The Sims to Dragon Age: Inquisition to any massive multiplayer online game.
Customising a character is akin to creating our own animated artwork. It’s arguably one of the best parts of The Sims, for example, and people are ravenous for rare “skins” (better known to the non-gamer as, ahem, “outfits”) in games like Overwatch and Fortnite.
Millions of people play video games globally every day, and how they dress in those games matters. So why haven’t we talked about fashion in games more? Games have long been used to explore different facets of life, from fantasy lands to wars, but fashion has fallen by the wayside.
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Maybe fashion has been brushed off as a topic because it’s seen as a more “feminine” interest. It’s no secret that video games have in the past been a male-dominated field. The kinds of games commonly approved and made catered to masculine stereotypes: war, battles, guns, weapons, strategy, domination, force, uh, more guns … you catch my drift. Rich in detailed scenery and action mechanics, poor in any kind of sartorial consideration.
But games and gamers aren’t immune to trends. The notion that gamers are predominantly teenage boys is as outdated as hoop skirts and driving gloves, or inexplicable underwear armour that doesn’t seem to cover the actual vulnerable body parts.
Fashion is an information-rich element of storytelling. And games that do fashion-as-story always feel more complete
And fashion is not just a “feminine” interest. It matters in some way to everyone. A study from Quantic Foundry in 2016 found that for women and non-binary people, “Fantasy” is one of the top two reasons they choose to play a game. For men, “Fantasy” is the fourth-highest motivation. Fantasy is defined here as being someone or somewhere else, and arguably fashion plays a huge role in this. One of the biggest appeals of games is being able to inhabit a character you’ve formed in your mind, and clothing helps tie you to your character and the world, no matter how fantastical it is. Fashion can make you feel powerful, as in the case of Halo Reach where you can customise all parts of your armour set.
Dressing up a character in games can also help you aspire to something personally. Sexy outfits I was afraid to wear? I wore them in games first. Did they make me feel empowered, or uncomfortable? Games give you an incentive to explore that feeling off-screen, if you choose. We can see this in merchandise – we love buying clothes that are branded with our favourite game series, because it reminds us of the power we feel in the game. Even Lightning from Final Fantasy had a Louis Vuitton collaboration at one point because she was the “perfect avatar for a global, heroic woman”.
Fashion is an information-rich element of storytelling. And games that do fashion-as-story always feel more complete. Splatoon’s streetwear feels fun and exciting, while the period appropriate clothes of LA Noire transport you back in time.
We’re getting better, but there are still huge gaps. I grew up playing as many dress-up games as I could (Roiworld or Dollmakers, anyone?) and now I find a lot of my time spent on mobile games like Covet Fashion and Love Nikki Dress Up Queen, but these are a very specific type of game locked behind microtransactions, where you usually have to pay to play the game fully and collect exclusive items. Where is my fashion game that has same production calibre as the next Shooty McShootface game? Many people have told me they didn’t think they were interested in playing dating sims until we introduced action-combat into it in our game Boyfriend Dungeon.
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Outside of pure dress-up games, very few games have explored fashion as part of gameplay. Games like Hitman 2 are a notable exception, where the clothes you choose to wear (or, uh, steal) allow you to stealthily blend in with crowds. Even when games aren’t necessarily built using fashion mechanics, places to discuss fashionable armour sets have cropped up behind them. Places like r/fashionsouls on Reddit have huge communities based on obtaining and creating the most stylish outfits for more traditionally “hardcore” games like Dark Souls. There’s even one going on for Monster Hunter.
Fashion is the story of who we are, both online and offline. I’m ready for a fashion revolution to happen in games, so let’s walk this runway together.
• Victoria Tran is the Communications Director at Kitfox Games. She is speaking at Emperor’s New Woes: why are we ignoring fashion in games? Thursday 10 October as part of Melbourne International Games Week
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