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Lost Ark's Depiction Of Female Characters Feels A Decade Out Of Date

The free-to-play action MMORPG forces women to wear heels and has gender-locked classes

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A screenshot of two women in Lost Ark, both wearing shorts and heels.
Screenshot: Smilegate / Kotaku

Lost Ark is a lot of fun. I’ve played hours and hours of it and I’m excited to play more. However, the latest smash hit on Steam is facing criticism for how it portrays its female characters.

Specifically, the game features some truly silly female animations, gives women few options besides revealing armor, forces them to wear heels, and uses gender-locked classes. This would have been a problem in 2012. Now in 2022, it’s not only bad, it seems as if the folks making this game just ignored the last decade or so of discussions and debates surrounding representation of women and non-masculine characters in games.

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When I first started playing Lost Ark, I booted up the game and created a paladin named Zack, who was a dude. I’m very boring. However, even as a male character, I noticed how many of the female characters around me seemed to be, uh…lacking pants. And I’m not the only person who noticed. Other players have pointed out how hard it is as a female character in Lost Ark to find clothing and armor that actually, y’know, covers your body.

A screenshot of my female character, in heels and shorts, the moment after I created her.
Screenshot: Smilegate / Kotaku
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I wanted to experience this myself, so I started up a new character. Although she was fully clothed and armored in the character creation menu, the moment I started the game my new heroine was stripped down to nearly nothing and plopped in some heels, and that was that. I spent nearly two hours running around, doing quests and killing monsters before I finally found a new pair of pants that weren’t just booty shorts. Instead, these were slightly longer booty shorts.

Technically, that is progress, but it’s strange to force people playing as women to go around mostly unclothed and to do it all in heels.

To be clear: I have no problem with people wanting to wear short-shorts or heels. Whatever works for you and makes you feel good, I’m down for it. And I think video games should include options for people who want to wear revealing clothing or super-high heels. However, it’s frustrating that in 2022 we still have to remind game devs and publishers that women might want a choice in how they look.

(Quick aside: I also want to add that if you think heels and shorts are sexy, cool-looking, or awesome, I’m not here to say you are wrong or tell you that your opinion is bad. I’m just asking for more options for more folks! Imagine the opposite. Imagine if none of the clothes were sexy or revealing. You’d probably be disappointed! That’s how a bunch of folks feel today when loading up Lost Ark.)

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Even if Lost Ark offered a wider variety of clothing and armor to women, it wouldn’t fix its other big problem with women: all the hyper-exaggerated, fan-service-y animations. Women in Lost Ark have hips that wiggle side to side so much, so quickly, they look like they fell out of a Source Filmmaker project from a decade ago. On social media, you can find lots of women who have already pointed out just how comically bad Lost Ark’s female animations look, especially when zoomed in on.

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Another archaic, debatably poor design choice in Lost Ark is that some in-game classes are gender-locked. Want to play as a female paladin or warrior? Sorry. All of the big sword-wielding warrior subclasses are locked to the male sex. Some classes in Lost Ark support both genders, but most don’t. And while it’s true that developer Smilegate has announced plans to add more classes for both genders, this isn’t a new game. It’s been out for a few years now in Asia.

In a blog post announcing that it had plans to add more gender options for classes, Smilegate even acknowledges that folks in the West have been critical of this decision for some time now. Yet it still launched like this. It’s also odd to just assume only folks in the West would want to play as a female paladin.

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As has been pointed out by some fans and longtime players, there are definitely some cultural differences between South Korea and the United States/Europe when it comes to how MMOs and free-to-play games are marketed and developed. Still, it doesn’t seem like a big ask to give female characters access to all classes or at the very least a more suitable array of clothing and cosmetic options. And while I’m happy to hear Smilegate is working to improve the situation, it’s 2022. This shit shouldn’t have been a problem to begin with.