Okay, so we had a few people ask for opinions on Yacht Clubs Games adding the Body Swap Mode to Shovel Knight. I want to preface this by saying I completely believe that they have good intentions and have done some very progressive things (like letting you set your pronouns independent of sprites) but that it also has some issues.
The first is that adding a body swap mode to a game that’s been out nearly three years and still uses very distinctly gendered language and tropes on its store page… is well… a gif is worth a thousand words.
The second is that while they’ve attempted to be equitable with the first rule provided: “Body swaps should be exactly as gendered as the original character.” this doesn’t factor in that largely their designs are default (male) and deviation (female). You know, The Smurfette Principle.
Lastly, and linking back to the first point, it’s important to remember that body swap options like this have a very strong tendency to promote an idea of false equality by creating a situation where gender is irrelevant. In real life, people’s gender is often very, very relevant to how the world interacts with them, their internal motivations and their general experience.
(That’s not to say there’s not a purpose to gender options or characters that exist outside of gender, but rather that one cannot just assume gender doesn’t matter – especially after heavily investing in gender roles)
To use one of their own examples, compare King Knight and Queen Knight.
Now, honestly I think the design in the sketch without the ridiculous boobplate effect was better but if Queen Knight looks like this, then King Knight should really look like Henry VIII combining his party and jousting attire:
The idea that “boobs decide if female” thing seems to be a trend with a lot of their swap designs, to the point of absurdity with some designs:
And when they don’t opt for boobs as the signal, it sadly seems to fall down to the idea that a male character has slightly more impressive armor (the most obvious example being The Enchantress) and aggressive stance than a female character.
As I said, I believe that the intention is there it doesn’t seem to have led to the actual examination of issues like “why are we sexualizing armors in the first place?” and “are we making the female characters seem out of place or a deviation?”
That can be challenging questions to ask, particularly if you’ve already got a dozen or so designs you really already love – but not asking them tends to result in re-enforcing the same old messages just in different ways.
It also can create a weird situation where the game tells you there is gender equality by gameplay options, but the rest of the game tells you that all the same old sexism is still there, waiting for you.