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Why Lost Ark's Character Designs Are Under Fire

Sometimes games really surprise fans by including progressive explorations of gender – like when the developer of "Celeste" confirmed a popular fan theory. However, even in games that feature seemingly identical gendered characters, gamers will find a way to favor one or the other. In "Fortnite," some professional players suspected that women characters had smaller hitboxes, making them more difficult to actually take down. One game has gone above and beyond to differentiate between gender, though, and fans are taking it to task for its portrayals of women and gender-locked classes. Unfortunately, it's one of the most popular titles on Steam right now.

"Lost Ark" is an Amazon-backed ARPG that's currently taking over Steam charts and winning the hearts of players all over the world. Originally released in Korea, Japan, and Russia, the title quickly won fans because – unlike many other free-to-play games – "Lost Ark" doesn't require costly upgrades in order to win. While cosmetics and skins are available to purchase with real-world money, they aren't a necessity for players to be good at the game or progress in its story. While players love the mechanics of "Lost Ark," some aren't so keen on the character design, which heavily features scantily clad women. Worse yet, some of the classes are gender-locked, meaning that some classes must be women. With few options to change their clothing, players are taking to the internet to debate the designs.

What does it mean to have gender-locked classes?

Gender-locked classes only allow players to create female or male characters for some classes. While "Lost Ark" is the lasted game to do this, it's by no means the first. A Reddit thread from 2017 discussed the issue, asking if the gaming community saw a problem with gender-locked classes in MMOs. One respondent explained that by forcing players to play a specific sex for gender-locked classes, they ruin some players' ability to enjoy the game, saying, "It might be silly to some, but for me I don't play female characters. I just can't identify with the game the same way." They continued to say that by locking a class by gender, the game developers automatically limit themselves – and players – by taking away a small bit of freedom in the world.

On the other hand, one commenter noted that while they initially had a problem with gender-locked classes, they quickly got over it. " I AM NOT the character, I am controlling my character," they said. While gender-locking certain classes may harm some players' ability to relate to a character, it could also potentially introduce problematic portrayals of gender. For example, in "Lost Ark" Bards and Sorceresses both feature increasingly tiny outfits, revealing much of their bodies while kicking enemy butt – all while wearing stilettos. While some gamers didn't mind the gender-locked classes or outfits, others are calling attention to the decision online.

Fan response to Lost Ark's gender-locked classes

On Twitter, fans called the gender-locked classes of "Lost Ark" "antiquated," "stupid," and "annoying," with many arguing that restricting classes is an outdated practice in general. One Redditor made a meme depicting the increasingly small "pants" options for the sorceress class in "Lost Ark," sparking discussion about the game's class system. One gamer jokingly speculated that the sorceress drew her power from photosynthesis – like Quiet in "Metal Gear Solid 5."

Many prospective players seemed to opt out of "Lost Ark," even though it's free to play, because of its treatment of gender-locked classes. One gamer said, "Lost Ark seems like a great game I would love to play if it wasn't f2p, riddled with mtx and by devs who still think that gender-locked classes and over-sexualizing characters is a good thing." Others simply said gamers have to ignore the gender-locked classes, and that the game has other issues aside from characters' skimpy armor – like a poorly developed story.

Still, others defended "Lost Ark," commenting that it's possible the developers needed to save money on character design by limiting some classes to only one gender. On the official "Lost Ark" message board, one player said that the aesthetics of "Lost Ark" align with Korean beauty standards, and that the game itself isn't unique in its portrayal of women. The player also argued that some of the game's poses are popular in Korea, as well, and that the developers' culture heavily influenced the game.

"Lost Ark" still has some kinks to work out, and fans might not agree about all of them. Even though players remain divided over classes in "Lost Ark," players should be able to agree on one fan's comment: "Sorcery isn't just for the girlies."