I approached the SuperTuxKart community fearing some backslash due to last week’s discussion about their release 0.9, to find instead a nice, friendly and welcoming community. I have already had some very nice talks with them since then, and they have patiently explained to me the sequence of events that led to the situation that I mentioned and that, for the sake of fairness, I consider that I have to share here too. You can read the log of the first conversation I had with them (the log has been edited and cleared up for clarity and readability). I seriously recommend reading it, it’s a honest friendly conversation, and it’s first hand.
For those who don’t already know the game:
All this story seems to start with the complain of a 6 yo girl, close relative of one of the developers and STK user, who explained that she always felt that Mario Kart was better because there was a princess in it. I’m not particularly happy with princesses as role models for girls, but one thing I have always said is that we have to listen to kids and take their opinions into accounts, and I know that if I had such a request from one of the kids closer to me, I probably would have fulfilled it too. In any case, Free Software projects based on volunteer work are essentially a do-ocracy and it is assumed that whoever does the work, gets to decide about it.
So that is how Princess Sara was added to the game. While developing it, I was assured that they took extra care that her proportions were somehow realistic, and not as distorted as we’re used to see in Barbie or many Disney films. Sara is inspired on an OpenGameArt’s wizard and is not supposed to be a weak damsel in distress, but in fact a powerful character in the world’s universe.
Sara is not the only female character playable. There are a few others: Suzanne (a monkey, Blender’s mascot), Xue (XFCE’s mouse) and Amanda (a panda, the mascot of windows maker). Sara happens to be the only human character playable, male or female. While it has been argued that by adding that character, a player might have the impression that the rest of the characters would be male by default, I have been told that the intention is exactly the opposite,and that the fact that the only human playable character in the game is female should make it more attractive to girls. To some, at least.
Here are some images of Sara:
So the fact is that they have invested a lot of time in developing Sara’s model. I’m not an artist myself, so I don’t know first hand how much time and effort it takes to make such a model, but in any case it seems that quite a lot. When they designed the beach track Gran Paradiso, they wanted to add people to the beach. That track is, in fact, inspired on a real existing place: Princess Juliana Airport. Time was over and they wanted to publish a version with what they already had, so they used Sara’s model in a bikini on the beach, with the intention of adding more people, male and female, later. The overall view of the beach would be:
This is how that track shows when the players are driving in it:
Now, about the poster of version 0.9, it is supposed to be inspired in the previous poster of version 0.8.1, only this time inspired in Carnival (which is, in fact, a celebration in which sexualization of both genders is a core part). I know that there are accusations of cultural apropriation, but I couldn’t know, as my white privilege probably shields me from seeing that. Up to now, no one has said anything about that, only Gunnar explaining his point of view as a non-native mexican: “While the poster does not strike as the most cautious possible, I do not see it as culturally offensive. It does not attempt to set a scene portraiting what were the cultures really like; the portrait it paints is similar to so many fantasy recreations”. In my opinion, even when the model is done in good taste, with no superbig breasts and no unrealistic waist, it’s still depicting a girl without much clothes as the main element of the scene, with an attire, a posture and an attitude that clearly resembles carnival and, thus, inevitably conveys a message of sexualization. Even though I can’t deny that it’s a cute poster, it’s one I wouldn’t be happy to see for example in a school, if someone wanted to promote the game there.
The author of the poster, anyway, tells me that he had a totally different intention when doing it, and he wanted to depict a powerful princess, in the center of SuperTuxKart’s universe, celebrating the new engine.
About the panties showing every now and then, I’ve been told that it’s something so hard to see that in fact you would really have to open the model itself to view them. I’m not saying that I like them though, I think it would have been better if Sara would have had short pants under the skirt, if she was going to drive the snowmobile with a dress, but I’m not sure if that’s something important enough to condemn the game. The original girl mentioned at the beginning of this post seems to have found the animation funny, started laughing, and said that Sara is very silly, and that was all. It’s probably something more silly than naughty, I guess. Even though, as I said, it’s something I don’t like too much. I don’t have to agree with STK developers in everything. I guess.
There’s one thing I would like to highlight about my conversations with the developers of SuperTuxKart, though. I like them. They seem to be as concerned about the wellbeing of kids as I am, they have their own ethic norms of what’s acceptable and what’s not, and they want to do something to be proud of. Sometimes, many of these conflicts arise from a lack of trust. When I first saw the screenshots with the girl in bikini and the panties showing, I was honestly concerned about the direction the project was taking. After having talked with the developers, I am more calmed about it, because they seem to have their heart in the right place, they care, they are motivated and they work hard. I don’t know if a princess would be my first choice for a main female character, but at least their intention seems to be to give some girls a sensible role model in the game with who they can identify.