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Women's opinions on the depiction of our gender in video games differ, but I don't necessarily have anything against sexy game ladies. I might roll my eyes or make a salty quip, but I don't get angry. Some of my favorite women characters have impossible proportions, and it doesn't do a thing to diminish my love for them. Miss Mia Fey, you are the Queen of Justice in every regard.
However, when a developer promises there's a "story-related" reason why a woman character is dressed like an extra for a documentary about erotic pillow fights (ahem, The Quiet), I unfold my lawn chair and sit down because I know this is going to be good.
Eurogamer's Johnny Chiodini recently spoke to Monolith's creative vice president Michael de Plater about why the studio decided to give Shelob the power to transform into a half-baked Elvira cosplayer in the upcoming Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. When I learned about the Q&A's existence, I promptly retrieved my lawn chair.
To recap: Shelob is a hideous spider that slums around Tolkien's Lord of the Rings universe (specifically The Two Towers in the books, and The Return of the King in the movie trilogy). While she's chummy with the dark lord Sauron, she doesn't swear allegiance to him. It seems Monolith's unorthodox depiction of the spider-queen has a lot to do with her lack of fealty to Mount Doom's most popular tenant. de Plater believes Shelob isn't necessarily allied with good or evil; she lives in shades of grey, but still "mirrors" the bright warrior elf-woman Galadriel.
"We were also thinking really in a lot of ways that, not intentionally, but it felt like Gandalf and Galadriel kind of lied to them [the Fellowship] a little bit about their chances and what differentiates Shelob is that she's completely honest," de Plater says. "So she's evil, or perceived as evil, but she has this honesty to her, and so as we started thinking through that and thinking of her as this dark mirror to Galadriel and filling that role in our story of that narrator and what that would look like."
As for why Shelob can achieve human form in the first place? de Plater says the answer is in her ancestry: Shelob's mother is Ungoliant, a dark spirit that took the form of a spider in the Tolkien universe.
That's that. Enjoy your sexy spider woman, world. Some Tolkien fans might cry foul over de Plater's thoughts, theories, and justifications, but now that Middle-Earth has loot boxes, it's a comparatively tame bit of fan-lore.
Personally, I'm less offended at the idea of a sexy Shelob and more irritated at how pedestrian she looks as a human. If you're going to make a hot spider-woman, make her hot and terrifying. A good example is the beautiful horror-show that is Queen Odette from Odin Sphere. I suppose there'd be consequences for whomever tried to steal her look, though. Agonizing, bowel-scraping consequences.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War comes to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on October 10.