Sexism in Gaming Part III: Sexism in the Gaming Industry

Posted: May 31, 2011 in Gaming, Sexism

I remember once upon a time I was sitting in a college dorm room with the rest of the crew that constituted my D&D group (2 women, myself and my roomie, 4 men) and one of the fellows was thumbing through a Dragon Magazine and started laughing hysterically.  Of course, we all inquired about the cause of the laughter, and he passed us the magazine which featured a cartoon.  The cartoon depicted a “woman warrior”, a babe in a chainmail bikini and Wonder Woman style bracers.  She had various arrows stuck in the “protective armor” over her boobs and on her bracers and the caption was “Good thing I was wearing my armor!”

 And it was funny, but eye roll worthy as well.  It also very well illustrates what I am about to talk about now:  Sexism as Part of the Gaming Industry.  You see, part of the problem with sexism in the world of gaming?  It’s right there in the products.  It seems that fantasy games tend to be guiltier of this than other types of games….but yep, all of them have a least a little.  But the biggest offender of them all is also the granddaddy of them all: Dungeons & Dragons and every other wanna be D&D game that has come on down the line.

 Now, I will admit it, I have just about every D&D book there is from second edition on down the line, even some of the earlier ones, and while I like some of the art, by in large, it is all pretty sexist stuff.   Women warriors are often drawn in silly armor period, in and out of D&D…hell Lisa has complained before about the stupid armor they give women characters in WoW, but let’s leave the armor out of it for moment.  There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of half naked women in D&D…be they clerics, monsters, elves, wizards, whatever.  Lots of T&A in the very core rule books themselves, and lots of women as weak and in need of saving there too.  Also, consider the ONE matriarchal society in the world of D&D.  The Drow (aka dark elves)…evil as HELL (and black skinned, but that’s a whole different story).  Are they powerful and advanced and feared and all that good stuff, yes, they certainly are…but they are flat out pure evil…and the women are usually shown…not wearing much.  And while other games and even D&D itself has moved away from this attitude & art somewhat…it was the forerunner of them all, and it did set the tone…hey, I have seen how those female elves dance in WoW, and they really should be getting money stuffed in their…armor?

 But you see, there is and was baseline sexism in D&D, and every other game or gaming book, from Magic The Gathering to Cyberpunk, since then has at least to some extent grabbed on to the idea that hot fantasy women in almost nothing sells.  Heck, I draw a lot of fantasy art myself, I do.  And I have submitted some to these kinds of games, but I tend to draw women in actual armor…now, it could be they just think my art sucks and I would accept that, but sometimes I wonder if it’s because the women I draw are wearing the same sorta gear you’d put a male character of the same class in.  Now, I will discuss in my next post, “Fantasy vs. Reality” how this is such a drag for women gamers, but the basic fact is…

 This is what the gaming industry and fantasy genre think of women and what they should be in fantasy gaming:

 So we’re starting off at a point of disadvantage from the get go due to the very source materials themselves.  Yes, some games have come a long way in options and versatility for female characters as well as players.  For instance, in City of Heroes, one can make a female character in full armor or tactical gear….but the option is still there to make her wearing almost nothing- but you can do that to the men too.  The basis, basics, and baseline however is that there is inherent sexism in the very gaming products themselves, both in the way women are depicted visually and as characters, and those sorts of depictions have set a tone for gaming and gamers period.  I have walked into D&D games and had some snarky asshole male gamer ask me where my chainmail bikini was, or give me shit for wanting to play a fighter rather than a cleric or a mage, but that sort of thing will be discussed more in “Fantasy vs. Reality” , but the simple fact is, the world of gaming is set against us from the get go due to the way fictional women are depicted in it. 

*For the record, I do not now nor have I ever actually owned a chainmail bikini!

  1. Kristen J. says:

    Yup. And that’s assuming female characters are even available. Often they aren’t. FPS are notorious for failing to include women, with the exception of the Rainbow Six series which I think should be the benchmark. There was absolutely no difference in the armor even in multiplayer. You just looked a little different and had a female voice.

    Oblivion was pretty good for a RPG with respect to costuming as well. In my view, wrestling games and mmorpgs tend to be the worst offenders.

    I was talking with some developers a few months ago (I’ve got friends in the industry) and learned how deep this female character crap goes. I was ribbing them a little bit because even though one of their games has a female playable character the in-game dialogue sometimes uses the wrong pronouns. And their response was that we should be grateful that there are female characters at all and that they were wearing clothes (insert juvenile chuckle). Apparently, their management team MADE them introduce a female character (and presumably made them dress her).

    • Ren says:

      I think that is why I am so in love with City of Heroes…I play both male and female characters in it, but mostly women, and two of my favorites…well, one is an axe’wielding lunatic fighter type in camo pants and a black tank top, and the other is a gun crazy cyborg in full tactical gear…i can DRESS them how and if i want too!!!!

      Some of their signature NPC’s are sketchy though…namely Silver mantis, who is a melee character in “typical gamer armor” and her dialogue reads like a BDSM story.

      • Kristen J. says:

        I’ve been avoiding MMOs for awhile because I find them so freaking addicting, but I did love that about COH. NPCs are the bastion of sexism though. Fan service I guess. o_0

  2. Rootietoot says:

    Chainmail bikinis only work in fantasy anyway…ever got a nipple caught in it?

  3. Catlover says:

    You would find excellent background for female warriors (with some intelligence) in this maybe because it’s written by a woman and with some real research behind it.

    Ash does not cease to be a sexual woman *because* she’s a fighter – but she certainly does *when* she’s a fighter. She knows that she’s a target for capture and mass rape as well as for death and could net somebody a high price in a slave market. But she is not desexed (or Lesbian) off-duty just because she has no desire to make herself a prize in battle.

  4. What I find amusing is that, in real life, there were male warriors who would go into battle completely naked (the Celts, for example) – but you never see any representations of those types of warriors in video games that I’m aware of?

  5. If you play with sexist douchebags, the problem isn’t with the game but with your friends. Just saying.

    • Ren says:

      actually, most of the people I play with are pretty cool as a general rule, but in 20+ years of gaming, I have seen a whole lotta shit…just saying.

  6. Lugh says:

    Now THIS I agree with. The industry is terribly sexist, especially in the art departments. And a lot of it is so common that we often don’t even see it.

    One of the most common defenses is that the target audience of RPGs is young males. Young males like boobies. (I’m not going to get into how demeaning THAT stereotype is, either.) So, slap some boobies on the cover, and the sales will increase. Sure, we’ll lose some cranky feminist chicks, but they don’t buy RPGs anyway, right? This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling spiral. More young men buy the product than women do. This further skews the apparent demographic, and seems to validate the marketing. Of course, there’s absolutely zero evidence that the actual total sales increase, but that’s hard to track anyway.

    What I find particularly bizarre is that males in the 13-24 bracket really aren’t the key demographic for TTRPGs anymore. It’s males in the 24-40 bracket, who are frequently married, sometimes with kids of their own. But, the myth of the RPG demographic persists. (And, admittedly, is true for video games.)

    Though, in defense of the old standby of D&D, the first female RPG character I ever saw was Morgan Ironwolf, in the classic Red Box set. She was sexy, but she was also fully armored and all business.

    • Ren says:

      It’s gotten both better and worse over the years I think- there are more definitely Bad Ass women in ALL kinds of games, but also, wellll….more close to naked chicks. Is this a reflection of society’s over-all broadening acceptance of such things, or all a marketing ploy? Could be both, or neither. If I LIKE a game, I will buy the product regardless of the art because I want to PLAY the game- but yes, there IS a lot of mocking, from male and female gamers alike, of the 44dd “warrior” women in nothing much at all- who look way too dang top heavy to even Pick UP a sword and such…

      And actually, a lot of video game jocks are older too, 20-40 ish even.

  7. JE says:

    It’s not just male gamers actually. One thing that really suprised me recently when I introduced a friend of mine to League of Legends is that while she didn’t like female characters who were running around the battlefield in their underwhere (LoL’s art can be embarrasing sometimes) she didn’t like female characters armored the way a male character would either. Not really all that relevant since I doubt game makers think about them when making these characters but it was something unexpected and I wanted to share.

  8. xena says:

    Huh? Why would she have a problem with female characters in the same armour as the males? Unless it’s a question of plausibility in terms of say, heavy armour on a slender character who looks as if she wouldn’t even be able to lift the stuff in RL?

  9. JE says:

    Appearently they were too masculine. After discussing some different champions it seemed that cat suits and equivilent were what she considered fiminine enough but not too sexualized. Which speaks of a gender role angle as well as a fan service angle

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