Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Sexism, Gamers & Empowerment

Greetings everyone!

Now before I start I'd like to point out that at no point is what I am about to write supposed to be inflammatory or degrading to men or women, it's just my views on the topic at hand.

If you agree or disagree, think I'm right on the nail or devil incarnate, please let me know.

And now, on with the article:


So I was reading an article over on the website Kotaku, I know, I know, I don't know why I do it either! And I read a discussion about the death threats and rape threats that many women claim they receive on a regular basis for just being a woman with an opinion.
- I say "claim" because I can honestly say, hand on heart that I have never ever seen this. I can only assume it is because I associate with a level of humanity that is elevated above the pond-scum who would think this is suitable and acceptable.

Anyway, my mind began to wander and I was reminded of something that I honestly am not happy with, and that is the level of implied or overt sexuality in war gaming. I'm not saying this is a new thing, far from it, but it seems to me that as techniques and technology increases, so does the level of sexism increase.

I suppose this makes sense, it's like looking at the original Tomb Raider game, sure at the time she was seen as a sex icon, but who really wants to stare at pyramid boobs?

The same applies to miniatures and war gaming and to me looking at the recent art and miniatures from Wyrd kind of cements this.

I know everyone has different opinions on this, and many people like/love the new art, but to me, I see a lot of the new stuff in particular in the art of the new look Ronin

Now I get that sex sells, and a lot of men and women find this sort of look appealing, but for me there comes a line when 'style' outweighs 'practicality'. And this is what happens here, outfits that look like the wearer would 'pop out' if they were required to do anything more than pose in a sultry manner.

This for me is the epitome of sexist, where sex is being used to a level that it becomes impractical.

But it also strays into attitude. I remember about a year ago I heard an interview on a podcast where they were discussing the master Lilith. Now Lilith is a clearly sexual character, she is wearing so little clothes that she is showing more skin than is covered (I'm talking of course about the original sculpt here).

What was interesting about this interview was the words and time used by the Lilith player. He talked about her like she was not only a real person, but that his model of her was actually alive.

Honestly it was disturbing, as he talked he brought images to my mind of a stereotypical 'basement dweller' who spent his days in his parent's basement 'pleasuring himself' over his Lilith model.

Now yes this was largely based on my own discriminatory thoughts, but as an audience member, I was genuinely creeped out.

Now I look at this artwork in Malifaux and plenty of other games and I'm left wondering if this 'creepy' sort of person is what these game companies are advertising to and trying to attract? And if so, do they realise that people like me, those who are put off by people like that, are actually put off by this?

But it doesn't end there.

You see I can not talk about sexism without talking about 'empowerment'.

Now, this is something that is a very touchy subject for a lot of people. Is the use of sexuality, sexism and sexual exploitation something truly empowering to either males or females?

You hear it all the time in the real world, how women that strip for money, or pose naked are actually empowering women, while at the same time you hear from the other side that the very same women are being exploited.

So which is it? Empowerment or exploitation?

Well, I would argue that it is both at the same time.

You see it is commonly acknowledged in the psychological world that Fear and Excitement are actually the same thing, being boiled down to 'Anxiety'. What sets the two apart is cognitive understanding.

In this example, if you the person going through anxiety feels safe, secure and willing, then you are excited by the anxiety, but if this is not the case, if you do not feel in control and safe, then it's fear.

I would argue the same here.

I know of plenty of women who carry and present themselves in a provocative manner either online or in person, and in those situations they feel safe, secure and empowered by their choice to be sexually overt. And that is the thing here, it's choice.

If choice is removed from the equation and the person be them male or female are forced to be sexual, then it stops being empowering and starts being exploitation.

So what about these women in war gaming art? The Liliths and Ronin of the Malifaux world for example. Are they being empowered or exploited by being depicted in that art? And by proxy are they encouraging the exploitation or empowering of women in the real world by their presence?

I would go back to my previous point about being practical.

The way I see it, if a character looks like they would choose to wear that clothing and do what they do, then they are both practical and in doing so are empowering the idea of a strong woman who can be sexual by choice.

If however you look at her and think "there is no way a serious [whatever] would choose to wear that clothing" then it is impractical and the sexuality is in fact being exploited for money.

This is where I would compare characters such as original sculpt Lilith vs the Ronin.

Lilith for example is wearing a tight fitting outfit. Clearly she is being 'supported' by the outfit, and depending on the quality of it, she will be able to perform all manner if acrobatic moves without loosing any more modesty than she began when getting dressed.

Compare that to the Ronin example earlier. She has no support as you can clearly see she is not wearing a bra, her clothing is far too loose and would probably tear at the first bit of combat. We are looking at an outfit that after a quick brawl is going to leave her at the very least topless.

Now let's think for a moment, would a serious fighter really wear something that in five minutes would be torn off by the opponent? Of course not.

And this is why I've got an issue with this, when you apply these rules it clearly shows that this style of clothing is playing on the exploitation of female sexuality with the assumed projection of cashing in on drooling males.


And now I come to an impasse, I'm not happy leaving this post as it currently is, but at the same time I have little more to say about this subject.

And so it is on that note that I will bid you all a good day, and as always stay safe and I'll see you Cryptside!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley


  1. Ok, there's alot to like in this article but I kinda feel obligated to point out that fear =/= excitement. While it's safe to assume a certain amount of arousal is associated with both, if we're talking about feeling anxiety or anticipation to the point where either would be noticeable, but we're dealing with completely different emotional valence's here. If you wanna look at neurological basis, Panskepp 'n such, you can see that fear and expectation are even generated by and routed through different bits of wetware.

  2. I was initially disappointed that Wyrd went down this route, given the background of Ronin (basically a samurai who's boss has died). If you've ever seen the film Ghostdog, that is exactly what I consider a Ronin to be, a massively strict moral code and way of life but at the same time he's basically a hitman.

    Now compare that to the new sexy ronin and I'm not really getting that vibe, instead I get sexy chick with sword geek fetish stereotype. Maybe Kill Bill is a good reference, wronged woman goes out for revenge, wears a practical & flexible onepiece catsuit thing but not something that gives no support and is all lace & straps.

    That said I'll probably still pick up the crew as at the same time I think it's nonsense I also think it's just a bit of fun and will be interesting to paint (same as collettes crew of showgirls or Seamuses dead hookers crew but both of them make a bit more sense).

  3. Modern bras weren't invented until about a decade past Malifaux's current time period. Sports bras are much further still. It's pretty much corsets of some variety or another until then, which means that busty women in Malifaux don't have many options available to them.

    Ronin also have the "Disguised" rule, which renders them unable to be charged; presumably because their opponent doesn't consider them to be a combatant at first glance. With that in mind, I saw their more sexy look less as "they're going into battle wearing silly clothes" and more as "they're dressed up as harlots to get close to their target without arousing suspicion."