The Depiction of Women in Gaming

By Anna Kreider

[Ed: Anna took this post as the genesis of her Go Make Me A Sandwich blog, which you can fund here.]

The Inspiration: Simon’s request and a 2007 LiveJournal Article

At GenCon this year, I was asked by Simon Rogers to write an article about sexism in gaming for a new issue of Page XX. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds to say, “Sure, okay”. But in pulling together notes on what I could write about, I realized that “sexism in gaming” is just too big a topic to cover well in one short article without focusing on only one aspect.

This realization made me think of an excellent article I had seen a few years ago on livejournal. Back in 2007, a blogger who goes by the handle Morgue on livejournal did a detailed analysis of the covers of the first 350 issues of Dragon Magazine and wrote an excellent series of posts about the results therein. It’s an excellent set of articles, and you can find them here: http://community.livejournal.com/gametime/19820.html

Briefly, Morgue found that Dragon covers displayed an overwhelming trend of sexist imagery on its covers. (Again, see the linked article for a detailed analysis.) I was curious to know if this was a trend that would be repeated in other areas of gaming, or if Dragon would prove to be anomalous, and this seemed like a good focus for this article.

I had a hunch that Dragon would prove to be pretty typical when examined in the context of gaming as a whole, but I wasn’t willing to trust that hunch since I’ll admit to being rather sensitive to sexist imagery in gaming material. Since I fully acknowledge my own bias, as a female gamer who loathes chainmail bikini porn, I had to set out some ground rules for myself.

Determining Methodology

The first problem I had to deal with was making sure that I examined images for a consistent set of variables. While the variables considered in the Dragon cover survey made perfect sense in that small context, they didn’t generalize too well to gaming outside of D&D. The other problem I found is that things like “focal” versus “non focal” and “submissive” versus “not submissive” were a bit too subjective for my tastes. Furthermore, there was a trend that I wanted to analyze that was not examined at all – the overall archetype breakdown by gender of depicted figures.

After some thought, I decided to track the following data points for each media source:

Ratio of male to female figures

In each set of images I examined, I recorded the number of male figures and the number of female figures. Since I wasn’t sure how to easily differentiate between focal and non-focal figures in a way that wasn’t entirely subjective, I simply counted each figure that had an easily discernable gender and did not count those figures where gender was ambiguous.

A specific note pertaining to D&D: While the handbook states that it is not easy to tell the difference between male and female Dragonborn, one of the figures on the Dragonborn page quite clearly has breasts. Furthermore, it is quite easy to find more images in official books such as the DMG and the PHB2 of Dragonborn with breasts. As such, I included all Dragonborn figures in my counts since, I considered the explicit gendering of the Dragonborn in the art to override the description of visual gender ambiguity in the text.

Active poses versus neutral poses

In Morgue’s survey, he classified poses as “active”, “neutral”, or “submissive”. This was a useful starting point, but was a bit too subjective for my needs. After some thought, I removed the “submissive” category and decided to simply look for active poses versus neutral poses:

active-v-neutral

Fully clothed and suggestively attired figures

In the original survey conducted by Morgue, the author purposefully took a conservative view of what constituted suggestive – counting figures only showing a moderate amount of skin as not suggestively attired. Morgue’s theory was that they wanted to err on the side of caution when evaluating images this way so as to eliminate possible bias. I largely took this view, with the caveat that any figure showing cleavage or not having covered legs was automatically counted as suggestive.

Fully-clothed and suggestively attired are not opposite ends on a spectrum. Some figures that were not fully clothed were not counted as suggestively attired while some figures that were fully clothed were also counted as suggestively attired. A few examples:

suggestive1

suggestive2

Class Archetype

 

It was not always applicable, but when possible I looked at what class archetype a figure was depicted as: fighter, rogue, or mage. I counted all archers as rogues, as well as thieves. I counted anyone casting a spell as a mage, even if they had a sword. Fighters were any characters wielding only melee weapons and not casting spells.

Selection of Sources

I wanted to examine images from what I saw to be the major areas of gaming: tabletop roleplaying, CCGs, MMOs, and console games. The problem was determining where I could look to find images that would be representative of the hobby. Board games have not been considered as a segment of gaming, since – unlike with tabletop or CCGs – there is no one definitive game that all board gamers have played. As such, I’ve chosen not to include board games in this survey since I couldn’t figure out a way to include board gaming in a fair and representative manner.

Tabletop: For tabletop roleplaying, it was hard for me to find hard and fast numbers as to what is the most popular tabletop system in use, so I decided to simply look at 4th Edition D&D, since D&D is the franchise that spawned tabletop roleplaying to begin with as well as arguably having the largest name cachet.

I limited my examination to the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, the Player’s Handbook 2, and the Adventurer’s Vault – since these are all books that one could reasonably expect a 4th Edition group to own. Because I was curious to see if the contents of the book would differ significantly from the promotional material, I also downloaded the D&D publicity kit from the Wizards of the Coast website and considered those images as well, though as part of a separate set from the art in the gaming texts.

CCGs: There is an overwhelming variety of CCGs released each year, so I stuck with the archetypal CCG that everyone knows and is familiar with – Magic. Picking Magic as my representative for CCGs complicated matters, since Magic periodically disallows old expansions from tournament use. Also, the nature of CCGs means that there is no base set that every player can reasonably be expected to have access to.

I decided to use the Magic publicity kit from the Wizards of the Coast website as my primary image set. I recognize that I will be unable to account for any difference between the promotional art Wizards selects for the publicity kit and art found on the cards themselves, but I had to make some sort of a compromise.

MMOs: Looking at art from MMOs posed a similar difficulty. The market for MMOs is very fragmented, and while World of Warcraft is very popular, there are many other different types of MMO out there. Also, there are many Asian-originated MMOs that are very popular, like Lineage II, Final Fantasy XI, and Final Fantasy XIV. Trying to analyze sexism in games created by non-Western cultures presented a challenge, so I settled for looking only at art from the top 7 North American MMOs which command the lion’s share of the market: World of WarCraft, Guild Wars, EVE Online, City of Heroes/City of Villains, EverQuest/Everquest II, Warhammer Online, and Dark Age of Camelot.

Since there is such a variety of armor and model options within games, I chose instead to look at promotional and concept art posted on each game’s official website. (Interestingly, this criteria immediately removed two games from the list: EVE Online, which has no pictures of characters at all on their website, and Dark Age of Camelot – which features models who wear exactly the same armor regardless of sex and equally represents both men and women.)

Consoles: For console games, I wanted to look at the top selling console games within a given period. As such, I looked at the cover art of games on the lists of top games for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii on Gamespot.com.

Now, I think I’ve talked enough. Onto…

The Results

 

Dungeons and Dragons

d-and-d-booksd-and-d-fankit

As is clearly shown in both graphs, both the art in the 4th Edition books and in the promotional kit displays sexist trends. Women comprise only a little more than a third of the figures depicted and are more likely to be depicted as neutral than their male counterparts. Also, in instances where a figure is suggestively attired, the odds are overwhelming that that figure will be female. However, it should be noted that there was an encouraging diversity of class archetypes among female figures with depictions of fighters being almost evenly split between men and women.

Interestingly, the art in the publicity kit is marginally more sexist. Across every category, the art in the publicity kit is more sexist than in the game books. The difference is small, often only a few percentage points, but consistent. So it seems reasonable to posit that Wizards is taking a conscious “sex sells” stance in regard to its marketing, even if they don’t allow it to skew their art too much away from what is in the game books.

Magic

magic

(As the class archetype does not apply, this data was not included.) The art in the Magic publicity kit also displays sexist trends. As with the D&D publicity kit, women comprise little more than a third of the figures. The Magic Fankit has about the same number of female figures that are fully clothed, and even has a lower proportion of suggestively attired women – though women still account for the great majority of suggestively attired figures.

However, the art in the Magic publicity kit also depicts women as quite a bit more passive, with a significantly lower instance of active female figures and a higher instance of neutral female figures.

MMOs (WoW, GW, Warhammer, CoH/CoV, EQ/EQII)

all-mmos

When you examine the data from all five MMOs together, the trends don’t look too different from those of the D&D promotional kit, though the D&D promotional art is demonstrably less sexist. Women make up slightly less than one third of the figures, and are less likely to be depicted with active poses as female figures in the D&D promotional kit. There is, however, pretty much the same proportion of suggestively attired female figures, which is to say that the majority of suggestively attired figures are female.

The difference, however, is in the instance of fully clothed figures and in class archetype. While the proportion of suggestively attired figures is similar to that of the Magic and D&D artwork, the instance of fully clothed female figures is actually lower. Also, women are overwhelmingly likely to be depicted either as a mage or a thief archetype rather than as a melee fighter. (This obviously does not include CoH or CoV, since they do not ascribe to traditional fantasy archetypes for classes in their artwork.)

However, there are some interesting things that happen when you consider the data from each MMO separately:

world-of-warcraft

World of Warcraft is fairly similar to the above graph, though the female figures in their artwork come close to approaching parity with male figures when it comes to active poses. The proportion of female to male figures is lower, however, at only 27% of all figures counted. And again, across all categories, WoW’s art is more sexist than the D&D art.

Again, suggestively clad figures are overwhelmingly female, and female figures are overwhelmingly likely to be depicted as thieves and mages rather than fighters. Furthermore, among female figures that were depicted as fighters, not a single one counted as fully clothed, with all but one counting as suggestively attired.

guild-wars

An interesting thing happens with the Guild Wars artwork. Female figures actually account for more than half of the figures counted, clocking in at a whopping 55%. However, the female figures depicted are also more sexist. Like women in WoW’s art, female figures are most likely to be depicted as thieves or mages. However, they are twice as likely to be depicted in neutral poses as active ones. Furthermore, 95% of suggestively attired figures are female. So while women get more screen time than men in Guild Wars’ art, they are also hyper-sexualized in a way that men are not.

warhammer-online

Women are a bit of an afterthought in Warhammer Online’s art, it seems, which is a bit strange considering that it is published by Mythic – the same publisher responsible for Dark Age of Camelot. Although there were no poses that counted as neutral in any image, the only mage depicted out of eighteen figures was female, and both of the female figures depicted were suggestively attired. So when the artists of Warhammer Online remember about women, they only think to draw them in suggestive ways, it seems.

Unlike the other MMOs, the sample size of promotional art on Warhammer Online’s website is very small. However, there is sufficient supporting material on their website that makes me think that this data is still representative. In particular, there are two classes of Dark Elves that stand out: the Witch Elf and the Sorceress. Both classes are female only and both classes wear only pretty classic chainmail bikinis. Also, when looking at the class information on the Warhammer site, only three of sixteen classes (not counting dwarves or greenskins) are depicted as female, with two of those depictions being half-naked Witch Elves and Sorceresses.

CoH-CoV

For City of Heroes, the criteria had to be evaluated slightly differently, since everybody wears spandex. Fully covered was considered to be any character whose costume didn’t show skin. Suggestively attired was considered to be figures who costumes did not cover suggestive areas – cleavage, thighs, etc.

In City of Heroes artwork, women again punch in at around a third of the figures overall. Interestingly, they are actually slightly more likely to be depicted as active than male figures. Also, they are more likely to be depicted as fully covered and slightly less likely to be suggestively attired, though the trend holds true that the clear majority of suggestively attired figures are female.

everquest

Everquest does better than any other MMO except for Guild Wars in terms of its percentage of figures being female – women account for 43% of the figures counted. However, they score at the bottom of the pack in almost every other aspect. Female figures are twice as likely to be depicted as neutral than as active. More than 80% of mages were depicted as females, with less than 20% of fighters being females. And again, women make up close to 90% of all suggestively clad figures while accounting for none of the figures counted as fully clothed.

Overall Ranking of MMOs

If I had to rank them, I’d say that City of Heroes/City of Villains  and World of Warcraft come out on top, Everquest/Everquest II and Warhammer Online are at the bottom of the heap, and Guild Wars fits in somewhere in the middle.

Personally, this result is irritating since the difficulty of finding pants that are actually pants and not bikini bottoms for my female WoW characters has been a pet peeve of mine for many years now.

Consoles: cover art of Top Games in a given week, as rated by Gamespot.com

xbox360ps3wii

When comparing the three top consoles, it’s not surprising that the cover art for Wii games is far more family-friendly than those of other consoles, with only one male figure and one female figure counting as suggestively attired. The Wii had the highest proportion of male to female figures as well, with female figures making up 36% of the total. However, there was not a single female figure counted as actively posed, which is a bit dismaying when compared with the 42% of male figures that were actively posed.

I had expected to find that the art for Xbox 360 and PS3 games would be largely similar, since many of the same games appear on both lists, but I was surprised to find that the opposite was true – owing to different covers for games released on both platforms.

On Xbox 360 covers, women made up only 25% of figures, as compared to 32% on PS3 covers. However, on the Xbox covers, women actually had a higher percentage of active poses than male figures, while on PS3 covers female figures constituted only around a third of all actively posed figures. Women also made up around 70% of suggestively attired figures on Xbox 360 covers, whereas they comprised almost 90% of suggestively attired figures on PS3. So while women were depicted more on PS3 game covers, those depictions were also more sexist.

Conclusions and Personal Impressions

It is with some amusement that I note that my perceptions did not align with reality in regards to the results I expected. Having been a long-time D&D player, I perceived 4E to be less sexist in its imagery than it actually was by the numbers, simply I had played both 3rd Edition and 3.5, which I had seen as so much more sexist by comparison.

Conversely, my experiences with playing female characters on WoW for several years had led me to believe that WoW would come out on top as the MMO with the most sexist imagery. I was quite chagrined to discover that the opposite was true and that most of the other top MMOs were actually more sexist in their imagery than WoW. Even though EVE Online and DAoC exempted themselves from my survey, both games together still comprise less than 5% of WoW’s current membership. As such, I’m forced to consider them as an anomaly. Dark Age of Camelot is sadly a small island of gender parity in an ocean of chainmail bikinis, while EVE Online is just a deserted island.

I have to say that doing the research for this project was pretty enlightening, although I can’t say that it was fun. As a female gamer, there are a lot of things that I turn a blind eye to out of love for gaming. I always tell myself getting angry all the time about the sexist imagery used in gaming wouldn’t do much besides make me miserable. But forcing myself to look at each image objectively, or at least as objectively as I could manage, and really critically examine the imagery that is being used…

I’ll be honest. It’s been disheartening. It’s hard to look at the endless parade of cleavage and not equate those images with myself. It’s hard not to ask myself – is this how they see me? Is my worth to the gaming community judged on how attractive I am, or how willing I am to dress suggestively? Am I valued only as a pair of breasts and not as an artist, gamer, and designer?

I’m not saying that gamers are all sexist, or that gaming as a hobby is terrible, or that the companies who use these images in their products are evil, or that the artists who create the art are bad people. Don’t get me wrong here, my intent is not to point fingers. If you’re reading this article, then I’m sure that you’re a very enlightened and egalitarian person. I’m simply trying to put forward this issue in such a way that might make people think about the implications of using demonstrably sexist imagery in gaming might be. There are certainly unintended consequences of these sexist depictions that are rampant in our hobby that I don’t think a lot of people stop to examine.

(And yes, this is hardly a scientific survey, and I’m not a professional researcher, and D&D might not representative of all tabletop games, and, and… I’m sure there’s a thousand reasons one could find to entirely discount this, but that’s hardly my problem.)

Lastly, I’ll state that sexism in gaming is such a monstrous topic that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface with my little survey here. If you’re interested in doing more reading on your own, you can check out this post on my blog with the list of links I made for myself while researching this article.

[Editor's note - Anna is analysing comments on this article over on this entry on her sexism in gaming blog. ]


58 Responses to “The Depiction of Women in Gaming”

  1. Hans says:

    Thanks a lot for attempting to quantify something that I think everyone recognizes, but that few may want to admit.

    As an aside, my experiences in the Great Hall at GenCon lead me to believe that publicity images (and scantily clad models, and fan art, and, well, just about everything) is much more suggestive and sexist than the actual production art (the art in the books, on the cards, etc.) I honestly would feel uncomfortable having my two teenage daughters wander the Great Hall at GenCon at all, let alone without me accompanying them. That’s just sad.

  2. Sam says:

    Cool article. I might take a crack at looking at individual magic cards, if I have a chance – I have a feeling that will look better than the promotional materials. Groups of people in MtG settings tend to be scantily or fully clad in both sexes, and there’s plenty of stuff like this:
    http://www.wizards.com/mtg/images/daily/li/li74_halimarExSplash.jpg
    Of course, there’s only one way to find out for sure.

    Would this be considered a neutral or active pose? She looks pretty neutral, but it’s clear from the context that she’s working magic:
    http://www.coolstuffinc.com/images/Products/mtg%20art/Worldwake/playmat_worldwakekor.jpg

  3. Caesar Slaad says:

    Interesting. I would have like to seen how Pathfinder art skewed from the D&D 4e art.

  4. from says:

    “I largely took this view, with the caveat that any figure showing cleavage or not having covered legs was automatically counted as suggestive.”

    Well…how often do men wear skirts or have cleavage to show? If you use this criteria for female “suggestiveness”, why not use bulging biceps and/or a discernible “package” for male?

    In your sample images, I would hesitate to label the pictures on the far left and right of the bottom row as anything remotely suggestive. “Not fully-covered”, sure, but suggestive? Only by your own definition of the term.

    I’m not saying this isn’t an issue the industry seriously ought to do something about – armour for female characters tend to be a fourth the size of armour for men with the same defensive properties, which is every bit as silly as it is sexist. I just don’t think your chosen criteria and definitions are sound, making your survey of little relevance to the subject.

  5. Doug S. says:

    This is some pretty good work.

    Incidentally, Wizards of the Coast does make Magic card art available on the Web. You can see a picture of every card in the Magic 2011 Core Set on the Visual Spoiler page, if you’d like to compare the promotional art to the card art.

  6. Ikkin says:

    I have to quibble with your analysis that the PS3 boxart is more sexist than the Xbox 360 boxart — it seems like a bit of an oversimplification due to the fact that both genders are affected by certain trends in representation between the two consoles.

    The most problematic one is the percent of suggestive figures that are female. The PS3 boxart has far fewer suggestive figures overall — 4% and 27%, as opposed to 19% and 43%, which is a 15% and 16% difference respectively. While the proportion of suggestive female figures to suggestive male figures is greater on the PS3, this is the result of an overall reduction in suggestive figures that is actually larger for the female figures than the male ones rather than an increase in the depiction of suggestive female figures.

    The difference in percentage for active and neutral figures can’t be explained away like that, because the female advantage in the X360 art is actually reversed, but the huge difference in the overall number of neutral figures — PS3 boxart has 52% and 73% neutral, as opposed to 33% and 29% — suggests that the audience may value active depictions less in general. The games that would gain the most through the use of active depictions are the ones that, like X360 games, skew even more disproportionately towards displaying male figures, and the ones that would gain the least are the games that place more emphasis on characters, which skew disproportionately female in figure representation (relative to other PS3 games).

    Which is basically to say that statistics can mean different things depending on the audience (especially ones concerning proportions) and this is further exacerbated when the audiences being compared aren’t singular, independent entities.

  7. Radulf St. Germain says:

    Very interesting article. I like the way you try to establish an objective base first and then come to conclusions.

    You seem to be dissastified with the way women are portraited in gaming. It is always difficult to understand the position of a “minority” if one belongs to the “other side”, so I would be interested in more information on your position regarding this subject.

    What should be changed in your eyes? Is your concern a “conservative” one (there should be less sex in the pictures regardless of gender) or an “egalitarian” one (there should be as many suggestive male pics as female ones)?

    Also, do you consider a passive pose to be inferior to an active one? To explain my question, your example of a passive pose would be one I could see my (male) character in and think of it as quite cool.

  8. Will says:

    This is terrific—a great bundle of new ammunition for fighting sexism in the hobby. Or a bright light cast on something that is right in front of us, but not often looked at seriously. (Pick your metaphor, I guess.) I’m not a researcher, either, so I can’t comment intelligently beyond that, but I appreciate the work that went into this.

  9. Meg says:

    @from,

    Are you attracted to men? If so, do you think bulging biceps & a large package are more sexual than visible chest & legs? I’m a straight woman and I have to disagree with you. “Cleavage” here was obviously used as shorthand for having those particular areas of the chest showing. The man on the top row, third from the left, does not have “breasts” or visible legs but was counted as suggestive because of his chest. A skirt is not the only way to show legs, as the ubiquity of MMO “pants” turning magically into thongs when equipped on a woman characters shows. Besides, most MMOs take place in a time period where men in robes and loincloths are rampant, yet they also seem to magically cover more than the female robes and loincloths. Whether modern-day men wear skirts seems fairly irrelevant to the issue of bare legs on men in MMOs.

    Visible biceps are mostly suggestive of power, only secondarily of sex, and even large packages are often meant to appeal to men as part of an overall escapist fantasy, rather than something intended to look sexy for those attracted to men. I am not a big fan of Cosmo, but they are one of few magazines to do photo shoots of sexy men for women’s consumption (rather than purchasing and rebranding shoots taken for other purposes). If you look at their shoots, the focus is almost always on the torso and face, and the size of the “package” is nearly impossible to tell — if the crotch isn’t obscured by an arm, leg, or random prop, it’s often deemphasised with a pair of stiff jeans. Filament, another women’s mag with more explicit photos of men, and contains tonnes of legs and bums, but I can’t recall ever seeing a banana hammock (or any other pieces of clothing that would give an obvious “package” effect). Bare dicks, yes, non-package-inducing pants (and dresses/kilts/skirts!) yes, “packages”, no. It’s just, well, it’s not very sexy.

    Besides, choosing different standards for what constitutes suggestiveness for each gender would basically destroy any objectivity. You could just tweak the definitions until you got the numbers you wanted. I mean, lots of women find eyes sexy, so you could choose that as your definition of “suggestive” and voila, now the problem appears to run in the other direction. My example’s a bit silly, but IMO not much sillier than suggesting any male character with visible biceps, in a genre where combat is the main feature, is suggestive of sex.

  10. Ikkin says:

    @Meg:

    While I agree that it’s quite ridiculous to consider any male character with visible biceps to be suggestive, I’m not entirely convinced that considering any male character with bare thighs to be suggestive is much better. Properly-proportioned biceps are quite nice to look at, and a lack of leg covering on a male game character is usually just as much of an excuse to show off the character’s brute strength as the massive biceps are (and often are just as unappealing to women, as the bare-legged Tauren shows).

    I don’t know if there really is a fair way to compare male suggestiveness to female — males are more likely to be sexualized in ways that don’t involve inflated body parts, there are very few areas on a man that would be considered inherently sexual, and the most obvious one is both taboo and not necessarily attractive. The chest comes close, but it can still be presented as a show of power for other men rather than an appeal to women. The butt (and maybe an exposed back in general) would probably be only part that’s both inherently suggestive and feasible to show, and that’s incredibly rare.

  11. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by EmmJ, Pewter. Pewter said: Pelgrane Press Ltd » Blog Archive » The Depiction of Women in Gaming – http://goo.gl/5gAMA #numbers #geekfeminism [...]

  12. Anna Kreider says:

    Hans: I dread the thought that I some day might have a female child because of things like the Dealers Room at GenCon. I LOVE GenCon and go every year. But… man. Boobs.

    Sam: I’d be happy for someone into Magic to take a look at the actual cards. You CAN look them up individually on other sites, but that’s tedious. And in answer to your question, yes I would consider that pose to be neutral. Yes she’s casting a spell, but there is absolutely nothing that suggests movement.

  13. Anna Kreider says:

    From: Note that I said lack of covered legs, not lack of pants. Skirts are a leg covering – just a non-bifurcated leg covering. And honestly, there are SO MANY fantasy women running around without either pants or skirts that I felt pretty justified in automatically labeling characters without either as suggestive, considering that I counted as NOT suggestive the legions of women whose pants were spray-painted on.

    Also, if you go back and look, you’ll note that I did count bare male chests as suggestive, so bare-chestedness as suggestiveness is consistent across both sexes. Lastly, I’m not going to count biceps as suggestive, because that’s just absurd.

  14. Anna Kreider says:

    Ikkin: WRT console numbers, sure. But you can’t deny that all consoles display consistent sexist trends.

    WRT male suggestiveness, yes its slightly ridiculous to apply the same criteria to male figures as with female figures – but that’s part of the point. The point was to be intentionally conservative with what I classified as “suggestive” for female figures and intentionally liberal with what I labeled as “suggestive” for male figures. The fact that the numbers still clearly show sexist trends despite engineering my criteria to narrow the gap is very telling.

  15. Ikkin says:

    @Anna Kreider:

    Yeah, not going to deny that all three consoles display sexist trends. I just thought it might be counterproductive to call the PS3′s data set more sexist than the X360′s when it contains a significantly lower number of suggestive depictions of women and more women overall, which seem like more urgent concerns than the number of neutral poses (which are much harder to attribute solely to attitudes about women because there are so many neutral male figures).

    WRT male suggestiveness, I can definitely understand the point in overstating the amount of male figures counted as suggestive — lowering the threshold for men and heightening it for women is a perfectly legitimate tactic to take to show just how big the difference is.

    I just have some doubt that “are the character’s legs uncovered” is correlated strongly enough to the level of sexualization of a male character for it to be an effective criteria to judge by — most male figures in loincloths weren’t designed to draw the attention of a female audience, and most male figures that actually were designed to draw the attention of a female audience have some form of clothing covering their legs (albeit clothing that is made of leather or spandex and conforms more tightly than it ought to, in some cases).

  16. [...] the latest issue of Pelgrane Press’ online magazine, See Page XX, Anna Kreider analyzes the art of both tabletop and electronic games, comparing their depictions of [...]

  17. [...] the latest issue of Pelgrane Press’ online magazine, See Page XX, Anna Kreider analyzes the art of both tabletop and electronic games, comparing their depictions of [...]

  18. [...] Kreider has done some quantitative analysis of depictions of women in various gamer worlds and resources, such as D&D [...]

  19. as well says:

    1 has to comprehend that PS3 and Xbox 360 graphics comparison is just one of the quite a few attributes of these gaming consoles that have to be given due importance. Just due to the fact Xbox 360 scores in terms of graphics, it doesn’t mean Xbox 360 is far better than PS3. An overall comparison between Sony PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is needed to determine the actual winner, but as of now the distinction of having greatest graphics goes to Microsoft Xbox 360.

  20. [...] A depressing but unsurprising look at the sexism inherent in gaming and gaming advertising here. [...]

  21. morgue says:

    Hey! I’m the morgue who you reference, and I’ve gotta say, your take on this stuff blows mine out of the water for diligence. There’s a lot of stuff I’d do differently if I did that first run again (anyone out there want to revisit it? All the cover images are available online for easy viewing…)

    Great work, anyway. I’m hypersensitive to this stuff at the moment because a week ago I became a dad to a lovely baby girl. Very pleased to see that the conversation on this issue is continuing, albeit in fits and starts.

    Cheers
    morgue (Morgan Davie)

  22. RAE says:

    If I were a male gamer (which I am) and I would pretend demonstrating my theory that the gaming imagery is sexist AGAINST men, I could have done it with exactly the same set of data you are using. The basic male depiction is a Gym instructor Alpha male with a bare chest.

    RPGs are about that (specifically the Fantasy genre ones, basis of your research), they are about powerful characters. Gamers like to roleplay powerful and sexy characters, and they like to find those kind of women/men in their adventures. All these pics are porn for nerds, hey breaking news!

    I have met several female gamers around RPG tables and definitely I know they were not looking at me as “a penis” or whichever equivalence you prefer to make. Fortunately, most gamers still know the difference between reality and game. The RPG imagery depicts ideal men and women. Full stop. Putting the weight onto just one side of the scales seems childish to me.

  23. Anna Kreider says:

    Morgue: Hey! I’m really glad to hear that you liked the article! Really, it was your initial series of posts that inspired me to do this research, and ultimately to start my blog about sexism in gaming. So I owe you a debt of gratitude. Congratulations on the birth of your daughter! I’m hopeful that we can make a difference in what our children will experience as they grow up with geek culture.

  24. Anna Kreider says:

    RAE: Clearly your knowledge of how statistics works is flawed if you think that these same numbers could be used to argue that gaming is sexist against men. Go back and read the section on how I engineered the criteria again. I engineered the criteria so that this study intentionally made it hard for women to qualify as suggestive and EASY for men to qualify as suggestive. I mean, come on. I counted a COW as suggestive, despite the fact that any sane person would not call a picture of a cow suggestive. And DESPITE ALL THAT, the numbers still clearly show that across all areas of gaming, suggestive figures are OVERWHELMINGLY women. So please explain to me in what universe this can be used to support your premise of “sexism against men”.

    The thing is, your complaint about idealized figures is true ABOUT WOMEN. The only body type that exists for female characters is Barbie. But male characters? There are male characters for every body type imaginable! Gordon Freeman, Mario, Luigi, Tidus, Link – the diversity of body types that are depicted for male characters is staggering.

    So I suggest you check your privilege and actually re-examine my sources if you don’t believe me. If you actually bother to keep count instead of ignoring all of the images that don’t support your bias, you’ll find that I’m right.

  25. mundens says:

    I have two issues with the thrust of this article, the first with the implication of the article, and the second with the fact that you drew any conclusions at all, given your lack of method.

    Firstly, I ( and many ardent feminists) strongly disagree with the implication that the depiction of men or women in “suggestive” (or even overtly sexual) poses is inherently sexist.

    Such a sex-negative implication actively harms the psyches of both men and women, and feeds the inherently sexist and restrictive politics of the conservative end of the political and religious spectrum, by encouraging people to women (and men) from exploring their sexuality in any way they so choose.

    It is definitely anti-feminist to imply, as you do by the way you constructed this survey, that being seen as sexy or attractive is inherently demeaning and/or sexist.

    I note that you admitted to not being professional, but the fact you have presented data, and drawn conclusions means that people will no doubt quote you. The responsible approach would have been not publish if you knew what you were doing was flawed.

    So, even if only you read this comment, I feel I must try to improve the way people look at data, and point out that you have attempted to draw conclusions from your data that cannot be logically supported by that data alone.

    Basically, no useful indication of bias can be shown merely by examining the ratio of the images, regardless of how you decide to break them up. A conclusion can only be drawn if you can also show that the measured ratio is significantly different than the EXPECTED ratio.

    This is a fundamental analytical point. Ratios do not prove bias by themselves, they must be compared to expected ratios to show any form of bias.

    To make any useful conclusions about the raw data you have, you need to know the expected ratio is in the intended audience, in other words the ratio between those members of the intended audience who enjoy depictions of female sexuality compared to those who prefer depictions of male sexuality.

    Your data would only support a contention that depictions in that sub-genre were sexist if the image ratio you have measured is in significant variance from the expected ratio.

    Given the intended audience for most of the genre’s that you’ve examined has been explicitly stated by the companies selling the product as adolescent boys, the ratios are very likely close to what is expected, so a sexist bias is not supported by your data, merely good marketing.

  26. Anna Kreider says:

    mundens: Okay, you’re just trolling so I admit to only skimming your comment, but at the end you said –

    [NOT MY WORDS]“Given the intended audience for most of the genre’s that you’ve examined has been explicitly stated by the companies selling the product as adolescent boys, the ratios are very likely close to what is expected, so a sexist bias is not supported by your data, merely good marketing.”[/NOT MY WORDS]

    So, that’s not sexist… how?

    Websters defines sexism as:
    1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women

    2: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

    Yup. Looks sexist to me, and it looks like Websters agrees.

  27. Gordon says:

    Great analysis of the various IP’s artwork. I found the methodology and conclusions interesting and well presented.

    The only thing that nagged at me was the lack of a control group to compare these results against. Would it be possible for you to apply your same methodology to a social networking site (like say Facebook, or a dating website like OkCupid, or such), and see how that compares? I’m curious as to what that baseline would look like.

    Overall though, great article!

  28. Anna Kreider says:

    Gordon: The lack of a control group is definitely a problem, I’ll admit. But the problem is trying to define a control group gets into a whole different group of problems. Take puzzle games and other casual games – most “real” gamers (read: male gamers) refuse to admit that any game dominated by women is a “real” game. FarmVille, Bejeweled, the Sims – none of these are “real” games. So sure there are games that are free of sexist imagery. PopCap is amazing. Zynga is pretty good too, even if I refuse to call FarmVille anything other than a Pavlovian training device. But they all exist in their own special ghetto of “not real games” because they’re mostly played by women.

    It’s a tough nut to crack.

  29. zhu says:

    Really the problem with the analysis is that it isolates ‘gaming imagery’ from all other forms of imagery. Take fashion or sports magazines as an example (gaming is a hobby, fashion is a hobby) run exactly the same procedure, on the same criteria and compare the result. That way you might be able to say something useful about gaming.

    Our culture has a standard set of biases in the display of the human form, the question is whether gaming imagery has a significantly deviation in those of biases, or if it just mirrors the rest of society.

  30. Bob says:

    Sexism is immediately negated by having women at the gaming table. If a woman wants to look like a slut but fight like an Amazon – her merits will be not how her character looks but the contribution that she brings to the table.

  31. [...] place was an article that I wrote for See Page XX, a webzine published by Pelgrane Press, examining sexist trends in official game art across all areas of gaming. In the original article, I analyzed a set of images taken from the official Wizards of the Coast [...]

  32. [...] Women comprise only slightly more than 30% of all mages in the set. Interestingly, female mages are very slightly more active than their male counterparts by a small margin (4%). However, male mages are still more likely to be fully covered. And, unsurprisingly, the majority of suggestive depictions are female – 43% of female mages in this set are depicted as suggestive, accounting for a little more than 60% of suggestive mages overall. (Although, it still deserves mention that this is far better than other areas of gaming where around 80-95% of suggestive depictions are female.) [...]

  33. Kulab says:

    Not about the same thing though. Your rantings and ravings about “sexist” views angers me as much as images I see as “sexy” anger you. Personally, from everything I’ve read about you and what you have to say, I think that any and every animated women who you detest would have way more personality and mental attractiveness than you do, regardless of whither they had the ultimate female figure from my fantasies or even if they all looked like the girl on the standard womens’ bathroom sign.

    Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’m sorry I started off that way but it just had to be done. I detest the word “sexist” when it comes to describing any media. People who use that word about something sexy seem to assume that anything sexy is degrading. They also assume that there is only one kind of “sexy” out there. They assume that anyone who sees a person as sexy automatically assume that the person has no other merits or even a brain. Once a woman is depicted as sexy in some way, does her brain automatically disappear? If it does, then it’s in the viewer’s fault not the image’s, because they’re choosing to look at it with such poison and they have deeper problems resulting in that sexist view.

    What the hell is wrong with being sexy? To me I think it’s an impowering trait to have, regardless of your sex. I beleive women with your tone and ideas, regardless of how they look, hurt women’s freedom far more than any sexual depiction of women. Why can’t people like you realize that human beings are sexual creatures and that sex and sexuality is like water to all of us? We’ve all got sex, we all are capable of being visually attractive in some way dispite anyone’s cynical and narrow minded notions. Shutting that out is unhealthy! Women should retaliate by “sexualizing” us men! I’m all for it!! Calling for a prohibition to sexualized female characters won’t get you anywhere!

    Oh man would I love to have a heated conversation with you over MSN, and no there is absolutely ZERO innuendo in that statement.

    I’m all for feminism and I know there are great feminists out there, but I think that even I am a better feminist than you are, to be honest.

  34. [...] lately and was feeling an itch to go back to pen and paper RPGs. In the past, I’ve looked at the D&D 4E core books as well as the D&D press kit so I thought I’d take a look at a year’s worth of Dragon Magazines and see how they [...]

  35. Arikel says:

    You’ve clearly looked at a lot of pictures in order to create your charts, however I guess I don’t see how you determine something is ‘suggestive’ or not. The Orc with an Axe could easily be seen as suggestive as the wind is blowing up the front of his tabard revealing his groin ala Marilyn Monroe. Th minotaur I am guessing as he’s so massive it takes two hands to hold his phallus *cough* I mean sword.

    In the the second set given(descent),the full picture has the woman leading her party albeit away from a dragon and is ducking, from the picture it looks like she’s entering a cave, or just trying for a lower profile due to the dragon. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_WTtYV9Q8rcU/TP-f7yMY45I/AAAAAAAAADg/ccw1y3ND7so/s1600/descent.jpg in the same picture there’s a piece of beefcake behind her wielding a giant sword which seems much more suggestive and of course the half naked man behind those two.

    The female Orc looks like she’s going to kick someones ass by her expression, it could just as easily be male with no top instead of female with her stomach exposed. The night elf is casting a spell pretty much stock straight, a pretty standard pose for males and females, yes she has breasts and hips, but cloth isn’t going to offer much protection regardless of the covering. The last is a mage wearing a tabard which I can tell you I have seen many male mages also wear in the game so that’s hardly gender specific. In the full pic she has a down turned sword and makes me think of a rapier fighter inviting a person to attack so she can kill them rather than as a sex pot.

    Looking at the charts themselves, I don’t understand why it makes a difference whether art favors male or female for thief/fighter/mage All MMO’s(and most other games) that have those classes do their best to have them be very capable at being good, playable, and balanced with each other. Are you saying there is some sort of hierarchy? I can assure you Fighter=Best is almost never the case.

    Regarding ‘Active’ and ‘Neutral’ poses for miniatures. I and most people that I know who use them prefer a more neutral pose as the ‘Active’ ones tend to have bits that knock over other miniatures or get damaged and lose those parts.

  36. Lain says:

    I can kind of see where some commenters are coming from….in that, characters in games are biased toward numerous things, as well as being sexist. For example, you don’t often see “scrawny” men or men who aren’t ultra beefy (unless they’re a mage I guess….although the female mages almost always tend to be the MOST scantily clad in my experience, for some reason….is there really a reason why ROBES need to show cleavage?). You also almost never see, for example, gay characters.

    So yes, part of it is escapism….but to say that the rampant use of women for advertising is not sexist is like deliberately burying your head in the sand. As a woman, I get so, so tired of all the sexist advertising and sexist imagery in games (and elsewhere). If it truly is fantasy and escapism, as a woman I would like to have a wide variety of choice of characters and how they dress. Maybe I want to be a busty, scantily clad amazon warrior, maybe I don’t.

    That being said, of course there are some issues, as I already mentioned, with depictions of men. It’s probably hard for gamer men to choose a character that actually resembles them in any way just as it is for women, but it is also true that the vast majority of “interesting” characters are male, even in games like Peggle. (http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2011/06/peggle-and-smurfette-principle.html)

    I do like to think it’s starting to change – I look at characters like Chell in Portal, or Faith in Mirror’s Edge, I am encouraged. These are not only female characters, but female *leads* who are actually quite awesome AND fully-clothed. But I would love there to be more of that.

  37. [...] blogging project in which I blogged about sexism in gaming. The genesis of the project started with an article that I wrote for See Page XX examining prevalence of sexist depictions of women in different areas of gaming. Before you read [...]

  38. Talisan says:

    I agree with Meg’s comment and discussion on the ways men are presented as sexually appealing in other media. But there is a point I’ve not yet seen mentioned here.

    As a female in gaming (I will specifically narrow it down to World of Warcraft [roleplaying servers] and Tabletop Gaming) I have actually played with a large number of other (verified) female roleplayers and gamers. Inevitably in a fantasy system where there is a choice of these four races: Elf, Human, Dwarf, Gnome; the breakdown of women playing it overwhelmingly elf, because in their minds elf = sexy. If there is a fantasy game without elves, women roleplayers will whine and complain that they want to be an elf so they can be sexy.

    I once had a game where a woman wanted so much to play an elf in a campaign that did not allow elves that the GM allowed it because he thought she was mature enough to handle the role in a reasonable way. But not only did her character not come off as any sort of personality that even remotely resembled character traits an elf would have, she constantly went out of her way to mention her 5’10″ 110lb elf was sexy. The woman in question was average build but had very nice and fairly large breasts. But where this took a turn for the funny is when she made obvious motions during one game that her character was trussing herself up to show as much cleavage as possible one of the other players made an offhanded comment that she probably had more to “work with” for that endeavor than her character would. She was not amused.

    And I will not claim immunity to this. I play a lot of elves and I do avoid short races in a lot of cases. Gnomes have some appeal for me on the cuteness value. But I’ve never been able to get into a dwarf character, and it is a situation I’d like to correct one of these days. On the other hand, I really dislike the extreme exaggerations of form and figure for the sake of idealized sexiness. I have several female characters who do not dress for sexual appeal — yet I can give no example of any female character I play whom I would describe as particularly unattractive, or ugly.

    My thesis is: Women want to play sexy characters and have sexy avatars just as much as males would like to look at sexy characters and avatars. And so I really cannot demonize men for producing massive quantities of sexy pinups and sexy avatars that hobble, devalue or ignore a female’s usefulness and skill when women continue to value sexiness as the only aspect of their character that matters.

  39. Monika says:

    Interesting article. To the commenters that say sexy does not equal sexism, I agree. What is sexist IMHO is that male and female characters are presented as “sexy” disproportionately. While I recognize sexy is difficult to define, I also know that I am continually disgusted by the depictions of women in the games I play, and actively choose female characters that look strong, and work towards gear that doesn’t look like my character is modeling for porn. (This is not a judgment about sex work or sex workers; I just want to have a character that fits the goals of the game, e.g. killing dragons).

    Talisan, I also play with women gamers in WOW, and while I do not dispute your experiences, know that the following is also true: The women I play with (and many other women) actively choose non-pornified characters, and often play male characters for this reason.

    It is not about demonizing men, and certainly not about demonizing women. To me, it is about challenging the media that we use, and giving voice to women gamers who feel disenfranchised by ridiculous depictions of women.

    On a side note, I play an elf in WOW and chose my character based upon what I could achieve playing an elf. I asked people who had played WOW (when I first began) about their storylines, etc. The only part of my choice that wasn’t based upon game play was I wanted my mount to be a kitty (saber). Because a good portion of my life is devoted to cat rescue.

  40. Sally says:

    It’s not about looking sexy while one is kicking ass — it’s about the sexualisation and commodification of the female human body in our society.

    I can (and have) written pages on this topic, but I know that I will never convince some men by arguing that we women are also human beings. So I will adopt another tack to try to make my point. Women in RPGs want to see their characters dressed *appropriately* and wearing the same clothes as a male character in a similar situation. Since the ultimate example is the archetypal ‘chainmail bikini,’ we may as well get that one out of the way first. The amount of damage such a garment, no matter how well padded, could do to one’s ladybits (especially if one is moving around) is too gruesome to contemplate. Imagine your own dangly bits in a sac made of metal mesh — mincemeat, anyone?
    Further examples in fantasy RPGs:
    • An uncovered thigh (particularly the inner part) is a prime target. A slash to the femoral artery can have the character meeting her chosen deity in double-quick time;
    • Same with the stomach — evisceration is never pleasant, and, given the medical knowledge available in a (European) Dark Age/Mediaeval milieu…;
    • An obvious cleavage is tantamount to having a target painted over one’s heart;
    • Scanty clothing in the wintry environment often ‘typical’ in Europeanized fantasy is worse than lunacy!

    These caveats also apply to men, but males — especially male fighters — are usually well-armoured. My fighter-characters wear proper armour — leather (with cuir-bouilli breast-n-back), mail or even quilted cotton … with adequate protection for all the bits RPG illustrators leave bare. One of my characters wore a kozan-do made of cuir-bouilli plates and a kabuto (with aventail)! And I insist on a proper fur robe in snow country.

    One can argue, on the one hand, that there were earth cultures where women fought naked, but in those cultures *men* also fought naked — how many male players are willing to have their characters do so, or want to see illustrations depicting male nudity? (Don’t get me wrong — naked men don’t float my boat … but chacune à son gout).

    Or one can argue that in a Dark Age/Mediaeval milieu women didn’t fight at all. I can dispute this, but you’re welcome to exclude female characters from combat if you choose — just don’t expect real women to want to play in your games.

    A few female specific instances:
    • Breast-mounds in armour are not only unnecessary — any but the largest breasts will fit within a standard Mediaeval (or even British Household Cavalry) cuirass — but can also be positively lethal — a glancing blow or thrust can slide off the mound into the central ‘gutter’ and then up into the wearer’s throat or chin. The fact that Greek and Roman cuirasses were often moulded is irrelevant — they we’re made for *men*.
    • Female breasts, bare or almost bare, are not only ubiquitous, but also in forms that bear no relation to normal human anatomy — admittedly not as bad as the comic-book style of ‘Supers’-games, but still faintly ridiculous. Yes, I know about the breast/nipple fetish in the US and its ideological colonies — women find this off-putting, for reasons described below.
    • I second Lain’s comments — only *female* robes seem to have cleavage … or thigh-high side-splits (with little but a thong underneath)!

    [If I were less than charitable, I might wonder whether men *like* seeing attractive women being hurt —either as revenge for rejection or to give them a chance to be saviours.]

    All that having been said, on my favourite gaming world of Tékumel (www.tekumel.com), I play an ex-member of an all-female Light Infantry regiment who fought naked, armed with javelins and throwing-axe and armoured with buckler and helmet. This sounds terribly sexist/exploitative until one learns that:
    • Both genders and all social classes commonly go naked or semi-naked on Tékumel, where the average daytime temperature in the *temperate* zones is 30C, while at the equator it normally reaches 60C (no human has ever crossed the equator — above ground);
    • Nakedness does not automatically imply availability. While most societies on Tékumel are far less puritanical than the world depicted in the average FRPG, they are also socially ‘rigid’ and incredibly class-conscious. Flirting with, or even *looking* at, the ‘wrong’ person can get one impaled!;
    • Metal is rare on Tékumel, so armour is made from the hide of a six-legged triceratops-like creature, chemically treated so as to be as light as aluminium but as tough as bronze. Nevertheless, because of the heat, soldiers only put on armour *just before* a battle and remove it immediately afterwards.

    But then, most role-players find Tékumel — “Empire of the Petal Throne” was actually the second RPG ever published — too difficult anyway.

    ‘Modern’ and Sci-fi games don’t do much better in terms of illustration. I admit a personal bias against spandex/lycra — characters dressed in it simply look silly — and ripped clothing, while a definite hazard of battle, just looks untidy, but I do have ‘objective’ bones to pick with the typical modern and sci-fi look:
    • Athletic singlets/’wife-beater’ T-shirts — and isn’t *that* name revealing? — may look ‘sexy’ but they’re an invitation to debilitating sunburn and melanomas in desert areas and a lure for malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the jungle (not to mention frostbite on the tundra);
    • Skimpy dresses on inadequately armed female fighters. Yes, one could argue that even Chinese/North Korean/Cuban/Vietnamese/Soviet or Israeli female soldiers wear skirts (but only on parade) … one could even argue that spontaneous combats occur when women are not dressed or armed to fight. But a seven-person ‘team’ will quickly be reduced to six if the males are all heavily armed and armoured while the ‘token girl’ is scantily-clad, wearing stilettos and armed with a baseball bat.
    • Many sci-fi RPGs adopt the Traveller standard (edged weapons on space ships because projectile weapons can puncture the hull). So the same comments about exposed thighs and stomachs apply as in fantasy milieux;
    • Breast-mounds *again* — this time in the form of ‘tea-cosies’ with rivets around the edges! I suppose they’re useful for feeding babies…

    But the main objection to how women are depicted in these games is one of appropriateness. A female character who has the skill ‘Entertainer — Lap Dancer’ should look like a lap-dancer *when she’s working* but not necessarily when she’s in the bar after a day on the ski-slopes — and *never* when she’s in the captain’s chair of Free Trader Beowulf.

    Similarly, RPG illustrators really should show a greater range of body types. How many fat male characters does one see, apart from oily slavedealers (or equivalent) — surprising when one considers that most men in ‘Western’ societies are marginally (and some grossly) overweight. Sure, a fat Paladin wouldn’t last long, but there is something else going on here. It seems to me that most males (and this *is* an outsider’s PoV, so I look forward to some replies from men) look at the average illustration of a male character in a RPG book and see themselves AS that character, both in reality, and when they create a game persona. If others won’t see them the same way, that is the fault of the others — there is nothing wrong with the perception of the men themselves, and it often takes a catastrophic experience to convince them otherwise. *Some* females can do similarly, mutatis mutandis, in real life, and some are happy to make all their RPG characters ‘babes’ on the grounds that “it’s a game, so why not look perfect.” Fair enough — but *most* women see RPG illustrations of ‘perfect’ women, and feel intimidated. After all, there are some 3.35 billion women in the world and only seven or eight supermodels!

    [A wonderful example of both the tyranny of the ‘beauty myth’ and inappropriate costuming is the CSI franchise of series, where the female CSIs, all young and gorgeous, attend crime scenes in white slacks and high heels with their faces made up, their nails painted and their long hair unbound (instead of being older, more experienced forensic pathologists who wear cover-all suits with boots, gloves and hoods as they are depicted here in Oz, in UK and in Europe — and as they are in reality)].

    I like to vary my characters’ appearance — I have played obese women, anorexically thin women and women with all sorts of scars and deformities. I honestly think that the roleplaying hobby would benefit from similarly varying how characters are depicted — especially if it is to grow beyond its current demographic and attract more women.

    Yeah, I know —I’m aware that I’m swimming against the tide of “Western Civilization,” from Homer to Hollywood, where — despite all the proverbs about books and their covers — people continue to believe that external appearance in the best gauge of inner worth. So I’ll crawl back under my rock.

    Oh, and why don’t women objectify men, kulab? Because, after several hundred thousand years of men viewing us as vaginas and anuses to be penetrated, breasts to gnaw on and feed babies with, and bellies to bear ‘their’ children, most of us find such objectification decidedly ugly. During the 60s – 80s, however, women learned that *expressing* such revulsion turned men surly, aggressive and sometimes murderous. So straight women are learning to cultivate an ‘appreciation’ of “pecs, abs, glutes and packages” — they haven’t quite developed male ‘fluency’ yet, but no doubt, with Hollywood’s help, they soon will.

  41. [...] searches for “D&D women” and “D&D fighter”. You should also read this article which examines the poses by gender for 4e and a bunch of MMOs. Art by Staino from Deviant [...]

  42. [...] privilege denying male who is being told that their geek hobby of choice (comics, vidya games etc) objectifies women to an obscene degree regularly. “But men are sexually objectified too. They are all look like walking tanks, with bulging [...]

  43. Alien says:

    Sally, while i agree with quite a lot of what you wrote in your long comment, one pair of quotes i will have to object to:
    You wrote, “It seems to me that most males (…) look at the average illustration of a male character in a RPG book and see themselves AS that character, both in reality, and when they create a game persona.”
    and then soon thereafter:
    “*Some* females can do similarly, mutatis mutandis, in real life, and some are happy to make all their RPG characters ‘babes’ on the grounds that “it’s a game, so why not look perfect.” Fair enough — but *most* women see RPG illustrations of ‘perfect’ women, and feel intimidated.”

    You are onto something, but my own experiences (in my own head, and from other women i’ve played and talked with) go slightly differently.
    I will happily see myself AS a character i’m creating, get into its head and explore its nuances, but when it comes to imagining its appearance, i’ll turn away from the common depictions and make up my own.
    Why? Not because i feel intimidated by their ‘perfection’. Rather, because they’re not. They may be sexy, smooth, skinny, with pouty lips and wavy long hair, clad in the very silkiest miniskirts and only the shiniest chainmail bikini tops, but why on earth would i want to send that into battle against dragons and ankhegs, or even present it at an audience with the local lord?

    What i want, is to look at the average depiction of a female character in an RPG book, or elsewhere, and see strength, determination, fortitude, intelligence; Someone who can take down a cyclops, if i’m going to play a fantasy game, THAT is what i want to be. If i wanted to play a stripper, i’d turn to some other genre.
    Which genre lets me realistically play a stripper? Not a clue, i’ve never wanted to play one, so i haven’t looked into it. Which genre lets me realistically play a warrior? Fantasy *should*, in theory.

  44. Roxanne says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I think the data you gathered is valid and basically shows what most people take for granted. Female characters are generally portrayed as sexually available with the stress put on their breasts or tiny waist rather than the strength of their physic or the intelligence in their face.

    I don’t play a lot of games but enough to have a pretty good feel for the gaming atmosphere. Before I got into WoW I had been watching my sister play for a month and observed how she was treated as a female in game as well as her armor options as a female blood elf. It didn’t appeal to me all that much so my first character was a male tauren which solved at least some of the issues. 5 years later I have about half male and half female characters. I was quite thankful when blizz came out with transmogging as there is now a much wider range of armor options.

    I don’t really have a problem with players making their characters look as sexy as possible. I think one of the great appeals of online games is having an arena to explore things that are not readily available in our real lives.

    However I DO think it hurts women to have them constantly portrayed as sexual objects. I don’t believe the problem lies in being sexual per se as sexuality can be powerful. I think it has more to do with being limited to that role. As you point out there is little choice for body type in many games, and the classic ‘barbie’ body is the one that dominates.

    On top of that, its pretty hard to imagine a 90lb blood elf swinging a sword larger than her torso or having good defense when only 25% of her body is actually armored. And yes, of course its a fantasy game, but then their male counterpart, as you point out, ARE well armored and look the part. For me, it further undermines any credibility females have in a fighter role.

    I know I would like to see a variety of women depicted doing all sorts of things, dressing all sorts of ways with the full spectrum of strengths and skills.

    Men and women learn their gender roles early on, and what they see and experience tells them what the ‘norm’ is. This isn’t something that is just an irritant, its a real concern in terms of a women’s ability to make good decisions, to pursue a meaningful and well paid career and to live a happy and fulfilling life. Life requires us to be that ‘warrior’ at times, and it would be nice if there were a few more positive images of the archetype.

  45. [...] and Adventurer’s Vault are men. Over a third of images suffered from sexism, according to the same study.In response, Josh Fox has started a petition to ask: D&D should be for everyone, not just [...]

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  47. Will says:

    An interesting piece. I appreciate the attempt at objectivity, though I think in you efforts you sabotage yourself because the medium is to subjective to remove bias from. In trying to limit your bias you let it come through more.
    The unfortunate truth about the matter is that the demographic that is primarily marketed to is males 16-30, as they are the ones that have the biggest impact on the sales of these particular goods. Its not actually fair to even say that the sexism is towards women, as women aren’t the target of these, its actually sexist towards males age 16-30. this is simply what the artist and marketing teams believe will have the biggest influence with them.

  48. Kiyah says:

    I like this one. I can show it to all the people I know who don’t see a problem… However, I thought there was a bit of a gap in not including CoH/CoV in the traditional tripartite class structure. IIRC that game has tankers (fighters) a couple of melee dps (mainly rogue-style, though I suppose some of them would count as fighers) and a metric ton of spellcasters/psionics of various types. And from personal observation, there are a LOT of female Controllers, Healers and so on in art and they look just like Squishy Female Wizards from the fantasy set.

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