ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms
Games and Musings26 Nov 2008

Video games are full of improbably-shaped women wearing even more improbable clothing. I am far from the first to remark on this.

There are lots of reasons to object to this (sexist/idiotic/insulting/not-all-gamers-are-14-year-old-boys, etc.), and a few weak arguments to trot out in defense (it’s just fantasy/people like to look at someone attractive), and I think most gamers largely ignore it.

One of my pet theories about games-as-media is that games can excel in the creation of worlds. Compared to books and movies, games are handicapped when it comes to storytelling (though there’s much ink spilled over the possibility of “emergent stories” in games – I’ll save that topic for another time) and, to a lesser extent, when it comes to character (though I think there is fertile ground to be farmed by games here too), but games have setting pretty much sewn up. In no other media can you inhabit a world like you can in a game. You can’t walk around inside a movie or a book, but for games, plunking you in a world and letting you explore it is just a basic fact. Games have an amazing opportunity to transport the player to fantastic places and let them “live” there. Unfortunately, when you arrive in some new fantastical digital land, the first thing you usually notice is most of the female inhabitants are wearing chain-mail briefs.

Now, you might say, “But Scrim – living in a fantastical land full of pneumatic women attired in chain links and dental floss sounds like a really really good idea! Sign me up!”. Well, fine. But, as Peter Cook discovered, you can put as many naked ladies in story about coal mining as you want, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a good story.

To an example: I have been playing Heroes of Might and Magic V, a fantasy strategy game. Like most such games, it seeks to create a sweeping, Tolkienesque setting full of melodramatic elves and scheming demons. It does a reasonably good job, most of the time (though not nearly as well as some other games have), but then you run into something like this:

As an aspiring dark-elf warlord, I can fill my armies with such recruits as the “Blood Maiden”, a sword-wielding woman warrior. I think, as a player, the reaction I’m supposed to have when confronted with a cadre of Blood Maidens is “Oh good, boobies!”, but instead I start thinking about what kind of person dresses up in a burlesque outfit and high-heeled boots to go to war. What if we have to fight on rough ground and my poor Blood Maiden twists her ankle? What if we fight in the snow and she gets frostbite? What kind of general am I, not providing my troops with proper combat clothing? It’s as realistic as a coal mine full of exotic dancers, and it breaks the immersion. I’m no longer a dark elf general conquering a real country, but a gamer playing a fairly ridiculous game. The opportunity to draw me in to the setting evaporates.

I’m not asking for much. I don’t mind fantasy, just try to make it somewhat internally consistent and not too laughable. Keep the Blood Maiden and her sisters, but give her some proper kit so she looks like she’s actually a soldier. I don’t mind having attractive women in my game worlds; I’d just like to meet some who look like they might actually live there.

One Response to “Why I Don’t Like Chainmail Underwear”

  1. 27 Nov 2008 at 8:46 pm judith scrimger

    I don’t play games but I understand from reading in old media like the Globe and Mail, that a significant percentage of game players are women in their 30′s and older. Perhaps they aren’t playing the games sporting Blood Maidens but it seems some things never change Women are very adroit at ignoring their own objectification. We buy beauty magazines by the carload…we love to imagine ourselves with real power while still wearing stilettos. The game designers may have 14 year old boys in mind but they also know that many women if they want to play will buy in…it happens in politics, business, academe…the game world isn’t much different.

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