WoW.com published an article about “Gender differences in armor” over the weekend. In it, Mike Schramm responds to a post at The Border House that delves into the several of the armor sets that cover up the male characters, but when equipped on a female avatar, they become nothing more than bras, thongs and thigh-highs.
Unfortunately, the WoW.com article and many of its comments are an exercise in missing the point.
If you don’t like what your character is wearing, then you can find something else.
Well, sure we can, but why should we have to? If we like the stats on a particular piece of armor, why should we have to go looking for something comparable? And what happens when one of those pieces belongs to our tier gear? Up until 3.2, the Conqueror’s Aegis chestpieces were battle-bras.
Suck it up and get Tier 9? Sure, the plate gear gets better, but what if a female rogue doesn’t want to flash her cleavage in her Triumphant VanCleef’s Battlegear? What if female priests don’t want their midriffs bared to get their set bonuses?
Several commenters have a solution for this, of course: “So wear a shirt underneath or put on your tabard to hide it.”
And again, that’s not the point. The point is, why should we have to? And, as several other people pointed out, putting on a shirt might slap a bandaid on the problem with chestpieces, but there’s no way to avoid the thong-and-thigh-high-boots on the legs.
Also peppered throughout the comments are suggestions that the bikini-armor should be made available to male characters. I agree; it should — if you want to put your characters in those outfits, whether the avatar is male or female, that should be your choice. But “making both sides have skimpy outfits” isn’t the solution — you still have people who don’t want that kind of armor on any of their characters.
There’s the usual, sadly predictible amount of “get over it” and “you feminists hate fun” and “it’s just a game, gawd” in the comments, along with plenty of “suck it up, it’s the way the genre works” and “this game is marketed to men, so deal with it.”
As commenter Kylenne says on page four:
Not even 20 comments in and I’m already one square away from Anti-Feminist Gamer Bingo.
Yes. This. Here’s the thing: if any player, of any sex, gender, or sexual orientation, would like their characters to wear those outfits, that’s okay. But the reverse needs to be true as well: if a player is uncomfortable with those outfits, there needs to be an equal alternative that is just as easily obtained.
Schramm links to gamer Elsa’s post, “Me and My Chainmail Bikini,” in which she discusses why she occasionally misses her chainmail bikini while playing a fully-armored character in Dragon Age. However, there’s a whole chunk of her post that discusses the flip side to it, conveniently left out by Schramm:
I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with my chainmail bikini. There’s something very liberating about prancing through the countryside slaying various beasts and critters while attired as a Dominatrix, but on a larger level it bothers me a bit. Mostly it’s an immersion issue. Being an “actual, real-live female” I KNOW that there is no way you can run through the forests wearing 3″ heels. I’ve worn high heels most of my adult life… I can walk fast in high heels, I can even run to catch a bus in high heels on a sidewalk – but there is no possible way in hell that I can run through the forests or across a bumpy meadow, battling bad guys or nasty critters while wearing 3″ spikey heels without breaking an ankle. It’s simply not possible! Reality also intercedes with the whole “boob” thing. Any woman with a C cup or more knows that it’s painful to run braless. You have to strap those puppies down… pushing them up just creates the potential for two black eyes. I always shudder when I see Lara and her massive mammaries “shimmy” along a wall and all I can think of is OUCH! It’s rather the equivalent of a guy seeing another guy getting kicked in the balls. Weather also plays an immersion role. I can’t help but be taken completely out of a game when I see my scantily clad siren skipping through a white winter wonderland in practically no clothing. Brrrrrr!!
Schramm also, disappointingly, seems to be dismissing the idea that the depiction of female avatars in body-baring armor might have an affect on how women view themselves:
Is this an issue, then? For this game, at this time, probably not. Most players of the game realize that not only do people not walk around every day wearing plate armor and wielding magical swords, but that most real-life people don’t try or have the interest in living up to any weird expectations of sexuality placed on them by a fantasy character.
We’ve got ourselves a logical fallacy right here, cats ‘n’ kittens. Magic swords: not real. Bodies like the ones depicted in WoW: nearly impossible to attain, but real. (And before anyone hops in to point out that there aren’t people running around IRL with hooves and tails like the Draenei, I’m talking about the tiny waists and huge chests on the females, and the super-muscular barrel chests and perfect abs on the males. But I’m pretty sure you knew that already, right?) So yes, actually, real-life people do have “weird expectations of sexuality placed on them by a fantasy character.” Every day, we’re told that this kind of body is acceptable — on tv, on the covers of magazines, in the movies. That if we don’t look like that, we’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not worth as much as the people we’re told are beautiful. The bodies and outfits in WoW perpetuate that.
I’m not sure Schramm actually read all of Elsa’s post, because she goes on to make the same point, with a plea to the developers:
Chainmail bikinis and the accompanying virtual gals that tend to wear them also promote a body image almost impossible for most real-life women to attain. Double D cups rarely accompany a 24″ waistline unless silicon or suction is involved somewhere. The proportions of these nubile young lasses continue to promote our North American obsession with plastic surgery, unhealthy diets and eating disorders. While sex sells, and games are still full of scantily clad, hormonally enhanced female and male body shapes (particularly in fighting games), I do think that things are gradually, slowly changing and devs can help play a role by promoting something just as sexy but a little more natural and realistic in terms of proportions. Please devs, no more double D cup boobs unless they are accompanied by the reality of a padded waistline that holds them up, or they sag down to sway and play peek-a-boo bellybutton. Attire can still be sexy, but please make it appropriate to the game’s environment and character’s actions. I think it’s quite possible to design sexy attire that is still practical.
Another argument that comes up in the comments is, “the game is fantasy. It’s escapism. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to play an idealized character if I want to?” See above: if that’s what and who you want to play, that’s okay. Right now, I’m all right with Threnn’s build: she’s a paladin and a blacksmith — she should be toned. But Annalea’s a priestess and a bard; her body shouldn’t be the exact same as Threnn’s, just with a different head. I don’t believe that WoW’s graphics engine is ready for us to be able to customize body types, but if that becomes available, players should be able to create characters with whatever body types they’d like, including the ones available to us right now.
See, I’m not advocating that we take away the chainmail bikinis or the idealized bodies. I’m advocating more variation in our choices. Several players have spoken up on the WoW.com thread stating that they’re female players and love their chainmail. It makes them feel empowered, that it’s cool for them to watch their avatar going toe to toe with the bad guys and kicking ass in next-to-nothing.
Say it with me: that’s okay.
For the commenters who suggest that feminists just want to take away their fun and dictate their video game experience, this is a big ol’ NO WE DON’T: it’s okay to play whatever kind of character makes you happy, and we will support your choices on that because that’s how feminism works.
Someone in comments suggests that armor have a “gender toggle” — that if you want to see the bikini armor, you go into the same place where you choose to show helm/show cloak and check off “show gender armor.” That commenter’s heart is in the right place, but it is still a solution that reinforces the stereotype.
“So, falconesse,” (asks the imaginary audience in my head) “are you just going to criticize everyone else’s solutions, or do you have a fix of your own to propose?”
Why, in fact I do! I’m so glad I asked!
Don’t make it a toggle. Make them into their own pieces, with their own separate item numbers — same stats, same tokens/badges/price to purchase them, just with different art. We have the dressing-room feature, so let the player compare how the Nagasaur Breastplate of Badass looks in both full-chestpiece and battle bra versions, and choose which one he or she buys from the vendor.
Schramm does seem to believe that at some point, we will see games that allow for different body types:
I believe we’ll see more games and instances where these traditions are subverted, where our heroes aren’t manly men or sexy women, but real, actual people of all shapes and sizes.
Unfortunately, he follows that up with this:
But let’s be honest: just as some men have their traditional genres where depictions are skewed, so also do some women. And as long as people continue to support and invest in those genres and their conventions (and why wouldn’t they? It’s fun wearing crazy armor and killing bad guys!), they’ll be around in this form for a long time.
Because a sweeping generalization about a different genre’s the way to make your point, amirite? Further, while some (but by no means all) romance novels do offer unrealistic depictions of men and women, that doesn’t justify it happening in our own genre. The way to bring about change is to work towards it yourself and support other people who are working towards it as well. You’re happy with the armor sets you have? That’s great! Let’s show some support for the players who would like a different kind of armor, so they can be happy with their armor sets, too.
It doesn’t fix everything, not by a long shot. There’s still more objectification going on than I could shake a tree at, but Schramm is right on one point: it’s going to take a long time to change attitudes and defeat stereotypes in any genre or medium, though the seeds of those changes are already starting to sprout here and there. But at least, in the meantime, it’d be nice if my characters could cover up against the cold.