Chainmail Bikinis: It’s About Choice

By | December 7, 2009

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.

Says Schramm:

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.

/facepalm

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.


11 Comments

Itanya Blade on December 7, 2009 at 4:06 pm.

I’m still frustrated by this.

I have characters that feel right wearing “slut plate” so to speak. And yet, I still lost my t8 Belly shirt. Boo

On the other hand, I have characters that just don’t like the way it looks. The characters that never take off their tabards cause they don’t want to shake their bottom at everyone who passes by.

Bricu on December 7, 2009 at 4:19 pm.

The point isn’t whether or not there is “sexy armor.” The point is that there should be a choice. Dorri–I doubt it’s pill–may like the Babydoll Cut off Armor of tres Sexy, but it isn’t right for Threnn or Varenna. The Choice needs to be there. That’s what this is about.

Objectification, folks, is a real issue.

Israia on December 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm.

Speaking from the experience of someone with a lot of experience talking and working with people in the games industry:

That solution is a /lot/ of money to spend. And by a lot, I mean upwards of an extra $50k minimum per year in development costs. MINIMUM. That’s adding one artist to do separate textures. Let alone the other dozens of jobs required to code it in and test it appropriately.

Does Blizzard have the money? Hell yes. But it’s one of those places where I would have a really difficult time quantifying how much it is worth to the player base as a whole to a boss.

I don’t necessarily disagree; Just speaking to the realities of things. I’d love to have less bikiniplate, but luckily Shaman have gotten incredibly lucky at not getting shafted like that.

falconesse on December 7, 2009 at 6:08 pm.

The thing is, they’ve already done something very similar to this in-game: the tier 9 pieces are identical statswise between Horde and Alliance. They have different skins and different names, but the gear is the same.

What kind of coding and testing would need to be done? We already take our tokens and decide at the vendors which spec we’d like to purchase gear for. We can purchase the same piece of gear several times and enchant/gem it differently for PVE vs PVP if we’d like. I’m not snarking, I’m genuinely curious how this would present a technical problem.

I can see where someone would have to be paid for doing the art, but so far, Wrath’s theme for gear seems to be “create a plate set, a mail set, a leather caster set, a leather melee set, and a cloth set. Now take those six skins and assign different colors to them for each class that might wear them.” So why not create some alternative sets that can potentially share skins?

And $50K a year for art/testing/coding etc? LOOK, MA, I CREATED JOBS! /dances

“falconesse, saving the economy and clothing characters in one fell swoop”

Sorcha on December 7, 2009 at 6:52 pm.

“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.”

He is right, but he’s also part of the problem. It’s going to take one heck of a lot longer if people like him decide it’s a bra-burning feminist issue that they don’t have to deal with.

Look, my husband loves his skimpy gear on his female characters. I love it on one of my characters and hate it on the others, largely for RP reasons. I don’t LIKE it when one my characters is so busy being unhappy about her clothes that she’s distracted from other things, like staying alive or paying her school fees or whatever her current thing is.

In the short term, making a slot on the paper doll for “long underwear”, along the lines of the shirt slot, would go a long way towards making me happier. Because while Sorcha has her moments of loving the dominatrix look, Nahyomi never likes it, and Rheyna is just flat out ashamed to be seen in that kind of gear.

But in the long term, giving people the ability to be comfortable with their game avatar expands the customer base. More choices, and less forced objectification, please.

P.S. I imagine Schramm doesn’t like having his work be dismissed by people with a limited and cliched stereotype in their head about computer games. He might consider that perhaps his stereotype of romance novels is just as limited and just as insulting to people who create them. Plus it’s a bad example. “Romance novels” is such a huge genre that it allows its readers to pick and choose between the objectified alpha male heroes and the more nuanced ones, or even to play in the lesbian version of the romance novel. When WoW offers me as many choices for how to conceptualize and visualize my female characters as romance fiction offers for who should be the romantic interest of the main female character, I’ll be more interested in his dismissal of a genre he clearly knows nothing about.

Byrd on December 7, 2009 at 8:36 pm.

I lost my way… thanks to arrens.net from where I lost my way… thanks to “all those annas”.. ;-)

I agree, there definitely should be all available options. Seeing as I’ve played “tons” of games, it is actually NOT *gasp* that hard to do. The last game that comes to mind is Star Wars: Galaxies (mmorpg i think it is dead though). You could have all shapes/sizes/colours/etc. I don’t think it takes more money per se. It takes the willing and want to actually improve your game beyond what you have and to please people.

Great site by the way. I’ll keep getting lost and heading this way on occasion.

Hot Tramp on December 7, 2009 at 10:53 pm.

Yup, you summed up my thoughts in response to Schramm’s commentary. But the old “Media images don’t influence our culture!” is a typical antifeminist talking point. We shouldn’t care about the constant sexualization of women in movies, advertising, television, and games, because OF COURSE those images have NOTHING to do with what actually happens in real life.

As games go, I think WoW is above-average in terms of depiction of women, if only because we do get to choose whether or not to wear the sexualized armor. You don’t get options for covering Chun Li or Lara Croft up. But the bar is pretty goddamn low in the game industry, so Blizzard gets only the tiniest of cookies.

Teuthida on December 17, 2009 at 12:40 am.

I meant to comment on this (and Bricu’s followup) back when it got posted, but I got all distracted looking for the Illustrative Screenshot I took when the Dressing Room first came into the game, which I have now found:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sheeplass/4191290149/in/set-72157623016344124/

(Also, re: needing to design art for multiple sets — aren’t they already in game, but mapped to male character models? I can’t imagine that they have to design a skin for every possible race/gender combination; I always assumed that they just designed one male skin and one female skin. So — the male skin is already in the game. You’d just need a little code to hook up the male skin for items to female models, and vice versa, and then have the option to pick either one. Not much harder than adding in three different sets for shamans, it doesn’t seem like. Happy to be corrected on that.)

Bricu on December 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm.

Sweet. Zombie. Uthas. I think you found the most Illustrative Screenshot Ever. Thank you for posting this!

Avelii (Server-Lightninghoof) on April 7, 2010 at 7:58 am.

For a while there, I hated slut armor. And then I thought to myself, damn, if I could go out into the middle of a battlefield looking that hot while I kicked ass… why wouldn’t I? I’ve decided not to take it seriously, have fun, and note that there *are* people in the real world who really do dress like that. Maybe they shouldn’t, maybe *I* wouldn’t, but that doesn’t disregard the fact that I *could*.

/grin