Perhaps because of Mankinigate, the issue of female armour in games and other media has been on my mind a fair bit lately. It’s something I’ve covered on this blog before. My opinion is clear: Plate bikinis are bad (mmkay?).
With that being said, I would like to expand upon the matter, as there are some things I would like to clear up. You could consider this an addendum to the first post.
Sexy isn’t bad (mmkay?):
One of the more common criticisms that gets leveled against those of us objecting to platekinis is that we’re puritans, unable to cope with the “evil” of sex. We won’t be satisfied until everyone is running around in burqas.
Even if they don’t go that far, many will complain that we want to remove all indications of gender and have everyone running around as shapeless masses of steel, with no room for any femininity whatsoever.
This is, of course, ridiculous. I can only speak for myself, but I am a heterosexual man. I have absolutely no problem looking at women with little or no clothing, nor do I have anything against female characters being obviously feminine. I just don’t feel the need to demean characters or demolish logic within a fictional setting in order to do so.
And that gets to the heart of what I want to say today, because I do believe we can have our cake and eat it too. I think there is room for characters who look feminine and/or sexy without launching an all out assault on immersion and common sense.
In all honesty, if it were entirely up to me, I would have little or no variation in the armour worn by men or women. I don’t think realistic armour does anything to impinge the beauty or femininity of a woman. If you doubt me, Google a woman who goes by Samantha Swords, a competitive sword fighting champion who also happens to be quite lovely — even in her full battle gear.
But I think there’s room for compromise. I can sympathize with artists and players who would prefer female characters to have a certain obvious femininity in their outward appearances, and it is true that sex does sell, so there are strong marketing arguments for including characters with obvious sex appeal.
I can think of many examples of female characters in games who hit a happy medium. One I mentioned in the previous post is Anjali in Dungeon Siege III — a melee fighter who favours plate armour that covers virtually the entirety of her body.
I can pick holes in the realism of Anjali’s armour. The high heels are a bit much, and I’m not going to defend those, and I am aware that “boob plate” (chest armour designed to the contours of a woman’s breasts) is in fact ludicrously impractical due to the way it channels impact force straight to the sternum.
But I can suspend my disbelief for Anjali’s armour. At least she doesn’t have any exposed midriffs or low-cut breatplates ripe for a quick sword thrust. Her armour isn’t necessarily realistic, but it is verisimilar. And it does have a certain elegant femininity to it, without compromising her obvious strength as a warrior.
Similarly, the villain of the game, Jeyne Kassynder, had a pretty nice example of female armour done right. Her sleek, form-fitting armour had a definite feminine quality to it, but it didn’t show unnecessary amounts of skin, and it didn’t compromise her identity as a majestic yet terrible warrior-priestess.
Another excellent example of a good compromise is the character Nova Terra from the StarCraft universe.
Nova’s armour is quite obviously designed with sex appeal in mind. It’s skin tight and leaves little to the imagination.
But it also makes sense within the context of her character. Nova isn’t a frontline soldier; she’s an assassin. The purpose of her armour is not to protect her from an ultralisk hug to the face; it is to generate a cloaking field that will conceal her from sight. Nova doesn’t need heavy physical protection. If you see her, you’re already dead.
So then it make sense for her armour to be lightweight and create as slim a profile as possible. Maybe it doesn’t need to be quite that tight… but we’re talking about compromises here. Nova’s armour isn’t necessarily perfect, but it treads the tightrope well enough to satisfy both sides of the argument. It’s sexy enough to catch the eye, but it’s not ridiculous or immersion-breaking.
It’s also worth noting that Nova’s armour is not radically different from that worn by her male counterparts in the Ghost program.
Then there are characters who just seductive by nature. This is a difficult thing to get right, as it can easily feel like shameless pandering, but if one is serious about incorporating it into their personality in a way that makes sense, then there’s nothing wrong with it.
Take, for example, Isabella from the Dragon Age games. I don’t take issue with her apparent disdain for pants and undergarments. It’s just in her nature. She’s a hedonist, and she enjoys all of life’s pleasures, including sex. Her appearance reflects this. My utter loathing of Isabella stems from her unconscionable selfishness, not her promiscuity or choice of attire, and she doesn’t feel like a shameless attempt to draw in lonely fanboys (and a certain percentage of fangirls). Her sexuality is just part of who she is.
The same could hold true for players role-playing as a seductive character. If they are doing it with pure intentions and putting in the effort to make it a logical part of their character’s persona and not just doing it for their own titillation or other less worthy motives, I have no issue with them doing so and dressing their character accordingly.
Though I will reiterate what I said in my original post: Those in games who dress their characters in revealing clothing purely for legitimate role-playing purposes are bound to be a slender minority.
So I think it’s clear that there is plenty of room for video games to include sexy and obviously feminine female characters without being demeaning or ridiculous. It just takes a little more effort.
In the end, the most offensive thing about platekinis may not be their absurdity, or even their apparent sexism, but simply how lazy they are.
And now for something completely different:
On a totally unrelated note, I would like to offer my congratulations to my esteemed colleague Wolfgangcat over at WoW Misadventures. As those who follow her blog know, she has spent the last several weeks struggling to defeat Kanrethad Ebonlocke and claim green fire for her boosted warlock.
I myself have simply given up on doing this brutally difficult quest until Warlords of Draenor, and I must confess that I had my doubts about whether she’d succeed. But after weeks of mastering the mechanics, she finally did it.
Let us all bow before this mistress of the dark arts and salute her accomplishment!