Female Armour: There’s Nothing Wrong With Sexy

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?).

Distraction is not always a viable strategyIt wasn’t a terrible popular opinion, as such things never are on the Internet, but I stand by my comments.

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.

Cate Blanchett showing off proper female armour in her role as Queen ElizabethAnd 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.

Anjali and Katarina show off their gear in Dungeon Siege IIIBut 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.

Art of Nova Terra from StarCraftSo 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.

Isabella in Dragon Age 2Though 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!

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12 thoughts on “Female Armour: There’s Nothing Wrong With Sexy

  1. As a game-enjoyin’ female, I have two thoughts on this issue:

    If the ladies are half-naked, so should be the men. I wouldn’t object at all to the fur-lined bra and barely butt-covering animal hide skirt of the females if the males were running around in animal hide briefs or some such thing. Oh, the males would, of course, also need to have unrealistically and inhumanly perfect bodies. πŸ˜‰ (I would really prefer to see everyone where something realistic to the setting/purpose of the game.)

    My second thought goes below the armor. Let’s talk about boobs. Comic books, games, anime…they all leave me wondering if the creators have ever seen or touched actual real human breasts. πŸ˜‰ Human boobs just don’t do that…not without some synthetic assistance, anyway. Ask even the hottest of cosplay ladies what she had to do to get her cleavage to look like that, and she’s sure to rattle off a list of multiple bras, make up, and tape. What’s wrong with realistic breasts, I wonder? Personally, I think they’re kind of neat. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the interesting post! πŸ˜€

  2. Yeah, it gets really old. All I want is more choice, the ability to customize my outfits and more parity between male/female attire. If it’s “functional” it should look the same on both – same with “sexy.” It’s just silly to have the same armor look like a platekini on a female and all covered up on a male.

    “Lazy” seems to sum it pretty good.

    “…we’re puritans, unable to cope with the β€œevil” of sex” – yeah, ignore these idiots. Some people will never, EVER get it πŸ˜‰

    …and thanks πŸ˜‰

    • Mankinigate aside, this is one thing I like about TSW. Yeah, they’ve got some ridiculous female costumes, but there’s just SO MUCH choice that you can easily dress your female avatars in a huge variety of more sensible and stylish outfits. There’s almost too much choice in that game after a while — I have more cool looks than I know what to do with.

      Wish we could get an outfit manager like the gear manager…

  3. Sexual fantasy is just that, sexual. It doesn’t become sexist until someone who doesn’t share that kind of fantasy (or concludes their self-worth from it) gets offended and calls it sexism.

    No one looks at quan chi in mortal kombat 9 and says “put on a shirt you muscle whore!”. I should stand up as a man and demand quan chi put on a shirt because as a man I feel violated or that he is misrepresenting me somehow because I happen to be the same gender.

    I won’t because I’m intelligent enough to realize that he is a work of fiction and no one expects me to have his abs. The fact that he can throw glowing green skulls from his hands is another major difference between us.

    Fantasy is fantasy. Take the sexy out of fantasy and it’s not pure anymore.

    If you want to remove sexy from fantasy because it isn’t “realistic” then please take out the ridiculous magics that aren’t remotely realistic. Everything should require gun powerder. No gun powder.. no boom. Also no more super large creatures without providing the appropriate mathimatics to support the “realism.”

    • Again, it’s not about realism. It’s about verisimilitude. Fantasy doesn’t mean “anything goes.” It means we accept a certain degree of fantasy elements under the assumption that they will be used in a consistent and logical manner.

      “Female armour” doesn’t do that. If armour exists in a universe, it has a reason to. Women don’t have magical bewb power that protects them from arrows and swords, and even if they did, then they wouldn’t need to wear armour at all, revealing or otherwise.

      And really, if you feel taking away the sexualization harms the fantasy, that’s not fantasy you’re interested in. It’s porn.

      And there’s nothing wrong with porn, but it’s a totally different genre, and injecting it into fantasy without rhyme or reason is no more appropriate than having Frodo suddenly break out an AK-47.

      As a fantasy writer, I find arguments like this very frustrating, because it shows a complete lack of understanding of and respect for the genre.

  4. Here’s something I’ve tried to get across to would-be writers, and is entirely within context in this situation:

    “What’s the difference between fiction and reality? FICTION HAS TO MAKE SENSE. Reality has no such constraint.”

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