An Open Letter to Tony Harris : Don’t be Jealous of their Boogie

•November 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Hello, the internet. I’ve been a little too busy lately to comment on breaking news, and I also need to finish playing Dishonored so I can write a 10 part exhaustive review about how it is the best videogame ever because you get to violently disfigure the pope. A lot of really excellent videogames have come out recently. I’ve been loving X-Com: Enemy Unknown, I really want to play Assassin’s Creed 3, and for some godawful reason I’ve been forcing myself to suffer through Silent Hill: Downpour.

Next week I pick my preorder of the Adventure Time game. Special edition. I need that Enchiridion tin for my hair-dids. Did you know enchiridion is an awesome 15th century greek word that simply means ‘manual’ and that Saint Augustine wrote an enchiridion? You did? Good for you! I wouldn’t know, because apparently, I’m just an attention whore!

Part of the reason I’ve been neglecting my blogging is that I’ve been preparing for this:

I did the art too! My stage name is “Memento Mary”

See, I’m an attention whore, not an attention slut, because I get paid for it. You mad? Apparently, the internet is. There was a bit of a kerfuffle on a stranger’s facebook when they posted this image:

I’m not going to link the person’s facebook because I sure as hell am not reading the 150 post thread so I can post a nuanced rebuttal to something I feel fairly confident doesn’t deserve one.

Hey guys, look at me! I’m a whore who found glasses too!

nerd lol

Ha ha, see, it’s funny because you can tell I’M a real nerd, right? Right? I mean, you noticed right away that my iPhone case features Christopher Lee as Dracula from the 1958 masterpiece “The Horror of Dracula”, right? A film that is old enough to be my daddy! That makes me legit. Or wait, maybe up in the corner there, that picture of Judge Death by Frazer Irving that I’ve elected to decorate my bathroom wall with. Maybe THAT’s what proves that I have the necessary nerd pedigree to post a picture of myself with the caption nerd lol.

Or maybe ‘geek girls’ aren’t purebred dogs and you shouldn’t demand they show you their geek birth certificates and their geek curriculum vitaes unless you are hiring them to do a job where being a geek is the number one qualification.

You know, like managing a Spencer’s Goods or something.

If I sound bitter, it’s not because of some random twonk on the internet, it’s because of someone I would have really expected better from. Tony Harris, a talented artist who currently works for DC comics. I’ve always respected his endorsement of using good photo reference appropriately, and had no reason to think ill of the man until he went off onto a bit of a rant on his facebook.


I have a really hard time believing the basic premise of this as well. Now, this may surprise you to find out, but I am officially an attractive woman, as decided by the internet when I was 22 years old from a shitty pictures where I had a terrible haircut, no makeup, and looked quite puffy. That was also the day that I found out that Fallout fans who bitch constantly about redesigning a Mr. Handy CANNOT RECOGNIZE A BROM OR A GIGER, which pretty much blew my mind. Anyway, I found the whole thing rather disturbing. Then I drank another 10 cups of coffee and went back to sculpting mutilated corpses and dreaming about some kind of mythical future where I’d get to have ‘a vacation’.

I’m 28 now, which is about a million years old in geek girl terms but I actually got better looking as I aged. If I want excessive attention from men, all I have to do is slap on a little bit of makeup, put on my regular clothing, and go out to a crowded bar alone. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds a lot more efficient than learning to sew, making a costume, transporting yourself to a convention, getting a hotel room, buying a wig, styling the wig, gluing fake eyelashes on, and BUYING TICKETS TO THE CONVENTION which is something that Mr Harris has rather completely glossed over.

One of my favorite cosplayers, Omi Gibson!

And what’s his main issue with them, as he states it? That they’re somehow the ‘predators’ abusing the poor innocent nerd boys. I can tell you, Mr Harris, that those poor innocent nerd boys are usually not very nice under their self effacing layers of nerdy ‘Just a Nice Guy’ bullshit. I’ve dealt with nightmarish nerds and I’ve dealt with nightmarish jocks. At least the nightmarish jocks will offer to buy you a drink after you smack the hand off of your ass. The nightmarish nerds can ruin a perfectly lovely game of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 by delving into great detail about what a whore you are and how much they’d like to do illegal things to your body. And that’s before they find out whether or not you’re a girl.

The reason those ‘fake pretty’ girls who look a little drab outside of all the makeup and dresses torment those poor nerd boys so is because they remind those nerd boys of what is probably actually attainable for them in their lives to achieve as a sexual partner. Would that really be so bad? A girl who isn’t all that pretty the day after, but looks just like Starfire in a pushup bra and contacts and a bucket of body paint?

What’s so terrible about a girl who isn’t a perfect 10 doing something that makes her feel pretty? She bought a ticket just like everyone else. Part of that money went to pay for you to be there, Mr. Harris.

Pandora Boxx doing Alice from Alice: Madness Returns. WERK!

Now me personally, I don’t actually really like conventions. They’re vectors of disease, they’re crowded, they’re noisy, they’re expensive, and they smell funny. I don’t even like to think of myself as a geek or a nerd. I’m an artist.

But I enjoy dressing up, yes. Here’s a picture of me my husband took when we were drinking after goth clubbing. I was sad that my makeup was too pale to read inside the club.

I was once told I was not feminine enough to mocap. EAT IT.

Once again you can tell from this picture that I am a ‘legit’ geek, right? Those are the FIRST RUN of those zombie stompers and I had to import them from England. I deeply regret not holding out for the ones that glow-in-the-dark. OH THE HUMANITY!

But, surely my readers have noticed that that is the Japanese Army of Darkness poster, right? And that’s the Polish Terminator poster, and a rare Devil Rides Out poster where the name is The Devil’s Bride.

And that that is an original Nintendo light gun, which I have heartlessly gutted and painted silver and faux antiqued as a useful prop?

Wait a minute, WHO THE FUCK CARES?

Art by Tony Harris of an “Attention Whore”. Wait sorry, it’s from Ex Machina, I’m being a bit of a bitch.

Female competition is stupid. Ranking ‘geek girls’ based on their hotness and legitimacy is just a navel gazing way to dance around the fact that some assholes still think that it’s unfair for women to show off their bodies unless they are selling unlimited access to it. Some men are so used to it that they can’t for one second put themselves in the 6-inch heels of the opposite sex and think about how nauseating it is for women that no one ever stops judging them based on their beauty.

I’d think a man who is used to taking photos of his friends and family and extrapolating them into comic book heroes and heroines on a regular basis would have a little more sympathy. I hope Tony Harris reconsiders his stance and is a big enough man to make an apology.

And for the record, I personally find doing my own makeup and sewing to be way more challenging than making art for either videogames or comic books or even oil painting.

There’s no undo button and faces are a little bit squishy. Plus paintings don’t sweat. Usually.

PS: Ladies? Don’t stop.


A brand new Spiderqueen??? Aw guys you shouldn’t have <3

•October 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Are you dying to know what I think about League of Legend’s new arachnophobe teasing temptress?

Elise the Spider Queen from League of Legends

Elise, Bloodrayne is on line 2? She says you just mopped her look.

Bloodrayne? Durham Red is on line 3. She says you mopped HER look.

Only British people and ubernerds will get this reference

All jokes aside, Red and black is generally a good pallete. But after Zyra and Syndra… isn’t this all getting a little samey? I actually sort of love Elise’s shoes, but how many cut-outs does an outfit really need? Elise has a cute face, and I like her makeup design, but it’s still the default pale ambiguous features popularized in ye olden days of Squaresoft where someone decided that every man should look like Gackt and every woman should look like Gackt in drag.

It’s certainly more conventionally stylish than most of the fetish-wear in League of Legends. The pants are fierce. I find the top distracting, because her cleavage has more dodging and burning than a Vogue editorial. The neck-piece is cool. I think it would be better without the happy-trail tattoo, and if both the cleavage window and the abdominal region were covered up. I do like the gloves.

Elise’s backstory suggests that she’s some kind of two-faced cultist priestess, which is kind of a cool concept. I feel like her clothes don’t jive much with that. The clothes say ‘expensive dominatrix/performance artist’. Which, contrary to what people who learned about Catholicism through pornography may assume, is not what nuns actually do.

Okay, sometimes that is what nuns do, but mostly in fiction.

But I can hear the muttering starting already from the peanut gallery. What’s wrong with women in League of Legends being sexy? I’d answer that question with my own question:

What exactly is the target audience of this game? Is it sexually mature adults? Does the game actually have sexual themes besides hollow innuendo and cartoonishly inflated breasts? And how much clothing can we strip off of Harley Quinn before we admit that we took a design intended for a children’s cartoon and loaded it down with our own emotional baggage until it looked like a parody?

It is disingenuous to pretend this stuff is not soft-core pornography at this point. It’s as if adding Varus to the game triggered some sort of wave of gay panic among the designers who proceeded to outdo each other in order to reassert their heterosexuality and/or ability to render the shiniest boobs.

I’m just saying, can we just stop pretending these designs aren’t Freudian clusterfucks?

So, in conclusion, Elise is much more to my personal taste but she seems skirting the edge of appropriateness for a game that claims to have ‘midly suggestive themes’. That outfit is ‘mildly suggestive’ in the way that an ashtray as big as a really fucking big brick to the head is ‘mildly painful.’

Some people treat the videogame fanbase as a horde of out of control lemmings. They just throw up their hands and say “Oh well, you can’t control them! Boys will be boys!” I think you’d be hard pressed to make that argument that when you pack your game with context-deprived fetish cliches you’re inviting a certain type of fan, and it’s not the type of fan that thinks women should be welcome in the industry as anything other than cosplay models and guilty masturbatory fantasies.

If your game doesn’t actually explore mature sexual themes but you still want to include sex appeal, maybe your character designers should try to be capable of a little more… restraint?

Women of Color in Videogames

•October 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So, for your reference, this was actually one of the first posts I wrote for the blog. I did not publish it because I was trying to figure out how to make this point while being pretty much a white chick. I’m actually not white. I’m legally hispanic, whatever that means, but I have white privilege. I am pale as hell, and people assume I’m the whitest whitey who ever whitewashed a fence.

However, I feel like race in videogames is a serious issue that gets glossed over far too often because ‘white people’ are not allowed to complain about being overrepresented. So here goes…

Have you ever noticed that most of the ‘colored’ women in videogames are not exactly… natural colors?

There are lots of prominent representations of women of color in video games. The problem is, those women tend to be blue or purple or green.

Women of unnatural skin colors are a staple of sci-fi and fantasy genres. Fictional races of colorful women tend to be more sexualized than the others. I’ve wondered if the unnatural skin color makes it easier to other them and treat them like sexual objects. That could be an issue, or it could simply be that the Asari are modeled on the Twi-leks who are modeled on the Orion Slave Girls. My boyfriend pointed out that easiest way to make a race ‘alien’ but keep them ‘sexy’ is to merely change their skin color, and that’s very true and probably a contributing factor.

But in this post I’m going to talk about black women of color, not white girls dyed blue and purple. With white privilege, I cannot have as good an understanding of this topic as a black woman due to my lack of personal experience but I think racism is still a huge problem plaguing game design that warrants a lot of discussion. To me, the inclusion of more ethnicities isn’t even about fairness or quotas… I’m just really bored of white bald space marines.

This is my Warhead. There are many like it but this one is mine.

I’ve mentioned this before but one of the pivotal moments that changed the way I played video games was the advent of Unreal Tournament 2004. I had previously avoided directly competitive games, afraid that I’d be too unskilled and knowing that the boys I would fight with would demand I be twice as good as a male gamer to acknowledge me if they knew I was a woman. But something about Unreal Tournament 2004 was just too enticing to pass up.

It had women.

It had huge brutish women, it had alcoholic punk rocker women, it had silly cenobite women and sexy women and robot women.

It also had black women. One of them was on the cover, brandishing a gun next to a reptilian alien. The game had a team that was compromised almost entirely of black characters, with a single white guy who may or may not have been a black albino.

That was the first and last time I can recall seeing a black woman on the cover of a videogame.

Actually as I type that I’m forced to retract it. Guild Wars Nightfall had a black woman on the cover, but she was extremely pale. Still, the intent to make her look ethnic was obvious. And here’s where I run into problems talking about this sort of thing: white people are the unmarked race, like men are the unmarked gender. Complaining that a character design isn’t black enough for me to recognize it could just be my privilege kicking. Black women with paler skin are no less legitimate than darker skinned black women.

And yet it seems strange how difficult it is to find a woman of color in videogames who is darker than a latte.

Tyra Banks, is that you?!?

Pictured above are Christie Monteiro from Tekken and Sheva Alomar from Resident Evil 5. There is some debate as to whether Christie is intended to be darker skinned. She came up numerous times on lists of ‘black’ female characters when I did research. The swatches near the center line are a rough average of their skintones obtained with the photoshop eyedropper tool. The specular maps may be throwing off the averages, but neither of them are much darker than my own skin tone, and I am one of the whitest looking bitches you will ever meet.

When I tried to find more examples of black women in videogames I was surprised by some of the characters that people claimed were black.

Shinobu from No More Heroes, Storm from Marvel vs Capcom 3, Vanessa from Virtua Fighter, Elena from Street Fighter and Gloria from Devil May Cry

What’s with the white hair?

Okay, stylistically, blonde or white hair contrasted against dark skin is fabulous. There’s really no arguing that. RuPaul makes it pretty clear that it’s a good look… but most of these women aren’t wearing wigs. Elena and Storm are definitely intended to be black, but the others are up for debate. I personally assumed that Shinobu was an exaggerated Ganguro girl. Gloria is a white character in disguise, and Vanessa Lewis has such a flimsy character background that I have no idea really if she’s intended to be a woman of color. These women are what the internet told me were some of the most popular black women in video games.

As I mentioned, light hair on dark skin has an obvious visual appeal. Fortune from Metal Gear Solid has blond hair, but it retains noticeable texture. But this reoccurence of silky white hair seems to me to be intended to send some kind of message that says “It’s okay, these women aren’t THAT black.”

It reminds me of the dark elves from D&D. In theory, they’re meant to have dark skin and white hair, but their features are usually european and frequently their skin is lightened to a pearly pale grey or blue. In some cases their ‘darkness’ is done away with altogether. It’s an understandable decision, the premise of the ‘evil’ elves being more dark skinned is messed up from the get-go but then you fall into the question of whether or not negative representation is better than less representation. I don’t know how to answer that one, because I pass as white and it affects me less.

Jade from Beyond Good and Evil

Racism is stupid. There’s no such thing as ‘white features’ or ‘black features’. Our ancestors all fooled around together and what we perceive as racial differences are mostly a result of climate and diet and isolation. But I look around when I go outside and the diversity I see on the streets does not match what I see in video games. I see people claim that Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is asian, hispanic, black, white, whatever… and I don’t think we should need to split hairs like that to account for diversity in our character designs. I’m a lucky artist. I’ve gotten to see people cosplay as my designs. I love that, I think it’s awesome. I think it’s sad that sometimes when someone has a darker skin tone when they want to dress up as a character from a video game their options are limited. I think that’s unfortunate. I think every fan, every human being should be able to see some characters on their TV or computer screen that they can recognize as looking like them. Why shouldn’t they? White people have dominated the stage long enough. I can barely tell Leon Kennedy and Nathan Drake apart anymore.

I mean look at these:

Angel Rosa from Condemned 2, Rochelle from Left 4 Dead, Aveline de Grandpré from Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

Those are some excellent character models. They look like people I know who aren’t bleached blondes. Aveline’s design in particular I really love, and yet I’m not sure she’s worth buying a Playstation Vita for. I already use my DS as a paperweight until it’s time for a road trip or plane ride.

All I’m saying is look outside your fucking window. Look outside and see how much diversity we actually have in the fucking united states of america. Doesn’t that look more fun than endless retreads of Bruce Willis and Ryan Gosling?

PS: I am pretty sick of wordpress. I think I might transfer the blog to another website, and also open up a facebook page. I think I’m going to take it public as well. I’m pretty consigned to never working on mainstream videogames again. I’d like to work in indie games someday, but working at the kind of company where I have to censor my opinions doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.

On that note, keeping tabs on two twitters is way too annoying! so just twitter at @Beetemup ❤

League of Legends Gender Disparity Analysis

•August 25, 2012 • 1 Comment

I deeply, deeply resent being able to make this post.

It’s the sort of thing that I always thought would be interesting to do, but never had free time for. Gathering images for the blog is already irritatingly time consuming, and I have better things to do than sit around making charts. However, I’ve been very ill the past few days, so, with healthier options removed, why not devote several hours to collating… STATISTICS?

Fuck me.

Anyway, please enjoy the fruits of my unfortunate labors.

League of Legends is a very popular game. It’s not surprising that it gets a lot of attention. It’s also received a lot of negative attention recently for some of its female character designs, which has been met with a lot of defensiveness. So is that negative attention deserved?

Before we get into the meat of this, I want to say that in general I don’t support statements like “Riot is so sexist.” I prefer statements like “Riot’s designers have made sexist decisions.” League of Legends has an evolving cast, so they have a unique opportunity to start throwing dirt into the pit they’ve dug and balance out the disparity they’ve created.

So, lets look at the cast! To start out, I’ve divided the cast up into three categories: monstrous, cute, and humanoid. The first thing you’ll notice is : this chart is fucking huge.

In the interest of extreme fairness, I categorized anyone that was completely machine or had marked animal characteristics as being monstrous. This means sorting Cassiopeia and Soraka as monsters even if I personally feel like they’re basically just sexy women with a snake butt and goat legs.

The breakdown held a few surprises for me. Before starting the research, I had mentally estimated that nearly 50% of the cast was female. In actuality, there are as many female characters period as there are monstrous male characters. The percentage of humanoid females to total females compared to the percentage of humanoid males to total males is fairly staggering.  If I had sorted Cassiopeia and Soraka into humanoid, the humanoid characters would have balanced, but it would have been even more stark of a contrast.

However, what I really want to talk about here is costuming, and I didn’t want to get into a pointless debate over whether or not a furry thinks a shirtless minotaur counts as sexy.  So, let’s slice all the monsters and cuties out and focus on the humanoid breakdown. I’m using the words ‘revealing’ and ‘nonrevealing’ to judge the clothing coverage.

Here we go:

I didn’t want to split hairs about how nudity is considered differently across the genders, so I tried to be very reasonable and keep the judgement calls to specific and equal areas of the skin. I am ignoring any subjective judgements of sexiness, and it ends up being irrelevant. I don’t have to nitpick to show that the representation is split in nearly opposite directions. This is one of the reasons I’m perfectly content, for the purpose of this exercise, to factor out Soraka and Cassiopeia. They have very revealing costumes, but they aren’t needed to tip the balance. The balance is already tipped.

League of Legends has various skins you can purchase for the characters. I was curious then, which characters the player has the option of clothing in a way which changes whether they are wearing revealing clothing or not. I counted all skins that have been available at any point in time, whether or not they were limited edition or are still available for purchase. I used a model viewer to assess skin exposure.

Here are the characters wearing non-revealing clothing, and whether or not they have a revealing option:

I was both startled and amused that the first male character I hit on the list who had a revealing alternate costume was Singed. I doubt he had any fangirls clamoring to get a glimpse of his abs, but there you go.  He and Xin Zhao are the only characters with nonrevealing base costumes who have revealing alternatives. As another interesting observation, you virtually cannot tell from their splash screens for those costumes that they are as revealing as they are. Singed is showing his abs in a Bane-like costume, and Xin Zhao is wearing very little. Both of their bodies are posed so their torsos are largely obstructed by what armor they do have. The only equivalent female character who is posed to conceal her skin exposure is Leona.

So, the contrast here is stark. Kayle is the ONLY female character who doesn’t have the option of stripping down to show any T or A. The male characters they’ve selected hardly seem to me to be the ones that a heterosexual woman would want to take off their shirts. (Xin Zhao’s one revealing costume does have a certain Tom of Finland by way of Romance of the 3 Kingdoms vibe.)

So, now let’s look at the characters who already had revealing costumes:

Once again the contrast is high. Varus and Udyr are the only men who don’t have a fully clothed option. So what does that look like when you put them together?

So, here we really can see the problem. People defended Zyra‘s addition to the cast as being okay because Varus exists, but look at the burden he’s shouldering as Riot’s token sexy man. He has to balance out 8 female characters with his washboard abs, and that’s if we pretend we’re delusional and think Udyr is supposed to be sexy.  And Kayle? She has to balance the scales against a whopping 15 male characters.

And all that imbalance is before we get into the general uniformity of the women’s similarly beautiful, youthful faces contrasted against a mix of men that run a gamut of age and coarseness. This might also be a good time to notice that League of Legends has zero black characters.

Although it does have several purple ones.

As an additional problem, the skins that are intended to be comedic have a stark gender divide where only the women’s costumes have to be sexy as well as being funny. The following images are not intended to be exhaustive, but from what I could tell, Uncle Sam Ryze is the only ‘funny’ male costume to show skin. Whether or not that skin exposure is sexy is up for debate.

As you can see, there’s several direct equivalents in the mix that clearly indicate that skin exposure is a priority for the women and not for the men.

So what does that tell us? Is it an accident, an oversight? Or are Riot’s designers falling victim to the idea that exposed skin on men is ridiculous looking? That it makes them no longer intimidating, or is somehow demeaning?

I’m not a proponent of covering up all characters in a videogame. There’s certain things you take for granted in a fantasy game, and if you’re telling me a wizard can cast a fireball at a dragon, I’m okay with pretending that exposed abs are an effective defense against swords. For that matter, there are plenty of real world cultures whose warriors went into battle without considering armor a priority. So, I think it’s perfectly okay to design characters with non-protective outfits and expecting the audience to suspend their disbelief. But, what I don’t think is okay is to expect the audience to suspend their disbelief disproportionately for one gender. If a cleavage window is good for the gander, it’s good for the goose.

The real issue here is that male objectification makes people nervous. It makes them feel funny. We’ve been seeing female objectification all our lives, to the point where we’ve become numb to it. We don’t consider it an issue, even though it is. Having female characters exist disproportionately as eye candy sends a subconscious message about what is valuable or desirable about women.

I used to play a bit of League of Legends. Several months elapsed between that time and the time I made this chart. I was excited to see Diana‘s base design. She’s hot, but she’s armored, and she looks MEAN. But I immediately correctly guessed that she’d have an alternate skin that stripped her down to lingerie coverage. Nevertheless, she and Varus are steps in the right direction. But don’t pretend that Varus makes for a clean slate. He’s far from the equivalent of Evelynn or even Miss Fortune because he still gets pants and his dialogue isn’t a soundboard of sensual double entendre.

This is the status quo. We should probably fix it.

P.S. This shit took way too long to put together. If you’d like me to send you the .PSD of collected portraits to do any further analysis, just ask and I’ll hook you up.

So I have a twitter now…

•August 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

tl;dr I made a twitter so I could “argue” with Randy Pitchford. And by “argue” I mean be polite and reasonable. Hopefully. So feel free to tweet @SpiderQueen4U

This recent news story has me in a bit of a funk. I’ve often felt fortunate that my boyfriend was about as skilled at me at video games. We’re both generally good, and in some genres one of us will be a little better than the other, but never so much so that it makes direct competition boring. The expectation that girlfriends will be shittier at video games always feels like a big middle finger pointed at me. With current demographics, yes it is more likely that a boy will end up with a girl who doesn’t play video games than it is for a girl to end up with a boy who doesn’t. But that doesn’t make it acceptable to reinforce that stereotype in a culture that already disproportionately underestimates, excludes, and demeans women.

“Hardcore gamers” who like to argue that feminist issues shouldn’t be brought up in regards to the video games that they enjoy often rationalize the high percentage of women who play games by assuming that all those women are simply ‘casual gamers’. Calling an easy-mode ‘girlfriend mode’ encourages those kinds of assumptions. The alleged internal use of the phrase at Gearbox is troubling, because it implies that they are comfortable viewing men as their dominant market and women, even those who are not simply attached to a man, as a bit of an afterthought.

It was nice of Randy Pitchford to tweet about what good gamers his female employees are, but there’s always been sort of a troubling dichotomy between ‘girls’ and ‘girlfriends’ in gaming culture. Even as we increasingly accept girls, girlfriends are still stereotyped as being in direct competition with gaming for the attention of their boyfriends. In a way, they’ve assumed the mantle of the mother figure who never understood why she couldn’t shut down the console before you reached the next save point, a fun-hating responsibility-demanding harpy who might be placated if you could only show her the sheer joy of a game full of explosions and bright colors. And along with that stereotype crops up a kind of “girl gamer” with internalized sexist leanings, who is only too glad to present herself as the contrast to that kind of woman and by doing so is complicit in her unfair demonization.

Sometimes I don’t know when to stop extrapolating. Calling a button-smashy easy-mode ‘girlfriend’ mode is stupid and insulting and if you can’t see that I don’t know what to tell you. The guy who said it isn’t an isolated sexist pig, he’s probably a nice guy who’s simply gotten a little complacent within a sexist environment. And I don’t mean Gearbox itself, I mean the industry as a whole. The marketers, the mainstream gaming publications, and the consumers who are more than willing to circulate this kind of sexist crap while claiming that it’s just a joke so you aren’t allowed to be angry.

Hey you, you suck. Just kidding.

Oh btw I have a twitter now.

Androcentrism Part Two: Attack of the Girl-Guy

•August 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So, last time I posted about Androcentrism I discussed how the male gender being considered the neutral, unmarked gender by society encourages an uneven gender representation in videogames. Mixed-sex groups in videogames will usually surround the women with a plurality of men, and female characters often have a specific justification for their inclusion that takes their gender into account. This sometimes results in a particular character archetype I sometimes think of as the ‘girl-guy’.

The presence of only one woman on a team full of men is often dubbed the ‘Smurfette Principle’, a term coined by Katha Pollitt in a 1991 New York Times article. There is also the connotation of that character’s dominant descriptive trait simply being that she is female.

If you’re unaware of what Smurfette is, here’s the brief. The Smurfs was a children’s comic book featuring a race of little blue men whose names were all ‘Smurf’ with a descriptive prefix. Brainy Smurf, Handy Smurf, Lazy Smurf… etc. They had no female smurfs until an evil wizard created a female Smurf-golem out of clay like a little blue Galatea with the intention to sow discord among the smurfs and called her Smurfette. Unfortunately, since the wizard was a shitty wizard as well as an evil one, she wasn’t hot enough to sow any real discord. Papa Smurf, the Smurf patriarch, took pity on Smurfette and changed her into a real smurf with a magical machine. The effects of the machine suggest that it was a precursor to the Dragulator. Her short dark hair became long and blond, her eyelashes grew longer, and her clunky shoes changed into high heels and now everyone liked her.

Smurfette’s makeoker, before and after

This is pretty much the worst life lesson you could teach a little girl. Thanks for the comic book, Dad!

Anyway, in addition to being an excellent advertisement for plastic surgery, Smurfette was unlike the other Smurfs because she had no modifier to describe her. She never became a Doctor Smurfette or a Poet Smurfette or a Disgruntled Smurfette, despite the fact that she had an excellent case for becoming the latter. Being female isn’t just Smurfette’s gender, it’s also her personality.

A similar trend sometimes occurs in videogames, particularly with ensemble groups of player characters or villains. It’s uncommon for women to outnumber men on a team, and frequently the one woman in the group’s personality will revolve around being feminine. One of the classic examples of this in other genres is the ‘sentai’ style team common in 80s cartoons. These would generally be composed of a heroic leader, his sarcastic rival, a nerdy guy, a hefty guy… and a girl guy.

So what is a ‘girl-guy’? And what isn’t a ‘girl-guy’?

Rochelle : Not a “Girl-Guy”

Rochelle from Left 4 Dead 2 is the only woman on a four person team. Similarly, Zoey from the original Left 4 Dead is the only woman. However, neither of these women have a different playstyle from their male counterparts. They’re both wearing pink, which could be considered ‘feminine’ but their clothing is casual and practical and their dialogue isn’t written to underscore their gender. Left 4 Dead is an action game and leaves most character background up to the imagination, but all we’re told about Rochelle is that she had a low-level job at a news organization and likes Depeche Mode. Zoey is a college student who enjoys horror movies. None of those traits are gender-specific.

So, while it’s a little frustrating that 1 woman to 3 men seems to be considered the acceptable balance for a Left 4 Dead game, there’s nothing troubling about Rochelle or Zoey as characters. They’re also consistently posed like their male counterparts, with the entire team being either cautiously relaxed or ready to fire.

Lilith from Borderlands is unfortunately another matter entirely.

When I first saw her design, I actually liked it. It’s sexy, but not in a tortured, excessive way. But the more information about the game and more screenshots and images were released they less I liked the direction they were taking with her. She was consistently posed as passive and pretty compared to the male characters, sometimes literally blowing kisses at the viewer.


She’s also a ‘Siren’ a member of an all-female group of beings enhanced with alien technology to possess psychic powers. There are only 6 of them, and it’s specifically noted that Sirens are born with their powers. Every other character is described as a sort of self-made man, training themselves to obtain the skills they fight with. And speaking of those skills, Lilith’s Controller Tree is loaded with cutesy feminine skill names, just in case you needed to be constantly reminded you were playing as a woman. “Diva” “Girl Power” “Hard to Get” “Inner Glow”… and the ultimate power on that skill tree “Mind Games”.

I get bored with the consistency that the female character in a group is the ‘magical’ or ‘psychic’ woman, because lord knows how could a woman just train herself to kick some conventional ass? That’s just ridiculous. A gun that fires healing bullets is perfectly reasonable, but a woman needs magical justification to put her on equal footing with the menfolk? That interpretation is up for debate, but I think it’s undeniable that Lilith’s identity revolves around being a femme-fatale, which also means it revolve around her gender. She’s even named after Christianity’s archetypal femme-fatale, and her class name is one of the Ancient Greek’s archetypal femme-fatales. And if that’s all too subtle for you, there’s something just a little off about her wanted poster…

So you have someone who’s identity is being a soldier, a hunter, a huge violent bruiser and then you have the siren. She’s defined not really by what she does, but by what she inherently is, and what she is has an intrinsic link to her gender. This didn’t have to be the case. Even keeping Lilith as the petite psychic, calling her, lets say “Judith” and naming her class the “Assassin” would relieve a good chunk of the problematic tension. Changing her backstory so that she has some agency in developing her powers and remove the flirty skill names and things removes even more. Pose her as aggressively as the men in the press shots and then… guess what? You can even KEEP the little joke about the wanted poster focusing on her breasts because now it’s actually a joke about a horny guy making wanted posters and not depressingly consistent with the overall presentation of that character being all about having breasts!

So in my opinion, Lilith is a girl-guy. Another girl-guy appears in the anatgonists of Prince of Persia 4.

Prince of Persia 4 was disappointing in many ways. The lush art style was wasted on a dull story and a smarmy, unlikeable protagonist who was pitted against 4 individuals who were corrupted by evil. The Warrior, the Hunter, the Alchemist, and The Concubine. Wow, this is starting to sound a little familiar already, isn’t it? The Concubine is described as a master political manipulator who fell in love with a man who rejected her and accepted corruption in exchange for being able to assume the form of any woman to seduce any man. As a contrast, the Warrior accepted his corruption to save his besieged city, The Alchemist wanted eternal life to continue his experiments, and the Hunter wanted to be able to pursue the most dangerous and exciting prey. That last one is pretty stupid because everyone knows man is the most dangerous game and you don’t need to make a deal with the devil to try that out, but they’re still a far cry from how pathetic the Concubine’s motivations were.

The concubine is also contrasted against the virginal Elika, who frequently comments on what a bitch the Concubine is. It’s particularly pointed because Elika seems to feel some form of pity for the other corrupted, lamenting the fate of the Warrior and praising the intellect and skill of the Alchemist and the Hunter. Where the Concubine is concerned, there’s no sympathy or respect, just a heaping helping of slut-shaming. The Concubine herself oozes one-dimensional skankiness from every inky pore, purring innuendo and attempting to seduce the hero in unoriginal femme-fatale format. There’s nothing to her besides being a manipulative sex object.

We can draw a few obvious parallels between Lilith and the Concubine. They’re both given pink color schemes. They’re both given loaded names that immediately identify them with sensuality. They have mind-controlling powers, and they’re both the odd woman out in teams of men who are identified with skilled occupations instead of seduction. As girl-guys go, the Concubine’s design is far worse and more insulting than Lilith’s, since Lilith’s backstory doesn’t revolve around a man and whereas Lilith is only a seductress symbolically the Concubine is literally just going around seducing people.

Next! Shannon from God Hand!

This one is a little trickier than it appears. On the surface, Shannon is everything the Concubine is. She’s seductive, she’s wearing all pink and she uses manipulative magic to charm people. Both of them even have magic staffs and fight with a dominatrix vibe in their boss battles. But Godhand is essentially a parody of beat-em-up games. Shannon’s design is a self-aware adoption of this trend. At the same time, despite the fact that Shannon is supposed to be a tongue in cheek exaggeration, she isn’t a significant departure from many characters that were not designed with satirical intent.

There’s also something else I want to point out with this image. As I said, the girl-guy phenomenon shows up frequently in ensemble groups of villains. For an ensemble group, the designer wants the characters to ‘match’ while still being distinct as their own design. One way to accomplish this is to exaggerate the differences between the characters. So if a character is larger than the others, make him very large. If he’s thinner, very thin. If he’s older, very old.

But now we have a problem… because we’ve been telling ourselves that only one type of woman is acceptable in videogames. A woman who is young, beautiful and slender. With those parameters, we sometimes allow our designers variations in height or body shape, but not so much that it would form a dramatic difference in silhouette. The corrupted enemies from Prince of Persia all have figures that are gravely distorted from an average human, but the Concubine is essentially a supermodel with hooves and a tail. The 4 devas from God Hand consist of an ideal man, an elderly man, a fat man, and an ideal woman. The borderlands cast features a huge guy, a normal guy, a skinny guy, and a pretty girl. Designers clearly fear that straying too far from beauty when designing a woman and that imposes serious limitations.

So, lacking in ways to exaggerate a female characters, the easiest exaggeration becomes how female she is compared to the men. This is why the girl-guy exists. And this contributes to the trend of there only being room for one woman on a small team, because it becomes difficult to contrast a woman against another woman within such narrow parameters. In some games it’s possible to contrast a female child with a grown woman, but this is rare outside of very fanciful settings. There’s already a wide range of acceptable physiques for male characters, so it comes much more naturally to a designer. Designing a team of 3 men and 1 women comes fairly naturally to a skilled designer, but the inverse requires more thought if the goal is distinct visual differences that aren’t derived just from costumes and hairstyles.

It’s a frustrating conundrum. Big budget videogames are so expensive that designers and producers can be timid about taking risks. Character designers draw inspiration from a rich visual history and draw on particular visual signifiers to allow their audience to ‘read’ a design as fast as possible, but that visual history has conspicuous gaps and is tainted with sexist and racism, not to mention a host of other -isms.

It’s also frustrating because it becomes awkward when the same pattern appears in a justified form. Castlevania : Lords of Shadow had Carmilla, a character who… well, just look at her. Also look at how the male characters are posed in nearly identical and aggressive stances and Carmilla is just chilling, because it’s sort of hilarious.

But Carmilla has HISTORY. Carmilla predates Dracula as a classic vampire in gothic literature, and the interpretation of her as a seductive femme fatale is completely appropriate. She also understands proportions. If you’re going to flash so much cleavage that you’re in danger of skimming your pubes, cover the legs and shoulders. Nice work Carmilla, you’re an “in”.

Let’s see some more “outs”, all from the Diablo series. It’s worth mentioning that as far as player characters go, the playable female characters have always actually been fairly egalitarian. In the original Diablo one in three playable characters was female, which isn’t too shabby a ratio. Three out of seven Diablo 2 characters were female, so that’s very nearly half. Diablo 3 went even further and made the welcome choice of allowing the player to choose either gender for all five classes. The female clothing may err a bit on the skimpier side compared to the male clothing in every title, but otherwise the women were never depicted as less capable warriors, nor did they suffer from gendered skill titles or gendered treatment within the game world.

Okay, maybe that one time when they hid behind a pillar looking sexy while the menfolk fought Diablo

So, on the protagonist side, Diablo is looking good! Unfortunately the rest of the key players fare less well. Out of seven important demons, only one is female, and she’s one of the four ‘lesser’ evils.

Andariel, the maiden of anguish is also noticeably humanoid and female compared to her monstrous and grotesque counterparts. It would take a great stretch of the imagination to call her lesser evil compatriots ‘sexy’, but Andariel struts her stuff with goat legs and monster claws accenting a sexy nearly naked body. Diablo 3 would see another female demon, not a part of the main pantheon but appearing as Azmodan’s consort, Cydea the Maiden of Lust. Once again she’s beautiful welded onto monstrous rather than flat out grotesque.

Out of five angels on the Angiris council, only one is female.

Auriel is the angel of ‘Hope’ and is famed for her gentle temperment. Her armor highlights her feminine qualities and she’s distinctively passive compared to her male counterparts, requiring rescue by the hero to restore her to her important position as heaven’s ‘morale booster’.

I want to let you know that in fact-checking this post I inadvertently laid eyes on some ‘plot’ from the Diablo ‘novels’ and even some ‘writing’ from those ‘novels’. I suffered for you dear reader. Oh how I suffered. But I digress…

Lets get to the mercenaries.

So, we have the Templar, Scoundrel, and Enchantress. Notice the pointless gendering of ‘Enchanter’ and ‘Mistress’. We have the pink clothing, the focus on ‘charming magic’, and her plotline all involves serving a male prophet with a group of young and beautiful women who entombed themselves on his advice to wake up thousands of years later and serve your character. Girl-guy.

(By the way, you think I’m picking on Diablo a lot on this blog there’s a simple reason for that. I’ve played a lot of Diablo so I have to do less research. You’ll also notice I rarely discuss Japanese rpgs… yeah sorry I don’t love you enough to subject myself to a lot of that.)

So, how do we address the girl-guy? If you find yourself creating an ensemble team with only one woman, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Think about switching another male character to a female and what it would change about them. Sometimes it’s surprisingly little. If you wind up with only one woman on a team,try to determine if you’re revolving her character around a ‘feminine’ characteristic such as her sensuality or her gentleness. If you are, consider whether or not you have a reasonable justification for doing so, and why your first instinct was to design the character that way. If you find that you’re modeling her on other designs you’ve liked that fall into this trend, consider doing something more unique and fresh.

And if you’re trying to forge bold new territory in female silhouettes, excellent! But please remember…

You don’t need to go this far:

Bloody hell, Gearbox. You can make a ‘nonstandard’ female character without making them look like the punchline to a joke about a post-apocalyptic Wal-mart.

Quick Fix : Tisha and Morgana

•July 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

As I’ve said again and again, I am not against having any sexy women at all in video games or fantasy art. I wish that the trends that I can point out on this blog didn’t exist, and I could sit down and draw up a woman in the most provocative armor design I could think of and make her a decadent sex witch without it reinforcing any kind of negative trends. But we’re not at a point where gender representations are equal enough to do that and we have to do some damage control.

Recently, WotC wrote an article about sexism in fantasy. I found it to be displeasing on many points. First off, I resented them choosing a photo of the work one of my favorite fashion designers, Mother of London, as part of the debate. A fashion shoot is not an equivalent to a dungeon crawl, and Mother of London also makes provocative clothing for men. But that isn’t very important. Far more important is that the article fell back into a disingenuous assumption that you can either have sexy characters, or you can have non-sexy characters. That simply isn’t true. Not every woman you draw needs to have a D cup. Not every man is attracted to women with D cups. Not every man is even attracted to women. He pointed to a female character as an example of a polarizing figure that some people love and some people think is too sexy.

Here she is:

Wait, no. That’s actually my quick and dirty redesign of the character to bring her more in line with what I’d like to see. (Although personally I hate her little bolero jacket.) Here is the original.

The changes I made were subtle. I barely changed the size of her breasts, but I gave them and her cleavage a more natural shape. I laced her top in another inch or two and gave it straps so that it looked like it could support her breasts. I also gave her a wide belt in a shape that highlights her slender waist, providing a little more protection while still showing off a little midriff. I started giving her thigh-highs as well, but then I sort of forgot.

I don’t think my changes make her less sexy. Personally, I think they make her more sexy. I find the way her breasts are drawn in the original image to be distracting. They don’t look like they’d stay in that shirt at all. She’s still showing plenty of skin in my revision, but I feel like the eye moves more easily around the body instead of getting stuck on the torso, even with the distracting contrast from my hastily-photoshopped darker lines.

Subtlety can be far sexier than showing as much skin as possible. It can even indicate a woman who is more consciously aware of showing off her body, rather than seeming oblivious to how provocative she looks. Consider Sniper Wolf from Metal Gear Solid. She’s wearing practical military fatigues, but her shirt is zipped down. It’s obviously a conscious decision, it says something about her character and it’s still very sexy.

Here’s another quick redesign of Morgana from League of Legends:

And here’s the original:

As you can see, all I’ve done is made her breasts a more natural shape, adjusted the lower half of her torso to fill it out and give it a less extreme twist and adjust her shoulder placement and make her head a little smaller and more planted on her shoulders.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that i think whoever painted the original Morgana image is untalented. Their rendering quality is very good and I think they were making intentional choices to exaggerate the anatomy. However, I don’t find it sexy. I think the breasts look like helium balloons. I can’t help imagining them squeeking when they rub together. I think it makes her look less intimidating to be in such an extreme pose, and it distracts from my favorite part of the original, which is her intense looking face.

I also tried slapping some quick armor on her. Like I said, I didn’t spend more than a few minutes doing this so obviously it’s not well painted. But if you imagine the general design taken to a polished level… wouldn’t that still be sexy? I mean, I say armor, but that’s basically a metal corset. It’s still pretty ridiculous. But it takes the focus off her body and directs it to her beautiful but intimidating face and the spell she’s casting in her hand.

Designing less skin-exposing costumes doesn’t mean not designing sexy women. It’s not an either/or choice between beautiful women in bikinis and ugly women in plate armor. We can do sexy. But I think we can do sexy better, in a way that’s less distracting from the personalities and strength and power of the women we’re depicting.