Dec 232012

I have touched gently upon the subject of women in gaming before. It’s not something I talk about a lot, mainly because in my life it isn’t that big a deal. I game as part of a large role playing society that has a pretty healthy gender mix (still very much dude-heavy, but far from a sausage fest), and we’ve never put up with the kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior that I’ve heard about elsewhere. That being said, we still buy rule books, and I still get wound up by how women are represented in them. It’s not just RPGs though, so if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go on a little bit of a ramble right now.

I love watching strong female characters in action. I do however feel a little let down when they’re portrayed by tiny waif like creatures who look they’ve never eaten a meat pie in their lives. As an example, I find it hard to believe that this character is an absolute kick ass hard assassin.

Seriously, she’s tiny and has bugger all muscle tone and definition. I understand that a trained fighter can use leverage and perform amazing feats without being the strongest person in the world, but think back to how many times you’ve watched a movie or a TV show with a kick ass female lead, and they’ve been as sylph-like as Summer Glau.

Now, doesn’t Michelle look like she can handle herself just a little bit better in a fight. And yet, she is rarely cast in a lead role as an action star, instead ending up as part of the backdrop. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great in those roles, but so often is overshadowed by women with a slighter figure, who for some reason are seen as been better suited to that kind of role.

Lets go one further shall we. I’m sure a lot of my readers have seen the rather wonderful

sci-fi action/horror flick, Aliens. Do you remember this character? She kicked all kinds of ass, and held her own against the xenomorphs when surrounded by butch colonial marines. She looked and acted the part perfectly, but died while the rather incapable and more photogenic Ripley lived on. This happens a lot, and if you look at female characters as depicted in RPG rule books, you’ll almost always see the kind of thing. Male characters come in all shapes and sizes, but not so much female ones (I don’t want to get into a debate on costumes right now, but one phrase will sum up my opinions pretty well: Boob-windows?).

If I was an adventurer, I would be looking for compatriots who looked capable, not pretty. I have played a wide variety of characters in the past, and only one whom I actually described as handsome. It was a 7th Sea game, and it made sense for him to be a bit of ladies man. Other than that I’ve played all manner of grizzled adventurers, and con-men. They’ve been scarred, short & chubby and sometimes, just plain ugly, and no one has ever decided that they would rather not have me in the party because of it. So why is it assumed that female characters have to be hot to get accepted?

I’m not talking about all the time here, and of course there are exceptions, and ground is being made in a lot of arenas, but this is still certainly a problem.

One more example, and the reason my mind turned to this subject. I watched the latest

Batman film recently, and before it even started, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as the others, for one simple reason: Catwoman. Her story has been told before, and there really is nothing new to add to it, and I think Nolan just covered the basics without doing anything exciting with this character. And it is a dull, and cliched character. She is a skilled acrobat, and that’s kind of cool, but when a fight starts, I’ve never quite gotten how she poses a threat to Batman. She is always portrayed as just a slim as the other examples above, but here she is in Nolan’s movie. Lithe? certainly. Able to kick the crap out a guy in body armour who has had years of the finest combat training? Maybe not.

And here I come back to gaming again. If I was looking for a cat burglar to join in a caper I was on, I would be a hell of a lot more concerned with function than form. Anyone who turned up to the job in stiletto heals for instance, would  be laughed out the door. I love the idea of Catwoman as an actual thief. Someone who has to keep themselves in the kind of shape you’d need to be in to do the things she can do. have you ever seen a professional freerunner? Those guys are built like brick outhouses, and they need to be to hold up their entire body weight for as long as they have to while on a run. And to be able to fight, they need muscle mass for that too. All in all, I think it’s time for RPG games designers and artists to take a long hard look at how they represent women in their games.

Give them archetypes that make sense, that show that they are just as capable as the male characters, and really should dress in a manner appropriate to the job they will be doing. As always, comments and discussions are more than welcome, even if you don’t agree with me.

  16 Responses to “Female characters, as presented to you by rule books and movies.”

  1. Sex sells, and when the main demographic you’re selling to is horny basement dwelling males, you’re not going to make as much money by incorporating pictures of butchdyke lesbians.

    • That’s what sucks though, on more than one count. Firstly, out of 70+ gamers I know, there’s one of them that fits that description. I’m choosing not to name names, he might read this blog. But if games designers keep catering to this part of the gaming crowd, then that’s what they’re going to get. The fact that they don’t include powerful female archetypes – unless dressed like a hooker – means that women are also a lot less likely to get involved in gaming. Which just perpetuates the stereotype, and keeps the cycle going. We need people to break out of this, for the good of the hobby as a whole.

      I game with a bunch of women, and I have to say, we soon weed out most of the misogynistic crap pretty damned quickly because of this. And you know what, it’s great!

    • All muscular women are “butchdyke lesbians”? You have just embodied the problem this article is focusing on.

      Roleplaying games are becoming more and more mainstream, which is a good thing. The less misogyny, self-entitlment and homophobia in the demographic the better. If these “horny basement dwelling males” only play rpgs to fulfill their own embittered power fantasies, I want nothing to do with them.

      I have played with many well-adjusted, open-minded and tolerant people, who play to have fun. Sexism has never been the norm in any of the games I have played, and by suggesting that it is, you are doing the entire roleplaying community a disservice.

  2. The thing about it is, even in real life, women who are more attractive are often promoted over women who are more competent, and they often find themselves more welcome in places and with people than those less attractive women. Studies have shown that even small children rate attractive women as more “intelligent” and “nice” than less attractive women. People like attractive women, it’s just the way people are.

    • That’s an “attractive” thing, not an “attractive woman” thin. It happens with men too.

  3. The problem here, is that quite frankly women aren’t physically built to be able to do those things. In terms of lean muscle mass the top 10% of women overlap the bottom 10% of men. RPGs aren’t meant to be realistic, so everyone can do everything, and look pretty doing it.

  4. Since we’re doing pictures:

    • Was supposed to reply to a specific individual. Sorry for the double post, and this one explaining it.

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