Friday, May 27, 2016

Girls in Gaming: What's so Wrong with Sexy Anyway?

I had intended to write a follow up post to my background article about parents but life has a way of throwing you curve balls, so instead I am writing about girls in gaming again. The picture at the top here started a rather intense argument between and a female friend whose opinion I value a great deal. Without getting into an over explanation of the argument I will break it down into simple terms. I posted the picture on my Facebook feed because I thought it was awesome. My friend sees it and makes a remark about the lack of clothing the woman is wearing. I say there is nothing wrong with that, she says that there is and we argued about it.

While we were having the argument I was trying to see things from her viewpoint, but I wasn't being super successful because I was also kind of mad. I don't like being told something I did is bad any more than the next person and she was hitting some of those buttons. I don't think she was doing this on purpose, I think she was simply sticking to her guns. However, while she was sticking to her guns, I was sticking to mine as well. When this is what is going on no one is going to admit they might be wrong, specially me.

So I spent some time calming down and really thinking about the whole issue. I went around in some defensive circles where I told myself how right I was and how wrong she was. Once I got over myself and this counter productive thinking, I finally tried to put myself in her shoes (glad I know she doesn't wear stilettos because my knees so would hate me for it) and really tried to see where she was coming from. Admitted this wasn't easy, I am a guy after all and my life experience is a lot different than a woman's. While it wasn't easy, I do feel I made a bit of head way. I asked myself some questions and I think I understand the issue a little better, maybe.

Are women portrayed as sex objects in role playing games?

You honestly have to be willfully blind to miss the fact that not only are women portrayed as sex objects in role playing games, but that seems to be the sole purpose of them appearing in art work. Heck even when a creature would normally be "ugly" such as an orc, an artist will find a way to make them sexually appealing (or maybe I am just a little twisted?). I could do something fancy like find a study that proves my point here, but eh, this is kind of a common knowledge issue here. It's a fact and no amount of stammering "b...b... but" is going to change it. So, accepting the fact that women are portrayed as sex objects naturally leads to another question.

Is it Wrong to Have Sexy Women in Fantasy Art?
Before I answer this question I am going to ask that you read the entire answer. I actually don't think it is morally wrong to portray women as sexy any more than I think it is morally wrong to portray men as big and brave and heavily muscled. I know some of you are probably mad at this idea, but please hear me out.

The reason I don't think it is wrong is because we are talking about a game of make believe where everyone get's to be someone they can't be in real life. To make my point I am going to pull a picture of a male from the term "fantasy art male" and post it below.

Now let's look at this picture. First the dude is in some seriously good shape. I haven't had a body anywhere close to something like that since I was in my early twenties. Even then I didn't look that good. Second, the guy is obviously and experienced and capable warrior. Again while I have been in my share of conflicts, I don't think this represents the average male at all. In fact, I don't think this is even close to what 90 percent of men look like beyond age 30 and even less once we hit our forties.

Is this image morally wrong? I don't think it is. Do I want to see myself this way? You bet your butt I do. I love the idea of being a tall dangerous man with bulging muscles and a dark glint in my eye, that and other similar things are why I play role playing games in the first place. I get to be someone else and that's fun. But I am kind of digressing, back to women.

In my experience as a gamer, women want to be a sexy character just as much as I do. Does every woman want to be a sexy character? No, in fact I have had several women at my table state very matter of factly their character was ugly as sin. I didn't have a problem with it and no one else did either. However, plenty of women do and that should be just as okay as a woman wanting to play an ugly character, a plain character, a purple skinned character. The game is about being who we want to be for a short time,

I hope you are still with me, I am taking a risk here and I hope its not falling on deaf ears. I said that I don't think it is wrong to have sexy women in fantasy art, but that's not the entire question is it? After some thought I think I found the right question to ask.

Is it wrong to portray women as sex objects?

In my mind this is a no brainer kind of question to ask. Of course it's wrong to portray women as sex objects. It's just as wrong to portray women as sex objects as it would be to do it with children or men. Reducing a human being down to only having value if they are sexy is about as cave man as you can get. Even in a world of make believe, treating women (or anyone else) as a sex object is not a good thing. I don't think anyone will disagree with me here. However, as I think about this, I wind up asking myself another question.

What constitutes sexual objectification?

According to wikipedia, sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure. I hate this definition, because guess what, we all do that. We do that with our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and more. The entire human race is based of us using each other for sexual pleasure.

So instead of that definition, I am going to add something to it. My definition of sexual objectification is this:

Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure and not recognizing their value beyond that facet of their person.

There is not a dang thing wrong with finding someone sexually attractive. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have sex with a person you find attractive. There is nothing wrong with being a human driven by the desire to procreate. If you want to string me up for that belief, feel free, but you are not going to change my mind.

What is wrong, and what we have to stop doing, is turning sexual attraction into a dehumanizing experience for people. It is an absolute travesty that women have to walk through this world in fear that they might be sexually assaulted. They shouldn't have to be in fear of that. Women should be allowed to sit at a gaming table without comments about their ass if they don't want you talking about their characters ass. Finally, if a woman says she doesn't want you to talk about her character's ass, then you shouldn't be getting pissed at her or calling her a femi-nazi, she is just asking for basic respect.

Closing Thoughts

I want it to be crystal clear that I am not opposing sex or sexuality in the role playing game hobby. I think it's a healthy expression of a subject that we have made taboo. I see no problem with flirting and teasing at a game session so long as everyone is in agreement and boundaries are respected. What I am saying is that we as a community need to recognize what objectification is and stop encouraging it.

Do I know the best way to do this? Not yet, but I want to figure it out. I don't think wailing about half dressed women in fantasy art is going to do much, but then again, this blog post probably isn't either. What I think we need to do is have this conversation. We need to do is get a little muddy, argue a bit, be willing to hear everyone out, and finally we need to change as we are able.

Finally a Challenge for Women to Step up and be Heard

Because I know I don't know every thing, I am putting a dare out to all the women readers out there. Tell me what you think, tell us male gamer's where we are wrong, why we are wrong. Let's get this conversation started in earnest. If you want you can leave a comment here on the blog, I will reply. If that's not your cup of tea email me at and I will respond there. If your really daring volunteer to write a guest post on this subject.

I am sure some of you have things to say, besides, After all this mansplaining, some women have to have a desire to prove me wrong? right?


  1. I see nothing wrong with they way women are portrayed in gaming. I don't resemble them. I wouldn't mind looking like them. I can appreciate their beauty and appeal.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. Ever think that it could all just be sour grapes? Not just from the female side or the male side or anywhere inbetween. But if you go to a gaming convention the one thing it doesn't look like is an episode of Baywatch. Titillating artwork may be eye catching but it also reminds us of our shortcomings and just how far removed we are from the heroes we play.

    If strength or intelligence (wis, dex, con, cha...) could be better caught in an image and aggressively used to promote a product, I think people would complain about that too. Wealth. If a man's yearly income could be objectified as easily as a women's breasts (with trucker tits being the equivalent of a million earned), I think it would eventually get to men too, at least those who are not so well-endowed in that department. If you see the same kind of picture over and over and over you start to wonder if this is all the people around you value.

    Which is what makes sexual objectification a tricky subject. It's all in the eye of the beholder. I think Larry Elmore's work is sexy while Clyde Caldwell's is kinda slutty. Many other people can't tell the difference. Some may even think I'm scum for suggesting that they are artists. While even more are probably thinking - damn your old - too old to be talking about sex old man.

    Doesn't matter. Every image conveys a message and choice of dress is one of the oldest vocabularies around. Unfortunately, it's also one we have the least amount of agreement about, and so the battle rages on.

    It'll be interesting to see if any women take up your challenge. I'd love to hear what they have to say.

    1. I have often wondered if "sour grapes" is more the problem than anything else. The thing that stops me from simply assuming that is that I do think some people have a legitimate complaint here. I just don't know if or what to do about it.

      THanks for giving me something to think about!

  3. Here's my answer to Ric's initial argument in our conversation. I'm only posting it here because I feel it is something that all gamers should be aware of and think about as they create make-believe worlds, especially the GM: "There is a possibility that the reporting of sexual assault and harassment of female gamers has been exaggerated. Yes, there are assholes out there just waiting to stir the shit and make up something just for attention. But to treat this issue as if it was less than completely valid is just like dissing a hundred thousand women who say they've been raped just because one or two women MIGHT have falsely reported being raped. The whole thing about feeling uncomfortable at a gaming table where women are sexualized... it's real. Why? Because you read it in forums where there are no trolls, or very few. The stories may not directly address the issue, but I think (yes *I*) that when female characters are sexualized and stereotyped around a gaming table it gives all male players permission to treat the women at the table the same as the characters are being treated. And it gives the creepers permission to be creepers AND in turn normalizes the creepers behavior because it's a part of the game! Treating the characters as less than fully human leads to scenarios where it's OK to talk about women derogatorily and violently. I've experienced this in non-gaming places. Where women are sexualized and dehumanized men tend to behave badly towards women. *******If your fellow GMs want to create a safe space for women to play then you really need to take a look at how your representation of women in your game can affect how the players express themselves about women and in the long run how the players treat female players.******"

    That said: Sexy is good. Sex is friggin' awesome. We are all sexual beings. I hope men get their act together soon so we call all play together as wonderfully unique, creative and sexual individuals without fear of rape and harassment.

  4. I think we think about this too much. I am a women gamer and I've been sexy, ugly, mean, nice and everything in between. My characters are characters and though they share some personality traits with me I am aware they are not me. If someone on the computer wants to fall into "damn your sexy" to my pixelated character then go for it. If someone at the table wants to talk about my characters ass and she's a bit sassy (all of my characters are) and puts his character in his place at the table then so be it. We are not without voice or choice. If a women doesn't say she doesn't want the advances and it continues then she didn't even try, if she comments and it keeps up then remove yourself.

    I look for "sexy fantasy characters". I think they are appealing and give the fantasy realm the feel I'm looking for. I've also seen some armoured out characters both male and female that have the same feel to them.

    I think the media plays a roll in what we think and feel about ourselves, as study after study has shown. However, I firmly believe that we are accountBle for how we feel about ourselves. The media mY tell me thT I need to look like a VS model but no part kf me wishes to be that thin. Realistic views of ourselves and the worldlive in belong to this world. In the world of make believe it's open to the genes of the artist and the DNA or the mind. It takes all kinds to make a world and in a world where those that surround me are warriors And fighters I pray they dont look like they can't even get off the couch.

    Again back to how I feel. We give this too much power. It's how everything has become though, a way to argue and complain. Seems trivial to me, I'd rather spend my time armoring and leveling up so that when I step in that raid, regardless of my gender, I think, "damn that was tight". Cause you know, if I'm not having fun, it's my fault.

    1. I kinda wonder if your not right and we do think about this to much. I know for me this wasn't really an issue until I started to read about it. Then I posted a blog post about it and where I expected women to all kind of get behind the idea most of them said "I haven't seen a problem with sexism at the table"

      I do wonder if this whole issue is one that is being exaggerated because I know plenty of women who like fantasy art share it on facebook and it has sexualized women....

      Don't get me wrong I don't think it's okay to turn anyone into an object, but who but the most screwed up of individuals really ooes that?

      Thanks for the thoughts and as always thank you for giving me a new perspective to look at this issue.

  5. I always presume my thoughts on sexualized women in games a bit off-kilter since I'm just as likely, if not moreso, as the guys around me to think "Is she hot?" when a female NPC is introduced. lol I just try not to say it since I don't want to come off like a creep.

    That said, and this might intersect a bit with your posts about how female gamers are treated, something interesting happened as I lost weight. When I was obese I always wore long pants and hoodies. As I got thinner I became more comfortable wearing tank tops, shorts, etc. and I would wear them because they were comfortable and didn't look terrible. I wasn't trying to be "sexy", I was wearing what I wanted. (And for that intersection with how female gamers are treated, I went to Adventurer's League at a game shop and was told I was "clearly trying tio show off my legs" because I'd come in my gym shorts after a run . . .)

    I get the automatic reaction of "That woman looks sexy. She is being sexualized and treated as a sex object." But . . . maybe not? Maybe that's what that character would enjoy wearing?

    Sometimes I see posts on FB or Tumblr basically talking about how people say 14 year old girls shouldn't wear revealing clothing and that people who think these sorts of things are the ones at fault because THEY'RE the ones assigning sexual concepts to children. Why does that stop when a woman (or in this case, character) is an adult? Why does a woman wearing "less" clothing automatically have to be doing it for a sexual purpose? That's a matter of interpretation.

    Then again, I may just be trying to rationalize my desire to see scantily clad women in fantasy art. At the end of the day, I don't care how "sexualized" a character is as long as their proportions and stance are reasonable, not like hawkeyeintitiative fodder that is absolutely ridiculous.

    1. LOL I love your perspective Kendra, it's so neat to hear such an honest claim of "I dig hot women and I don't think that is wrong" from you.

      I don't think it is wrong either. I do think we would both agree that straight objectification is wrong but like I said in Paula's post above I don't see it on near the level some people claim it is on. Is fantasy art filled with very sexy women wearing very little clothing? Yes but it is also filled wih bare chested men, ugly monsters, all kinds of stuff. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Sure, let me play as a seven-foot-tall full-busted goddess. If she's a thief, I want her to wear slippers that muffle her footsteps and a cloak that covers and obscures her figure to hide in the shadows instead of a bikini. If she's a ranger, dress her in camo, put her hair in a braid or a ponytail so it won't get caught, and have her in hiking boots instead of heels (high heels will actually sink into soft ground, preventing movement and making them easier to track). If she's a warrior, I want her armor to damn well protect her.

    If a woman went into combat dressed that way, her heels would prevent her from moving easily to dodge, defend herself, or even perform a proper block. That metal bathing suit wouldn't protect her ribcage (ribs, lungs) or her stomach from mortal wounds. The deep hood would obscure her vision, and the flowing sleeves would get caught on things.

    Make her a thief? The heels make lots of noise, the 'armor' attracts attention while inhibiting movement, and she doesn't have a lot of places to put tools of the trade.

    That's the difference. Men get to be strong warriors; sneaky thieves; mysterious mages; competent rangers. Women get Sexy Warrior, Sexy Thief, Sexy Mage, Sexy Ranger.

    I don't care that there are sexy video game females. I care that there are ONLY sexy video game females. I'd like to be someone else, thanks. But that is incredibly rare.

    If you wish to argue with this comment, first take a deep breath. Then begin by stating a single game where you play as a non-sexy female character who:
    A: is known to be a female character (Samus, whose gender was a surprise reveal, doesn't count).
    B: Is continually in view of the player (Chell, the player character in Portal, can only be seen on rare occasion through careful portal placement).
    C: Is not horrendously stereotyped (Super Princess Peach-- her abilities are based on her emotions!)
    and D: Is not in a game very obviously aimed at children (Games rated EC, edutainment games, or games based on TV shows with specific target demographics like My Little Pony).

    In short, give me examples of female characters I'd want to play as that aren't meant to look sexy and don't hide or obscure the character's gender.

    I'll even start it for you: Ellie from The Last of Us. Naughty Dog had to fight tooth and nail before Sony would let her be put on the cover, and European gaming magazine GAMEREACTOR erased her from the cover art while leaving her manly co-protagonist Joel untouched.

    Your turn.

  8. I don't see a need to argue with anything you said. I wish I had touched on something you said a little bit deeper... "I care that there are ONLY sexy video game females". I am afraid I didn't give that particular issue enough time. I was worried about space and wanted to express an idea that what we do with the images we see is just as important as the images. I had an opportunity to delve into a troubling aspect of the entire gaming industry (and beyond) and I blew it. That's my bad, I will own it.

    I am sitting here right now trying to think of a video game where you can play as a character who is not wearing revealing clothing and I can only come up with fall out, the civilization franchise games, and a few others. ON the other hand I can come up with a LOT more that do force a sexy appearance on females.

    I will have to admit that there are times when my mind has a hard time really understanding the problem. Again, I am a guy, I get to be whatever I want (except for weak, I never get to be weak.. I also don't get to be dependent but eh) if I want to play an ugly guy... well I can in some games... and more games than you can choose to be someone ugly that is for sure.

    I guess what I am trying to learn here is to understand the problem, understand it's cause, understand how to change it. The thing is that I keep trying to find anyone to tell me that there is a problem and while my friend Melody says there is and I have read articles that say there are, most of my friends don't seem to mind to much.. they say things like "I like being sexy in a game" or "I don't feel threatened at the gaming table."

    Maybe its societal conditioning and stuff, or maybe it's just different people seeing the world differently. I wish I knew because I have to admit sometimes I am confused. ON one hand I don't think women should ever be forced to do anything they don't want. I also understand as a male I have far more choices and far more privilege than a woman. That is a real thing. Yet, on the other hand, sometimes I see women finding offense where I just can't/don't/won't see it. Sometimes it feels like I hear someone shout "fire" and I run to warn everyone and get told "What are you talking about there isn't a fire anywhere around". LIke I said it can be confusing.

    Anyway I am babbling and not doing much but going around in a circle. Thanks for your comment, it means a lot to me. I will think about what you said. I will try to learn from what you said.

    1. Societal conditioning is hard to shake, sometimes. I'm glad that you're trying to figure out the problem; it's more than many people do.

      Instead of focusing on 'sexy', why not look at another line you said: It's a game of make believe, where everyone gets to be someone they want to be in real life.

      Women are also very commonly in the role of being rescued. We're not heroes; we're the goal. We're being saved, we need help, we need guidance. I, as a female, can easily see myself rescuing someone and being a hero. I cannot see myself wanting to be kidnapped, tied up, or otherwise needing rescue. Most of the time, when a woman is capable of rescuing herself, it's played for shock and laughs that she actually can. So we get to live your fantasy all the time. Spend a moment imagining yourself as the one always needing rescue, and you might get a better idea.

      As for the sexy, sexy is fine, sexy is okay, and there are plenty of reasons for a sexy thief (distraction!) or sexy warrior. But most times, the sexy serves no purpose BUT sexy; the 'sexy half-naked woman' would behave exactly the same, and be far more realistic, wearing clothes. I never fantasize about going around half-naked in a snowstorm, in the woods, or during war. I doubt you do, either.

      The problem becomes that what you see as a fantasy is something males and people attracted to women fantasize about. Women fantasize about being competent and kicking butt themselves, but usually just get to be 'sexy'.

  9. Alaina said it nicely: the problem isn't about having sexy women in fantasy art, it's that all women must be sexy in fantasy art.

    Look, for every picture you give of a sexualized male, such as the one you used, I can probably find five of non-sexualized males without even really trying hard (take a look at the Game Workshop art for examples. Their men are brutual, hard-core... but not really sexy, and obviously not meant to be sexy). But for women....? Yeah.... good luck on that one.

    We're not asking to get rid of all depictions of sexy... we're just asking for equal time and permission to be not-sexy. To be powerful, strong, crafty, sneaky... and not have to do it in bikinis or some magical equivalent of spandex.

    A final note: don't beat yourself up too much for not having an immediate understanding of all of this. We all learn from our experience, and when yours doesn't include dealing with something, then it *is* difficult to wrap your head around. As a long-time, old-school gamer who happens to be female? I appreciate that you're making the effort, and having the discussions. That takes come courage, especially when you can end up feeling attacked from all sides.