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Female Armour In Games - Why we still can't have nice things

April 30, 2017

 

Chainmaille bikinis. Robes that consist of two scraps of fabric held together by a belt.

Breastplates which should be called nipple-plates. Coveralls which don’t. Entire costumes that are made of spiderweb fabric, yet somehow still give you armour points.

 

Any fan of video games can probably tell you five or six games (console or PC) which represent females in armour as nearly naked, buxom warriors or spell slingers. Especially high level armour, leading to speculation that there is a correlation between higher stats and lower fabric content. Mages and wizards, I’m looking at you.

 

Nothing escapes this trend - not alien races, cyborgs, anthropomorphic animal races… even cow people have boobs and small outfits! If it qualifies as female, then it’s fair game for the sexist armour. Regardless of genre, the rule is clear. Females are made to be looked at, why should we let realistic armour get in the way?

 

It also irks those who like a certain level of realism in their games - two scraps of fabric do not 50% of hit points make. That is far less concerning than the objectification, however. The males don’t entirely escape, with ridiculous jock straps, bare chests in sword fights and arm muscles that would give Sly Stallone an inferiority complex. However, if you pick a male character to play you are much more likely to have armour that covers skin, and the correlation with high levels doesn’t hold true. Most high level male characters look like armoured tanks.

 

Traditionally, the game industry has responded to questions about this with either an eloquent answer involving player demographics (male and horny) which when presented with statistics often fails to ring true. Statistia.com reported that the gender split in 2016 for US video gamers was 41/59% (female to male).

 

Presented with such statistics, industry specialists usually either resort to strawman arguments such as “our polls indicate that female gamers prefer these styles as well as men”, or offer a shrug and change the subject. Very few game companies are willing to do more than make a conciliatory effort to offer alternative styles of dress, and even more go in completely the opposite direction, with one title going so far as to make their female plot lead entirely naked and mute! Welcome to 1935 gender values, please strap in…

 

Enter “Horizon Zero Dawn” - from the Playstation website “In a lush, post-apocalyptic world where nature has reclaimed the ruins of a forgotten civilization, pockets of humanity live on in primitive hunter-gatherer tribes. Their dominion over the new wilderness has been usurped by the Machines – fearsome mechanical creatures of unknown origin.”. The trailer is very beautiful, and can be seen here https://www.playstation.com/en-gb/games/horizon-zero-dawn-ps4/

 

This isn’t a game review, though. What makes this game interesting from a sexism point of view is the main character, who is an entirely unsexualised female and meets the gaming equivalent of “Strong Female Character” in a way that would make Joss Whedon weep tears of joy. Dressed entirely in actual clothing which doesn’t seem to be designed to fall off no matter what moves you put her through, the trailer shows her kicking ass all across a stunningly pretty post apocalyptic landscape. The Guardian called her “a Lara Croft designed for the 21st century, meant to inspire gamers not only with her strength, complexity and ferocity, but with her femininity”, but Lara Croft is historically one of the longest running sexualisations of them all.

 

proportions and only a small amount of skin showing (mostly on her arms and a sliver of midriff), she reminds me of Lagertha from the TV show “Vikings”, or Xena: Warrior Princess. Her costume design looks eminently practical - dreadlocks to keep her hair under control, tough looking suede or leather armour and pieces of what look like hardened leather to cover her torso as a bodice. She’s an archer, so her arms are wrapped with various pieces of wire work and jewellery to act as archery bracer’s.“Aloy” (a nicely gender-less name as well) is none of that. With sensible, human looking 

 Lack of oversized breasts or acres of skin doesn’t appear to have harmed the success of Horizon Zero Dawn, either. IGN gave it a solid 9.3/10, and it was nominated for the Game Awards “Most Anticipated Game” of 2016, beaten to the post by “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (I’ll leave a conversation about the Zelda franchise for another article!)

 

So a good start to what may just become a paradigm shift in the gaming industry, if games like Horizon Zero Dawn are seen to do well, to be popular and to shift revenue. Considering games are becoming very popular as movie franchises once again, this couldn’t come at a better time - the last thing we want to see is the movie industry hiding its rampant sexism behind a smokescreen of “dedication to the source material” of equally sexist games!

 

And if you’re wondering - yes, Horizon Zero Dawn is going on my wish list; the strong female lead and the fact that I don’t have to put up with irritatingly sexist female costuming is a big part of that.

 

 

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