• Sexy vs Sexist: Round 2! Privateer Press’ Warmachine/Hordes/Iron Kingdoms

    by  • June 8, 2012 • Design & Art • 5 Comments

    That should have the additional subtitle: “What do you mean you’re not satisfied?!” I wanted to avoid a blog article title looking a good bit like that of an academic paper, though.

    Last time, I wrote about Tisha Swornheart, the signature character in the current D&D comic, and how a well-written character is undermined by objectified art. This started an avalanche of thought. Where else could I find some good examples?

    My fiance is a huge fan of Privateer Press’ miniatures war game, Warmachine and its counterpart, Hordes. I play every now and then, but I am not a big fan of minis games (they’re one step above ‘card games’ on the list of ‘things I don’t want to waste my money on’). Regardless of my personal feelings on miniature wargaming, the game has a rich, complex setting that I can’t get enough of. Thankfully, the pen and paper RPG version is scheduled to be released at GenCon this year. As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited.
    What makes the Iron Kingdoms (the name of the game world/forthcoming RPG) setting markedly different is that it is universally gender egalitarian. Even the evil factions don’t discriminate on the basis of gender! While other games relegate women to ‘elite boobie factions’ or ‘sort of like these other men, but weaker,’ the Iron Kingdoms game world says, through the medium of its flavor, women can be commanders, powerful spellcasters, and dangerous warriors. This includes decent representation of women even in the non-human factions. Unsurprisingly, I know more women who play Warmachine than any other miniature wargame I’m familiar with.

    I dug into the books he had laying around, expecting to find some more good examples of badass ladies with goofy art, but what I actually found were badass women, some of which wore silly fantasy outfits, but all of them posed in a strong and capable manner. I began to draw some conclusions as I looked at the art but before I go on about it, I’d like to share some examples.

    Privateer Press has a terrible habit of drawing all their women in boob armor and battle heels – while these are big pet peeves of mine, they’re minor offenses overall, so in these cases I’m going to let that slide.

    Forward Kommander Sorscha (this is the best image I could drum up, apologies) is the woman on the left, if you didn’t guess. A military leader, an impressive spellcaster, and always illustrated like she knows how to swing around that polearm-hammer thing. Her knees are never turned in. She’s always drawn pointing or shouting orders. I look at this art and think “I want to be a badass psuedo-Russian war-leader!”

    Ashlynn D’Elyse – while this particular image is passive, you can clearly see that she’s fully armored, that she’s meant to be good-looking and could probably kick your ass six ways from Sunday. Again, she looks like a character I might want to play, and is definitely someone I empathize with.

    Lady Aiyana – while I couldn’t find an image of the great character art in the book, the model itself is scuplted to match the illustration pretty well. Her illustration is actually less busty.I wanted to highlight Lady Aiyana as a spellcaster who wears close-fitting ‘cloth armor’ designed to be visually appealing, but here (and in the drawing) is pulling her hood back. I don’t feel like she’s just there to visually please someone who isn’t me.

    Kara Sloan - tall, skinny chicks represent! She has a huge gun. She looks happy to be using it. This image has personal resonance for me, because I so rarely see tall, slender women with broad shoulders in game art. Also, no battle heels.

    Victoria Haley drawn here (the watermark doesn’t prevent us from getting a good look at her) casting some kind of spell. She looks dangerous and impressive. While she’s wearing boob armor and her pants are silly (seriously what’s going on here? They’re some kind of armored bell-bottoms) it’s not gratuitious. She’s not contorting herself so that her breasts and rear are on the same axis, or thrusting her hips or chest out for our viewing pleasure.

    I’d also like to call out Skarre Ravenmane as an iffy example. Her outfit is pretty absurd: steam powered brassiere, chainmail garters, stilletto fuck-me boots. She’s very much got the ‘evil queen’ vibe going on here. Sexy is in the eye of the beholder, so I’m not going to go off on whether or not this is objectively sexy (I think it is), but rather talk about the threatening way she’s holding her sword and that expression on her face. That isn’t a ‘come hither’ look; that is a “you’re next” look.

    From these few samples, I think it’s pretty clear that Privateer Press has chosen to give women equal billing - and it’s working.

    In other cases, I think companies produce these excellent female characters, and then pair them with less-than-ideal art, and don’t recognize that there’s a disconnect. I often feel like the response to any outcry is “Well, we gave you a strong female character. Why aren’t you satisfied?!”
    Think about all the male characters out there who have good stories paired with a drawing (and then a sculpt, in the case of a miniature) that reflects that they are a character, not an object. Take Aiyana’s partner, Mr. Holt (see above), as an example. His outfit is really rather silly – he kind of looks like a Vash the Stampede cosplayer gone wrong – but he still looks badass because he doesn’t look like an object. He looks like he is going to bust a cap in yo’ ass with those impractical knife-guns. You want to draw a woman in a fanciful outfit? Fine. It’s a fantasy. I want to believe, however, that her special power isn’t the ability to show us her cleavage at every angle, or the ability to run in heels.  You think battle corsets are sexy? Fine, again, but at least show us the lady wearing it kicking some ass- not just tits and ass.

    In summary: it’s not enough to just write a good story. Art needs to show competency as much as the flavor text does. If you’re a miniatures game, your sculpts should also be in line with your art. Objectification is not necessarily about not wearing unbelievable outfits, it’s about how the character is posed. Show us women with power, with competence, and with agency. If the point of the illustration is only to highlight erotic body parts (crotch, thighs, butt, cleavage) to the exclusion of showing any other kind of action in the image, then there’s a problem. This isn’t an outcry for creative directors to rethink what they’re having drawn, but how.

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    Monica is a gamer who is relatively new to the roleplaying scene, being introduced to the hobby through White Wolf's Exalted. She is an armchair game designer, a frequent producer of fan-work, and her local group's token GM. She also co-hosts the podcast, 1d4cast and is a co-developer at Fable Streams Entertainment.

    5 Responses to Sexy vs Sexist: Round 2! Privateer Press’ Warmachine/Hordes/Iron Kingdoms

    1. avatar
      Finaira
      June 8, 2012 at 17:22

      I technically play Warmachine/Hordes. In that I love painting miniatures but rarely have time or a group to play with.

      Since I only recently picked up Hordes, I grabbed Skorne and was amused when I discovered that Morghoul wasn’t a woman. See, he’s got bared upper arms and a piece of chest armor that gives the impression of a boob plate. Since his face is covered and he’s lithe, I just assumed it was a woman. Later on, looking at the art, I realized that maybe it was male and eventually confirmed this.

      To cut this short, I agree. The boob plate and heels fixation is mildly annoying, but it’s much better than most that I’ve seen. And the art doesn’t shy away from posing the women realistically and as competent warriors and leaders.

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      • avatar
        Melody Haren Anderson
        June 8, 2012 at 19:02

        For me, I find context matters so much in the artwork. I’m honestly not familiar with this system, or minis much at all, even though I did buy some for a friend recently, but to me it’s difficult. Ideally, everything will mesh together in a way I find seamless AND not offend my sensibilities. Ok, the high heels is a weird issue, I’ll agree completely and it bothers me. Boob plate slightly less so, in that it depends more on the nature of it.

        But too often, it seems like artists go out of their way to make “sexy” female art. It’s part of the nature of the culture (and here I mean in general). It sometimes feels like doing art of a female in a fashion that is more clothed or rational for the situation is there only to fetishize a different sort of ideal. And that really bothers me more than an unusual taste in clothes for battle.

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        • avatar
          June 9, 2012 at 17:56

          “But too often, it seems like artists go out of their way to make ‘sexy’ female art.”

          From a number of comments I’ve seen or heard from artists, I wonder if a lot of them derive pleasure from creating sexy women. Here’s an example:

          Depicting Seoni is a double-edged sword. The one aspect that makes it easier than some of the other Pathfinder Iconics is also the aspect that makes it more difficult. Simply put: she ain’t wearin’ much. Her attire certainly isn’t as revealing as many other fantasy femme fatales, but compared to the wonderfully extravagant costuming on most Wayne Reynolds characters, it’s downright minimal. With the exception of a few thin straps, her sides are completely exposed from her knees to her shoulders. She’s also very busty, and the material covering her chest would easily fit into a Ziplock™ sandwich bag. This is not a complaint — quite the opposite. The first time I was assigned Seoni, I happily exclaimed: “Yippie! Time to paint some boobs!”

          http://pathfinderart.blogspot.com/2011/09/new-series-iconic-study.html

          I don’t mean any judgment here and the article is a good read, especially since he describes how he tries to make Seoni look competent and capable despite her outfit.

          I wonder if this is an issue of 1) too few women being depicted, 2) too big of an artist pool, and 3) not enough diversity in the artist pool. If more women were depicted such that the same artist got multiple women to draw, I wonder if we would have more diversity in how the women were depicted, especially if we had greater diversity in the pool. Currently, I wonder if an artist gets few enough opportunities to draw women that they always create the “best” woman they can think of.

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    2. avatar
      buzz
      June 8, 2012 at 18:35

      When IK first came out as a d20 setting, I picked up the player’s starter guide. It has a bare-midriff, big hooters steampunk-y woman on the cover. IN the book, I saw that the good gods were male, and the bad god was female. Each nation had entries that described what its men generally looked like, and in what way its women were hot; I think all nations but one featured curvaceous women, while one nation’s women were “slim”.

      I dunno. I lost interest at that point. It sounds like it has gotten better, which is good to hear.

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    3. avatar
      Covenant
      June 12, 2012 at 04:22

      Skarre is an example of perhaps the most eyebrow-raising element of the Iron Kingdoms: the Satyxis. This species of warrior-women were originally human but transformed by dragonblight into their present forms, and have a reputation for being extremely beautiful but equally dangerous (if not moreso). In their original incarnations back when the Iron Kingdoms were a 3.0 D&D supplement, the Satyxis were described as pirate women who would choose capable warriors to bring back home as booty- in both senses of the term. The entry also mentioned that a successful pregnancy was rewarded with freedom and treasure- unless it was a male child in which case the child, mother, and father would all be killed. Which struck me as something of a “yes we know our audience are teenage males” thing.

      In more recent appearances in the fiction, the Satyxis have gotten more bloodthirsty, although still keeping the original ideas intact. One instance featured a Satyxis raider who used autoerotic asphyxiation to both rape and kill a guard simultaneously. Various others have indicated Satyxis are more likely to sacrifice men in bloody rituals than send them home with new toys. To me at least this indicates a maturing (if still lurid) inversion of satyrs for a setting that likes to do its own take on classic monsters and legends.

      As for the heels, honestly I think the intent is for most characters to be wearing boots. Looking through the artwork for the various Cygnaran warcasters in the Forces of Warmachine: Cygnar book, there’s only two exceptions that I could find to this- one being a fellow in a ten foot tall suit of steam-powered armor, and the other being a fellow whose shoes are difficult to see but seem to be different in design from everyone else’s. Otherwise there looks to be a uniformity to the footwear at least for that faction.

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