• Men wear armour, Women wear sexy-time lingerie

    by  • February 22, 2013 • Design & Art • 8 Comments

    Sometimes, two questions pop up when you discuss women wear when they are pictured in games.

    ”What is wrong with chainmail bikinis? It’s fantasy, it doesn’t have to be realistic!”

    ”What is wrong with chainmail bikinis? Sexy doesn’t equal sexist!”

    Let’s try to answer the two questions in this article. In the end they both come down to “Unrealistic is okay, sexist is not.” and “Sexy is okay, sexist is not.” But let us elaborate and explain what we mean by that.

    So, what is wrong with chainmail bikinis?

    Lets imagine a fantasy game called “Wyrms and Warriors”. This hypothetical example from fantasy genre, but this holds true for all genres. In “Wyrms and Warriors” all types of characters can be played both as male and female, but the images of what the classes wear looks something like this:

    Male characters

    Male Knight: Functional armor
    Male Mage: Rich robe so pimped out with magic symbols as to make the Pope green with envy
    Male Necromancer: Armour as dark and spiky as a goth hedgehog
    Male Barbarian: Leather loincloth
    Male Rogue: Sneaky leather vest for stealing stuff

    Which are pretty cool. It is not realistic, but it is cool. I can buy that. But then I look at pictures of the female characters.

    Female characters

    Female Knight: Sexy-time lingerie
    Female Mage: Sexy-time lingerie
    Female Necromancer: Sexy-time lingerie
    Female Barbarian: Sexy-time lingerie
    Female Rogue: Sexy-time lingerie


    While the male characters armour wasn’t very realistic, the female characters wardrobes seem to made up of only sexy-time lingerie — independent of character type, and even when they are in the middle of the battlefield. Perhaps the male barbarian was also wearing sexy-time lingerie, with his leather loincloth, but that was one option among many — not the only wardrobe option.

    I don’t know about you. I don’t mind sexy-time lingerie. But letting it be the only wardrobe choice available to women in the whole world sends me the message:

    “This game is about male characters who are different from each other, and do different sorts of things — and female character who stand around wearing sexy-time lingerie all the time.”

    That’s the problem. Unless the game is called “Latex and Lace” and is about modelling lingerie, I want pictures that inspire me to play something else then lingerie models.  Perhaps a thief sneaking around in a cool vest out stealing stuff?

    “Hey! That is not at all sexy-time lingerie!”

    Right now, some hypothetical “Wyrms and Warriors” fan is saying. “Hey! That bikini-thong-dress-thing isn’t at all sexy-time lingerie!” For you, hypothetical fan, I present:

    The Sexy-time Lingerie Test
    If you saw your mother (yes, your mom)1 wearing what is on the picture, would you assume you walked in on your mother as she is heading out to a fetish party or some other sexy fun-time?

    If the answer is yes, then it is sexy-time lingerie.

    “Oh noes! Is sexy-time lingerie banned from games for ever and ever?!?”

    No. It isn’t. One way you can include it making clothing context dependent.

    For example by assuming: On the battlefield you wear armour. But when you are in a sexual situation, you wear sexy-time lingerie.

    Battlefield = Armour
    Bedroom = Lingerie

    Simple rule of thumb, right?

    Sexuality, romance and other sexy stuff can be a part of a role-playing games. It okay to have images of sexy situations and people wearing sexy clothes, but usually you wear sexy clothing in sexy situations. If you want to address both an female and male audience, as well as people of different sexual orientations, don’t just have pictures of sexy girls, but a variety different kinds of sexy people. For example, see Claudia’s excellent article Sexy for the Ladies.

    How do you fix it?

    If we look at the example offered perhaps you could do something like this:

    Female characters

    Female Knight: Functional armour
    Female Mage: Rich robe so pimped out with magic symbols as to make the Pope green with envy
    Female Necromancer: Armour as dark an spiky as a goth hedgehog
    Female Barbarian: Leather loincloth
    Female Rogue: Sneaky leather vest for stealing stuff

    But with a different design then the male ones, and fitted to their bodies? It is just a suggestion.

    Closing Words

    There will be a follow up article published soon called Men look different, Women look like submissive supermodels, when we continue to address how men and women are pictures in games, focusing on body types, attitudes and poses.

    Thanks to St. Dymphna for help with editing.

    1. You can replace “mother” with “father”, or some other appropriate adult person.


    Elin Dalstål is a game designer, larp and convention organizer living in Luleå, Sweden.

    8 Responses to Men wear armour, Women wear sexy-time lingerie

    1. avatar
      Melody Haren Anderson
      February 22, 2013 at 16:58

      I agree with this completely, though I do feel there are a lot of ways to do sexy (for both types) without limiting it (though you did say this). For example, I play a 13th Age game where my bard wears soft (but complete) leather armor that is also beautiful (white with multiple whorls of colour) to the degree she’s actually MADE A SPELL to keep her and her armor clean while it’s up.

      Our barbarian is the low armor one, and even he has multiple layers of frost wolf pelts for a kilt and armor along his left arm (though that is in part to hide his slave brands). Pretty much everyone else wears plate or plate and chain (a fighter, a paladin, and a cleric).

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    2. avatar
      February 22, 2013 at 17:05

      Years ago, I wrote a similar article. During the writing, I suddenly realized that my two female characters didn’t wear clothes at all. Now granted, they were rather furry species (wookie and faun), it was Mythworld where the gender depends on the primary (rolled) characteristics, and since then my female characters have been sufficiently smooth as to be able to wear normal clothing. Still, it gave me pause, that even when trying to avoid the stereotype, appearances can deceive.

      Another point is in regard to “barbarian”. It came from a Greek derogatory term meaning “they can’t speak our language and sound like sheep, ‘baaar, baaar'”. Meaning Scythians. Now there is a culture to roll-play! Total gender equity (mine was a goldsmith), including in battle. However, outside their sweat loges, only the face and hands were exposed. Were talking the steeps of central Asia here! That is the way barbarians should be portrayed, not as bad Tarzan images.

      “Anthropological role-playing” (basing characters on real cultures) makes well-rounded characters, since it brings in the whole cultural baggage from how infants are carried to how the dead are disposed.

      Great article. I thank you.

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    3. avatar
      February 23, 2013 at 20:33

      I have several female friends who like running around in sexy-time lingerie armor. I guess that is their preference, but I tend to agree with you. I’d rather have true looking, functional armor instead of exploiting women’s bodies by running around in nothing. There is a time and a place for sexy-time lingerie. It’s just not on the battlefield. Sadly this sort of thing tends to make me play male characters because their armor is so much more colorful and interesting.

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      • avatar
        Elin Dalstål
        February 24, 2013 at 02:57

        For me, the important thing is that there is a choice. You can chose to play a barbarian, male or female, that wear next to nothing. Or a character that wears something sexy. And that is a completely valid choice, the important thing is that it is not the ONLY choice available.

        • avatar
          March 12, 2013 at 21:47

          Gail Simone is taking over Red Sonja and addresses the iconic chainmail bikini here:



          “Since I first read her as a kid, the idea of a porny image on the side of a van is not how I see her at all. To me she was always the monster-slayer, the gorgeous pirate killer. She was always the woman who could kick your ass if you gave her any grief.

          I’m used to this stuff…I think there are such things as superhero glamor and in this case, barbarian glamor. The fishnets on Black Canary never bothered me, they fit her character. It’s the same for me with the bikini…MOST people don’t wear a lot of clothes in these stories, and it’s a big part of what makes her instantly recognizable. Do I want her in a raincoat? Not really. But she does wear a lot of different stuff in my run.

          And it’s interesting, we had this fun idea of having all the covers, and variant covers, done by the top female artists in the business, and they all turned out to be closet Sonja fans who had been dying to draw the character. There’s a big appeal there that goes far beyond just the visual.

          It was never the bikini that bugged me at all, she looks amazing. But occasionally artists would draw her in porny poses at just the wrong moment in the story and that’s very jarring.”


          “It may be the girl in me talking, but I love fashion changes and costume variants. Sonja wears a bunch of new outfits in this run.

 I think we’re a little hyper-focused on the bikini — she wears it because she likes it, it’s formal gowns that make her feel uncomfortable!”

          So even on the most visible chainmail bikini-wearer in mainstream fantasy fiction, we can expect to start seeing some variety in her outfitting and conscious rationale behind it.

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    4. avatar
      February 27, 2013 at 20:29

      “Fitted to female bodies”?
      Like, seriously, I’ve posted about how this shit is a transphobic a hundred times, and you still aren’t fucking checking yourselves.
      Are trans people supposed to lecture you on every single article you write so you can stop misgendering, erasing and insulting us?
      Is it impossible for you to learn instead of demanding we devote our time and stress-tolerance to reminding cis feminists that we exist, every single time?
      Your past apologies mean nothing unless you do something about the problem, and I thought you would, but you haven’t.

      I’m tired of your cissexism and I’m done with this site.
      Trans woman on staff or no, you write for cis women.

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      • avatar
        Elin Dalstål
        February 27, 2013 at 23:22

        I’m sorry that was how the post came across. My perspective of what a female body is isn’t restricted to a single type of stereotypical female body. There are cis female bodies, that are trans female bodies, there are are fat female bodies, there are thin female bodes, there are disables female bodies, there are able female bodies. There is a lot of different types of female bodies.

        I can see that the expression “female bodies” can be problematic when the expression is used to create a narrow norm for what is the “right” type of female body, both in cis/trans perspectives and in other perspective like able/disabled and body shape. Yet, my intention was not to use it in a normative way, and I’m sorry it cam across that way. Thank you for your comment, I’ll keep it in mind to when I write about body types in the future.

        In retrospect I should have written “fitted to their bodies” to avoid the cisism often found in the expression “female bodies”. I edited the post to reflect this.

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