In Which I Weigh in on Armor Issues in Video Games

I started this post like I start many of my rants- fixated on some stupid little issue, an issue I feel the need to kvetch about for a handful of rambling, semi-coherent paragraphs. However, upon doing a little research for the piece, I decided to change the direction of this post a wee bit.

Never fear- there will still be plenty of time spent on my trusty soapbox.


We’ll begin in the same place. I recently broke down and purchased Skyrim. And it’s pretty and entertaining and I haven’t decided if slaying bunnies or dragons is more satisfying (my dead bunny count is higher, but I think there are statistically more bunnies in the province than dragons, so I’m not sure which is the higher overall percentage of slain creatures vs live ones still skittering about, particularly taking into account random generation from coded logarithms…).

But there’s something that irked the pants off me. Rather literally. For as a lowly beginning character, I was of a level something about that of dirt. Or rat droppings. I’m not yet ready to be involved in the big, world-changing, huge baddie-filled quests that net you magical armor made from the hearts of demons. No, I was killing giant spiders and bandits. And bandits never wear the good stuff.

I’m just saying- if you want to succeed as a fantasy bandit, you should really consider outfitting yourself in something other than the weakest armor available in the game. “I’m dressed in an outfit made entirely out of rotten tree bark and deer piss- now give me all your valuables.” How do you expect that to work, guys?

So, I eventually stumble across this camp of… forest people? In the middle of the tundra? They look like rejects from Clan of the Cave Bear:

Whatever. They’re calling themselves the Forsworn, and I don’t give any fucks at all, I’m going to kill them. So I do. Upon which I pick up a set of their Forsworn Armor, seeing as I wear light armor and its rating is higher than my current set. It looks rather innocuous enough:

Looking at it, I’m picturing something that’s certainly going to show some leg and arm, but is going to cover all the vital bits. Yes?

No. This is what happens when you put the armor on:

Uh… okay, I obviously made a mistake. I must have picked up that chunk of deer hide just sitting near the Forsworn corpse. My character is rather stupid and doesn’t have a particularly high smithing skill yet. I’ll forgive her the poorly made armor. Those three little pieces of cloth are obviously the best she can do.

Oh no, wait, that’s the actual armor. What. The. Fuck. A draping piece to hide the nipples, a triangle over the twat, and a low slung bit in the back that actually manages to expose the northernmost shadow of the cleftal horizon:

Christ, my character is now a savage tart.

This wanton be-skanking of my dear daughter of Skyrim upset me. But why? Why would I suddenly be up-in-arms over some skimpy lady armor in video games? After all, this title is only the latest in a long, long line of offenders. For the record, this isn’t the first time I’ve been frustrated by the chainmail bikini dilemma. And I’m certainly not alone among gamers, male and female alike, in expressing a dislike for the trope.

There are a few key points to be made here, both about the absurdity of skimpy lady armor and about the evolution of the gaming community. We’ll take it in stages.

Level 1

The prevalence of next-to-nothing lady garb in video games (particularly, but certainly not limited to, high fantasy games) is high, but it’s much more difficult to find games that feature oversexualized male garb. The gents are nearly always more modestly dressed. Since we started with the Forsworn armor for the ladies, it’s only fair that we see the same armor on a male character:

While still exhibiting the pieced-together hide look of the female armor, you’ll notice that significantly more of the male body is covered. Instead of a dinner napkin balanced on the tits, the male gets the majority of his torso covered. And the thigh baring, ass-revealing, crotch drape is replaced with a much longer, more modest kilt. How the same armor type yields these two completely different outfits is beyond me.

Sometimes, developers make an attempt to show a little male skin. For fairness’s sake? But it’s never to the extremes they take the ladies. Here’s another example, from WoW:

Sure, the male night elf is wearing some kind of short vest up top. There’s some skin showing along the edges of it. That’s totally on par with Miss Polly Pauldron-Panties there. I’ll grant you that, in-game, WoW actually lets you skank up both genders. Men can get tight pants and codpieces and such. That doesn’t stop the advertising from being disturbingly one-sided on the armor coverage ratios, though.

If you play as a female in a fantasy game, there’s a 99.9% chance you’re going to either be tarted up or at least have the option. Apart from running around in just your skivvies, it’s probably more like a 50% chance the men are even going to have the option of titanium hotpants or tiger skin loincloths.

And here’s the point where internet forum-hounds start throwing out the examples of games where the skimp is non-existent or where both genders can sex up their garb. Which proves no point at all, because I never once said that this is true of all games. But the mere fact that it is a recognized trope means it’s present in a significant amount. So, go ahead. Toss me the name of a game where the skank factor is dialed down. And I can toss you more where it’s ratcheted up to ridiculous proportions (just… for the love of God, look at Ivy from Soul Caliber or any character in Tera Online). The fact of the matter is, it’s a goddamn disease in nerd-dom (don’t even get me started on comic characters).

Which leads us to…

Level 2

Sexy armor is just fan service, right? Because 99% of gamers are virginal boys with sad, lonely hard-ons, masturbating furiously to their avatar as she bounces and jiggles her way through a den of thieves. This is so obviously true that I cannot possibly denounce it.

Oh, wait. I can.

Statistically, males are still the dominant force in the gaming world. I do not deny this. But if you think it’s any kind of landslide majority, you are dead wrong. According to the Entertainment Software Association, as of 2008 (that’s about four years ago now, mind you), the male/female gamer ratio was 60/40. Oh my stars, I do declare that number to be much closer to an even split than anyone realizes.

But it’s not just about the fact that lady gamers not only exist and are nearly as common as male gamers. It’s also about the idea that all male gamers want to see copious amounts of bouncing underboob and ass cleavage. That they care more about the (I fucking hate myself for using this next word, because I really detest it) fap factor of the females than the game itself. That they care more about meticulously dressing their womens in next-to-nothing for a jerk-off fantasy instead of slashing a troll to pieces.

Fuck. That.

I have a hell of a lot more respect for men than to believe they are all some ridiculous caricature, that all male gamers are pale, virginal nerds in their mom’s basement, covered in acne and developing bizarre sexual fantasies about some big-titted elf chick giggling and falling out of her mage robes. Sure, there are some male gamers like that. And some that are 35-year-old business men with a wife and children. And some that are the high school quarterback. Some of them are gay. Some of them are only in it for the blood and violence. Some really love the story. Some are role-playing. Some love meeting people in the online communities. Some love pwning n00bs and being douchebags on Xbox Live. And some are very witty and make you laugh even as they stab you in the face. There are all kinds of men out there, and the same diversity of people you see around you every day are also the population of male gamers. Female gamers get tired of being stereotyped, but we’re just as rough on the men.

And because not all male gamers are the same, isn’t it incredibly unfair to say that the industry panders to this stereotype? Sex may sell, but we’re saturated with oversexualized advertisements all day, every day. Tell me… does sex really sell that much? At this point, I think it’s just become the middle ground we fall to because we’re lazy. It sells enough. But that’s not why developers spend years working on games. And it’s certainly not why the vast majority of gamers play them.

Perhaps this was true once, that the bulk of gamers were these lonely, pasty losers, but the world has changed. And our games have to change to reflect the evolving gaming community.

But more on that later.

What’s important here is that fan service is just not a legit excuse for this. Amount of cleavage does not a game make, and most gamers both understand and acknowledge this. We are the fans, and we’re telling you- you’re not doing us any special service by making female characters into strippers.

Level 3

We’re now in the murky land of my very favorite facet of this debate. It’s argued that we should have the option of slutting around our video games because we have that option in real life.

I’m not even lying, dear galleons. You won’t believe the number of threads I browsed through where this very topic came up. The argument mostly attacks any females who have an issue with lady game garb, calling them hypocrites for demanding armor with more coverage and then turning around and dressing provocatively when going out on the town.

We’ll ignore the fact that, once again, we’re generalizing pretty hard about a gender (after all, not every woman feels the need to liberally apply the tart sauce before going out for the night). Here’s why this argument is ridiculous:

See, in these fantasy video games, we’re in a completely different world. A world with a different history, different people, different customs, and different rules. This is not “medieval Earth + magic.” What is acceptable here might not be there. It’s an RPG- a role playing game. And that’s what you’re doing with these fantasy games. Your avatar is your gateway to this world, and through them you are someone else, somewhere else, for a little while.

Not only that, but what is the purpose of modern ladies going out all glittery and exposed? It’s certainly not to save an empire or slay a dragon or capture the essence of an ice wraith. No, their goal is much simpler. They want to snag a man. The whole purpose of the sexy garb is to attract a mate (no matter what they say). In video games, that is hardly the primary purpose for doing anything. You aren’t entering that forbidden, spider-filled forest to show off your svelte figure to some bloke. No, you are going there to kill some shit. The costumes have to change to reflect the differing goals.

Hell, most of the games don’t even let you have sex.

Most important of all… your excuse can never be “I should be able to do it in-game because I can IRL.” You want to know why? Because if you wanted to be able to do everything in-game that you can IRL, you would be playing a game called Reality. It would be pretty fucking boring. You would hate it.

Oh. Wait. You’re already playing that game. Right now.

So, why the hell would you drop $60 on another copy?

I can’t teleport IRL, but I can in video games. And I can’t bounce a signal off a satellite to call another continent in a video game, but I can IRL. It’s a trade-off thing, guys.

Level 4

The biggest issue with all this barely there female armor is the obvious one:

It’s armor. It’s supposed to fucking protect you.

It’s just preposterous that my character is walking around in something that makes a négligée look like Puritan garb, because she’s a goddamn warrior who is constantly in battle. I mean, honestly, what is most of this armor protecting?

The important parts, naturally.

Because, as we all know, females in video games are actually 90% covered in skin that is impenetrable:

“Oh, you don’t need as much protection, because it will decrease your speed.”

Really? I don’t see any male characters running around in a chainmail loincloth to increase their speed. And speed doesn’t stop a hail of arrows from lodging themselves in an uncovered spleen or stomach or heart.  Terrible logic.

“Women are smaller and weaker, so they can’t carry as much weight.”

These women are fucking warriors. They are strong enough to swing a sword. They are strong enough to wear some real armor. Besides, if women are so much weaker than men, shouldn’t they need more protection to survive in battle? Logic fail.

“But… it hides her figure.”

Okay, no matter what some people seem to think, sex appeal isn’t some kind of advantage in battle. You are going up against killers, warriors, mages. They don’t drop their jaws and drool insipidly at the first sight of a little lady flesh. Hell, they’re not even going to pause. They’re going to see all those exposed vital areas and rush toward them, hoping to kill you before you get a chance to hurt them. Falling out of your bramor is not a useful battle strategy. Sorry.

And if your issue is that you can’t see your lady’s figure… is that really the only reason you’re playing a female character? Sure, I’ve cracked the odd joke about gamers picking their characters based on whose ass they want to watch swaying in their screen, but I don’t mean it. That’s not why most people pick a character. You’re playing a warrior. Dress like one. I don’t see anyone complaining that they can’t see their male character’s taut buttocks flexing as they run.

And how can these scant armors have any kind of defensive rating. They couldn’t possibly protect you from anything. Not even a light breeze. What kind of system is their defensive capability derived from? Does the equation look something like:

That’s all there is to it, galleons. This is supposed to be armor. I’m fighting giant spiders and mammoths and wraiths and orcs and trolls. I need to be protected. Three triangles of fabric pinned together by the stinger of a bee and a lot of prayer isn’t going to save me from a horrible, bloody death.

Perfect realism isn’t the goal (otherwise, your character would move so slow in plate and would have no real range of motion or sight), but some realism within the world would be nice. Some armor that can stop a blade or arrow.

I don’t feel like I’m asking for a lot here.


People get so angry when this issue comes up. Speaking against the skimpy armor makes you one of those terrible feminists out to destroy the livelihood of the menfolk and exert fanatic, female dominance over all of existence. But it’s not about crushing the hopes and dreams of a few guys who haven’t yet figured out how to find the pr0nz on the interweb. It’s just about being fucking logical.

By the by, one day, we’re going to have to do a post about how the term feminism has become demonized and the impact of that on the movement and its beliefs.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap this up by saying that I’m mostly just disappointed in Skyrim for falling back on this kind of crap. The Elder Scrolls are such popular titles, with the ability to push the standards higher and further for all subsequent titles in the genre… and they still had to squeak this in there. Apparently, most of the other armor is fine. But the fact that there’s still that one is sad. Respect your own creation enough to be logical, to make armor that is armor, to rely on your world and detail and incredible gameplay instead of tossing in these cheap shots.

Go ahead, galleons. Comment your little hearts out. I’ve said my piece.


ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: DEDICATED Read this entire rambling rant. 20G

2 responses to “In Which I Weigh in on Armor Issues in Video Games

  1. Actually I agree with you.

    I played Atlantica Online, still have my toons there just haven’t logged in in a while, and the male sprites dress well and if I recall correctly the females look like they escaped from the local tavern.

  2. seeing as the forsworn are savages who can’t even manage to forge a propper sword but tie a stone to a stick and call it a weapon, I’d say it makes sense. The male version is a freakin loin cloth. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the high armor rating. It’s as much “armor” as the fur armors at the start of the game.

    I’m no fan of the whole skimpy armor thing. It bothers me alot actually. I find myself woundering how the hell characters dressed in armor-bikini’s freaking survive. or who’d even bother crafting it. But the forsworn thing actually didn’t bother me. What’d you expect from savages?

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