The Games We Play: The Chainmail Bikini

Brandann Hill-Mann
View profile »


It would seem they used all the armor-making material up on the dudes.

I’ve never slain a dragon with my own hands. I’ll leave that up to my lady Warden or Fem!Hawke. I have, however, been in a few fights in my time, though I wasn’t exactly telling the forces of nature to shut up and sit down or leading a contingent of undead minions like my Night Elf Death Knight, Auntiepally. I do remember that the one time I had to do so in my underwear went a lot worse for me than the time I was more, erm, properly attired. For instance, I was wearing pants and shoes.

One of my endless grievances with games is the ridiculous notion that just because I am playing a woman character I must have this desire to shake my derriere in three inches of Spandex or, better yet, the notorious chainmail bikini. There are few things that make less sense to me than how that the same armor that fully covers and arms any male avatar has my female Draenei running around in a thong.

A draenei shaman with purple skin and glowing eyes wears her drinking hat, a tabard, pauldrons, a belt, long stocking-like leg coverings, and what appears to be a red pair of underpants. She is wielding a magical staff.

Makes me wonder what the leggings are really for…

It honestly makes me feel like game developers and game artists think of me, and other gamers like me, as little more than cannon fodder for their self-satisfactory dreams. Whether or not this is true, it leaves a gal gamer feeling pretty unappreciated for her hard-earned cash.

Wundergeek, from blogs such as Go Make Me a Sandwich and Building Rome in a Day put together a pretty fascinating collection of data of imagery from various forms of gaming to look at sexism that exists there. Her particular slant was to show that the art in books, cards, game covers, and promotional materials tended to be very sexist and in many instances portrayed women in sexually suggestive ways. Even by engineering the data to be conservative, allowing for the most instances of sexist portrayals of men and least of women, the data still came out overwhelmingly to represent that women are by and large shown to be passive and sexual objects, at least in promotions, and often in game play itself.

A night elf warrior, named Meetsheeld, stands in a forest in front of a shallow glowing pool, holding a sword and shield. She has light purple skin, long blue hair, long pointed ears, and is wearing a tabard, pauldrons, gloves, and what appears to be a loincloth in lieu of pants.

I … don’t know what the flaps on the side are for.

As a project, she also occasionally does some artwork where she will change the gender of a character from a game to expose the overt hypersexualization of some of those characters. It’s a pretty spiffy thing to see, and my favorite is her Crapping Frost Mage. I am not too proud to say that I did try to stand in this pose one day when I was home alone to comical results that remain between my cat and me.

Unlike game characters like Isabela from Dragon Age II— whose pantsless condition is not only something that fits her as a character, but seems to be by choice—running around in game in little more than chainmail dental floss is frustratingly absurd. World of Warcraft, while coming out as one of the best games in Wundergeek’s observations, is still woefully bad at hypersexualizing their female characters. If I didn’t appreciate the many other instances of gender parity in the game (despite the long list of things that it does frustratingly wrong) I may not have the patience for the things that fall flat.

I am no longer content to just accept excuses like, “Well! Sex sells!” and “Oh, well, most gamers are adolescent boys anyhow!” because we know that people who were not previously thought to be part of the gamer demographic are actually playing these games. If they are not yet demanding more, they should be. I am.


Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

26 Comments Have Been Posted

Ugh… Could not agree with you more.

It's one of the reasons I'm so dismissive of 90% of what passes for sci-fi, fantasy and adventure fiction in all its forms.

One franchise, however, I do have to call out as being respectable is Warhammer 40,000. I haven't played any of the video games, but I was really into painting the miniatures for a good portion of my dork life, and my army of choice were the Witch Hunters or Sisters of Battle, who were depicted with quite a degree of fearsome badassery on par with the Space Marines or any other faction without being hyper-sexualized.

No, the Sisters of Battle

No, the Sisters of Battle just have to put up with "the time of the red rage"-jokes. *grumble* They're not the hyper-sexualized archetype, they're the nagging hag-one instead. There are a very few nice depictions of female Guards though.

My favourites, the Greenskins, doesn't even have females since they're all apparently grown from mushrooms. *sigh*

I'd like to see them try…

I'm pretty sure anyone who dared to accuse an Adeptus Sororitas of being 'on the rag' would quickly find their head on the business end of a force-pike.

I absolutely agree that

I absolutely agree that everyone should, like you, be more demanding of costume changes for the females. The argument "They're marketed to adolescent boys," is the most sickening to me. Besides it not being true, the fact that these games are marketed to young men is all the more reason to portray women in a respectful, healthy way. If boys are really playing these games so much, don't you think all this porniness will affect later dealings with women, you know, just a LITTLE?

I've long been irritated by the costuming of females in games like these. If for nothing more than their utter, utter, impracticality on the battle field. Sure, you don't want to be overly encumbered while fighting whatever you're fighting, but isn't armor, um, supposed to COVER your vital organs, like the ones in your chest and stomach? Isn't that, you know, the whole point of wearing armor in the first place?

The Games We Play : The Chainmail Bikini

I'd love sexy images of both men and women ... it does sell. But more skin isn't the only kind of sexiness. Simple-minded. Boys and girls aren't simple. Men and women know better. At least I hope so. Be men and women. Everyone step up. What goes into the world - makes the world. Lopsided fantasies aren't just entertainment. Be OFFENDED and let the designers/company/creators know it. The sexiness is always objectification but I don't want to equalize it with men and women - although at least that would be fair. Objectifying - it's always heaped onto female characters and not just games of course - is NOT positive for anyone. Not for guys either but try explaining how it filters into the world and easily becomes misogyny. It's not like there isn't enough of that elsewhere if that's what you're looking for. Very free and available. Maybe when more women are involved in the work. It's always the guy heavy industries that keep all that "sexism sells" alive. It does but the bottom line is not king. And you can do up your standard of sexiness if quality is important. Chainmail bikini - cheap - no quality in that. I like the showing-it-from-the-other-side. Guys dressed like the girls and the girls dressed like the guys. Makes it obvious. Saw it with superheroes once. Eye opening. Bet the guys can't stand the objectification as long the girls have. They're really very SENSITIVE to all that.

womens' battle dress

If you've seen the new "King Arthur" with Keira Knightly, the last big battle scene, all the men are in heavy leather and or steel knights armor. She, as Guinevere, charges into battle with the skimpiest of leather strap top and bottoms, that barely cover her (skimpy) bosoms. And in the mass media, they airbrush her up a cup size.
It's kinda funny, But typical. I'm a Peter Paul Rubens fan myself.. Roger

The Infamous ...

Oh, I've complained about this since I first saw the original Heavy Metal movie where, in the last episode, the big, tough female who would save the world went into battle in a bikini, an armored sleeve, and riding on a fire chicken.

I've had this argument the entire time I've played City of Heroes that costumes SHOULD NOT BE SEXIST (even their emotes are) because, really, it is all just pixels, wire frames, texture maps. Only the female avatars have whole costume categories titled "Tops with Skin" and "Bottoms with Skins. Many costumes pieces are only available for one gender or the other. There is even a physical category of character in the game (Huge) which is only male.

I get it, I do -- those fellas programming and running the game get all squicky at the idea of a male superhero running around apparently "cross dressing" and they like their women busty and nekkid (even with the sliders for modifying body areas, the smallest rack that can be made is probably a solid C+ cup, and goes up to Barbie Ridiculous). Now, many people have pushed the envelope in various directions, but many costume sets are a separate purchase from the main game, yet are limited by the supposed gender of the pixels one is using to play the game.

I have fun making my toons, male and female, as much fun to look at as I can, giving in to my whims as I chose (and always concentrating on making a great ass, since i play in 3rd person mode, which means I'm staring at my avatar's backside all the time). Still, a little less blatant sexism would be a nice thing.

(as for the emotes -- the various built in gestures and postures you can put an avatar in -- there are something like 5 different seated poses for the males, while the females supposedly have the same, but the post is always the very prim and sexy crossed legs posed -- just irritating and stereotyped).

In case you didn't notice,

In case you didn't notice, all of the people that were of the same tribe as Guinever in the new "King Arthur" dressed in that same fashion, not just her, and not just the women. While I'm not saying that the clothing for women in action movies and video games is not sexist and skimpy, I am saying that I believe you chose a poor example for the beginning of your statement.

If you want realism, let's be

If you want realism, let's be honest; there wouldn't BE women running around in steel-plated armor swinging maces and war hammers. Men have a major advantage when doing anything that requires such a high amount of upper body strength. This is the reason that, typically, women are not firefighters, to use one similar example.

I'm not defending hyper-sexualizing women, though I do think it is just a response to market demand. It sells more games than it would if they didn't have it, or they wouldn't do it. I know if I marketed a game, I would feel no need to make excuses for making a product that caters to three other people instead of you; I made three times as much money.

There is a deeper question too. While the crowd playing games like WoW is more diverse than people assume, it would be equally inaccurate to suggest that it isn't, despite said diversity, still highly dominated by a young male demographic. Young men like looking at sexy women. I don't know if this is the case with you, but I often find that rants like this are motivated by a distaste for heterosexual male sexuality in general and a desire to shame men for wanting sex.


Hi XO,

I don't think anyone said anything about realism here—most of the games in question are set in fantasy worlds and are not exactly historically accurate. OuyangDan is not calling for realism. That being said, there most certainly are women firefighters and plenty of other women out there who are strong enough to swing a mace or a war hammer, but that's kind of beside the point.

Also, just because the audience for these games includes young males doesn't mean the games need to be sexist. Certainly calling out sexism is not about a distaste for heterosexual male sexuality—not all heterosexual men are sexist and they don't require sexist games in order to enjoy themselves. I disagree that it's shaming straight men to ask for less sexism in video games. Quite the opposite, actually.

yes, because treating

yes, because treating female-depicted characters and npcs as walking sex objects designed to make a game sell instead of dynamic characters with actual development is totally 'just a response to market demand' and them 'wanting sex'. because shaming men for wanting sex is wrong, but purposefully designing female-depicted characters to appeal to that want for sex is okay. and let's completely ignore the underlying implications and overall effects of such depictions in media on the safety and (often very low) self esteem of women and FAAB individuals.

how dare people speak up against what harms them!

A few points you might like to consider:

1. Actually, women have their own advantage when it comes to feats of strength. If your idea of "strength" is limited to upper body strength, then, yes, men have an advantage. But women have advantages in other areas.

2. No one is demanding "realism" in the historical context. We're demanding "realism" within the confines of a game. If the game's reality has female and male warriors, and the males require full-coverage in battle, then "realistically" so would the females.

3. Actually, many women in history have been involved in combat and martial campaigns.

4. Just because a certain demographic "likes" something does not mean that everyone else should be required to like it or out up with it. There is no reason that one demographic should be catered to above or at the expense of others.

5. If money is the concern, you might consider that making a character that is appealing to a broad audience--meaning people other than hetero young men--might actually boost sales, as other audiences won't be put off by the hypersexualized images.

6. No one is attacking hetero men. This was actually brought up in an earlier post: You might want to read it, along with the links in the article, as they explain the whole "pointing out privilege does not equal GAH WE HATE YOU" thing.

7. If you're concerned with feeling "shamed for wanting sex," remember the feeling the next time you see a woman called a "slut," or call one a "slut" yourself. If you find it shocking that there might exist (not here, necessarily, but in general) a "distaste for heteroseuxal male sexuality," consider the "distaste" for other sexualities that is so rampant in our society.


4. Just because a certain

4. Just because a certain demographic "likes" something does not mean that everyone else should be required to like it or out up with it. There is no reason that one demographic should be catered to above or at the expense of others.

7. If you're concerned with feeling "shamed for wanting sex," remember the feeling the next time you see a woman called a "slut," or call one a "slut" yourself. If you find it shocking that there might exist (not here, necessarily, but in general) a "distaste for heteroseuxal male sexuality," consider the "distaste" for other sexualities that is so rampant in our society.>>

Your analysis of the games is spot on and switching of the genders of the players to highlight the unequal treatment of male and female characters is a wise idea.

Unfortunately a lot of people confuse women's owning their sexuality and being proud of it with men's owning women's sexuality. A woman in a bikini these days seems to be a greater statement about men's sexuality and sexual desire rather than women owning their own sexuality.

Is a woman being clothed in a chain mail bikini more a celebration of women's sexual desire or something done to cater to men's sexual desire ? It seems men's sexual desire is celebrated and accepted (and no one accuses men as being ashamed of their bodies and not confident enough if they don't show it off) but we don't see half as many images of near naked men. In my opinion when we see more men in chain-mail speedos, I think we can talk more about it being a celebration of female sexuality and female sexual desire.

I also think that there is some confusion of cause and effect here, women became more liberated and that resulted in women being able to wear bikinis. Women didn't become liberated and more confident *because* they wore bikinis.

I started a response to this

I started a response to this myself, but I was actually overwhelmed by how well everyone else has taken it up already, so I just didn't feel the need to repeat what as already been said. Thank you so much!

Let's be honest…

Let's be honest: usually when someone starts a thought with the phrase "let's be honest", you know they're about to drop a metric ton of bullshit.

My admiration and thanks to

My admiration and thanks to those who were braver than I in answering this. I , too, thought about it and decided that the person speaking was not the sort who did any kind of listening. However, the responses here are articulate, intelligent, and just snarky enough ;)

On "realism" in fantasy…

We're talking about a world that posits the existence of wizards, elves, fairies, magic, sorcery, orks, undead walking skeletons, portals to other dimensions, telepathy, defiance of physics, levitation, teleportation, man-eating plants, sea monsters, gigantic insects, ghosts, ogres, two-headed ogres, three-headed snakes, werewolves, and dragons.

But women dressing the same and being equally as strong as men, <i>that</i> would be unrealistic?

the irony of a character

the irony of a character named 'meatshield' (in essence) being forced to wear scantily-designed armor has not escaped me. sigh.

I thought you might like

I thought you might like that.

It was also a nod, when I had created her, to a joke in the webcomic, <a href="">Order of the Stick</a>, to the Warrior character, Roy, who often jokes about how he is not your average "stupid warrior", and he actually went to fighter college. They ask him what kind of classes he took at his fancy fighter college, and he answers "Standing in Front of People, 101", and they call him Meat Shield for a while after that. Meetsheeld is the best of many worlds!

Eatmyaxe and Auntiepally also have brief armor bits, but they didn't make the photo spread today. Auntipally actually comes out the best in all of them, I think.


<3 OOTS! A comic both video game RPG'ers and more tabletop oriented people like me can enjoy. It is relevant to this discussion in that it depicts a world based on the rules of RPGs where anything is possible as far as the race and gender of the characters is concerned, Not that individual characters aren't sexist, but just because the technology is medieval, it doesn't mean that there has to be institutionalized racism and sexism. It's fantasy, for Thor's sake! One advantage of tabletop gaming is the greater flexibility to be anything you wish, but it is more of a commitment and it may be intimidating if your local gaming community is very male-dominated.

for some reason i can't help

for some reason i can't help but think of tanking in burning crusade.

dear. fucking. stars.

If the chain mail bikini

If the chain mail bikini provides as much protection as the heavy armor of the men then doesn't it really mean that your character is tougher? So, therefore a STRONGER character then the men who have to hide behind layers of steel? Plus, it's probably ALOT easier to pee:D

As an aside. If more girls got into programming games there would be more feminine input into the process. Most games are designed and executed by men and most men find sexy women in bikinis attractive. THATS why female characters look that way. When there is a woman's voice in the design process then maybe we could have heavy duty agressive characters to play. So get your programmers cap on girls and lets make that ish happen!

City of Heroes has (at least)

City of Heroes has (at least) one women in the original design group who is still there. I think she's outvoted, or she's just given up noticing. While I'd like to think that having female programmers and designers would change things, I think it is more useful to work on changing the thinking of EVERYONE involved -- even women objectify other women. If it wasn't "ok" to think and create in this way, it would have effects far beyond gaming.

I will now go back to my reading survey of critical thought on feminist science fiction (because I'm insane and I'm not even doing it for a class).

I've seen actual chainmail

I've seen actual chainmail bikinis at fantasy fairs. No one actually wears them, not even to model.

I remember NWN1, where all the armour for your female PC (as far as I recall) were pretty much regular (covering everything, though they always had these boob-shapes in them and had to look like some kind of partial skirt), but the armour for that female NPC whatshername... Aribeth, right, the one from the cover art, had lots of cleavage (and some humongous spiky thing on the shoulder. That reminds me what also always stands out in WoW: the "OMFG what are those things on your shoulders I think they're alive quick quick whack them with your shoe!" shoulderpads).

While this is post is

While this is post is relevant to the genre as a whole, as a specific case to World of Warcraft, this type of revealing armor is completely relegated to under-level 70, or the November 2006 era. All the clothing designed since that time for the past five years have covered the entire body of both males and females, and more importantly is largely gender neutral, looking the same on any particular character.

Add new comment