Many moons ago, I used to be a pint-sized Golden Axe addict. Weighed down with a week's worth of pocket shrapnel, me and my buddies would hit the local Timezone and waste a small fortune attempting to defeat the fell minions of Death-Adder. (The fact that the game can be easily completed on a single credit has nothing to do with my credentials as a games journalist, thank-you-very-much.) To this day, it remains one of my favourite games, but there was something that never quite sat right with me — namely, Tyris Flare's bikini.
For those who were born in the Console Age, Tyris Flare was one of three playable characters in the original Golden Axe arcade machine which was released all the way back in 1989. Her cohorts were the barbarian Ax-Battler (who curiously favours a sword) and the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead (who still has one of the best monikers in gaming ever.) But these guys might as well have been chopped liver compared to Tyris.
Tyris was the character that everyone wanted to pick (indeed, racing to select her before the other player was almost a mini-game in itself). This was partially due to her having the best magic, but also because she was that rarest of sights: a female video game protagonist.
If you think female game characters are thin on the ground now, try being a gamer in the 1980s. They were practically non-existent, especially in the arcades. Tyris was one of the first of her kind — a pixelated pioneer, if you will.
Unfortunately her memory has been forever sullied by that damn chain mail bikini. And I'm not just talking about the objectification and sexism on display. Actually, I'm not talking about that at all.
As chain-mail bikinis go, Tyris' ensemble is actually pretty damn fetching. I particularly like how Sega went to the effort of adding a red hemline despite the limited colours at their disposal. When judged purely from an aesthetic viewpoint, Tyris is hot to trot.
But even as a young whippersnapper, I could never shake the feeling that my heroine's garb was somewhat implausible. It is clearly a bikini. As protective garments go, it falls somewhere between a toga and a fig leaf. Surely a Yurian amazon warrior worth her salt would realise this was a rubbish outfit to go to war in?
The only explanation I can think of is that she was lounging in a Jacuzzi when Death-Adder murdered her parents and was subsequently too enraged to change into more appropriate attire. Maybe I should write a fan-fiction about it just to make myself feel better.
In addition to bringing her tactical judgement into question, Tyris' bikini also turned the game into a farcical cartoon where pointy weapons have no consequence.
This point was rammed home whenever an enemy clobbered her with an axe in the midriff. Despite having washboard abs that would put Mark Serrels' to shame, these blows clearly should have split her in twain. In a game that features rideable lizards and fire-breathing dragons, this was by far the most unrealistic aspect to me. Every time my heroine took a hit, so too did my level of immersion.
In modern times, this armour anomaly has only gotten worse — especially when you throw customisation into the mix. As the briefest jaunt in any MMORPG will tell you, most gamers like nothing more than to bedeck their avatars in as little clothing as possible. There are even Skyrim nude mods so you can take on dragons in the buff.
It is as if the majestic worlds of J.R.R Tolkien and Robert E. Howard have been infested by a horde of fantasy-themed strippergrams.
Again, my beef is not so much to do with the sexism on display (girl gamers are equally guilty after all) and more to do with the sheer impracticality of it all. These women — and occasional man — are wearing what essentially amounts to underwear during single-handed combat. It's just not cricket!
Admittedly, some games do offer protective bonuses for ensconcing your character in plate armour and the like, but I don't think this goes far enough. I firmly believe that developers should treat these gamer flesh merchants with the brutal reality they deserve.
Sure, let them dress their characters in a jewel-encrusted g-string and a confection of tastefully arranged feathers if they like — but make them pay for their prurience via death in a single blow. Let their shattered corpses (and perfectly preserved crotches) remain on the battlefield as a grisly totem to realistic combat. Remember kids: a chain-mail bikini is a chain-fail bikini. *Cough*
I'll leave you with this comic commissioned by an artist buddy of mine, which illustrates the problem with Tyris and her scantily-clad ilk far more eloquently than my ramblings ever could. Enjoy.
In case it wasn't obvious, this article was mostly tongue-in-cheek. But the fact remains that a character's clothing (or lack of it) can effect the realism in a game. Is this one of those suspension-of-disbelief things that you happily turn a blind eye to? Or do you agree that armour choice should hold more weight — both literally and figuratively? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!