Should Gamers Be Penalised For Choosing Barely-There Outfits?

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.

Tyris Flare: making Red Sonja look modest since 1989.

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.

'Have at me, bro!'

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!


Comments

    But why single her out? The male character in that game was basically wearing budgie-smugglers and not much else. No less practical than the female character's "armour".

      But he's a barbarian, he's not supposed to be practical! :P

      The barbarian is wearing greaves and a metal belt. At least he put some effort in. Tyris looks like she's posing for an Instagram selfie at Summernats.

        I dun know see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Golden_Axe_Coverart.png its pretty clear that they all wear nothing except the dwarf. Shit the chick has more protection than the bloke due to her breastplate (read bikini).

        Anyway the reasoning behind it is probably the same reasoning that you can jump in full plate or even get up off the ground after being knocked down - let alone run for any extended period. You might as well complain about a giant lizard flying around with a wingspan 1/2 its body length and amazingly being able to breath fire.

        Seems to me like haters hating.

          Actually, shaped breastplates give you less protection. There was an article a while back here which had an armourer talk about different types of game armour and it boiled down to being a weak point which would guide your enemy's sword into your chest.
          (woo, pedantry!)

            Apparently also any heavy blow to the chest (such as falling over and landing on your front) would give a shaped divot prime penetration into your sternum, resulting in death. Woo.

              and armour has excessive amount of padding underneath to the point that your chest size doesn't make a difference.

        Incidentally, both Tyris & Ax Battler were wearing Greaves, boots, underwear and Tyris had a 'bra'. Both were really shittily armoured characters.

        G.Thunderhead was the ONLY smart one of the three at least wearing his green tunic into battle.

        Wrong. Axe and Tyris's outfits were completely comparable. I think you're attempting an anti-sexist games article but it ends up the opposite- i.e. showing too much skin on a woman is slutty and wrong. Almost all of these articles go this way.

      If you read the whole article, it debates that a lack of armour on all characters ruins the game...
      "These women — and occasional man — are wearing what essentially amounts to underwear during single-handed combat. It’s just not cricket!"

      Barbarians are male, they're not expected to have any sense of fashion anyway, Amazons must (in the imperative sense) have fashion sense because, you know, they're the somewhat epitome of misandry and feminism.

      Last edited 19/12/13 11:10 am

        Armour is now just about fashion?

          Of course it is, that's what games have taught me anyway. Why else would females be wearing impractical armour other than to look good on the battlefield? Everyone knows that Budgie Smugglers are a fashion faux-pas though.

          Really, it was just a poorly conceived argument to justify why an Amazon, something like the female equivalent of a Barbarian comes under scrutiny for her battlefield attire when her male friend is excused for similarly wearing what amounts to underwear. (Edit: I also meant must in an imperative sense, not the justification sense)

          Last edited 19/12/13 11:11 am

            It's not really ignored per se, it's just that for females it's the norm while for males it's an option.

            Besides, full armour can look better fashion wise with all the details and such you can add. A bikini is rather limited to just the colouring.

              Absolutely incorrect. From the start here the female character was the exception. At the time all male barbarian characters always dressed briefly like this. Tyris's outfit was simply the female version of their outfit. A more covered style would have been sexist since it would have pointed her out as having something obscene or abnormal to cover up.

    The main thing that bothers me about armour bikinis is that they obviously mean character designers think breasts and crotches are the only things on a woman's body worth protecting. :P

      Well, they can get shot/slashed up, but heaven forfend they have a nip-slip!

    I manage to suspend my disbelief at the issue of impractical armour the same way I do for fire breathing dragons and elves firing magic missiles our of their eyes.

    Game of Thrones and Tolkien are great in their own way because they are realistic and gritty, in a way that the comic-fantasy of these "bikini-armour" games aren't. And you know what? In those more realistic-fantasy worlds like Tolkien - women don't fight, they stay at home and do the cooking because that's more realistic in a medieval/fantasy setting.

    So I say, if you're going to penalise a female warrior for wearing a flimsy outfit, also penalise her for being less physically capable than if the player had picked a male avatar. Heaps of games have the choice of being a male or female character, and in most of those the difference is aesthetic only. Where is the article discussing this unrealistic, but more inclusive and enjoyable design choice?

    PS: I'm team Fem-Shep, but even I winced when she head-butted that Krogan in ME2.

    PPS Edit: Just to be clear, this response is intended to be just as "mostly tongue-in-cheek" as the original article.

    Last edited 19/12/13 10:20 am

      "So I say, if you're going to penalise a female warrior for wearing a flimsy outfit, also penalise her for being less physically capable than if the player had picked a male avatar. "

      I dunno dude, watch 'Unfinished Business', I'd choose Starbuck over Hotdog or Apollo any day of the week.
      http://photos1.blogger.com/x/blogger/3464/1690/1600/194765/NUP_103981_0009.jpg

        Exceptions to the rule. In general, if you take an average female and pit her in physical competition with an average male, the male's usually going to do better. Bodies are just built differently between the sexes - differences in actual on-the-ground performance are despite the differences, not a natural given.

        Also, @puck - There is only femmeshep. I don't understand why people get the idea that Commander Shepard could be or ever has been male, and I don't know who the hell that guy is they keep putting on the box art and trailers, but it sure ain't Shepard. ...FACT. (Because a wildly subjective opinion just isn't complete without an assertion that it is a statement of fact.)

          Oh gawd yes. Whenever I see a trailer or art for any Mass Effect I'm like, who is that guy? And then he speaks and I vomit in my mouth a little bit.

          I only just finished ME2 yesterday - that suicide mission was brilliant, Looking foward to starting 3 when I get a chance.

          Edit: Here's that head-butt I mentioned from ME2 : http://youtu.be/puKSMU1SkOA?t=56s
          FemShep or BroShep - That's gotta leave a mark.

          Last edited 19/12/13 1:12 pm

            Jennifer Hale is so good in it.
            Haven't played ME3 yet, eh? Well, I strongly recommend going into ME3 thinking of it as The Ending. Not just the climactic, 'point of no return/no more save-points' ending, which so many hated. Like... the entire game is The Ending, all the previous games' choices resolved or nodded at and loose ends tied off.

            Also, the multiplayer is pretty damn fun if you enjoy the basic shooting mechanics of ME3.

              Yeah, I hate some of the complaints about the ending when the whole game was closing out the story and characters.

              Also find it odd that not one single person complained about the ending of Walking Dead, which proved and was confirmed by Telltales that your choices don't matter. Apparently to some people, choices only matter if it's the end result.

          Not only that, but the voice actor is a model, not a voice actor like Hale is. He also forbid gay romances with his version until the third game.

            Hm. Close? I think there was a split there. Mark Meer did the voice (and he's done a lot of voices in Bioware stuff before - he did the Vorcha and Hanar and a load of others in ME and some stuff from Dragon Age and Jade Empire), and Mark Vanderloo provided the face model.

            Though I didn't know which one was the bigot, so I had to look that up. From what I can tell, it was the model. Big surprise.

          Only femshep? Well I only played male shep - it's about choice. To me male shep is the familiar one, I think people should play whatever they like.

            Well, I was being kind of tongue-in-cheek. Bioware released stats showing that something like 82% of players chose broshep. So... my opinion is somewhat unpopular. :)

              But those stats don't show how many people just button mashed their way through the creator content to get the game started.

    Obligatory:

    http://womenfighters.tumblr.com/

    Women Fighters in reasonable armour

      I like a lot of the art there but in terms of reasonableness/realism they rate pretty low. Any fighter that doesn't wear their helmet all the time is simply the height of silliness :P

    You're all missing the point. It's actually empowering for these women characters, as they are obviously so skilled and confident that they no longer need any decent protection.

    ;)

      Totally. The guy's have to wear armour because for them and their primative skill set it's a matter of life and death. For girls it's little more than a work out, that's why they're in a bikini or bike pants, they're just burning calories.

    That's a new Challenge for Dark Souls... One-bro nudie run with the Aggressive Mod for PC... aaand go :P

      I love how in Dark Souls, stripping down is actually a viable tactic for some fights. "Oh you're going to fight Havel? Better take your clothes off".

    "Again, my beef is not so much to do with the sexism on display (girl gamers are equally guilty after all)..."

    Care to elaborate? Although, to be honest, I'm not terribly interested in hearing yet another defence of male gaze and power tropes.

    What I am is embarrassed that this article appeared on Kotaku, which I thought (until now) had helped expand awareness of the problem of male privilege in games.

      I meant that male and female gamers are both guilty of indulging in super-skimpy MMORPG costume customisation. Hardly a contentious point.

      You sound like you'd prefer to hold on to negative stereotypes about men and make assumptions about what Chris was saying than to listen and avoid judgement. If I were you, I'd be more embarrassed about not realising that's sexist in itself than anything else.

    Because it looks cool!

    Oh, you need a reason for it to be practical?.. MAGIC! It's MAGIC armor.

    Done.

      Well, I think it looks cool when a female character wears full plated armour that looks practical.

        Can't they both look cool? Why do people turn it into a false dichotomy all the time? (not you)

          I base it on the theme and overall tone of the game. Dark Souls for example, is very difficult, dark and serious. Having female characters only able to run around in a metal bikini would be stupid and off-putting.
          Warcraft is rather colourful and at times silly. A bikini is ok, as is big crystal armour with huge shoulder pads. But armour in that game is to show progression. You start off with a shirt and work your way up to a fridge. You want to show off what you have obtained.
          Tera on the other hand does the opposite, taking off clothing as you get stronger and it's very distracting.
          Bayonetta was campy and silly all the way, taking off your clothes to hurt enemies is alright for how stupid it is. Even then they explain why. Her power is channelled through her hair, she uses her hair for armour, but she can't use it for armour as well as using it to summon the death god to punch her enemies.

            "You start off with a shirt and work your way up to a fridge."
            I'm going to steal this, it's awesome.

    I believe female characters were originally dressed in less because, you know... sex. Over time they started to try to justify this by making female characters, especially in fighting games, more lithe and agile to justify their less-clothing options. Of course Kasumi is wearing a microskirt and bikini top. It makes her punch faster than her male counterparts or something. Except Hayabusa. But he's a goddamn dirty cheat or something, for real.

    Now you could argue that, too, there are plenty of ripped shirtless dude characters that wear nothing but loincloths, but this only serves to undermine the original point because they're still generally buff and muscular power fantasy avatars who are probably slow moving and depend more on brute force than agility.

    So yeah, you know what? We need more games that penalise us for our clothing choices. RPGs like Fallout 3/NV and Skyrim are alright at this. You can be a male or female but your appearance is barely a factor in the game despite letting you perform intricate tweaks on every aspect of your facial appearance. You can wear less clothing and be less protected but lighter, or you can wear Brotherhood of Steel powered armour and suffer a dexterity penalty.

    Something like Mass Effect on the other hand is largely sexless in it's armour design for Shepard whether you go femshep or broshep. Sure, there's moulded breastplates to accomodate femshep's lady parts, but I don't think you can say it isn't justified.

    On the other hand my character in saint's Row 2 was a petite woman who spent much of the game wearing an open shirt with no bra underneath because honestly I thought it looked kind of cool like that. I at least gave her baggy jeans and combat boots as well. But ultimately it didn't matter if I had her in a hoody or panties and nipple pasties, because she was just as fast, strong and tough either way.

    I know Saint's row isn't a great example because it's goofy and over the top, but generally I think we need better balanced options. Maybe not penalise gamers for going with the skimpy costume option, exactly, though we could start with toning that shit down. I just mean, ok, have the girl in the loincloth and metal plated bra if you need to, and maybe she'll be faster (even wearing ridiculous medieval stilletto heels), but she's also going to get her ass handed to her by the next bad guy that hits her face or torso. The shirtless barbarian dude too. Your organs are under your rippling pecs and abs, dude. Maybe think about that.

    Maybe some sensible armour is a worthwhile investment. You might be slower, but there's a tradeoff there.

    And, you know, sexism.

      Nipple Pasties?

        One of the bra options (in either the costume shop or BDSM shop) was a set of circles that covered only the nipples. Hell, you could make them flesh-toned if you wanted. It was still enough to remove the pixel mosaic that covers your character when they're naked.

        Not the pastry snacks as funny as that'd be to see

          Ah, that is exactly what I had pictured.

    Didn't read the article, so here is my crappy opinion: No.

    Better question: should gamers be penelised for choosing waaaay over built/muscular male characters?

    You probably make valid points I will come back to read the article just have this feeling to comment firat. Then again probably won't read it because of the sheer amount of such articles and discussions regarding such issues. Saw applies for gta relayed stuff.

    I can safely say that the character's state of (un)dress did not enter my mind when playing this back in the day. All that mattered was that she had better magic that could make a dragon come onto the screen to breath fire. That, and the twirly sword thing she did which made her pretty easy to play with. I always kind of imagined that fantasy heroes were so badass that they only wore heavy armor by choice...

    Slightly OT but tangentially connected - whenever I change into just a bikini (top and bottom) in GTA Online, I seem to get my arse handed to me by other players in my session even more so than normal. Yes, my primary character is a chick - she's leveled up to 23 at the moment (I have toddlers, so I have limited gaming time), while my secondary male character is only ... erm level 12 I think ?

    Anyhow yeah, other players seem to want to kill me so much more when I'm under-dressed (and I picked combos to max out her looks in character creation, so she's not fugly like some of the female characters I've seen) than covered up. Of course the fact GTA-O insists on using your PSN name no matter what you put in the character creation screen could have something to do with it (a hot chick called "(obviously_male_psn_name)" is not going to win any fans haha) !

    Last edited 19/12/13 11:56 am

    Oh and yes, I luuuurved Golden-Axe. Although I tended to pick the dwarf ...

    Theoretically if the protagonist was that good he/she wouldn't need armour and could run around nude swinging their swords and flashing their magic

    look i really don't know why there is such a furor about having "bikini warriors" in games. I'm a gay male and having scantly clad girls in my games affects me nothing in my game and if there were more scantly clad boys then fantastic it dosen't make me think less of my own gender i just appreciate the eye candy. as far "armor realism" is concerned in wow there are some shoulder pieces that are on fire, surely if i were to wear it i would have the sides of my face burnt. i mean as far how realistic a game can be it has to be up to the developer i mean it's as daft as applying the rules of the Geneva convention into all fps shooters. if it detracts from the enjoyment of the game then whats the point of it?

      I would play more shooters if they had the Geneva convention in them. Make it a difficulty setting!

    In LOTRO I don't think the chain-mail bikini look is even an option.

    Of almost similar silliness is when woman characters are given decent armour but the breastplate carefully includes cleavage. If somebody sticks a sword in me, the last thing I want is bits that steer the sword towards my *heart*.

    I don't even want to comment. This article feels like it's just trying to stir controversy just for fun.

    It's a fantasy Chris. A fantasy. Escapism. It's meant to be fun. Articles like this are sometimes valuable, but in this case, you're just killing the vibe.

    Don't take it so seriously. Ever seen Conan? It's was fun was it not? Was it realistic? Should he have been penalised for not wearing full plate armour that covered him up from neck to knee?

    And why should gamers be penalised for choosing the costume the game provides? Is is because it's immoral to look at people in swimwear? Is it unethical? What exactly is the problem? Should we only be able to control stick figures, because someone, somewhere will manage to be turned on by any semi-realistic figure?

      In case it wasn’t obvious, this article was mostly tongue-in-cheek.

      And this is just a light hearted article rowan... He's poking fun at some of the tropes common in gaming, not taking a serious, principled stance against characters wearing sexy costumes.

      ...though there is a valid reason for instigating such a debate, and that comes down to realism. Some people like the fact that when you're carrying a double handed weapon or massive armour in a video game, your character becomes encumbered... It lends a sense of balance to the combat/interactions, and is, for some people, what draws them in to the fantasy and makes the escapism more enjoyable in the first place. It's not a massive leap to go from there to wondering whether characters should be penalised for not wearing enough armour.

      Last edited 19/12/13 1:57 pm

        Okay. Sure. There are some games that do that. They have an increased focus on realism and punish you with less defense for wearing less armour, and encumber you for wearing heavier equipment.

        There are some games that don't. They focus more on escapist fantasy and let you play a super powerful badass that it is unbothered by such mortal concerns.

        That said, I don't understand your argument. I'm going to assume you're talking about escapist games because the realist ones already account for it. Are you saying escapist games should incorporate rules based on realism? isn't that against the whole point?

          I'm saying all video games are by their nature escapist... Some deal in more realistic gameplay, others are willing to allow for a certain suspension of disbelief. Just because a writer wonders whether there might be space for a penalty/benefit for characters that wear less armour in video games generally doesn't automatically mean that the argument is about whether there should be no scantily clad characters in video games at all (as rowan suggests when asking "should we only be able to control stick figures, because someone, somewhere will manage to be turned on by any semi-realistic figure?").

          Tyris from Golden Axe was an obviously hyperbolic example used to broach a wider debate (which anyone would realise from actually reading the article start to finish... I feel like most commentors came rampaging towards the comment section here without doing that first).

    It'd be nice to see some non-aesthetic variations in characters, more muscle and armour means you hit harder and absorb more damage but you're slower, go the opposite way and you're basically a TIE Fighter, nimble as hell but if you get so much as looked at the wrong way you die.

    Kind of like D* Souls' armour method but with the addition of variation in body types giving stat changes

    They're just boobs, Ed

      Nice erin reference! Haven't heard that one in forever :)

        Comes to mind every time I hear someone crying over cleavage.

        Like I don't see it everyday at work or in the street or on TV or in movies or comic books or written of in books or...

        But yes the Video Game industry is DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED.

    I really don't understand this debate. We want clothing and design to be more realistic for women, not men, because men can literally wear whatever they want and not be held to any standard it seems. So now sexualisation has come to only refer to women, not men; correct? So now we want women to cover up? is that it? and we're saying the reason for this is that they're being objectified. Then THOUSANDS of women make the choice to cosplay as these characters, exercising their right to pursue their own personal interests and explore sexuality without being held to a double standard. (which they shouldn't be) So we want to defend the right for women to take control of their sexuality and image but then condemn their inspirations for doing so.

    But on topic.

    Yeah, maybe. Personally, those kinds of outfits really do annoy me. I do think the idea of wearing almost nothing as armour is too far past the suspension of disbelief for me. Maybe if they were like... jungle people or a tribe. But like, skimpy plate armour? No, it's ridiculous.

      Re your first point: I think it's probably more so about giving more choice and variety. If the game is supposed to look 'realistic' (as far as a fantasy game can), then it doesn't make sense for the male to be fully covered and the female to have come straight off the Victoria's Secret runway. But you're right, if a woman wants to wear basically nothing during cosplay then that is her prerogative and she shouldn't be condemned for it.

      Sexual objectification of women in games is more prevalent than for men, but the answer is not to cover women up all the time or undress more men. Just show them in a similar way when in the same context.

    i get that there are many games with ridiculous female armour/bodies. But when you look at the game as a whole, they tend to have ridiculous male armour/bodies too. I mean look at that recent game Dragon's Crown(?) people complain about the amazon and the sorceress, but the bloody dwarf and knight are just as unrealistic. I say it's fine because it's even

    I've never played the old games mentioned in this article but this always bothered me in video games. Its one of the reasons I like Skyrim so much, despite being full of fantasy and magic the realisticness of things like their armor helped to immerse myself in the game.

    I don't think that's a terrible idea. They could make it according to difficulty level.

    I'm too young to die: Full suit of armour!
    Hey, not too rough: Standard army guy clothes!
    Hurt me plenty: Civilian attire!
    Ultra-Violence: Bikinis!
    Nightmare!: NAKED!

    You uh, you probably shouldn't think of those in association with Doomguy, though.

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