>Re-launched WoW Galleries: Analysis, Part 4 (right and wrong)

>Last time, I highlighted the difference between class depictions with male figures and class depictions with female figures. In this post, I’m going to end the series with some comparisons of some positive art and some problematic art.

Some of the response that I get to complaints about over-sexualized women in game art is can be summed up in one of two ways: 1) sex sells tits or gtfo or 2) OMG WUT DO U WIMMINZ WANT ALL UGLY GIRLZ OR SUMTHIN? And then you get the artists themselves who say things like:

When I draw a woman, I want to draw her as sexy as possible, I can’t really help that. That doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t draw a woman more realistically, but that’s the truth.

(Taken from the comment thread on the previous post.) Since not sexualizing women seems to be a challenging concept for a lot of male gamers and artists, so I thought I’d put together a basic primer on ways to create positive depictions of women.

First: The basics (so I don’t wind up repeating myself)

Make an effort to learn how female anatomy works. In particular, educate yourself about how breasts – REAL breasts – work. Life-drawing is best, but there are lots of great resources on the internet and in print. Then put what you learn into practice.

Don’t use porn as a reference.

When composing your image, choose a pose and angle that are suited to telling a story. That isn’t PLEASE COME FUCK ME.

Repeat after me: I will not draw gratuitous cleavage. I will not give female clothing mysterious holes. I will not make breasts larger than heads.

Draw clothing appropriate to the setting. That means no bikinis in the middle of a snowfield. Or on a battlefield.

If your character is toting a five foot long sword, she should probably have some muscles.

Second: Advanced lessons and some examples

All of the examples here listed as “WRONG” violate at least one of the previous rules. Some of them violate several at once. I won’t belabor the point with these examples – the violations should be easy to spot.


Please excuse me. I have to take a dump.

Remember the basics? This breaks almost every single one of those rules. DON’T DO THAT. If your art looks anything like this, throw it out and start over.

This is going to seem counter-intuitive, since I spent most of my last post bitching about how passively women are depicted in Blizzard’s art. But sometimes when drawing female characters, a neutral pose is better than an active pose. The death knight on the left is active, yes, but look at the bizarre pose she is contorted into that is pretty clearly designed to show off her curves. Contrast that with the death knight on the right, who is standing still, but with her weapon at the ready. The woman on the right is clearly more threatening; the woman on the left just looks like a model in a silly pose.Expression is important too. People are drawn to faces. The image on the left, with the vaccuous and generically inviting expression on her face, doesn’t really convey much of a sense of character. The image on the right is full of it. This woman is not posing for your benefit. Her expression is genuinely menacing. This is a character I want to play! The Draenei? Totally forgettable.

Another example of my point. The druid on the left, while active, is still wrong. Again, the pose serves more to emphasize her, ahem, “feminine wiles” than to give her any real sense of character. Contrast this with the druid on the right, who looks capable of doing things more important than running through the forest in a weird Azerothian version of Baywatch.

Now these are a little less obvious, so I’ve circled the problematic bits. (You might have to click through to see what I’m talking about.) All of these women are fierce, all of them are active, and all of them are in a believable environment. But all three of them are still wrong. Let female characters be awesome without having to show their tits and/or midriff!


The druid on the right is fierce! Like a mitten!

Okay. The druid on the left is an edge case for me – her robes are pretty tight. But she gets a pass because she’s mostly covered up and because she’s COMPLETELY AWESOME. Come on, she’s calling lightning from the sky. What does the druid on the right have going for her? Nothing. (Oh look, it’s a woman in a revealing outfit trying to look vaguely fierce. Yawn.)

Resist the temptation to have your female characters standing around and doing nothing. Draw them doing awesome things!

I won’t waste time discussing why number three is wrong. If you’re having trouble with that, go back and read the basics before taking a second look. However, I will divert matters for one second to talk about prettiness. Not all of your female characters have to be pretty! If you’re drawing a character that is monstrous in nature (like undead) it’s okay to have them be monstrous! Do you have any idea how jealous I was when I discovered that only MALE undead get to have missing jaws in WoW?

Okay. Back on track…

Both number and number two are rotten everywhere except their (pretty) faces and their (perky) boobs – which is a particular pet peeve of mine. Let them be gross! But number one gets a pass where number two doesn’t because of a few factors. First, number one is posed actively, and not just for the sake of showing off her boobs. Her stance and armor are appropriate for the type of fighter she’s supposed to be, and her expression is wonderfully cocky.

Number does have some things going for it: she’s covered, her expression is actually menacing, and the image conveys a real sense of atmosphere. However, once again we have the aforementioned magical rotless breasts and the passive stance. What tips it over into fail for me is the visible nipple. Come on, guys. Don’t put visible nipples on dead things. That’s just yucky.

Lastly, we’ll close with the blood elf rogue. This! This is what I want! She is active and competent looking and actually looks like an adventurer! There is a story in this image. I can totally imagine trying to sneak past that giant. This is an exciting avatar! Do you hear me, Blizzard? Now go and do more of it. Lots more.

[Edit: part 5, the final installment, can be found here.]

About wundergeek
In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

36 Responses to >Re-launched WoW Galleries: Analysis, Part 4 (right and wrong)

  1. Travis says:

    >This is great. I hope someone at Blizzard is reading this. This post really makes it clear, using their own work, what good design looks like and specifically what they are doing wrong with sexualized images.The only image that I wasn't quite clear on is the first warrior. She doesn't appear to be any more exposed or sexualized than the other characters you marked as "right". It may be that my monitor doesn't have enough contrast to show what you are pointing to there but to me it looks like she's completely covered.Anyway, I just wanted to say I really appreciate your work here and I hope that it continues to reach a wider audience so that things will change. For my part I will push for better character designs whenever I have the opportunity.

  2. wundergeek says:

    >Travis: It's a bit like where's Waldo, but the first warrior has cleavage. I didn't spot it at first either.I'm glad you appreciate my blog!

  3. Dee says:

    >Every time I see art from GENZOMAN I just… die a little inside.Seriously that guy just needs to. Stop. Drawing. And gaming companies need to stop commissioning him. There are only so many shiny, ridiculously-outlinde boobs and cameltoes (in robes! ROBES!) I can take. D:

  4. Chaltab says:

    >I'm not seeing cleavage on the first warrior.. it just looks like another shiny blue jewel between her boobs like the ones on her shoulder pads.

  5. megpie71 says:

    >Ummm… is it just me, or are other people having problems seeing the images of the undead referenced in the third-last and second-last paragraphs, and the blood elf rogue mentioned in the last paragraph? I'm using Firefox 3.6.13, with NoScript (allowing all scripts on this page) and AdBlockPlus (disabled on this page as well) but I'm still not seeing them.

  6. Jayle Enn says:

    >Oh god, GENZOMAN. He is the Rob Liefeld of pin-up art, seriously.I've been looking at the warriors, and it's really hard to tell whether there is cleavage or midriff in the first two. I think I've found it on the dwarf (showing above the collar of her breastplate? Ow.). The tauren's hide and the shading on her armor are similar, but it's hard to tell whether her chestplate is just a fringed vest with bowls on that covers her breasts (which is ridiculous) or looks like a fringed vest with bowls on that's part of her ambiguously shaded armor (which just looks ridiculous).The orc warrior is definitely too used to using that massive shield as a dressing screen though.

  7. LilithXIV says:

    >Really good post, though I did notice one thing about the armor the women wear. Uh, is it just me, or is the armor drawn to shape itself /precisely/ to their bodies. Is the idea that armor made for women is made with breast pockets or that their breasts are made out of some rock-hard material that literally pushes the armor out to shape itself that way? It doesn't bother me as much as the more extreme stuff you point out in this post.. but I noticed it even with stuff like, for example, Nova's Ghost armor. Why does it have plates specifically shaped to breasts? Do women who serve as soldiers in real life wear that form-fitting armor too? I always thought everyone got the same kind, more or less.

  8. Ikkin says:

    >A few comments,Re: the two death knights, the active/neutral distinction kind of seems like a distraction. The one on the left is dynamic, sure, but she's not really doing much, and she'd have trouble moving anywhere with her legs splayed out like that. And the one on the right might be static, but that doesn't keep her stance from being highly combative. So that might be something to keep in mind — instead of asking for active poses, it might be more useful to ask for combative (or otherwise practical) poses.Re: the blood elf rogue, I think she's a better illustration of "a compelling character makes up for a lot" than she is of "make more of this, please." She's certainly lightyears beyond most of the WRONG drawings, but her pose, clothing, and lips still look designed to show her off, in my opinion. (The RIGHT death knight might have made a better illustration of "make more of this, please," if only it had a background)

  9. ThePredation says:

    >In today's military women are still issued generic body armor. That's why on TV you see police officers and soldiers who are women in those awkward flak vests. They're not SUPPOSED to be sexualized because it's not functional. So why are there magical boob-fitting plate chest pieces in fantasy? If you were a blacksmith would you HONESTLY take the time to hammer out some boob cups?

  10. Chaltab says:

    >ThePredation: Since I've never had boobs, I suppose it might be worth asking: is it uncomfortable to wear body armor designed without breasts in mind? I don't think it's unreasonable to have armor that makes space for boobs if it's more comfortable that way, though it's pretty silly to have them outlined in detail.

  11. morobrany says:

    >There are specific leather protectors for female archers to wear to protect from getting snapped in the breast with a bowstring. I've yet to see any female archer in any fantasy art obviously wearing one of those.

  12. timeLESS says:

    >I always thought that in "real life" female warriors using any kind of body armor tied their boobs so that the armor could rest on a more flat surface. Also, didnt some female warriors even go so far as to cut off their boob(s)?

  13. kaonashi says:

    >I really like these articles and hope that they make an impression on artists. I like how they go from the obvious to the more obscure sexualizations in a revealing and informative way. Well done!But I'm wondering about the fantasy element here. Not as an excuse for ridiculous cleavage, but how it relates to realism. The question of sexualization of female characters for me isn't at all about realism. I don't care if it's realistic or not, it's still not good. I guess I just wanted to point out that women in extravagently ornate, bulky armor that covers every inch of skin aren't realistic, but they're still cool.Also, I wonder about the issue of visuals and identification in games. It's usually very clear from the silhouette of your character what race and class you are, because they're important choices for your avatar as well as important information for your opponents, and good designers design from this. But I don't know how to feel about gender being such a basic characteristic. It is currently a fairly important choice in WoW and I can kind of understand the choice to distinguish that visually in your character's silhouette. I can't understand the sexist limitations in this distiction for women though. I also can't really see why there couldn't be more neutral or queer alternatives. I wonder how important the gender choice is compared to race and class, and how much it should show in your character. If I was a character designer that's something I'd like to explore.

  14. Barbara says:

    > This post explains all the reasons a breastplate with actual breasts is a bad idea – basically, it deflects blows towards the face/throat. A normal male breastplate has enough room for bound breasts, and quite frankly, it's going to be more comfortable.I also vaguely remember reading that the two bulges would cause weakness in the armour, but I can't find a source for that.

  15. Ikkin says:

    >TimeLESS: The mythological Amazons were said to have cut off their right breast to make it easier to shoot bows, but I think that was just something that the Greeks came up with and not something that actually happened. It'd be complete overkill, anyway, since it's very easy and much less painful to just bind them down or wear leather over them.Kaonashi: In terms of play mechanics, gender is probably the least important aspect of an MMO character, so I don't see why it would need to be so obvious in silhouette (unless WoW changes stats based on gender). The armor dimorphism seems likely to make it more difficult for players to tell what they need to know about each other, since they'd need to know what both forms of the armor look like instead of just one.And, to use Final Fantasy XIV's human and elf races as a comparison, gender seems to be easy enough to distinguish at a glance by using the "one head taller" rule — making men three times wider is kind of unnecessary, even if distinct genders are useful.

  16. LilithXIV says:

    >Great link, Barbara! I actually wasn't entirely sure of how armor actually worked with breasts so it was very informative. Guess there's no 'realism' excuse to hide behind for breast bulges now.

  17. wundergeek says:

    >Ikkin: Point taken. I just need a 12 step program for elves, which is probably why I didn't really see a problem with the blood elf rogue.Barbara: That link rocks!

  18. ThePredation says:

    >Great link Barbara and pretty much what I was trying to get at. And like it's been said, binding the breasts is the best way around it. Sadly the best example I can think of is Mulan but she was more trying to hide her identity than ease awkward armor.

  19. Travis says:

    >I am a little bit on the fence about armor with breast cups. On the one hand, Barbara's link makes it clear that it's unrealistic, and they could qualify as sexualization if you see them as being designed to appeal to heterosexual men.On the other hand, I would imagine that gender-neutral armor de-emphasizes gender too much for some players. In MMO's armor generally replaces clothing and in real life clothing is a major way in which people perform gender according to their preference.I am thinking that it might be best to allow characters to wear either armor type so that those who prefer either style will be able to do so.I guess Blizzard has painted themselves into a corner a bit here by having such drastic gender dimorphism in body types though. Other MMOs could pretty easily just allow female characters to wear the "male" armor sets, but WOW might need completely new armor designs to accomplish the same thing.

  20. LilithXIV says:

    >@Travis: They do, in fact, qualify as sexualization and are designed to appeal to men x.x There is literally no other reason for having the armor shaped to their bodies like that other than to get around the fact that armor is bulky and doesn't show off women's bodies as well. No reason.On the gender neutral front, honestly guys are allowed to wear gender-neutral armor all the time. So I don't see your point, it's not as if it's treated equally. Why do women have to be the ones who have their sexual parts are 'emphasized'? What's wrong with having gender 'de-emphasized' in this way, especially in combative situations? Shouldn't the Character be more important than her cup size or how precisely shaped those boob cups are?Especially since people find themselves under a social pressure to perform that gender and women who are performing often are nudged to perform it 'sexually'. Because too often people conflate femininity with Sex and being sexual and constantly being on display. Gender-neutral.. as in /real armor/, really shouldn't be designated as 'male armor', which it seems like you're doing.

  21. kaonashi says:

    >Ikkin: I agree about visualization of gender as far as mechanics go. If there's no mechanical difference, there's good reason to have similar designs to signal that. But I was thinking more about how players actaully identify with their avatars. A lot of the visuals have nothing to do with stats. They're just decoration to signal identitity or personality. The trend with personalization of avatars in games seems to suggest it's a big deal. I would guess that gender identitity is seen as fairly important for many players, which isn't to say I think it should be the way it is today, only that it might actually play a big role here. But if the choice of personalizing your avatar is so important, the choice of making it gender-neutral or queer if you want to should be important too.Dimorphism can make for interesting designs. I don't see any problem with having some big variation between the sexes in itself. I do wonder about the imagination of the designers when they stick to the same old design all the time though. A fantasy race with the kind of dimporhism that some insects show, with bigger females, could be interesting. Fantasy as a genre could definitely use some variation from all the cliches.

  22. Travis says:

    >Lilith: You're right. On further consideration I agree that the cups qualify as sexualization given that they reduce the apparent functionality of the armor in order to emphasize the breasts.I don't think there is anything wrong with having gender de-emphasized either in terms of armor specifically or character designs in general. I was just thinking that players should be able to choose how they want to present gender in-game; the breast cups are ultimately a bad way of doing so because they are also a form of sexualization.I referred to the armor as "male" in quotation marks because of course the armor itself doesn't have a gender, but it has been assigned a gender by only allowing characters designated as male to wear it (or by having it transform into something different when a female character wears it.)

  23. LilithXIV says:

    >@Travis: Oh, I see, so I misunderstood some of what you were saying. I thought you were saying the sexualization was necessary for gender distinction or something. But yeah I'd be more open to a choice in the variety of the representation.Though it'd have to be /real/ variety, not that 'well, twenty out of the 100 armor sets aren't that sexualized so you could just wear those'. Because that's not a real choice.Also -looks up at pictures-… why do the cows have boobs? I think our cows have udders, so what is up with that? -random question-

  24. Ikkin says:

    >Kaonashi: While I wouldn't doubt that gender identity is a fairly important part of a character for the player doing the customization, I doubt that the huge difference between the genders is necessary (or even necessarily helpful) to that end. As much as I suspect a lot of female players would prefer to have visibly-female avatars, there's very little to be gained and much to be lost in terms of player satisfaction by enforcing the gender distinction instead of allowing a spectrum of options.And, yeah, dimorphism can be interesting, but it would probably be better to avoid the most severe type with humans and humanoids. It'd also seem less problematic if it ever did go the other way.Travis and LilithXIV, Re:"male" vs. sexualized armor: I'm not sure that the only thing male about bulky, realistic armor is who it's allowed to be worn by. The armor itself tends to look male as well, with broad shoulders and a flat chest — and that's only gender-neutral insofar as "gender-neutral" is assumed to be male.Which seems to be a problem in and of itself — the male form is considered "generic," and everything that distinguishes the female form from the "generic" male is sexualized by men. So, whenever the deviation from the male form is impractical, it becomes very difficult to make a distinct female variant without it looking sexualized, because the impracticality of the change necessarily draws attention to sexual aspects of the character.Though I suspect that, if done well, a non-sexual-but-visibly-female option would be more popular than a gender-neutral option with female players — I know that if I was playing a game as unrealistic as WoW, I'd rather have my female game characters look like women in awesome-if-impractical armor (assuming it's properly concealing, of course), rather than women in oversized men's armor. Separate breast cups are a terrible way to do that, of course, but I have to wonder whether there's anything inherently bad about giving up a little practicality to allow female player characters to look female (when it's not done for men's benefit), when the male characters often give up a lot of practicality to look like caricatures of masculinity. Which isn't to say gender-neutral sets shouldn't exist, of course, just that it ought to be possible to make non-degrading armor sets that don't hide female characters' gender.

  25. LilithXIV says:

    >@Ikkin: I'm not entirely following you on the armor aspect honestly. The armor I saw in the link Barbara gave was flat-chested for a reason, as in it's design was made that way specifically to deflect blows, and I don't think I saw it being really that broad-shouldered. I think you're sort of identifying something as male when it actually is neutral in itself.Like I don't see a need to be 'visibly female' in armor. Especially when the only definition of visibly female people seem to get is.. stereotypes and overtly sexualizing it. Is it hiding the gender or is it not over-emphasizing to the point of creating a division that really has no place there? In a way that's just othering women isn't it? Why does there have to be gender-specific armor? There's a reason women in real life military situations, as The Predation put it, are wearing the same generic armor as the men.

  26. Travis says:

    >I did a google image search on it, and this armor style seems like it could be a reasonable compromise.Instead of the cups it has a single bulge that goes across the chest, with a ridge in the middle that would help deflect blows away from the body. It a has a more feminine look than armors designed for men, but appears to retain the same practical protection.

  27. Higanzakura says:

    >@lilith: To put it simple, there are women who want practical and realistic armors but there are also women who wants something more feminine and doesn't mind it to be a LITTLE impractical. What is so hard to understand? It's games and not everyone want to look like a real warrior in the army, some people want to look pretty and awesome too.Now I hope you don't jump to the conclusion that I'm talking about sexualized armors, I'm talking about the possibility of designs that are womenly (if that is a word) but not seductive.

  28. Ikkin says:

    >LilithXIV: In the context of real armor, yes, it's neutral, because it's designed for functionality.But, in the context of MMO armor, appearance tends to be far more important than functionality for both genders (not that they're really comparable). Once the reality of "this is the best shape for deflecting blows" is thrown out the window, realistic armor tends to look not-female to me, closer to male than gender-neutral — the narrow chest/wider stomach combination suggests a lack of breasts, and the overall proportions are closer to male than female.As for why that should matter, armor is a pretty major aspect of character customization in MMOs. If my character wears over-sized male-proportioned armor to fight, her body might as well be male 90% of the time. And, while there are definitely some terrible ways of specifying gender out there (like those awful gender-specific armor sets that turn into thongs on female characters), I'm not sure how that implies that all ways of specifying gender are othering. Is it really that bad to change the cut of an outfit so it looks designed to fit a woman, as in the Final Fantasy image I posted upthread?

  29. LilithXIV says:

    >@Travis: I like that picture, looks pretty cool. The armor is nice.@Higanzakura: Uh, a lot of it pretty hard to understand. Mainly because, well, the definitions of masculinity and femininity are themselves quite complicated and always changing. So you never know which definition others are working off of. What really makes an armor design 'womanly'? I admit I may get overly wary when people talk about making something more 'feminine'.. like say armor.. because it often turns out to be 'making it as sexy as possible!oneeleventy!'. Clearly, in this conversation, I was wrong and that wasn't the case as Ikkin has made clear.@Ikkin: Now I get what you were saying, I was confused where we were disagreeing but now I see I made it sound like I was saying 'just put the armor that male toons wear on female toons' without any changes. I actually agree with the kind of design change or cut like in the Final Fantasy image. Or Travis' picture example. I didn't see your picture before but now that I have it's definitely pretty much the kind of armor-clothing-etc I would prefer. My mistake, I think that was just a bit of miscommunication there.

  30. Ikkin says:

    >LilithXIV: Yeah, I think we were just kind of talking past each other. (I kept thinking, "is that really what she means," actually, but I had trouble interpreting it in any other way, and I can see why you'd interpret me the way you did) And I think you're right in that it would be nice if women were allowed to wear realistic, gender-concealing armor in games as well — it would just require a certain type of tone not to feel out of place, because most players want their avatars to look as cool as possible.

  31. Anonymous says:

    >I haven't read the entire conversation in the comments, but Ultima Online actually had a decent system. You had Female Plate and Genderless Plate, and you could just pick which one to wear. Women and men decked out in the regular full-plate looked identical, much to my amusement when I'd remove the helmet on my character and invariably get "OMG YOU'RE A GIRL!" comments.You had the choice between the sexy armor and the non-sexy armor, and they were identical stat wise so you weren't penalized either way (might be different now, it's been a long time since I played).

  32. Anonymous says:

    >Hotlink fail. This link should work.

  33. BD says:

    Hi, I don’t know if you’re going to get any notification about this, and maybe you already know, but all the same: the images in this and some of the past few postings no longer enlarge when you click on them. That makes this one in particular hard to follow, which I guess is why I’m commenting here. Fortunately, this mouse I have came with a magnification tool (highly recommended), so it hasn’t been hard to cope unless there’s text on the image, but for everyone else…

    I’m afraid I don’t know what post it started happening in. I’ve been reading from the beginning but didn’t first notice until the charts in your previous post.

    • wundergeek says:

      Hi, BD. Yeah, unfortunately that happened when I ported my blog over from blogspot. :/ If you want to take the effort, you can go read the original post over on blogspot. Unfortunately, there’s too many posts for me to go back and fix manually; I just don’t have time.

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