>Re-launched WoW Galleries: Analysis, Part 2 (Numbers lie. Sort of.)

>In my last post, I examined the re-launched galleries on the official WoW site according to the criteria of my original survey. The first post was just a look at the numbers as they were counted. From here on out, we’ll be looking at some of the actual images pulled from the galleries on the official WoW site.

(As such, I’ll note that all of the images used here are official Blizzard artwork; the fanart gallery was not counted, and nor do I use any images from the fanart gallery in these posts. While Blizzard is choosing which fanart submissions to post on their site, they themselves did not commission the artwork, nor did they pay for it – so I decided to err on the side of caution.)

In the last post, the significant trends that were observed was the increase in female figures, the increase in actively posed female figures, and the increase in suggestive depictions of men. Those seem like positive things, right? Even if the changes were small, they were all changes in the right direction. Well…

Why the numbers aren’t as positive as they seem

In the original survey, my criteria for what qualifies as suggestive is intended to be slightly ridiculous in that it is very easy for a male figure to be classified as suggestive while being comparatively hard for female figures to be classified as suggestive.

All of these were counted as suggestive male figures. The left-most figure is classified as suggestive male figure because he has a discernable gender (male) and isn’t wearing a shirt. Now, we can argue about whether or not it’s reasonable for some people to find giant bipedal cows sexy, but I feel a little more confident in saying that it’s definitely ridiculous for someone to find an insect sexy. (But who knows, perhaps that’s just my arachnophobia talking.)

The middle figure is also a pretty silly inclusion. This cartoonish goblin is in no way presented as a “sexy” figure, but his lack of pants automatically included him in the suggestive category. The orc on the right is the only figure with even a semi-legitimate claim to actual sexiness. A case could be made for him being a sexualized figure. But I could also put together a pretty good case for him not being sexualized, so I’ll settle for calling the running orc an edge case.

Now when it came to female figures, any female figure that was wearing a leg-covering garment and whose costume did not expose anything suggestive (cleavage, midriff, portions of thighs, butt, etc) were automatically counted as not suggestively attired, even if their outfit was clearly spray-painted on and left nothing to the imagination. Here are some of the women counted as not suggestive:

The blood elf paladin seems to be wearing spandex instead of the impossibly huge plate armor that male paladin characters usually get to wear. Furthermore, her costume has two conveniently placed straps that call attention to her breasts, since they hang right where her nipples would be.

The rogue fares a bit better in terms of costume in that it looks like actual armor and not just spandex. However, it’s every bit as tight as the blood elf paladin’s outfit, and she has the ridiculously sexualized pose to boot! Her pose has her arching her back while simultaneously thrusting out both her breasts and her ass. It’s pretty clear that she’s on display for the male viewer.

As for the two undead… During my counts, I didn’t count any undead as suggestive since they’re – you know – dead. But when you look at these undead women, they reflect what you see when you look at almost all art of female undead. Both women are pretty seriously rotten, and yet somehow their faces show no trace of rot.

Furthermore, neither do their breasts – which are still large and improbably perky given the state of the rest of them. Are women in Azeroth too poor to afford a full embalming, so they just get their face and tits done? “Well, I might be dead, but at least I’ll still have a great rack!”. Give me a break. These women are dead, and yet they’re still being designed to appeal to male viewers.

As for the last two, calling the warlock not suggestively attired is pretty ridiculous since I can discern anatomical features not normally visible through clothing. (If I can see individual ribs, she might as well not be wearing clothing at all.) The priest’s robes are pretty tight too, though not as tight as the warlock. However, there’s clearly visible underboob through the robe, and the cross is pretty clearly only there to call attention to her breasts.

Not all suggestive depictions are created equal

Second, we have to consider that there is absolutely a difference between the majority of male figures that were counted as suggestive and female figures that were counted as suggestive. For instance, look at this concept art of male and female Draenei:

Both of these characters were counted as suggestive – the male because he’s not wearing pants and the female because she’s not wearing much of anything at all. Is the male Draenei suggestive? Maybe. Is he as sexualized as the female Draenei? Absolutely not.

I’m not going to try to figure out whether the suggestive monstrous figures that were counted were meant to appeal to women. But I am going to say that there is a world of difference between this:

and this:

These women are being presented as sexual objects in a way that just isn’t true for the majority, if not all, of the suggestive male figures. Every single of one of these women is drawn to be nothing more than a collection of sexy parts, presented for maximum titillation. I mean, I think this image says it all:

By the numbers, the new gallery shows an improvement in all measureable sexist trends except for depictions of class archetypes. But looking at the images tells a different story. Even if Blizzard were to start counting the numbers of male and female figures in their illustrations and making a conscious effort to have men and women equally represented, it wouldn’t change the underlying attitude that women in Azeroth exist to be sexually pleasing to men.

What’s next

· Comparisons of male class illustrations and female class illustrations.
· Comparisons of positive female depictions and problematic female depictions
· Another gender-swap! Now with 200% more ridiculousness!

[Edit: Part 3 is now up!]

>Galleries on official WoW site relaunched: Analysis (numbers)

>The Impetus (or: why torture myself again?)

While looking for game art featuring female characters more obviously sexualized than Vanille, I visited the official WoW website and discovered that the website had been re-launched along with the Cataclysm expansion. There had been a significant re-design and re-organization, and that included the galleries.

The old website galleries had been subdivided (if memory serves) into galleries for the various expansions with another gallery for general concept art. The new galleries still have expansion-specific sub-galleries, but the generic concept art gallery is gone in favor of a “Races” gallery and a “Classes” gallery. Overall, there was a lot of new art in the galleries that I hadn’t seen before. Furthermore, the wallpapers gallery has been split into 10 or 12 sub-galleries – although there’s not as much new there.

I got curious as to how numbers from the new site would stack up against numbers from the old site that I had compiled while working on my Depictions of Women article. So I decided to go through the revamped WoW galleries according to the same criteria as the original survey to see what I’d come up with.

Criteria and caveats

Again, the criteria I was examining: number of figures with discernible gender, active versus neutral poses, fully clothed figures, suggestively attired figures, and class archetypes (fighter, thief, mage). (For specific details on how I defined these criteria, follow the link above to the original article.)

Interestingly, because of the large amount of new art, I found myself having to add a few caveats to the criteria simply due to things that I hadn’t come across the first time around. Firstly, undead figures showing any signs of rot at all were never marked as suggestive no matter how much skin was showing. (Because, you know, eew.) Silvanas was still counted as suggestive since her “undeath” just turned her grey and spooky. Children, for obvious reasons, were never considered as suggestive. Lastly, there were some cityscape images (mostly from Burning Crusade) of Darnassus and Silvermoon where I didn’t count any figures at all because the figures were very small and elves can be pretty ambiguous.

Numbers and counting

Coming up with an accurate count was a bit of a daunting task because there are so many more sub-galleries than the old site had and a small number of images were duplicated across two or more galleries. (For instance, a particular image showed up in the Burning Crusade, Races, and Classes galleries.) So when counting images, I did not count duplicates of that exact image reposted in another gallery. If an image was in both Races and Classes, I only counted it once.

There were some images that I did count multiples of; there are several iconic race/class characters that are used in a lot of promotional art and slapped onto custom backgrounds. Each iteration of the iconic characters with a distinct background was counted. I modified that rule slightly for the Arthases (Arthasi?) that I counted, since there were so many of them. Because Arthas was in the cover art for the Wrath of the Lich King, I didn’t want my numbers to be overly skewed by just one character, so I counted each distinct Arthas pose only once.

And here are the results! You’ll probably want to click for the large version, unfortunately these don’t shrink down very well:


So looking at this, the new galleries undeniably display sexist trends. Women comprise only one third of all figures with discernible gender. Only one third of figures that are fully clothed are women while making up slightly more than two thirds of all suggestively clad figures. And women are twice as likely to be depicted as magic users rather than thieves/rogues or fighters.

So what happens when you stack the new numbers against the old numbers? (You’ll definitely want to click through for this one)

Okay, I know this looks really crowded, but I really wanted to make it as easy as possible to compare the two sets of numbers. Old numbers are represented in pastels, new numbers are represented in brights.

Now, when you look at the numbers here, it looks as if there have been some marginal improvements. Certainly the ratio of female figures to male figures has increased from one in four to one in three. Also, the percentage of active figures slightly increased which puts women aaaaaalmost at 50% of all active figures (from around 45%). Similarly, class archetypes haven’t changed much. There were slightly more fighters depicted as women, but half of all female figures are still mages – which doesn’t represent a real change from the old numbers.

The biggest obvious difference is the large increase in suggestively attired male figures. This is pretty much directly attributable to the new Cataclysm expansion which introduced werewolves (Worgen) as a playable race. As everyone knows, werewolves are ALWAYS bare-chested men.

I know it’s true because Stephenie Meyer says so!

Snark aside, I find it significant that 55 out of the 68 suggestive male figures were monstrous – either being orc, tauren, troll, goblin, worgen, or demon. (Illidan I counts as demon in my books, btw. I suppose if you felt like it you could ignore the giant bat wings and call him a night elf.) Out of the 13 non-monstrous suggestive male figures – 12 humans and a gnome (sounds like the punchline of a joke) – 5 were Vry’Kul, an enemy NPC faction. This leaves only 7 out of 68 suggestive male figures that are not monstrous and actually heroes.

In most of the images with suggestive monstrous male figures, it seems like the intent of the artist was to convey the savage nature of their race by dressing them in more “primitive” attire. As such, it seems to me like these figures should fall into a different category than the suggestive female figures. The suggestive female figures are suggestively attired because they are highly sexualized. The suggestive monstrous male figures seem to be suggestively attired as a way of defining something about that character.

However, since part of the point of my methods is to be intentionally ridiculous in counting male figures as suggestive, I counted them all anyway. (I’m even counting the tauren, remember, who are basically just bipedal cows.) I simply think it’s a thing worth noting.

What’s next

I plan on examining in detail why these numbers aren’t as positive (ha!) as they seem. Also, I plan on looking at the inequality of class depictions between male and female figures. But that will have to wait for another day.

[EDIT: Part 2 can be found here.]

>To dudes who think gaming is "sexist against men": YOU’RE WRONG.

>[Edit: There have been some... interesting comments about this post both here and other places, mostly arguing that this post is heavily biased. To that, I can only say - go read my article. It's that link in the first sentence, and it has actual numbers. And if you still don't believe me, go examine some of my sources yourself.]

Response to my article about sexism in game imagery continues to trickle in over on See Page XX. Some of it has been really great, like a response by Morgue – the guy whose original study of Dragon Magazine covers I based my methods on. There’s been a fair amount of backlash too – not as much as I expected, but certainly enough to prove a point. A fair amount of the backlash I’ve gotten has been along the lines of “but game art is sexist against men too!”

In fact, just yesterday I got a comment that managed to cram “I’m not a sexist gamer”, “sex sells, get used to it”, “gaming is sexist against men”, and “your numbers/methods are flawed” all into one comment:

If I were a male gamer (which I am) and I would pretend demonstrating my theory that the gaming imagery is sexist AGAINST men, I could have done it with exactly the same set of data you are using. The basic male depiction is a Gym instructor Alpha male with a bare chest.


Despite my policy of trying not to feed trolls, I couldn’t let that stand and started off my response with the following:

Clearly your knowledge of how statistics works is flawed if you think that these same numbers could be used to argue that gaming is sexist against men. Go back and read the section on how I engineered the criteria again. I engineered the criteria so that this study intentionally made it hard for women to qualify as suggestive and EASY for men to qualify as suggestive. I mean, come on. I counted a COW as suggestive, despite the fact that any sane person would not call a picture of a cow suggestive. And DESPITE ALL THAT, the numbers still clearly show that across all areas of gaming, suggestive figures are OVERWHELMINGLY women. So please explain to me in what universe this can be used to support your premise of “sexism against men”.

But after I posted, I really thought that this bullshit line of reasoning deserved a more in depth response. Because, really – there are two things going on here. First of all, the idealization of men is not, IS NOT, IS NOT AND NEVER WILL BE the same as the sexualization of women. There is absolutely nothing about the design of idealized male characters that says “fuckable” like the hordes of female characters designed for male viewers and players. So do not EVER try to tell me that men are treated with equal sexism as women in games.

(If you seriously believe this to be true, then you need to check your privilege and actually re-examine my sources if you don’t believe me. If you actually bother to keep count instead of ignoring all of the images that don’t support your bias, you’ll find that I’m right.)

Secondly, as to “all men in games are idealized”, I call bullshit on that too. The diversity of depictions of men in gaming is staggering. You can find male characters of all body types and ages in video games. Sure there’s a fair number of muscled meat-heads:

But for every Amarant that’s out there, there are many more non-idealized depictions of men. I mean, hell – look at Team Fortress:

Check it out – every silhouette is different. You’ve got huge guys, short guys, fat guys, and skinny guys, and some just average guys. And that’s just one game! Look at what happens when you look at existing video game characters! You’ve got gangly, half-developed teenagers:

LEFT: Hope from FFXIII, RIGHT: Sora from Kingdom Hearts 2

There’s a fair amount of differences just between Hope and Sora even. Hope is a more passive, less fighty type of character while Sora is more aggressive and hits things with large keys a lot – even if both of them do fit certain JRPG design tropes.

You’ve also got older characters:

LEFT TO RIGHT: Ansem the Wise from KH2, Leisure Suit Larry from ?, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid (not sure which game)

Sure, Ansem looks pretty good for an old guy. But Snake looks pretty haggard here, and Larry is pretty tubby as well as balding. And again, you have a diversity of character concepts as well – from scientist to aging playboy to grizzled veteran, each of these characters is unique.

Most characters, of course, fall somewhere in between these two extremes in terms of age. You can find male characters in this set that represent every body type imagineable.You’ve got your super-skinny/gangly characters:

LEFT TO RIGHT: Guybrush Threepwood from the Monkey Island series, Luigi from many Super Mario games, Kiros from FFVIII, and Zidane from FFIX.

There’s also a whole host of average dudes, like these guys:

LEFT TO RIGHT: Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Max Payne, Gordon Freeman from Half-Life 2, Link from the Zelda series, and Leon from Resident Evil

Say what you want about Link being sort of androgynous, but dude is definitely not a body builder. He looks like a pretty average guy who just happens to bash people with swords. Same goes for Gordon Freeman.

But really, I think the real nail in the coffin is the mind-boggling number of fat male characters out there:

TOP, LEFT TO RIGHT: King Hippo from Punch Out, Ward from FFVIII, Rufus from Street Fighter, Bowser from Super Mario games
BOTTOM, LEFT TO RIGHT: E. Honda from Street Fighter, Steiner from FFIX, Karnov from Karnov’s Revenge, Mario, and Rodrigo Borgia from Assassin’s Creed 2
So, yes, while there is some truth to the fact that mainstream game designers are not the most creative people out there, the fact still remains that the diversity of body types seen in male characters in gaming is enormous. Mario alone should be proof of that – he’s one of the most beloved characters of all time and he’s basically the cartoon version of Ron Jeremy! The fact is that female characters in video games just can’t compete in terms of diversity.

Look at Faith from Mirror’s Edge – the fact that a slim, flat-chested woman was the lead in her own game is a matter of controversy! And check out the response so far to the new design of Lara Croft that isn’t ridiculously sexualized. The fact that these are both controversial says a lot about how women are depicted in video games. As for overweight women, the only characters I can think of off the top of my head are Queen Brahne from FFIX – not counting those awful princesses in Fat Princess.

Now, I will at the end, here, say that – yes. Male characters are disproportionately idealized. Is it ridiculous that Ryu’s arms are as big as his thighs? Yes. Are the Gears of War men ridiculous? Yes. But let me tell you, having to look at enlarged biceps just won’t ever compare with what women face when looking at ridiculous video game women like Taki.

>Depictions of Women in Games: Some Follow-up Notes

>I’ve gotten some critical comments regarding my article about depictions of women in gaming (please do go read it if you haven’t already). Mostly these comments seem to not grasp the fact that the criteria were intentionally engineered to be slightly ridiculous. So – a few things:

Re: The subjectivity of the criteria makes this statistically useless

This isn’t meant to provide numbers in the sense that you can use this to prove exact percentages. This is meant to provide numbers in the sense that it clearly documents sexist trends in depictions of women in game art across all areas of gaming. I engineered my criteria to be very conservative when labeling women as suggestive and very liberal when labeling men as suggestive, so the fact that the numbers I generated still show a very clear sexist trend is significant.

OMG why is a cow labeled suggestive?

Sure it’s ridiculous. Again, I intentionally made my criteria very liberal when looking at male figures to offset the deep personal bias that I have regarding this kind of art. I realize that no one is going to look at this cow and go “va va voom!”. But the cow isn’t wearing pants, which makes him suggestive according to the criteria I defined. And in fact, a significant number of the male figures I countered were monstrous humanoids, which seems significant in a way that I can’t pin down.

Looking at other sources

If someone wants to take my methods and apply them to other stuff like Pathfinder or Magic, please do! I’d appreciate a message here just to let me know what you’d find, is all.

Specific interpretations of numbers

I am not a statistician or anything having to do with math – I studied Fine Art. Also, I recognize that the subjectivity of the criteria makes specific conclusions problematic in some cases. However, what is inarguable is that across all areas of gaming, game art displays markedly sexist trends despite having engineered the survey to conservatively evaluate women that would commonly be called suggestive and to liberally evaluate men who would commonly be called not suggestive.

Lack of pants = suggestive?

You’ll note that I specifically said that characters “not having covered legs” would automatically be considered suggestive. Leg coverings include skirts, which are a non-bifurcated leg covering. Leg coverings do not include thigh-high stockings or tights. This is just common sense. If I tried to go to work in just tights or thigh-high stockings, I’m pretty sure I would get in trouble.

I’m not going to count biceps on men as suggestive for the same reason I don’t count them as suggestive on women. You can be attracted to people with large biceps, but calling bare arms suggestive is just absurd for either sex.

>Depictions of Women in Games, Game Art, and Promotional Material

>At this past GenCon, Simon of Pelgrane Press asked me if I would be willing to write an article about sexism in gaming for his irregularly published webzine See Page XX. I immediately said yes, and the resulting article is what ultimately gave me the inspiration to start this blog. So it makes me very happy to announce that the article has finally been posted! Please go give it a read!

For everyone out there who has ground their teeth when forum trolls respond to allegations of sexism in games or game art with “show me some numbers”, here is some ammunition. In this article, I created a consistent set of variables that I used to examine art from tabletop RPGs, CCGs, console games, and MMOs. There are numbers to be had, and graphs. So very, very many graphs.

I have some vague ideas about pulling some things out of the article for more in-depth analysis here, but nothing too concrete yet. Anyhow, here’s the link again: Depictions of Women in Games, Game Art, and Promotional Material.


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