>Re-launched WoW Galleries: Analysis, Part 3 (unbalanced class depictions)

>In my last post, I picked out some images from the re-launched galleries to illustrate why numbers can be misleading and why it’s important to consider the content and context of images when you’re looking at them. This time we’re going to look at images that clearly depict characters of a specific class to see how women are often portrayed differently than men as archetypes of a given class.

They say an image is worth a thousand words. To me, this picture speaks volumes:

So, okay, on the surface we don’t have anything that we haven’t seen before. We’ve got fully clad dude mage next to scantily clad lady mage. Of course she’s got big breasts, and of course they’re just about popping out of her top. Whatever. What bothers me most is not how she’s dressed, but how she’s clinging on to this big strong man as he stands there with a cocky expression, ready to cast a spell. Yet another example of the attitude that if you need someone to go on an adventure in Azeroth, you’d better find a man.Now I’ll admit the above picture isn’t from the Classes gallery. It’s actually from the Races gallery. So here are images all pulled from the Classes gallery to help illustrate my point further…

Pretty standard mage, right? Long robes, fully covered, looking dramatic while preparing to cast a spell… Nothing we all haven’t seen many times before. Now compare this with, oh, every picture ever of female mages:

I shit you not, every single picture in the Classes gallery that is tagged as mage and depicts a female has ridiculous cleavage, even when it’s in somewhat questionable taste. These are all of the boobs, I mean, female mages you’ll see in the Classes gallery. The boobs on the top right are undead boobs, which is gross. And the boobs in the bottom middle are gnome boobs, which is even grosser. I mean, seriously – please don’t sexualize gnomes of either sex ever. Yuck.

Warlocks seem to fare a little better in their depictions, even if they wind up contorted into unnatural poses to emphasis their, uh, attributes. But overall, these two women just aren’t as compelling as the male warlock. According to the lore, warlocks are supposed to be mages who’ve gone bad. They make pacts with demons for crying out loud! When I look at the male warlock, he looks dangerous and maybe disturbed. The women, well, they kind of look pretty while waving their hands around.And really, that’s a problem with a lot of the class artwork. So many of the male class images show male figures doing stuff dramatically while the female class images just show figures posing prettily. Like…

So, yay that the female priest is actually covered and doesn’t have ridiculous boob-holes or thigh-slits or body paint masquerading as clothing. But look at these two images next to each other. The priest on the right looks like he is about five seconds from seriously messing up your day. The priest on the left is just posed against a neutral background, almost like she’s part of some weird Azerothian photo shoot.

Again, the usual dichotomy of clothed (men) versus not (woman). And again you have examples of men in dynamic poses while the woman is in a static pose. The male hunters have their bows drawn and are about to actually fire at something. The female hunter is standing in a neutral pose with her hips cocked, which makes the figure softer and less threatening.

Also, while her arrow is on fire, her bow is not drawn and the arrow is pointed at the ground. And like our female priest, she is depicted on a flat grey background. With all of the many and varied landscapes that Azeroth has to offer, the artist couldn’t think of one to put her in? Not one? Hell, plunk her in the Barrens if you’re feeling lazy. Or Tanaris, or the salt flats in Thousand Needles. Something! But no, again our female class depiction is just another model posing for the camera.

Even when both of the figures are in neutral poses, there’s still a marked difference between male and female depictions. It’s impressive how many points of divergence there are when both illustrations clearly started with the same idea. There’s the obvious difference of armor: the male paladin is wearing about fifty pounds of plate mail while female paladin is wearing spandex with armored shoulders and boots. (Why don’t female paladins ever get to be hulking walls of glowy metal, huh?) But again, posing is almost the more important difference.

Everything about the female paladin is designed to be alluring. She stands with her hips cocked and her head tilted. The expression on her face is seductive, with a coy smile and half-lidded eyes that are supposed to be inviting. Her sword is unsheathed, but is not held ready and is positioned so as to further emphasize the exaggerated stance she is in.

The male paladin is everything that we’d expect to see in a paladin. His pose is erect, his shoulders and hips are squared. He looks at the viewer with a solemn expression, and while he does not look as if he about to attack, his weapon is still at the ready. Everything about this character conveys strength and power, while the female figure conveys only softness and sexual invitation.

Of course, even when the female figures are depicted as active, often they are hyper-sexualized as well (see above mage boobs). Sometimes this can be of the mildly bothersome variety (OMG! She’s so cool! If only I couldn’t see her tits!):

Sometimes it only makes me want to facepalm:

And sometimes it makes me want to scream and hit things very hard:

Neither of these women get to be rogues – that privilege remains the bailiwick of our male rogue. These women are just porn stars. The rogue on the left is bad enough – her arched back and outthrust tits and ass just scream “fuckable”. But the rogue on the right? SO. MUCH. RAGE.

So, okay. We have the complete lack of clothing. We have the pose – arched back with outthrust boobs. We have the perspective, which emphasizes the size of the boobs. And we have the angle, which makes her look as if she is thrusting her ladybits right at the viewer. The sum total of all these elements reads something like: I KILL THINGS WITH MY LADYBITS. Or something like that anyway.

All of which brings me back to the point I made at the beginning of this post. Male adventurers in Azeroth get to do important things, while female adventurers just get to stand around and look pretty. But maybe I’m getting bent out of shape over nothing. Trolls, orcs, and night elves don’t exist right? This is all “just fantasy” after all.


(Next up: positive female depictions versus problematic female depictions)

31 thoughts on “>Re-launched WoW Galleries: Analysis, Part 3 (unbalanced class depictions)

  1. >Seeing the two neutrally-posed female class depictions on plain grey backgrounds next to their dynamic male equivalents with interesting backgrounds makes me wonder whether Blizzard's artists even like drawing women. Everything about the male art looks like they put a whole lot more effort into it.That first artwork is really terrible, though, because that female mage seems to be intended as an example of a player character. There's very little that will make me want to play a character less than making her (or him, though that's a lot rarer) seem needy and dependent.

  2. >Oh wow a friend of mine uses that armored priest image as his character in an online DnD game we're in. I had just thought it was fan art.(Taken by itself it's pretty cool I guess but srsly why does Blizard make women art so passive?)

  3. >Ikkin: It's amusing. There seems to be a split between artists who don't like drawing women and artists who like to draw them A LITTLE TOO MUCH. (Ladybit assassin rogue, I'm looking at you!)Chaltab: He's got good taste – it would make a great avatar! Now we just need more great female avatars.

  4. >Wundergeek: I don't think the ladybit assassin rogue artist likes drawing women either, actually. He likes drawing ladybits, yes, but if he actually liked drawing women he'd pay more attention to the anatomy. 😉 (That image is physically painful to look at, urgh)

  5. >Common Sense: The BlogShut in video game nerds will buy things based on sex appeal, we knew that long before you had to go on ranting about gender inequality. Its business, not a personal attack on women. If my market share is 80% teenage males or males with the equivalent interest, I'm not going to appeal to the less than 1% of my market share… women who will not play a game due to said sex appeal.

  6. >Hey, look, it's Anonymous number 5395839595 talking about how 'sex sells'. With no back-up to his claims or proof, just that 'common sense' that never seems to make sense. Aka Parroting the status quo like a thoughtless tool. And once again talking about how it's apparently wrong for women to rant about gender inequality. Yeah, what /are/ women complaining about? Being reduced to sexual parts and sex objects for the sole excuse of 'well, men like it and we all know they're more valuable really'. Yay misogyny?He even uses the fail self-fulfilling prophecy logic (Though that's not to mention the 80 percent thing he just pulled out of his ass). Would the market of women not rise more if you started valuing and respecting them as an audience along with their representations? Can you stop pretending as if it's all the 'audience' at fault and not just your own desperate clinging to sexism?Take some responsibility and just admit it, don't claim the 'numbers' are somehow forcing you to do this. Especially when yours are so highly inaccurate and your insulting stereotypes reveal how ignorant you are.

  7. >This is a great blog, I'm so glad to have a well-written deconstruction of this adolescent nonsense. For those of us who are actually normal, married individuals with jobs it's pretty humiliating to have to explain why the women in the games we play tend to look so absurd and more like soft porn than cinema.I'm glad you're not letting the trolls get to you and I hope more game designers and artists read this blog.

  8. >Aside from being sexist in and of themselves, I am also worried about how images like these affect players behavior. If the message is "in this game, women are sex objects," I would not be surprised if these images contribute to actual harassment of women in-game as well.

  9. >Mike: Thanks! I, too, would like to be able to be open about my enjoyment of gaming without having to feel guilty or weird.Travis: I've heard some pretty shocking stories about harassment of women in WoW. It's something I never experienced because I only played with friends and was never part of a guild, but I do suspect that the unspoken attitude toward women on Blizzard's part might make a more permissive atmosphere for that kind of behavior.

  10. >It's all well and good to make claims that their artwork has created a game with tacit permission to harass women, but I really don't think that's the case. Some weird subset of WoW gamers, like most mediums that combine mass and/or personal communication with anonymity, turn into monsters at the flimsiest justification.For their part, Blizzard takes a pretty dim view of such behavior, suspending and banning per their policy. As such, everyone, not just women, should report this behavior immediately and as many times as it occurs, if not more so. Everything in WoW is recorded. It's not your word against theirs. And I don't mean to sound like I'm blaming the victim or anything, but really, Blizzard can't punish people if no one reports them. So report them. It makes a better gaming experience for the rest of you still playing that bloated piece of crap. I mean Warcraft.Per your actual post, good work as usual. That Blood Elf duo pic was part of their promotion and art for Burning Crusade, and I really didn't understand why they went with the "classic" fantasy art of a barrel-chested man with a waif clinging to his arms. They're both meant to be playable options, but from that picture you wouldn't think so.I do think it shows a lack of imagination in that female armor tends to look the way it does in WoW. There's plenty of sex appeal to be had in something that actually covers, if that's their goal, but the easy path is just to show alot of skin instead of something they might feasibly wear in their profession.

  11. >"It's all well and good to make claims that their artwork has created a game with tacit permission to harass women, but I really don't think that's the case. Some weird subset of WoW gamers, like most mediums that combine mass and/or personal communication with anonymity, turn into monsters at the flimsiest justification."I think you give people a little too much credit than they deserve. Sometimes trolls are just exceptions to a generally good population.. and sometimes they're not just isolated incidents and happen to be a part of a much larger whole. I don't really think people just turn into monsters, many of us do some pretty horrible things because it's seen as normal and acceptable in some fashion. Now, I'm not saying it's artwork alone (but then no one really was) but I also believe it does add to that toxic atmosphere and to that general low opinion and degrading of women. It can only take away from how you view women when they're constantly presented as only being valued in one way.If Blizzard truly has such a dim view on it, it would be nice if the artwork and more in-game aspects reflected this. Maybe Cataclysm fixed some of those really troublesome in-game aspects that have been discussed before, I wouldn't know. I guess what I'm saying is that the small things that add to a general viewpoint are really just as important as the big ones.(And I think my post got like eaten by the blog or something but did yet another Anonymous talk about how 'sex sells' and how it's supported by his imaginary numbers? Do people think that is some sort of neutral viewpoint to take? 'The constant, one-sided sexual exploitation of women sells so it's okay!' Equating women and their primary importance with 'Sex'= more dehumanizing than you might think!)

  12. >Lilith: I fixed it – sorry about that. And yeah, I'm discovering that trolls here are surprisingly unoriginal. "Sex sells! Tits or GTFO!" Maybe I'll just make "55% of the consumer market" my stock response and save myself some time!Tom: Pretty much what Lilith said. Do I think this artwork makes men harass female players? No. That would be like saying video games directly cause violence. But context is important, and with their art, character design, and lore Blizzard has demonstrated their low opinion of women quite clearly. If Blizzard started trying to mend their ways, I'm not saying it would fix all sexism in gaming ever. But it would certainly help a little, at least.

  13. >Yeah, I'm not gonna argue that a more holistic approach would lift the entire issue out of the mud, because you're very clearly right on that one.Though I just remembered, the couple of images with grey / no backgrounds were actually used in the loading screen montage; looks like they just got lazy when it came time to putting the work up on the site and just left them cut-out.Blizzard clearly doesn't think it is much of an issue. I'm not sure if this is still up there, but on an early fan-art entry, a female character was trying to buy armor similar to her male companion and was mortified when the shopkeeper handed her a bikini instead. Cue slapstick violence.However, their art submission guidelines now state (or at least it did) that it would not be accepting any additional comics that draw attention to the apparent dimorphism in their in-game armors. So there you go.But this is in a game with a staggering number of women playing it, something approaching 50% if I'm not mistaken.

  14. >First, this a great blog, and a very important one to me as I am an illustrator, and these issues come up every time I am asked to draw women. Second, this blog should also ask the question (and if it has, please forgive me) 'Where are all the female fantasy artists?' The majority of artists making these images are male, so yes, we are going to get these type of imagery of women. 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.I know getting more female artists hired would not change everything, but I would like to think it would broaden the body of artwork we should be seeing.

  15. >"The majority of artists making these images are male, so yes, we are going to get these type of imagery of women. 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."Uh.. no I'm pretty sure you can help it. There's a difference between can't and won't and I think it's more than a little dishonest to claim, because you are a man, that somehow it's impossible for you to respect women as more than a bunch of sexual parts. I don't think so lowly of men and neither should anyone else.It's not a truth, it's a long-lived stereotype. One that is only perpetuated by people implying that it's 'just the way it is'.. well yes if you never try to change, nothing will ever change. It is only as 'inevitable' as you make it. If you never try, of course you won't be able to help it. Women should not have to be the ones who change, the entire onus of changing things to actually be equal and not incredibly sexist and damaging should not fall solely on them. Men should change too if they really care about women and see women as more valuable than something to help get them off, if they see them as human beings instead of just shiny sexual objects. Sorry if I'm seeming harsh but I don't think there's any excuse for not having basic human decency.

  16. >When I draw a woman, I want to draw her as sexy as possible, I can't really help that.Why? Is there a gremlin that sits on your hand, forcing you create your illustrations with maximum objectification?Snark aside, I don't think the direction of the conversation ought to stray to, "Well, men can't help it – it's women's fault for not being illustrators." A big reason why these illustrations are so awful is yes, men living in a sexist society are drawing the majority of them – but the solution is not "more women illustrators" (though that would be awesome). The solution is "stop drawing overly sexualized, anatomically impossible female characters because it's dehumanizing, insulting, and offensive." This is something men are perfectly capable of doing.

  17. >Where are all the female artists? Not being hired, that's where. There's many, many of us out here. Jennifer Rodgers, Sarah Ellerton, and Stephanie Pui-Mun Law are all female illustrators that totally blow me out of the water. If the gaming industry wanted to employ more female artists, they could do just that. And even if there were more female artists being employed by game companies, not much will change until the robots in marketing get it through their skulls that women buy stuff too and they don't want to see tits all over stuff. In case you haven't noticed, artists get paid to work to spec.As for "not being able to help yourself", I call bullshit. There is always a choice. Either decide to change the way you draw women or admit that you're okay with drawing sexist depictions of women. Don't try and hide behind the tired argument of "biological imperative". The reason humans are the dominant species on the planet is because we learned to conquer biological imperatives when necessary.

  18. >I take a bit of offense at your going "yuck" to the gnomes. It's as if your saying short people can't be sexy and shouldn't be drawn sexy. It goes back to the same argument of drawing images of fat women and such. It like gnomes exist in this "other" category of beauty and of being human that their elven companions get to exist in.Not to say that people should bring up the argument that they all aren't human so it doesn't matter if they are objectified or not. I just think it's wrong to exclude them from the group of "human" that all the other races get into. Undead not considered since they have shuffled off the mortal coil and have actually rotted and then reanimated. Though that is another argument on if it counts as necrophilia if it's a zombie.Also, hiring more women artists doesn't solve the problem, they are just as capable (and do) objectify women as much as the man. Also, Raf, if you are an artist you should realize that game artists have to draw what the company wants them to draw. I actually got to talk to someone involved with EverQuest's art, he was told that the half naked elf had to go on the cover NO MATTER WHAT. Even that one cover with the snow on it. So it is still left up to the company to decide when they want to treat women as human being and not a collection of sexual parts.I just find it sad they decided to shut down talk of their dimorphism in the armor sets as if the KNOW what they are doing! What I find really sad is if I want to play a game like Rappelz without the overly sexist clothing I have to play the Arabic version, which I don't speak/read. (Which is sexist in a different way.)

  19. >Maverynthia: I think the problem with sexualizing gnomes isn't so much that they're short and not traditionally attractive, as that their features are too close to those of children for sexual overtones not to seem squicky.As for commissioned art, what the commissioner wants is always going to be more important than what the artist really wants to do. Though, depending on the constraints, it seems like it might be possible to work within them to make things better — even if you can't change the half-naked elf chick's clothing or bust size, it's possible to alter the audience's perception of her by the way she moves. Are confident, legitimately-intimidating poses forbidden for female characters as well?

  20. >What Ikkin said. I can't not see gnomes as children – not when they have almost the precise proportions as infants. Even halflings are less squicky in that regard. So, yeah. I want diversity of body types! But please, diversity of ADULT body types.Also, I've done enough freelance web design to swear off it forever. Often, the person you're working for will tell you to do something that you know is a bad idea, and that you know you can't talk them out of. And you sigh and do it anyway because you want the check. It happens with illustration too. I've been lucky enough to have it not happen to me (mostly because the games I've illustrated have all been games I was genuinely enthusiastic about, and because I knew the authors), but I know that it happens.

  21. >Well i see your point, though i can admit that maybe i am spoiled by overwhelming sexism of mass culture but personally i would say that at least some of female art (some becasue of it sexualization, some because general lack of it) is to a degree memorable, something that can't be applaied to male art, which is a generic fantasy weaksauce that is forgotten after 3 seconds of seeing it…

  22. >-looks at Anonymous comment above- Yes, ladies, you're at your most memorable when you're being paraded around as a shiny sex object. How nice. -sarcasm-You should probably watch the implications of what you say. Being that kind of 'memorable' is not in any way a good thing. (I deleted my other comment to put in the sarcasm tag)

  23. >I also take offense at the gnomes thing – the fact that they have secondary sexual characteristics like facial hair, hips and a chest automatically makes them not children. I don't see why a gnomish woman or man can't be appealing. Just because you see them as children doesn't neccessarily mean everyone does. I play a female gnome mage and she's pretty awesome. Overly sexualized portrayals should be cut down from all races, but I don't think they look like children.

  24. >Riotlounge: I just Googled 'WoW gnomes "look like children" and came up with 5 pages of results that is mostly people arguing about whether or not gnomes look like children. I'll admit your argument is much better than most of the ones I skimmed (which can be summed up as "NO THEY DONT STFU"). But the fact that people keep having this argument seems to suggest that I'm not the only one who does see them as child-like. So I guess there's good arguments on both sides.

  25. >wundergeek, I think the secondary argument would be, there are real people out there with much different proportions and heights. Whether or not you think they look like children, they're still not. They have normal adult minds and bodies and sex lives. Bowing to the idea that being roughly sized like a child makes you a child (mentally or physically) is bowing to a really demeaning stereotype.

  26. >Eva: I think there might be two different levels on which sexualizing something like a gnome functions.On the one hand, the gnome is an adult, and would be capable of choosing what to do with his/her body just as much as a human adult would.But, on the other hand, it's hard to tell where the person fantasizing about the gnome is coming from. What seems creepy about people sexualizing gnomes is the uncomfortable suspicion that the viewer doesn't see him/her as an adult, and finds him/her more appealing because of that.It just seems kind of messy all around, honestly.

  27. >Ikkin, if we're going to be squicked out by that, we should also take the time to be squicked out by the fact that half the waifish characters are specifically designed to push the "barely legal teen" button. Yet, again we know that there are people who are adult (far more so than late teen) who are mistaken for that age group. The difference is they're a larger a much less marginalized part of society. It's easy to see them as "just a little under average", so more like you and me.I think you're starting to let a hint of "oh god, child molesters!" and "think of the children!" creep into your mindset. The gnome PCs in WoW are adults. Whether or not people have "child" fantasies (and I assure you, they have fantasies around real adult short people and even other adults who don't look short or young at all), has no bearing on whether you should treat a gnome as sexually mature. This is heading down the slope of blame the victim, in a weird way.I agree that gnomes should have their own agency and should be treated respectfully. That does not mean we should treat them as neuter because it makes some people uncomfortable to think that there are others in the world who are different them themselves, and they also have gender identities and enjoy sex like normal adult humans.

  28. >Eva: Certainly I don't want to say that people who don't conform to average proportions shouldn't be allowed to be seen as sexual. However, there's a reason why I make distinctions between WoW gnomes and the halflings in 4E D&D. The halflings in 4E are small, but still have an obviously adult body-type. The gnomes in WoW are shaped like infants, which is incredibly creepy to some people – especially given how gnome women are often portrayed as "innocent" looking with much larger eyes and younger faces. Sure there's an "old" female gnome face, but I've never seen one on a PC. I think this might be an area where there have been good arguments staked out on both sides and we might want to respectfully agree to disagree.

  29. >wundergeek, I am not attacking you as a person. You can hold an opinion different than me if you want. I think you're wrong, but I don't see that as a reason to be disrespectful of you as a human being.I have to "respectfully disagree" about your characterization of gnomes as looking like infants. Infants do not have breasts or beards. I understand why their different size/body shapes might make people uncomfortable. I'm not trying to argue there is no reason for people to be uncomfortable, but rather that they should confront their discomfort head on and accept that adults come in different sizes and shapes. Denying it and falling back on "they must be children" won't make different bodies go away out here in the real world.

  30. >I agree with most of this post, but I also think it's a little disingenuous to complain that there are pictures of female characters on grey backgrounds when the same artist did several male characters on the same grey backgrounds. There are more valid complaints to make without having to resort to silly ones like that.

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