Back in 2011, I started photographing all of the women on banners (or other prominently placed promotional art) that I saw in the dealers’ room for the purposes of blogging about it. This year was challenging – there were more than 2800 booths. That is a lot of walking; both times I did the full circuit it took me two hours.
And I’m pleased to report that things are getting better… slowly. I’m starting to see a few game publishers who are obviously making an effort, and some of them are even getting it right. The publishers getting it wrong are still in the majority, but I have hope that they’ll only make their products look increasingly dated as the rest of the hobby moves on without them.
So let’s get on to the pictures!
Doing it wrong
Speaking of dated, the fact that I even remember EverQuest being a huge thing makes me feel creakingly ancient. So I felt even older when I saw a booth for EverQuest Next at the show. EVERQUEST NEXT? I felt like I’d fallen into a time warp back to the era of terrible MMO UI design and shitty sexist armor designs:
God. I almost feel embarrassed for Sony at this point. This hits pretty much every checkbox on the “is this terrible” list and barely breaks a sweat, while simultaneously managing to look like a piece of promo art for a game released 20 years ago. Did they just hire the same artists again? Because that wouldn’t surprise me at all.
And yet, sadly, this will probably make lots of money, because gamers. But who knows? Maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong.
Next up, Force of Will – an anime-looking card game thing that didn’t appear to be doing too much business on the two occasions I went past their booth:
I have to say, the no-pants knight there is pretty run of the mill, but the artists of the witch really worked to sneak in that underboob. I mean, she’s wearing shorts under the skirt and otherwise seems reasonable attired, but then – BAM! BOOB WINDOW! Shit like that always makes me suspect artist shenanigans.
Art Director: Right, we want a strong, empowered female character who definitely isn’t sexualized.
Artist: Gotcha. [draws practical outfit with boob window]
Or maybe it was the art director after all. Either way, I call shenanigans. And also, I’m not going to stop at your booth ever, so have fun losing a sale from someone who came to this very large dealers’ room specifically for the purpose of finding things to spend money on.
Or take another example: Grey Fox Games. I literally have no idea what kinds of games they publish, because I saw cleavagey demon chick and promptly meh’ed any other details about their games out of my brain.
If I remember correctly, HC&D Game Supplies was one of approximately 3 million general CCG booths at the show this year. I was actually keeping an eye out for good deals on deck boxes, since my Magic collection is a serious mess right now, but chainmail bikinis are an automatic deal-killer for me:
And sure, these weren’t the most ridiculous chainmail bikinis that I saw at the convention. Honestly, as far as game boobs go these are actually pretty tame. Still, not failing at women is the low-hanging fruit of not automatically killing a sale when it comes to getting my money.
This next one… This next one looks pretty decent at first blush:
Two humans, PoC humans!, beating up on some orcs. And they’re both wearing platemail, so yay? Except look at the woman’s armor – it’s one of the worst examples of boobplate I’ve ever seen. The plates are molded specifically to her chest, to each individual boob even, which is objectively a terrible idea. Not only that but there’s this bizarre jewel thing right on her sternum? And again, that’s just really bad armor design! The artist wants to call attention to her boobs so bad that he’s putting her in potentially fatal, or at least very seriously injuring armor. So big fat fail on this one, guys.
Moving on, here is a matched pair in the WTF ARE THEY EVEN WEARING category:
Realms of Havoc is, I guess, a CCG? Which, you know, whatever. I hadn’t heard of it before I got to the show, and I’m certainly not all that likely to try it out when it’s being advertised with HOLY SHIT A LOT OF SIDEBOOB, ragged clothes, and a wedgie of doom.
And then we have Dark Age which is, you know what, I don’t really care because LOOK AT WHAT SHE’S WEARING. She HAS to have had some serious waxing done because what the hell is she wearing? This is like the ultimate cameltoe wedgie of doom! How can I possibly take any game seriously that advertises itself with cameltoe wedgies??
The problem with banners in the dealers room is that the people making them tend to operate under one of two assumptions: 1) just have a sexay lady on it 2) have a lot of dudes and shove a woman on there as an afterthought. (If #2, sexualizing the woman is an option that can also be taken, and is encouraged if you’re operating from the Awful Manual of Promotional Material Design.)
In terms of sexualization, neither Mage Wars nor Freeblades are terribly exceptional, although I will say that I’m getting really, really tired of sexualized crypto-Natives in my games, which is how the Freeblades mascot reads to me. The woman in the Guardians Chronicles banner was clearly tagged on as an afterthought, at which point the artists took the opportunity to go LOL BEWBZ. (Seriously, the most skin any of the men are exposing is their neck. It’s just ridiculous!)
And Iron and Ale? [sigh] To be honest, I actually like the lady dwarf, even if I am firmly of the opinion that lady dwarves should always have facial hair. But she’s also suffering from a severe case of Fantasy Party Smurfette in that it doesn’t matter how large a group of fantasy adventurers is, because there will only ever be one woman.
WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON HERE? This is like the worst FemShep ever. She’s surrounded by dudes, her tech armor is… I don’t even know what’s going on. Her thighs are just bizarre – her right thigh is bizarrely skinny and her left thigh is bulging weirdly and kind of bending in the middle? And let’s not forget that her breasts are bizarrely spherical with individual armor compartments, which just makes my head hurt.
I don’t even know what to say about this. Dude, dude, and BONDAGE DOMINATRIX. Bondage dominatrix with ridiculous anime/80’s hair.
Oh hey look, it’s another game where the women are an afterthought and are both showing cleavage. Seriously, I’m getting bored writing this section and can’t be bothered to say anything else. Thankfully, it’s time to look at the stuff I saw that sort of failed but sort of didn’t.
Doing It Only Sort-of Wrong
Next we have what was one of the most puzzling contrasts I saw at the convention. On the right, the banner for Counterblast is actually pretty cool. We have Space Tiger Guy and Space Lady Redhead firing lasers at tentacle aliens! That’s pretty awesome! Except look at the banner right next to it. Which is for… bombshell babes minis.
Infinity is yet another CCG. But honestly, I actually kinda liked the art, except for how the artist drew interesting characters with dynamic poses and then overly-emphasized the boobs. The medic? Is actually super cool. I really like the character design and the action of the pose. But WHY ARE HER BOOBS FALLING OUT?? Ditty for the other girl? She has some really interesting character design, except WHY IS SHE WEARING BOOB PLATE?
Come on, guys. That’s like running 95 yards, then dropping the ball on purpose, saying “fuck it”, and leaving the field to get a beer.
Last in the “so close and yet so far” collection is this banner for Valiant:
So the two figures that are women are pretty awesome! Not to mention that one of them is fat and heroic and attractive? Holy crap! That’s awesome! …except that only 2 out of a total of 12 figures are female, and neither of the female figures are focal figures – they’re both background figures. So women are allowed to be fully clothed and heroic, but only if they’re in the minority and kept out of the spotlight? Not cool, dudes. Not cool.
Doing It Right
All right! Now for the stuff I’d much rather write about! The stuff that I actually super liked! First up, this banner for Citadel Sky Pirates, which I found quite delightful:
None of the banners in their booth had any overly sexualized ladies, and I found that I really liked the Sky Pirates banner. Both of the women have really excellent character designs, neither have unrealistic physiques, and both look heroic. The woman on the right looks sexual, sure, but she doesn’t look sexualized. (I realize that might sound like a pedantic distinction to make, but for me it’s a key difference.) And it’s also worth mentioning that the pirate on the right was one of the few PoC I saw adorning banners in the dealers’ room. (As much as companies have been making slow strides with their depiction of women, they have farther to go with PoCs.)
Next up, my favorite booth of the entire convention!
WHAT. WHAT. THIS IS SO AWESOME I CAN’T EVEN.
Heroic women! Women of color! Women doing a job! Women sharing focus and screen time! Equal numbers of men and women! Focal women and background women and OH GOD IT’S JUST SO GOOD. I was kind of sad that I already own all of the Pandemic products I want to, because it would be nice to give them some money just because.
But of course, the other notable publisher that managed to succeed at gender and racial diversity is Paizo, as demonstrated by this very large banner across the back of their booth space.
Fifty percent women, fifty percent men, and, at least by my reckoning, more than fifty percent PoC. Dear Paizo, I love you. And I’m deeply sad that Pathfinder just really isn’t my gaming style, because I would dearly love to give you lots of money. So I’ll just have to settle for blogging a lot about how deeply awesome you are.
It’s a lady adventurer! In the snow! APPROPRIATELY DRESSED TO THE WEATHER!
I got so excited about this that I stopped to snap a picture and didn’t even try to be surreptitious about it. One of the people at the booth seemed very puzzled by this, so I apologized and said, “I’m sorry, I just was really excited that your banner had a woman in the snow wearing appropriate clothing. That’s something I never see!”
At which point the publisher told me very earnestly that women are very important and that they want to represent women. And then he dug out a product catalog, which was very nicely produced, glossy, and on heavy stock and gave it to me. Which just really blew me away.
THAT. THAT is a model of how to interact with female fans, publishers. I was absolutely blown away. So SHADOWS OF ESTEREN, Y’ALL. Did you know that it won an Ennie? Did you know that the art is fantastic? Check it out, because seriously, so impressed.
When I walked past this booth, I first had a little eyeroll moment until I realized, wait a minute. These women are actually all awesome and not sexualized. WUT. I mean, yeah they’re all blonde women, so maybe it would be nice if one of them wasn’t white. But still, a game publisher putting only awesomely characterized female characters on their banners? Progress!
Last up, I just really liked these War Machine banners. On the left, the lady in red just looks really cool, and not impractically dressed for the winter weather – which is an automatic +1000 points from me. And the lady on the right, similarly, her armor seems practical and her poses looks dynamic without being overly sexual. Best of all, they’re just drawn like that isn’t really a thing that needs to be called attention to. And that? That is what I would DESPERATELY LOVE to see more of out of my dealers’ room experience!