The story “Pride and Joy,” part of Evil Girlfriend Media’s upcoming anthology “Women In Practical Armor” had a bit of an interesting birth.
I’ve got some disclaimers.
1: Though I’m about to talk some smack, I still loved playing Xenoblade Chronicles. Killer game. Not one I’ll replay as often as Chrono Trigger, (nostalgia is real) but one I might revisit again one day.
2: I do like looking at women. I won’t deny enjoying common exploitative depictions in media. What? It’s biological AND important! Science says I’m made to look. Science also says that everyone likes to look, so don’t come down on me. No point in lying about it. Everybody loves bounteous bosoms, at least on a primitive level. But there are other parts to my psyche than the base sexual caveman. So even the most alluring boob jiggle gets boring, and my higher functions start wanting something to entertain and stimulate them.
So onto the story of the story.
I was playing Xenoblade Chronicles, a massive JRPG for the Wii. Hadn’t played a game like this in a long time. I knew it was going to suck up a lot of my time, so I held off and gave myself the game as a reward for hitting a certain milestone in my life. I hadn’t played many modern video games. I don’t keep up. I’ve pretty much always owned the previous-to-current Nintendo system, when I owned any system at all. That right there marks me as not a “serious” gamer, especially since I have a predilection for RPGs, and Nintendo platforms have been short on those since the SNES. Probably why I was usually happy with an emulator. Anywhoooo, the point is, I hadn’t ever played an RPG with such shiny-good graphics and such meticulously-detailed character design.
Enter the boob-jiggle.
I didn’t notice for the first bit of in-game play, but then came a cut-scene with a close-up of a female character. She was standing still. And then she made a tiny gesture. Nodded or shifted her stance or something and, yeah, ba-boom-ba-boom. Rough seas for the SS Sweater Cow.
I thought, “Did that just happen?”
It had, and it kept going. In-game and in-scene. While it wasn’t unpleasant, the ridiculousness of it bothered me. I don’t have boobs (got moobs, but that’s not the same) but I understand boobs. Yes, they jiggle. Sometimes. Like when a woman is exercising. Hence sports bras. When a woman runs, jumps, maybe when she laughs with particular gusto, and mayyyyyybe when she walks, if they’re particularly jubbly or butressed by an impressive push-up, but (I’d like to say to the game designers) not when she scratches her nose. C’mon!
The character called Sharla had it the worst. Her poor tits get whiplash every time she moved, especially while handling her phallic weapon – sorry, I mean rifle. It was so bad that, along with her own catch phrases, they should have borrowed one more from Mel:
(I’ll pause here to admit that, despite my objections to the game, writing about breasts is nice.)
Gratuitous boob-jiggle wasn’t new to me. I watch some anime. People everywhere are guilty of objectifying women, but Japanese animators have a special panache for presenting breasts as if they exist in a different gravitational field. I get it, I get it, I get it. Sex sells, especially when your major consumer demographic is lonely 10-30-year-old males.
But the out-of-place sexploitation always bothered the larger, more developed parts of my brain. Xenoblade Chronicles, like many other games and anime, had a beautiful world, stunning design, intricate (if maybe kinda confusing) plot and concept, exciting gameplay, action, adventure, beauty, wonder, powerful emotional resonance. All that, and some excessive, completely unnecessary sexually exploitative content thrown in just to cheapen the whole experience.
As I played on, otherwise immensely enjoying the game, I kept paying attention to how female characters were presented. I admit it, I gave into idiot-boy urges, un-equipping everyone so I could have them run around the bizarre, beautiful world in their underwear. It was funny, sexy and entertaining for about a minute. I got over it and focused on playing the game well, managing the characters’ equipment and skills and getting through the story.
Boobquake was only the tip of the iceberg. The equipment bothered me. Anything you got – boots, pants, hat, whatev – looked different on each character. No shocker. Most games with multiple characters and equipment are like that these days. That’s all part of the joys of RPG dress-up. Most guys who play RPGs (or at least me) would also enjoy paper dolls. Yeah, I said it.
But equipment that looked protective, practical and melee-ready on male characters was always sexualized when put on a female, especially Sharla:
But to make things worse, she couldn’t put anything on without looking like a tramp. Look, here’s Reyn, the game’s “tank” in some heavy armor:
BEEFCAKE! Guy’s a moving fortress. Seriously, some of his other armor actually had crenelations.
And here’s Sharla in the same armor:
So, her shoulders are protected, except she might trip on them or put her eye out. But, uhhh, something pointy jabbing into the exposed boob area would probably go through some vital organs, right? Correct me if I’m wrong, but boobs are the least important of the organs we keep in that area. But at least there are ribs there, unlike her completely exposed midriff. Can’t save the world with your guts hanging loose around your knees, lady. And the legs, the legs! Aside from some great fat arteries ripe for bleeding out, she’s left massive muscles required for basic locomotion exposed. Well, she hasn’t, the game designers have. She might as well have charged into battle like this!
Look back at the first pic. This character never covers anything important!
Like I said, I don’t keep up with current games much. Even Xenoblade wouldn’t count as current to some. I hadn’t yet learned (but was about to) how completely ubiquitous this was in the gaming industry.
I couldn’t stand it. I had to know if this was bothering anyone else as much as it bothered me. Well, bothered… but not exactly against… err… arrgh! I’m constantly wrestling with being a feminist while also being a hetero guy who likes ogling scantily-clad women. It’s a problem… but a first-world problem, so I won’t belabor it. Anyway TO THE INTERNET!!!
I don’t remember exactly what search terms I used. Probably started by googling “why’s this xenoblade chick’s tits jiggle so much!” Probably picked up a virus or two from that. But once I revised my search terms a bit I found that there was, indeed, a lively discussion going on. There’s always a lively discussion of everything on the internet, that blessed bastion of depravity, democracy, philosophy and smut.
Here’s one of the big discussion threads I found at Tor. The net is full of articles, diatribes, comics and memes on this subject. Turns out the sexual dimorphism of Xenoblade’s armor is actually pretty mild. I don’t know what game this is from, but daaaaamn:
Gamers, LARPers, men, women, artists, writers, Ren Fair enthusiasts, armorers, tons of people took issue with the depiction of female armor in fantasy art. For me it comes down to honest character development. We’re talking about women warriors here. Just like men warriors, but women. Intelligent, respectable, cautious human beings preparing to enter situations in which other beings want to perforate them. Soldiers are practical. Anyone preparing for a fight is going to do what they can to cover up their squishy bits. So if you’re going to create a female character who is making a conscious decision to enter a fight, and you want to stay honest, then you’re going to have to make her prepare herself properly.
Would you put this on to go to battle?
Time for a fictional conversation with the archetypal game designer/fantasy artist:
Me: “Why’s it always some kind of bikini bottom and thigh-highs, with her bottom biscuits hanging out?”
Game designer/fantasy artist: “Uh, well, uh, it helps with flexibility, yeah, doesn’t impede her movements, so she can fight better. Der.”
Me: “So why aren’t the guys wearing that?”
Game designer/fantasy artist: “Dude… ew…”
Me: “Cut the bullshit. You designed her that way because you like female asscheeks, and your audience likes female asscheeks. But no one would want to enter a melee in a metal bikini. Like this guy:”
I don’t know what game that’s from, but at least there’s some gender-equality out there. Equally stupid, that is. Also, is this supposed to do something for female gamers, the way #lingerarmor titlates male players? Cuz, I could be wrong, but that dude is not hot. Now, let us return to our imaginary conversation:
Game designer/Fantasy artist: “Doooood! EEWWWWWW!”
Me: “Oh, stop being such a weenie.”
(Sidebar. If you’re in a melee, and you have a chance to cut the thigh of buttcheek, do it. Standing and walking don’t happen without the hamstring, quads or gluteus. [Sidebar to the sidebar. I’m not an expert on this. If I’m ever in a melee, with swords and maces and whatnot, I’ll most likely crap myself and die screaming. #brutalhonesty!])
Having found I’m not alone, I dug into the discussion boards and articles with glee, making beautiful use of company time, Found some great stuff, like the tumblr page Women Fighters depicting Women In Practical Armor.
Tripping down these internet rabbit holes led to the inspiration for “Pride and Joy.” An article detailing a flaw in the design of many depictions of female fantasy armor. Not skimpiness – that’s too obvious. But even full coverage armor for women as rendered by artists often has a design feature, included for sexiness, which would be fatally exploited on the battlefield. I won’t go into details for the sake of not spoiling “Pride and Joy.” If you’re interested, here’s the article. Yeah, spoiler alert, but it’s not like I’m giving away the surprise ending to Star Wars 7 or anything.
Reading that article put a climactic scene in my head, and it was just a matter of building up the story to make that scene happen. The characters, world and storyline seemed to write themselves.
I needed an antagonist, someone arrogant enough to ignore the warning against this flaw and fall by it in battle. A Female WWE wrestler type with some Conan stirred in. Regana the Gladiatrix.
I needed a protagonist familiar with the flaw, with an important personal reason to exploit it. An armorer with a grudge. Elaine the soldier.
I needed a venue. Well, WWE wrestlers play-fight and rooster-strut in arenas, and the biggest, nastiest arena we’ve ever had was the Roman Coliseum and its ilk. I drew that idea out into a fantasy realm, dropping a few details to paint this as a different world without overburdening the gritty personal revenge story at the core of “Pride and Joy.”
Once those pieces gelled in my noodle, the writing came fast. Just connected the dots with Elaine’s focused, pragmatic soldier’s voice. Just a matter of writing, editing, new computer crashing, replacing the faulty hard-drive, slashing bloatware from a new system for the second time in as many months, re-installing all the software, templates and settings I like, setting up automatic cloud-backups for all my project files so this never happens again, starting the story over from scratch, editing, writing-group meat-grinder, re-editing, and then finally landing it in “Women in Practical Armor.”
Big thanks to the folks at Critters.org who put their two cents in, including William Stiteler and many others. Their insightful crittering helped me cut a good deal of fat and aimed some very pointy arguments at blind spots and plot holes in the rough draft.
And there you have it. From conception to gestation to birth to after-birth sandwiches, that’s how “Pride and Joy” came to be.
If I’ve piqued your interest in the story and the theme, please visit WIPA’s Kickstarter page to support this awesome project, and stay tuned for the anthology’s release!
If I haven’t piqued your interest, and my placenta joke made you hate me, please visit WIPA’s Kickstarter page to support this awesome project. I’m sure the other authors and their stories will prove to be of loftier quality than my shabby self.
#WIPALegion on the march!
Sometimes I just do things the hard way.
As I was composing this post in my noggin, I got to thinking “know what’ll make a sweet principle image? Boob plate with a targeting reticle over it. The internet is full of pictures of boob plate! This’ll take like, ten minutes tops!”
And then I thought, “Whoa! Even better! I’m tired of ganking pix from duh web. I want something original! I could make a picture of someone in boob plate! Easy! Won’t take long at all”
Yeah, it took kinda long. Visual art isn’t my top skill, not by a long shot.
So I set about drawing Regana. I worked in the medium of printer paper, ballpoint, whiteout, scanner, and hours of GIMP. Oh, GIMP, so much fun, so much sucking my life away. But that’s hours spent creating, rather than playing video games, so that counts as better, right?
I didn’t hold myself to sticking completely with the story’s description. There’s no mention of the lion motif extending to her pauldrons in the story, just to her cups. The lion motif is supposed to be part of her bastard-cutlass (I envisioned a roaring lion basket-hilt) but by the time I got to drawing the sword laziness had set in and I went for a ripped-off batlith instead.
This is not supposed to represent practical armor – that’s not Regana’s role in the story. But it’s not the worst. Nothing but mail over the abdomen and throat is iffy, but better than nothing but a belly ring. The opening in the helmet is a bit big, but at least she’s wearing one. But one chief flaw remains, just like in the story.
I got the background image from here, then had a fun time zooming, cropping, altering colors and posterizing. Hooray GIMP!
A final plea to all you good graphic artists out there: How the hell do you do hands? Oh my god they’re freaking hard! I couldn’t figure out her empty hand! I wanted to draw a cactus or something obscuring the view just so that I wouldn’t have to draw her hand!