Firstly a warning – some pictures shown in this article may not be suitable for younger children.
This week’s blog all came about by watching some friends of mine squabble. That’s probably an exaggeration – squabbling is a childish matter that devolves into petty name calling and someone storming out which never happens with my friends … well, sometimes it does, but I digress …
Let’s just say there was a bit of a debate about miniatures in games. And not the discussion I have heard about the merits of having miniatures and the expense that they may add onto the product. No – this was more about miniature design and direction this design may have taken.
Basically it was all Conan’s fault.
Anyone with a passing interest in the fantasy genre will have encountered Conan the Barbarian at some point. In 1932 the first of a series of stories were written about the character by Robert E Howard and the character has been features in films, comics, video and tabletop games. The most recent of these games has been produced by Monolith following a successful Kickstarter campaign.
It is fair to say that intellectual property of Conan has some issues – mainly that the opinions demonstrated by the characters and the narrator are very much rooted in the time they were written – the 1930s. Therefore, there are pervading themes of racism and sexism contained within. And it is the later of these I wish to discuss. The female characters of the Conan stories, with a few notable exceptions, are fair, delicate, lily-white skinned beauties that just seem to throw themselves at Conan’s feet whenever he even looks in their direction. Indeed, even the stronger female characters are also not immune to the main character’s charms and surrender to his romantic intentions. Furthermore, the illustrations that accompany these stories tend to see them clothed in little more than three pieces of small fabric and some string. And in reproducing these characters in miniature format, Monolith has sought to reflect these illustrations.
And here was the point of the conversation – are these overly sexualised female models really necessary in the modern tabletop gaming?
Female characters tend to have a very clear way of being presented in fantasy games, and indeed the genre as a whole. Whilst male warriors are decked out in suits a plate armour, woman seem to believe that the best protection is afforded to them by wearing a chainmail bikini.
Miniature games have als always had an image problem. We gamers have been stereotyped as geeks and nerds with limited social skills and questionable personal hygiene. And we need to accept that the hobby is mainly (but not wholly) populated by white males (so we have to apologise for this and Donald Trump now …). Furthermore, this community has been seen in the past as insular and unwelcoming to people that it see as outside the “norm” of what a geek is. Speaking from personal experience I have seen evidence of this being true and the contrary. It can be argued that miniatures of this type do not act to contradict theses perspective of either the hobby or the people that tend to occupy it.
The counter argument to this is that Monolith are simply reflecting the source material- these characters are part of what made the Conan stories the success they were. And I do have some sympathy towards that particular viewpoint – when I think of the Conan, the cover illustrations are one of the familiar associations. There are several classical stories where the behaviours or opinions contained within are not compatible with modern sensibilities. Shakespeare’s play for example, demonstrate lines or actions that would be unthinkable in current circumstances.
However, if you were to give this viewpoint carte blanche, the many Cthulhu Mythos games should then reproduce the racist and anti-Semitic opinions contained within HP Lovecraft’s original writings (and let’s be clear on this – HP Lovecraft was a massive racist). Nobody would play those games if we did so. And therefore it becomes clear that on some level we are required to censor parts of historical works that we find unpalatable.
However, this is not just an issue with historical works. Figure hugging armour seems to be incredibly popular with miniature manufacturers – despite the questionable protection that such equipment may provide. The company Kingdom Death, have taken this to a more extreme level with the introduction of their “pin up” range, which is even more sexualised versions of existing miniatures. This trend has been followed by the makes of Infinity, which calls into the question the reason why? I can see no other reason than the desire to titillate. This is to say nothing of some of Kingdom Death’s other offerings (which by choice, I will not be displaying or linking to), which I do find offensive, deliberately controversial and also, just a very poor miniature.
Over the past year we have seen Prodos Miniatures Space Crusade and Blood Rage both criticised for their depiction of female miniatures, with the makers of the upcoming Mythic Battles: Pantheon also receiving similar remarks about some of their sculpts. It is clear that this matter is no going away and you suspect that some of the designers may be courting this controversy as a means to improve sales or drum up publicity (this is just supposition and not based upon any proof).
Ultimately we are all adults and able to make the choices appropriate to us. Conan is a game reflective of its source and as a result, there I can see justification for their design choices. It is also clearly not a game for children.
However, I will be making a choice to not buy this game, as Conan is not an intellectual property that appeals to me. And I simply cannot accept the need to make overtly sexualised miniatures either for shock factor or for the basis that this appeals to the male audience. I had hoped that as an industry and we as consumers have evolved beyond that. I would rather that a design is a study of a character, rather than a challenge to see how little clothing can be placed upon a female character.
Despite what this article may suggest, I am not a believer in censorship. I fully believe that people have the right to free expression, but also that there is a right to challenge that expression and not disengage if you are not happy. However, I return to my belief in gaming as a social experience and anything that may alienate people from the experience can only be detrimental to the hobby. Where a game’s art or stylisation alone, rather than its complexity or subject, prevents my family from engaging in our hobby, is not a game that I will partake in.
If that makes a prude, then perhaps that is something I will have to learn to live with …