Random Musings on Boobplate and Fictional Depictions of Armor and Costuming!

I was digging through some armor illustrations in an attempt to redesign Naomi’s breastplate (my concerns with my own designs are a topic of their own). I had some conflicting thoughts in my head while doing this and thinking about what complaints people might have with some designs I was considering. So this got me thinking about something that’s been annoying me for awhile…

People in general are very good at noticing when something is wrong, but often bad at articulating why. Many arguments about women in armor (or poses) I’ve seen recently hinge on realism. “Boob plate is dumb because it directs sword blows to the sternum” or “Her -blank- is unarmored and would be really easy to attack!” are arguments that come up a lot and I really don’t think they’re ever particularly effective arguments. Male characters are littered with impractical armor, even in the areas of coverage (see every Fire Emblem character ever). The ‘chest plate’ and exposed stomach (in the male case, clothed, but equally unarmored) is among the oldest of anime tropes.

Most fictitious armor is costuming. It is not meant to be practical. It is meant to communicate things about the character. A character with a huge breastplate and pauldrons communicates that he’s armored and invokes other ideas like ‘he’s a knight’ or ‘he’s evil’ or ‘he’s strong’ depending on how it’s designed. Most fictitious armor we see in games and art isn’t even functional even on the ground of articulation. It’s all style. How realistic armor (or weapons, or anything) attempts to be in a piece of media is a function of tone. Costuming is based on aesthetics and communication, not practicality.

Things like Dark Souls, Berserk or Game of Thrones have very functional armor because that’s the vibe they’re going for. Applying the need for realism to all things when arguing feminist topics acts like a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the opposition. When I see this arguments happen they go…

“Well that isn’t realistic! Her armor is totally impractical!”

“Well fictional guys aren’t realistic either!”

“Yeah well they’re not realistic to make them look cool, not to always sexualize them!”

The last point is the key argument. That is the strongest and most valid argument you have. But once you bring it up, you already ‘lost’ part of the argument, which makes it easier for the person you’re trying to educate to blow you off. Unless this is something like the Dark Souls 2 boobplate concept art, don’t over-complicate the argument. The arguments about realism are cruft, cut them and get to the meat of things. Maybe bring them up for fun or as an aside, but don’t leverage on them unless the design conflicts with the tone of the fictional piece you’re discussing.

When you bring up elements of realism into these discussions, I’m forced to ask ‘if it were realistic/justifiable, would it be okay”? You can do a GIS and find plenty of porn with real people that would make for really sexist poses in a piece of media but would be totally realistic. Or what if you can justify something? “Oh her skin hardens on contact with things, so she fights naked”. Obviously this shouldn’t fly. People are right to notice a pattern of ‘unrealistic’ and ‘sexist’, but that’s not because ‘unrealistic’ == ‘sexist’ but because most unrealistic concessions are made to objectify.

You want your arguments to be lean. Cut the cruft and stick to the harsh, unassailable facts.

7 thoughts on “Random Musings on Boobplate and Fictional Depictions of Armor and Costuming!

  1. Realism… Always a weird thing when people mention it in video game context. I m reasonably certain most people would hate games if they would be actually realistic, since from a gameplay perspective that would result in being mostly annoying or tedious. I never talking about ‘realism’ for that reason.

    The only thing in context of ‘realism’ that always somewhat bothers me is, when female fighters have large boobs. I mean, that has to be incredibly impractical.

    What I really like is your point about what the armor actually represents in games.

    Btw. You should totally add some minor visual effects as to which secondary weapon the character currently has equipped in BE: P ^^

  2. Sorry, but this article reeks of defensiveness… There is no reason whatsoever to have boob plate beyond trite sexualization and pandering to the male gaze, so why -ever- have it? Your Naomi character is far from an egregious example (indeed, it’s pretty tame), but she’d still be much better with a normal armour. Please consider improving her design. :)

    Besides, even those heavily stylized male armours you talk about would offer decent protection even if they are not “realistic”. Boob plate not only looks stupid, it -is- stupid. ;)

  3. Asfhdfh WordPress ate my post. Lemme try this again.

    First, no need to lead off with an apology. I can take and appreciate stern criticism. That said, I didn’t write this to be defensive and I don’t want to act like it defends my decisions. Your criticism of Naomi’s armor is independant of the realism of her armor. Characters like Marth from Fire Emblem aren’t sexist at all but have very very scant armor (a chestplate and some pauldrons). That whole line of argument just doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean things aren’t sexist or sexualized. Basically, most of the time people say ‘that armor is sexist! It’s not realistic’, it’s usually STILL sexist, just not for that reason. It’s just confusion because most of the time a female characters design has realism compromises, it’s for sexual reasons. I hope that makes sense!

    That said, while I am trying to fix Naomi’s chest piece (it’s just too much for me) she’s definitely still going to be a sexy character. She’s still going to be male gazey. She’s made by a pervy, indie game developer. Art reflects the creator in some ways, for good or bad. This doesn’t make me immune from criticism at all, but I do want to acknowledge my own limitations and tastes as a content creator. This also isn’t helped that the only other person helping with graphical stuff is a… bisexual porn artist lady. On the plus, Trevor is pretty female gazey, depending on tastes. She also designed Sinlen, though… I know that doesn’t defend her design from being sexist. But still, in a sense it’s more than the male gaze.

    Now THOSE are excuses and I acknowledge that and I won’t prtend that invalidate any criticisms you have… but I’m just trying to be real and honest with my self. I really wish there was more women (or just more ANY under represented groups) making games with the power to do cool things. I’d definitely help with this stuff. I saw pictures of”Larry Croft” on tumblr today — the sexualized male version of Lara Croft and thought to my self “Yeah, I wish this happened more too”. I also wish there was more stuff that didn’t sexualize anything. Ikinda gotta go with what works for me. That said, hassling me about stuff helps me. There are lots of things I know I can do better that wouldn’t effect how I enjoy my work. I really have a hard time stomaching Naomi’s breastplate my self at this point…. but I’m also never going to be perfect…. but still, feel free to yell at me again in the future.

    As some relatively well off dude, I sometimes need to be yelled at.

  4. Thank you for the polite response. FWIW, I certainly don’t mind sexy characters, but I feel there’s a time and place for them, and I also think it’s more than possible for characters to be sexy without being sexist (see: Titania from Fire Emblem for a great example, or, one of my favourites, Lady Harken from Wild ARMs; her armour is not realistic, and it is sexy, yet it’s not trite and offensive, but it actually looks cool) and/or without relying to lame stuff like boob plate. :) If you think it’s fitting for your game for your paladin to be sexy, then by all means go for it. I’m glad to hear you’re considering tweaking her breastplate armour too.

  5. Hahah, I actually have the Titania picture in my reference folder, along with this picture of Paola, which just has this wonderful ‘big chunk of steel’ feel to it. Looks like it was taken off a car or something.

    I think you hit on something I do try and consider… whether something betrays the tone and character. It’s not ideal for the tone, but it definitely betrays the character to a degree. This has been a long process — Naomi’s design is a pretty old one and she had a number of other questionable design decisions I’ve reversed. Exposed midriff (well, chainmail on bare skin. GREAT IDEA), high heels, etcetcetc. The chestpiece is on the chopping block next, but it’s just harder to replace due to how it interacts with the rest of the design, white the other changes looked better without any other consideration. Also truefact artist stuff, but bad tropes self perpetuate because artists reference each other all the time and there aren’t a lot of cool looking examples (same reason women tend to have such trite poses. We are all secretly very unoriginal). Of course this isn’t close to an intractable problem or anything, but that’s my excuse for why it isn’t done yet. Also wanna do it ‘right’. Naomi’s breastplate right now is a pretty… bizarre object. I have a hard time grasping 3 dimensionally (and when I do, it’s a very dorky looking shape). So when I replace it, I wanna make sure I replace it with an object I have a real grasp on.

    Anywyas I think we’re actually on the same page, despite my slowness to act… but that slowness is more a technical/artistic matter than an ideological matter. Thanks again and feel free to give me shit in the future.

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