Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Need For Better Alternatives

A recent post on Bell of Lost Souls was brought to my attention and I was asked for my opinion. Unsurprisingly, I have a few. There's three parts to address: the BOLS post, the Save vs. Sexism post BOLS responded to, and the Kingdom Death Kickstarter that prompted the original post. The easiest thing to do is to start with Kingdom Death and work chronologically.

Kingdom Death ran a Kickstarter campaign called Monster that was successfully funded earlier this month to the tune of over 2 million dollars, with over 5,000 people who backed it. Sounds pretty great, right? I'd seen people posting about supporting it and heard talk about how nice the sculpts were for a while before I actually saw the miniatures.

But when I did, I was pretty floored. I've never seen a set of miniatures that so enthusiastically degrades women. If you want to see them, go on over to Kingdom Death's website and look at their gallery (do not do this at work). I'm not posting them here.

From a technical standpoint- they're fantastic. The models are incredibly detailed, and I have to say, you need to be pretty creative to have lots of details on a model when the person is 85% naked. But the skill is undeniable. Some of the sculpts I might have considered buying if it wasn't for the overly sexualized women in the range (I say range as some models are for the game and some aren't).

Most of the female models on their web shop suffer from the problems that plague so many female miniatures across all major miniature ranges- nude or barely clothed, ones with just enough armor to cover nipples and crotch, and cheesecake poses.

This is not a problem that suddenly arose when Kingdom Death came along, but it's a problem that they turned to 11 with the ridiculously sexualized "pinup" minis they included in their Kickstarter solely to entice people to spend more money. The pinup options have absolutely no other purpose. It's the lowest common denominator of advertising and while it worked, their success doesn't make it any less objectifying.

It's unsurprisingly that their choice of promotional materials created some backlash. Lillian Cohen-Moore with Bitchmedia wrote Save vs. Sexism in response, and while I agree with most of what she wrote, it created a bit of a backlash of its own. She took the time to respond to most of it in a follow up under her original post.

Like Cohen-Moore, I don't care for the theme behind the Wet Nurse, but it's a horror monster and if they want to make "ballsack-breast monsters" that's their prerogative. It's not degrading anyone, it's just kind of weird. Same goes for their other genitalia-related monsters. Weird, but not offensive and the aesthetic is in line with the horror theme of the game they're trying to create.

That's what makes the female models so unnecessary- they don't fit with the aesthetic. She articulated one point particularly well, saying it's upsetting they "clearly prioritizes making quality figurines (and) chose to make those same quality figurines out of astoundingly sexist material." As I mentioned above, the quality and talent is clearly there. Why spend the time and talent on something degrading? It's completely unrelated to the product they're trying to sell, their only purpose is to be sexual.

If you're making a horror themed game and gave it a title like "Monsters," where are the actual monsters? There are currently only 3-4 monsters on their website (some not even for the game). The last thing the miniature world needs is more generic, scantily-clad female models. There are thousands of those readily available. It's a horror game, perhaps some horrific models are in order? We can never have enough imaginative, scary monsters.

All of this, though is lost on Larry Vela, author of the Bell of Lost Souls post that I was originally linked to.  He opens by stating "No, we aren't pigs, and we don't live in our parent's basements. Still, its nice to see the old tropes are alive and well." His point is a bit of a straw man argument, as no one ever suggested this was the case. Cohen-Moore certainly never even insinuated such a thing in her post and the rest of his complaints about her article are similarly unfounded.

He laments that "All the standard complaints are" in Cohen-Moore's article. These "standard complaints" exist, have even become standard for a a very good reason- because these problems aren't getting any better. The mere fact that these complaints are considered standard says poor things about the hobby's ability to grow up and merely pointing out that these are "standard complaints" as a means of disparaging critics is upsetting.

Cohen-Moore makes several points including that KD's Kickstarter success "is a clear reminder that women remain outside the target audience of many game designers." This is the crux of her argument, not, as Vela postulates, that "women customers are overtly shunned" but rather that women are simply not thought of at all because the target audience is male.

I find it particularly sad that someone posting on BOLS, a site that not infrequently posts despairingly that more women don't play wargames, tries so hard to completely shut her down for the way these miniatures make her feel. He does precisely what he (falsely) accuses her of, by simply dismissing her arguments "with the flick of the wrist." He addresses none of her points with a counter arguement, but instead badmouths her for a perceived "lack of understanding of the tabletop wargaming industry." Trying to make her seem less credible is a weak tactic and does nothing to refute the arguments she makes.

In his conclusion, he writes that "...these types of arguments have been thrown around at various other industries for decades... Perhaps having them hurled at wargaming is a sign that we merit the attention these days". The very last thing this signals is any "merit" on behalf of wargaming- it's a signal that wargaming is still woefully behind the times in treating women like people rather than sexual objects.

The problem here isn't specifically Kingdom Death, the miniatures they produced are just indicative of a larger problem. Yes, it can be considered a "niche" game, but they're still part of our hobby and this situation works as a microcosm of the miniatures industry. Those models enforce and encourage the issues that the entire industry has with its depiction of women.

It's important to remember that it's not just looking at the individual models, but also how they reflect our culture. These figures don't exist in a vacuum. There is a larger issue of female miniatures being incredibly sexualized and, while that doesn't make a particular model or game inherently sexist, it does reflect the sexist tendencies of our hobby culture (and the culture at large). But sometimes these issues can be hard to see.

I've encountered an argument stating that "you don't see men getting upset over all the over-muscled male models that dominate miniature games." Of course you don't, because there are thousands of available alternatives! Muscly men do have the lion's share of the miniature market, but they are by no means the only male miniatures available, and very few of them are sexually exploitative. So, when miniatures like those in KD stop being a problem? When we have alternatives!

This can easily be solved by having more than a handful of miniatures that depict women in positive ways. If there were more miniatures that featured fully armored or clothed women in poses that do not exploit their sexuality, then cheesecakey models like those featured in KD wouldn't be a big deal. They'd be in the minority and KD's miniatures would truly be a niche in the market rather than the rule.


  1. The sad thing is that Kingdom Death's game is not even a tabletop miniatures game. Their other, ahem, offerings are really figurines, not miniatures, since they have no purpose other than display. Why some people in this hobby feel the need to link Kingdom Death to tabletop gaming is a mystery. Shame on Larry Vela and his cynical click-baiting. Lump Kingdom Death in the same category as other figurine producers. It does not pertain to tabletop gaming.

    The appearance of female miniatures owes a lot to the works of Frazetta and Vallejo, among others. These artists created the imagery and it has persisted.

  2. Thank you, this is a great commentary. More and more, I find myself not wanting to be a part of geek culture because of the downright ignorant attitude. The detestable male gazing leaves a bad taste.

  3. I don't want to get bogged down in the minutia of what is or isn't a "tabletop miniatures game." They're making a miniature scale game (34mm) that they promoted with incredibly derogatory miniatures. That's enough.

  4. Please don't leave us! The hobby's image of women won't move forward if we lose people like you who find these things as distasteful as I do. I believe in change from within, and things are (slowly) getting better.

  5. This is one of those things, that's a terrible catch 22. When will we have more fully clothed female models in non sexual poses? Well the people that make them can sell them. When will they sell them? When there are more female players who want to buy them and not the droves of male players who just want to get sexy models with T&A. When will there be more female players, when they don't feel put on display like the models this article was started over. And when will they feel that? When the culture of half nude sexual art and models is less, and there are other choices for them to have..oh look, we're right back where we started! Honestly, don't expect the current model makers in the industry to risk the money or effort to do it. Some day, one of the ladies upset with these models will step up, start her own company, and produce the models that she thinks other female folks in the hobby want to see. If she makes it, and the models sell then there will be those alternatives. If she fails and her company goes belly up...well, obviously there really isn't a market for the models...enough to make them profitable and something worth having in the market and this whole discussion...will have worked itself out. In essence, you don't see the sort of female models most women would like to see, for the same reason we don't see mens under ware in frilly pink lace. There may be people that want it, but the market by comparison is so small, as to not make it a viable or worth while endeavor. It may not be the PC thing to say, it may not be looked kindly on, but that's the way it is.

  6. I kind of hate the Kingdom Death "pinup" models, entirely because they distract from the good, interesting models with boring, sad models.

    As far as I can tell and as I'm concerned, Kingdom Death is about those crazy, disturbing, body-horror monsters. I think they're disturbing and evocative. I really like them; but you knew that.

    The pinup stuff? Meh. Not my thing, certainly not in the best of taste, but not wildly out of character with stuff other miniature lines churn out (:cough: Hasslefree :cough:). It's certainly not titillating in anyway, just a little cheesy and a little sad.

  7. The game itself is relatively consistent - the "Monster" in the title is relatively rare as they are almost 'boss fights' for the game - even so, they have about 12 by my count including all the stretch goals. The actual gaming miniatures for humans seem to have comparable amounts of flesh on view between males and females, which, as you mention, is a distressing rarity.

    Where there is nudity in the monsters servants or similar, there is a sad favouritism towards female nudity over male nudity. A couple of monsters which are abusing the men as opposed to the women are really needed.

    I had a tongue in cheek thought about why there weren't any male pin ups. But the sad fact seems to be that they simply wouldn't sell as well. The pin ups are low marketing gimmick - a successful one that has been done to a high quality, but still pretty cheap.

    So who is in a position to Kickstarter the Sensibly Dressed Women and Scantily Clad Cheesecake Men game?

  8. "Where there is nudity in the monsters servants or similar, there is a sad favouritism towards female nudity over male nudity. A couple of monsters which are abusing the men as opposed to the women are really needed."

    There's one monster with If we're talking about the KickStarter, there's one monster with a male victim, two with female victims. (Across the store, it looks like there are two with male, four with female; with what doesn't appear to be a lot of overlap.)

    So (and not to suggest that there's parity or anything) there are "a couple of monsters which are abusing the men." If my count's right, a third of his monster kits.

  9. Kingdom Death is sexist as hell and good on you for calling them out. It is this sort of thing that makes me ashamed to admit I am part of this hobby.

  10. Love the article, again. This is such a tough subject to tackle because there are so many different elements to it.

    What is art, what is porn? What is sexual and what isn't? Whose standards are we going by? Certainly the American standard (more violence, less sex) and the European (less violence, more sex) aren't the only standards.

    I believe, like Viktor Frankl, that something can only have power over you if you let it. If Tarzan in a loincloth makes me feel like less of a man, then it is because I allow it, or at least my life experiences have shaped me into a man that allows it.

    I can't change how something makes another person feel. Certainly the hyper-realistic ancient Greek sculpture could be seen as pornography to some. Personally, I love it. Not because I like looking at flaccid penises, but because I like the realism.

    I like a lot of the models KD makes. They are titillating to some degree. If that was my intent, a myriad of porn awaits my Google search. As far as a model I'd feel comfortable playing a game with, I think the KD stuff definitely tiptoes at a line, but doesn't cross it. If the models had fully exposed and articulated genitalia, I would feel differently.

    So maybe that just means I have a more European perspective on nudity, that breasts do not cross a line, but genitalia does. Again, there are plenty of poorly sculpted models on the market that have nude breasts that I find ugly. So aesthetics are also part of the discussion.

    So now I've rambled on for a few paragraphs, and I haven't really scratched the surface on the subject. I guess for me, I don't allow a product to affect me personally. If I wanted to play this game, I would own it. If I wanted to have a Slaaneshi WH40k army, I might consider buying some of these models to add claws to. I find some of them quite beautiful.

    I do hate the fact that their existence makes someone else feel bad. It's easy to just summarily ignore their feelings, because to me they are in some way invalid. Then again, being asked to carry everyone else's "baggage" is an unfair burden as well. Sexy female models make some people feel bad for sexism. Ouch. That sucks. It makes other people feel bad because it's sinful, and is contributing to the "decline of western civilization". OK, that sucks too I suppose. Some people might think that women exposed in this way should be punished by death. What a messed up perspective, do I have to carry that one too?

    Everyone has feelings. Everyone has a story. Everyone has pain. I think the reason we all play games is for some degree of escapism, to have a brief amount of respite before going back into the world and carrying all of that bullshit again. I hate that our fun is forcing other people to carry more crap... I just don't know what else to do or say on the subject.

  11. Hi
    I feel I have to say some things.
    First I totaly agree with your article. you are right. when I showed the article to my fiancee who also Likes games she didn't see why I was so upset. Now I know why. Gaming by its nature is inclusive. the people who game are the people no one else likes. Gamers as a rule don't turn people away. when I went to my first games evening everyone accepted me straight away. there was no iniation, there were no entry tests. that is a good thing.
    then to read this ... I was appaled and my eyes were somewhat opened. I didn't know much about KD but that I wasnt interested and I had no Idea there were such exploitave poses.
    Then I looked at the Amazons I bought from wargames factory. there were somewhat less exploitive but they still showed alot of leg. It is sad to see this phenomenon pushing women and girls away from wargames (I mean girls; if we have a daughter I want her to be able to play if she chooses without it doing harm to her that she doesn't even know is being done )
    Second please remember that a large percentage of us guys have had our heart stomped on by a woman/girl at some point. that dosen't excuse this.
    I think for some men and boys wargaming becomes a refuge from life. sometimes that attitued carries too far and you get things like kingdom Death.
    Third It is a sad economic reality that sex sells. that's why you see models draped over cars. that's why KD did this. those miniatures aren't pornography but they are very close.
    Lastly this is just the first step. saying "this is bad" isn't enough. the next step is to ask for what you want: more realistic female warriors and lots of them. miniatures that are female and can be taken seriously as warriors.
    if someone isn't prepaired to do that then your article is in vain.
    As a man it isn't my place to lead the charge but I suggest a pettion to all the leading games manufacturers. on BOLS Warseer etc.

  12. In reference to the 'muscle men' - the point is not that men don't get upset - but generally, more females are interested in lightly muscled men. The muscle bound male minis are coming from a male fantasy of power and being powerful - not a female fantasy of how men should look.

  13. *Very late reply fear my thread necromancy!* I like how you've decided only women want to see less overly sexualised female models on the tabletop. I'm a guy and the very existance of kingdom deaths pin up models is making me seriously consider not ever playing or supporting the game. Which is a shame as I think in many ways it sounds very cool but I'll have to decide whether I can look past their crass marketing and focus on the gameplay and imagination that clearly exists but is willing to be pushed aside for cash.

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