Kingdom Death: Sexy Wargaming or Sexist Wargaming?

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I recently discovered a kickstarter called Kingdom Death: Monsters. Immediately, I was impressed by the attention to detail in the models and in the overall design direction. The monster sculpts were some of the most creative and disturbing models I’d ever seen, but it was the female models that caught my attention. They conveyed a sense an allure difficult to capture in a model smaller than my computer’s mouse.

To me, that showed impressive artistic skill, and at no point did I think the models were sexist.

Here’s another example of their impressive models.

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And here’s an example of one of the more disturbing monsters: the Forge God. Holy heck in a handbasket, is he freaky looking!

EDIT: All images of Kingdom Death monsters have been replaced due to their disturbing NSFW nature. They have been replaced with cats in cups, for your viewing pleasure.

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I stumbled across and read this Save vs. Sexism article by Lillian Cohen-Moore, which pointed out the sexist nature of the miniatures. Honestly, I was shocked. Is this how my wargaming hobby is viewed from the outside? Are Kingdom Death models really sexist?

The wargaming site Bell of Lost Souls certainly had something to same about this, quite bluntly, I might add. In short, they disagree.

So, are the models sexist? I suppose it depends on who you ask. It’s a complicated issue that is not going away anytime soon. But why is that? Here’s my take on the subject.

First a question: What are the roots of this issue?

Like so many things, it ultimately comes down to money. Kingdom Death is a game in development by a relatively small group of people. They have the unenviable task of competing with gaming titan Games Workshop and up-and-coming powerhouse Privateer Press, among others.

Kingdom Death somehow has to make their product distinct in order to rise above the background noise. One tactic they use is to emphasize the sexual allure of their female miniatures with skimpy costumes, generous proportions, provocative poses, beautiful artwork, and some nudity (not featured in this article).

Rawhide Dame

To be fair, they also had some really awesome monsters, like the Scribe. Just look at the detail on his (quite literal) arm-chair!

EDIT: What is up with that bookstand? Yeah, more cats in cups here.

Coffee Cup Cats

This tactic has worked. The Kickstarter campaign started with the goal of $35,000. In the end, it brought in over $2,000,000 from 5,410 backers.

Or, put more succinctly, sex sells. It’s the marketing equivalent of an EASY button, especially when directed at the Kingdom Death target audience, the male gamer. Sexual imagery is one of the easiest ways to get a male’s attention. It is a basic, instinctive male reaction to imagery we have evolved to consider pleasing and desirable. Holding the male’s attention, well, that’s a different matter.

Sex sells, of course. But sex sells even better when the product has merit in its own right. Kingdom Death has produced a unique look, with some absolutely creepy monster designs. Yes, the female figures are gorgeous, but that does not define the look of the full range. They also have some truly disturbing monster designs that often play off of a reproductive theme. In this sense, the art has a unified theme, with the heroes portrayed in their physical and sexual prime …

Dancer

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… and many of the monsters representing twisted perversions of a theme heavy in sexuality, such as the wet nurse.

EDIT: Yeeesh! There is no way I can ever unsee that!

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So, in short, Kingdom Death may be advertising sex, but they’re not selling sex. They’re selling a game where one facet among many is its strong sensual appeal, which is a very different thing.

Another question: Why is this imagery so prevalent?

It’s a simple enough question to answer. Men are highly visual creatures, much more so than women. When confronted with sexual imagery, males will have the stronger response, almost every time. To a man, looks have a huge impact on how desirable a potential partner is. To a woman, yes looks are important, but how she feels about a potential partner is much, much more important. (source: my wife)

Therefore, men are more susceptible to visual, sexual advertisements than women. A male visual trigger is much easier to tap into than a female emotional trigger.

Sexually-charged advertisement is undeniably effective, but is this such a bad thing?

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After all, an extreme alternative to a society that tolerates depictions of sexuality is this.

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So, is any of this sexist? Let’s take a quick look at a definition of sexism, according to Merriam-Webster: “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women”

I think an important distinction should be made here. Is the intent of Kingdom Death to prejudice or discriminate against women? No, of course not. The intent is to make money by selling their product to the widest possible audience, a simple capitalist desire. They have tailored their marketing and product line to appeal to their target audience, the male gamer.

So, if sexism is present, it is not the cause of their actions, but the effect. If sexism is present.

Sexism definition #2: “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex”

To me, the key part of this definition is “social roles based on sex”. I suppose one could interpret the models and marketing as promoting an overly sexualized stereotype of women. But does the game promote a social role that is sexist? That’s a tougher standard to meet.

In Kingdom Death, there are male and female survivors. Judging from the video previews, a female survivor is no less capable than a male survivor in terms of gameplay. After all, Kingdom Death is producing the miniatures. It is in their best interest to make each miniature a viable gameplay option.

The only difference I see is the female survivor’s stronger visual appeal. Their roles in the game will likely be identical. Both should be capable avatars for the player, able to succeed against the game’s powerful boss creatures.

So what social role is being promoted here? There doesn’t seem to be one. The female characters are glamorized to be sexually appealing, no doubt about it.

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But how is this promoting a social role?

I’ll use myself as an example, since I am a member of the target audience: the male gamer. The female models and attached artwork are appealing, and do a good job of drawing my attention. But do these depictions affect my treatment of the women in my life? Do they change my mindset on gender roles in our society?

My education, politics, religion, life choices, and especially the lessons taught by my parents have molded me as a person. Against this bulwark of past experience, what can a few sexy Kingdom Death miniatures do? The answer is nothing. They have no effect.

And it’s not like this is the first time. My current game of choice, Warmachine, has its own examples of overly sexualized females. The comic book feel of the artwork is one of things that drew me to the game, but it’s the game itself that has kept me playing, not the warcasters in battle-kinis.

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Deneghra, put some pants on! ARM 14 is not good enough!

And do I even need to step into the multitude of video game examples?

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Yeah. Let’s just skip that one, for now.

At the end of the day, I can see arguments in both directions. Perhaps, I’ll end with my own opinion of the Kingdom Death miniatures.

I see art. Yes, Kingdom Death has hideous monsters and beautiful women, but it also evokes an emotional response in me beyond OH, WHAT A COOL MODEL! That is how I define art. The female form is a thing of undeniable beauty, and it takes true skill to capture that without ending up deep in the uncanny valley. And, wow, those monsters actually make me cringe. Kingdom Death has some truly fantastic miniatures, and I look forward to the game’s release.

EDIT: For the actual Kingdom Death monster models, check out their website.

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Categories: Games, Reviews

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12 replies

  1. Have to say, this was extremely well written. At my LHS we have three girls who play Warmachine/ Hordes. They wanted to get involved with gaming for a while but could’nt stand some of the depictions of women. It’s a legit issue and one that can get messy lol

  2. Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. And you’re definitely right. It’s a complex issue and it’s not going away anytime soon.

  3. Nice post. You covered the matter very well. I always get stuck on one thought: “that can’t be very protective in battle.” Sex certainly does sell, no doubt about it, so i get it. But I hate it when style, in this case overly sexualized women, beats out logic. Aesthetics are really important, but I guess I prefer functional fantasy, something my mind allows me to believe could really work. I have a similar issue with J-RPG’s because a lot of the designs, while pretty, are not practical. However, this issue probably has more to do with me then anything else, after all, it is fantasy!

    • Thanks, Matt. The thing about ridiculous female armor I like to poke fun at are “breast”-plates. Basically, you’ve got these two raised surfaces that are going to funnel a sword thrust straight through the center of the torso instead of deflecting it. Not a good idea! 🙂

  4. This is a very interesting article, and this issue is not only seen in Kingdom Death and various computer games, but also rampant in anime as a whole. I totally agree with Matt above, aesthetics are important especially to as a selling tool. I also feel that this a reflection on the designers of the models as artists, I say this because my own work is a reflection of my thoughts/beliefs/inspirations. However this doesn’t answer the question! My two cents, I would say it isn’t sexist per say, but alienates gamers from considering this game, especially females. Thanks for writing this article.

  5. Loved this article! I can say, as a gamer, that a spellcaster/warwitch/sorceress might be powerful enough not to need armour and might have chosen to wear provocative dress in battle. Perhaps she would do this purposefully to bemuse opponents–to perhaps distract– or maybe it was laundry day. However, I feel that there should be more choice for us to play fighter/paladin/warrior AND warwitch types without feeling our minis look like they have just been on show in the red light district of Amsterdam. I understand that sex sells. But perhaps the creators should remember that “girls” can play, too and that we can bring our A-game and kick butt just like our “boy” counterparts. Sex does sell… but pay attention to who is buying…

  6. Hm. I do not agree with your analysis that the project is just sexy, but not sexist

    The portrayal of females – compared to the men – in this project is very narrow and completely focuses in women as eye candy, even if some are portrayed as warrior semi-nude eye-candy. Every female is in a sexy pose, they are pictured more scared and more humble in images than men, they have no clothes and are very pin-up-y.

    The men have a much wider variety of poses and looks, they usually look powerful and is also often pictured as being the boss (like the scribe. Sure – he is naked – but is he soooo very much male power fantasy).

    Actually I think that a culture with women in burquas are more aligned to a westernized sexist one than an equal one, in that both have a very scewed view on how people are portrayed and what is seen as OK. “females are weaker, females are not as important as men, females need to be beautiful and cute / totally covered in order to be proper”, while “guys need to be cool and in control in order to be proper.”

    Nonetheless the artwork is stunning and I am a big fan of many of the designs, but I very much miss variety in both male and female minis, and keeping every girl semi-nude with a special pin-up line of the girl models is just really unfresh.

    I would have preferred variety – both men and women – slim, plump, ugly, strong, beautiful, plain, sexy, cool, sassy, scary, scared etc. That it sells is just annoying – projects like this should be pushing the vision, not sell out just because they have to get funded. But I think they might be doing this because it really IS their vision, and not because they just need the dough.

    P.S
    That nudity sells isn’t an argument for neither sexy or sexist, and neither is the claim that it is a homage to over-the-top fantasy art of the 70:s either – because those could be sexist too, right?

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