Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas slowdown continues

Behold, a Viking movie.

Apologies for the late posting. Perhaps unsuprisingly I have indulged somewhat heavily in the drink and remain in recovery.

Until next time let us say Skal! and drink (less) together.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Break

No post today as, you know, Christmas.

Normal posts will be back from the 27th.

Let us say Skal and drink together

Friday, 21 December 2012

We're still here...

If you're reading this, then the world hasn't ended. In fact, if you happened to be reading this in New Zealand then the world hasn't ended for an entire day and it's nearly the 22nd of December. Like many people, I can't say I'm shocked that a Calendar just sort of running out didn't result in the end of the world. If there were any Mayans left I suppose it probably would have resulted in nipping down the Calendar store like the rest of us this time of year.

Cortez gives the worst Secret-Santa giftsSource
Of course, massively hyped apocalypse predictions are nothing new. Amusingly even the arrival of the Vikings was seen as a sign of the end times over 1200 years ago.

" This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter"

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 793AD

If you swap in some Hurricane Sandys and other disasters then things start to look pretty familiar, yet the world didn't end then and still hasn't ended now. The truth is, it's easy for us to believe in the apocalypse because it's a manifestation of a single, nearly crushing realisation.

We are damn near insignificant beyond this tiny blue rock spinning around a solitary sun. If the world ends we all go with it, along with all the great works we strove to achieve. On some deeply Darwinian level that is both a terrifying and exhilirating thought, the ultimate crucible for survival of the fittest.

In closing I leave with the gloating scientists of Nasa...


 Until tomorrow, and all the days to follow, let us say Skål! and drink together.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

I call it Vera...

Then they stepped on the isle and fought, and each bore his own shield before him. Skeggi had a sword called "Warflame," and with it he smote at Gisli till the blade sang again, and Skeggi chaunted:
"Warflame fierce flickered,
Flaring on Saxa."
But Gisli smote back at him with his battle-axe, and took off the tail of his shield, and Skeggi's leg along with it; and as he smote he chaunted:
"Grimly grinned Ogremaw,
Gaping at Skeggi."

If you don't want to pick up an axe and a flagon of mead after reading that then you and I are very different people. The excerpt is from Gislis Saga, one of the Icelandic Sags that I've mentioned before and it highlights nicely (with added leg-chomping action) something I wanted to talk about today.

Gaming weapons have no soul.

Now I can hear a few of you snorting derisively and pointing out that, as inanimate objects, no weapons have souls. I invite you to read the above passage again. With two lines each the Saga-teller has brought that sword and axe off the page and roaring to life. This isn't a unique case either, the Sagas and other epic poems are littered with stirring weapons; Quern-Biter, Truce-Breaker, Adder and Eagles-Scream all make appearances

Every one of the above is stirring, bringing to mind fantastical blades and axes along with the savage Norsemen using them.Yet in games, it's much more likely to find a 'Blade of Frost' or simply a 'Rifle +3 accuracy'. These are less stirring and the really sad part is that things don't need to be like this.

Before I get to my game-specific examples let me put this to rest; guns don't get a free pass because they're mass-produced and meant to be uniform. Case in point, Mr. Jayne Cobb:

Six men came to kill me one time, and the best of them carried this. It's a Callahan Full-bore Auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge, thorough gauge. This is my very favorite gun... I call it "Vera"
Jayne Cobb- Firefly

 So, that settles that but if we're able to make even modern weapons more unique then why do most games still not bother.

Well it's Tolkiens fault.

Just kidding, it's totally Gary Gygaxes.

Mr. Gygax, fresh from defeating the forces of tropical evil     Source

 For those who might not know, Gary Gygax co-created Dungeons and Dragons in the late sixties/early seventies and in the process brought the staples of Western Fantasy into the worlds living rooms in a accessible, dice-driven way. Emphasis, of course, on the dice. Everything gets rolled for in a game of D&D and, as a result, almost everything has numerical stats attached to it. Therefore most of the 'better' weapons, armour and equipment you got really were only better because the numbers were higher. 

When computers came of age and everything became grounded in numbers this system was quickly taken to heart in a number of fondly-remembered early RPG games. The genres dominance lasted long enough for stat-based equipment to become the norm and from there it's only a short jump to a game like Borderlands 2 which, despite having a mind-boggling number of weapons only really distinguishes them by variation in numbers (damage, ammo capacity, firing rate, element damage).

This was my fathers exploding shuriken launcher, and his fathers beforeSource

Compare this to the original Mass Effect where each pistol or piece of armour you picked up had a detailed backstory about the corporation, the reason they made the new design and it's usefulness and you may start to see where I'm coming from.

Or, for possibly the greatest example of a weapon given personality in Games, play the original Aliens vs. Predator (not the terrible remake we shall never speak of). Not only did all the classic Aliens weapons look and sound authentic but the Pulse Rifle would jam if fired too quickly.

That may sound like an annoyance, but in a game like Aliens vs. Predator where the marine campaign is a pressure-cooker of suspense punctuated by sudden, terrifying action and it helped ratchet up the atmosphere just that little bit more.

*click* FUUUUUUUU----Source

Where this disconnect between weapons with personality and those with numbers really came to a head for me was while playing Skyrim. See, most of the magical weapons in Skyrim are of the numbers variety. You have the previously mentioned 'Sword of Frost' or fire, or blessed etc. Except there are some weapons that are not like this. Not only major questline related weapons like the Gauldor items but other, more random and intriguing ones.

For the perfect example I give you this story:

If you walk along a certain mountain path in Skyrim you will spot a Frost Troll in a cave not far away. If you're like me, you instantly leap to the attack because screw Frost Trolls! That first one messed me up royally on the way to High Hrothgar and now I'm level 50 it's time for payback.

Anyway, you kill the troll and go to investigate its cave. That's when you notice this:

Bonus points for the Viking name, FafnirSource

On the body you find a journal detailing the exploits and expertise of one Fafnir Trollsbane who has been hunting trolls for years. Evidently this one finally got the better of him. Also on the corpse is the unique weapon, Trollsbane a steel warhammer enchanted with fire damage that does extra damage to trolls.

Coming upon this situation organically made me so happy that I nearly stopped using my battleaxes (that I used for the whole game, and own one for Viking reenactment) and picked up Trollsbane.

One bit of story work nearly made me change my whole playstyle, and that's the kind of wonderful thing that can happen when we put more into our weapons then just a few more numbers.

Until next time, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Tragedy and Blame

I wasn't sure I was even going to talk about this, but then I read news stories like this one or see people on the news promoting their agendas through the tragedy and I decided I'd say something. As a warning this will be more serious then my usual stuff, no funny captions ahead.

To begin with, the shooting in Connecticut was a tragedy, one that should make us ask alot of questions about Gun Control, how we look after the mentally ill and the danger of fringe groups like the 'preppers' along with the culture of panic that helped create them.

Unfortunately these are all tough, agonising questions to be asking and so for many people, like the writer at the Daily Mail or the 'expert' CNN brought in above, it is easier to find some tangible single thing to blame and face that, then try to wrestle with society-wide problems. The weaknesses in their arguments aren't hard to spot, CNN is attempting to link Starcraft (A RTS where the closest you get to violence is watching circles with arms locked in mortal combat with violent rectangles) with these events while the Mail wants to imply that Call of Duty was more of a factor in the shootings then the mental health of a very ill young man.

From a more technical standpoint, even the previous studies we've seen haven't been about Videogames sparking spontaneous violence, but about a increase in aggressive expectations. I've said before, but I'll say it again. Aggression may ignite into violence but they are not one and the same. Anyone who's ever faced a drunk with more swagger then sense knows that anyone can be aggressive, it takes an extra level to spark into full-blown violence.

For my final point, I'd like to leave you with a few graphs and this great piece by Max Fisher of the Washington Post.

Source:NDOC. Taken from.

I think they speak for themselves.

To close all I want to say is that I understand the compulsion to search for answers after something as tragic as Sandy Hook but if we waste time, energy and resources looking at the wrong thing then we will do nothing to prevent future tragedies.

There is no easy answer for why Adam Lanza killed those people. It was not just Guns, or his condition or his upbringing that drove him to do what he did and only by looking at all these factors together can we start to understand that most important question.


For now, let us say Skål and drink together. All together.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Superhero Games, Assemble! Part 2

As I started yesterday so shall I go on! Rejoin me now in my quest to assemble a team of Superhero games who's incredible powers in the field of not sucking continue to give us hope that one day we can see a Superhero Game revolution of the Dark Knight/Iron Man level.

That, I want thatSource

 So with no further ado, I give you the final two entries in my Super-team of games.

The Sell-Out

Comics love cross overs, not because of the interesting storylines and moral complexity they can create but because it means there's an opportunity to shove two different markets together and wring them both out for as much money as possible. Of course, this also means that comics love to sell out.

These two factors combine to throw superheroes into some of the most bizarre situations imagineable. Hey, did you know there was a crossover between Eminem and The Punisher? Well there was, behold it's terrible glory.

Yep, Drink it in.Source
Now in gaming we have sell-outs of our own, we call them Tie-In games and as I've allready mentioned they almost always suck. Yet, even here mired in scum and villainy, heroes can rise. Nothing proves this more then the best spiderman game ever made; Spiderman 2.

Remains awesome even in the presence of Nickelback

This is the game that makes other games feel bad and also happens to be probably the game that bests captures the feeling of actually being a Superhero other then the Arkham series. To begin with,you have actual webslinging, new and varied missions (including Mech-Suited redneck militias) and a casual disregard for the plot of the (pretty terrible, IMO) Spiderman 2 film. Add to that a lighthearted tone that perfectly captured Spideys personality and made it remarkably fun, particularly watching my brother try and repeatedly fail to save people from a boat, so what you had was a truly Great Game.

Now, picking a villain for this testament to Spiderdom to face was difficult. Mostly because, as previously mentioned, there are hundreds of terrible, terrible movie and comic tie-in games. 

Yet in the end I found it, a representative of just how bad games can be at making superheroes and how far behind the industry is on this trend when compared to Hollywood. The game, my friends, is Iron Man.

This is a game that fails on multiple levels. Not only did it fail to capitalize on the buzz around a film that reminded everyone Superheroes could be fun as well as gritty but it also failed at making a film about a man in powered armour fighting bad guys.

We have literally built an entire industry around power-armoured men fighting bad guys. If you cannot do that properly then you need to take a good long look at your development team.

The Backup

Now, with every Super-team you have your star players, your Batmans, your Thors;the guys who everyone knows. Behind them are a wide and diverse cast of sometimes quite odd characters who back them up and occasionally get their own moments in the sun. This rag-tag group are the glue that holds the evil-foiling plans together.

Thank you uhh...Camp boots...lightning guy!
Now, when you think of great teams of sometimes random characters in gaming the game that probably first comes to mind, and the one I've picked, is Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

This is a game that not only featured heavy-hitters Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk but also slightly more obscure (to the average gamer) ones like Black Panther, Elektra and Doctor Strange. It was also probably the most fun you could have in a coop game for several years, and I still like going back to play it with friends now.

There was a sequel, which was also pretty good, but the silliness that creeps into the storyline towards the end of the 'Civil War' starts to override the fun of punching villains in the face with super-lightning.

It grew out of some earlier X-Men team up games which were also good fun, but what came after was not. Like an evil-twin jealous of its siblings success our next game seemed to imitate it's noble predecessors then tore out everything that was good in them.


It takes a special kind of mind to look at sucessful games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance or X-Men Legends before and decide that while people might 'enjoy' playing as their favourite heroes and using all the signature moves what they'd really love is to play as one of three nobodies with bad dress sense who just get to 'pretend' and be those heroes by stealing their powers.

Yep, that's pretty much what you do in Destiny, use other characters famous powers as one of several incredibly irritating protaganists and to make it worse the better characters are usually just in the corner of the screen doing cool things which you can take no part in.

Gee, thanks Silicon Knights at least now there's a game that makes your slaughter of Norse Mythology look better.

So there we are my friends, a mighty team assembled to fight the forces of evil! Why didn't I mention City of Heroes you ask?

Well, because I don't like MMOs. There, I said it.

Until next time, let us say Skål! and drink together.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Superhero Games, Assemble!

Superheroes are currently the biggest thing in Hollywood, and with both The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers making a frankly obscene amount of money over the summer it doesn't seem like that's going to change soon.

 For many the first thought when they consider this is the same as mine; This is Awesome! Then my second thought comes in. If Superhero Movies are the kings of the box office what about their cousins in the world of Gaming?

 Well, I packed up my longship and embarked on a quest to find out more about the current state of Superhero Games. In my journey I've dug out some great games, games that stand as shining examples of what can be achieved with the combination of two great modern staples.

So it was that I assembled a mighty team of Super-Games to fight the battles that we couldn't fight without the correct combo buttons. Yet in my travels a rival team was made, a team of villainy from the absolute worst Game Designers have ever given us. The Joker to Batman, Mandarin to Iron Man the...Flashes badguy to Flash. Who is that anyway?

Apparently it's Gangster-Inuit here.Source
The Gritty Superhero

In every stable of great Superheroes there's the dark franchise. The Anti-hero who  does what is necessary even if that doesn't always line up perfectly with what is Right. In comics and film there's one hero who is the poster-child for this brand of dark justice. Appropriately enough, it's the Dark Knight himself; Batman.

With that established, it should come as no surprise that the only one brave enough to take on Batmans legacy is Batman himself and he did just that with the absolutely brilliant Arkham City.

This was Batman at his Curb-Stomping best. Whether you are trying to figure out the trajectory of Deadshots latest sniper round or simply doing the beautiful broken-arm tango with a gang of thugs this was as close to being Batman as any of us will get. Short of a sudden rise in violent gun crime outside wealthy opera houses.

Arkham City and it's predecessor Arkham Asylum also achieved the impressive feat of making Stealth Gameplay fun again without the words 'Tom Clancy' anywhere in the vicinity.

Yet if the Arkham games represent the quiet satisfaction of a perfect three person takedown then the Villainous game opposing it represents one of the Jokers chattering teeth in the middle of a funeral.

That game is the appalling Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions.

To explain what's wrong with this game I don't need to rely on the clunky gameplay, slightly dated visuals or even the problems of making an audience care about four different characters. No, I only need two words.

Spiderman. Noir.

Spiderman and Noir are two words that do not belong withing fifty feet of eachother. Spiderman is a lovable goofball who has such timeless lines as:

Your other mistakes include looking like Dr. Robotnik sans-mustacheSource

Now seriously try to imagine those words coming out in Batmans deep-threatening growl.

I rest my case.

The Upstanding Citizen

Not everyone can be Batman (as much as we dearly, dearly want to) and so in any good Superhero team you need the hero who's unquestionably a 'Good Guy'. For the Justice League, it's superman, for The Avengers it's Captain America. However this kind of moral simplicity is pretty hard to find in Gaming, mostly because if you give Gamers absolute power they will absolutely, 100% dick around with it.

That's very interesting, bucket manSource
However there is one Super-powered game that made morality such a core mechanic that everyone probably played through as the perfect good guy at least once. That game was Infamous, or more recently Infamous 2.

This was the game where the 'Good' ending was so emotional that it even made the famously harsh Escapist critic Yahtzee 'Shed a little tear, maybe, more of a sniffle'. Cole and his Scooby-Doo like gang of friends have such a compelling journey together that, for me at least, the Good option was the only real one.

Now, technically Infamous could be it's own villain as the other ending, as discussed, consists of being remorselessly evil in your actions. Still, everyone knows the road to hell is paved with good intentions so surely someone who attempted to reach this pinnacle but fell far, far short is the perfect villain? 

Step into the spotlight, Every Superman Game Ever.

Essentially this, in game formSource 

Look, it's tough being the Man of Steel. You can bench a city, walk through fire and run faster then a speeding bullet but you need to spend your whole life restraining that power so that you don't accidentally powderise an entire Continent. Games seem to have taken this central struggle and completely ignored the rest. 

This is how you end up with games like Superman (1999) where much of the central challenge isn't in battling Luthor but in flying through a series of rings. Yeah. Epic...

Now my Super-team remains incomplete but the journey made me weary (and this has gone on a bit already) so until tomorrow friends...

Let us say Skål! and drink together.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas, Yule and Family

It can't have escaped anyones notice that we are fully in the teeth of the Holiday Season. For some people, mostly myself and other Americans around the world, we have been this way since October because if there's one thing America loves it's bouncing from one holiday to another (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentines, St. Paddys day). Even Britain has, in recent years, started pumping out the Christmas tunes in malls as early as November and this year even had a number of 'Black Friday' sales. A concept which both baffles and tickles me in the absence of turkey day.

What may come as a suprise to some of you, because it certainly suprised me, is that a significant minority of people have apparently taken normal holiday angst and cranked it up to 11 by drawing sides on a so-called 'War on Christmas'.

The battle lines are familiar, one group thinks that the seperation of Church and State (enshrined in the US, a bit more blurry in the UK) means that religious displays should be banned from public spaces while the other group believes that Religion is what the season should all be about. Both groups are far too upset about a time of year we should be concentrating on family and friends.

Now some of this is fairly familiar, we've all seen sides of this before whether it's kids missing out on Charlie Brown play because it's at a church or Santa Monica, California having it's Christmas festivities blocked by a judge because Religious and Non-Religious groups just couldn't play nicely.

Then, there's this guy:

Yes, that is a Fundamentalist Christian telling us not to celebrate Christmas. Yes, that is Meta as hell.

Now as loathe as I am to say this, he's actually right. Not about the not celebrating, but about the fact that Christmas and the holiday season; that is, the time we choose to celebrate the birth of Christ, has been decided not by an actual birthday but by millenia of tradition. Why? Well because it's freaking cold outside.


Back before electricity and gas made living a normal life year round fairly simple, our entire lives were decided by the seasons. People worked like dogs in the Spring and Summer to be able to plant enough food to make it through the winter because when the winter hit you pretty much did nothing.

Seriously, particularly in Northern Europe it was pretty common practice to hole up in your Hall or Roundhouse with all your family (and your livestock) and do as little as possible over the winter months. As you can imagine, in a Scandanavian climate this very quickly got depressing so to remind people that winter would eventually pass ancient peoples began to have Midwinter festivals.

For the Celts there was the winter solstice (December 21st this year) where they may have hung mistletoe due to it's believed magical properties.

For the Vikings there is Yule which was celebrated around December and mostly involved animal sacrifice, heavy drinking and fertility rites (because we're vikings, it's what we do). This may or may not also be the origin of the Yule Log, a large hard log that burns for days while the men drink (Skal!)

We also get the tradition of bringing evergreens into our homes from this period (christmas trees) to ancient Pagan peoples, the forever green leaves were a symbol of life in the midst of the largely dead winter and may have symbolised a hope for a return to summer.

All of these traditions have one thing in common, they all involved groups of family and friends together in the worst time of year. The idea has always been to remind you of whats important while the dreary winter weather makes you think the worst of the world.

Whether we do this today through Christian practice or not surely it's still a thing worth celebrating?

Let us say Skål! and drink together.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Violent Videogames: A lacklustre study

So, this week news broke that a researcher from Ohio State University named Dr. Brad Bushman has found a link to long term increases in aggression from playing violent videogames. A brief rundown of his findings can be found here.

The media reacted to this (at least in Britain) about as well as you'd imagine.

The Daily Mail: You scared yet?Source

Now, I'm not gonna jump up and down or shout loudly about how this college professor just doesn't understand Gaming. The fact is this doesn't do anything for the argument and even if he did have those views, recent events have shown them to be not entirely baseless.

No, instead I'm going to look at the study from what details have been released and try to show errors in his method. To preface the following I need to say that I am not a Psychologist, nor do I have a Doctorate like Dr. Bushman. I do have a Bachelors of Science and a understanding of scientific methodology though so I'm not completely shooting in the dark.

1)The link to Long-Term Aggression

A central claim of OSU's report is that this is the first study showing a increase in long-term aggression instead of a limited short-term boost. The problem is, the study only went on for three days. Compounding this, tests were conducted immediately after the games were played at the end of each day. Quoting the article:

"The results showed that, after each day, those who played the violent games had an increase in their hostile expectations"

 Putting aside that 'hostile expectations' is not the same as Aggression (one is an internalised view of the world, the other a very much external reaction to it) we're only really showing duplication of previous data that showed a long stint of playing these games increased short term aggression. Dr. Bushman himself says:
 “I would expect that the increase in aggression would accumulate for more than three days. It may eventually level off. However, there is no theoretical reason to think that aggression would decrease over time, as long as players are still playing the violent games"

Expect, may and theoretical are all words used when you cannot say something for certain. This is a common problem in every science because the margins of error in any experiment will always stop you being certain. However, here he has based a hypothesis (Aggression has a long-term buildup in violent game players) on those expectations while admitting that it's possible for aggression to level off over time. His final statement 'there is no theoretical reason...' is the most open for criticism. The existence of other studies showing only a short term rise in aggression is very much reason to expect a decrease over time.

"We would know more if we could test players for longer periods of time, but that isn’t practical or ethical"

Really? I think I know alot of Gamers who would be willing to go through a extended test pro-bono if it helped put this kind of silly nonsense to bed once and for all.

2) Aggressive Behaviour

As I mentioned above, the initial test only actually showed an increase in 'hostile expectations' through the test subjects filling in a ongoing story (this is the kind of silly stuff you have to do in the Social Sciences). The proof of actual aggression comes later on, as follows:

"Students in the study then participated in a competitive reaction time task, which is used to measure aggression. Each student was told that he or she would compete against an unseen opponent in a 25-trial computer game in which the object was to be the first to respond to a visual cue on the computer screen.

The loser of each trial would receive a blast of unpleasant noise through headphones, and the winner would decide how loud and long the blast would be. The noise blasts were a mixture of several sounds that most people find unpleasant (such as fingernails on a chalk board, dentist drills, and sirens). In actuality, there was no opponent and the participants were told they won about half the trials.)" (Subjects who played the violent games subjected losing opponents to longer and louder blasts then those who did not)

Wait, they won about half the trials? So in other words the other half of the time they were subjected to a blast of incredibly unpleasant noise?

Let me frame the problem with this as simply as possible. Did you ever play a game of slaps with a friend or sibling? Things start off fairly light until, a few goes in, something snaps and the slapping gets harder and harder. It's human nature to react when you are attacked either with flight or fight. Without some more information about the trends in both groups I find it hard to see how you could possibly eliminate one group simply having more people in the 'fight' category then another.

Certainly it seems dubious as a basis for establishing that these people are more aggressive then any other person getting a chalk board in the ear.

Buckle up Timmy, Here comes the pimp hand

3) The Test Group

"The study involved 70 French university students who were told they would be participating in a three-day study of the effects of brightness of video games on visual perception."

70 people. From this they are claiming to have evidence of a trend that is common throughout people who play games like Call of Duty. For the record, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 sold 7.4 million units in the US on launch day. Even better, Activision were disappointed in that number because it was down 14% from previous launches.

Most studies take a much larger population then this before they make such sweeping claims, and this should be doubly true of a subject like this which is bound to get snapped up by the media.

Apart from that we're talking about 70 university students. I understand the reasoning (16-25 being the largest age group of gamers) but lets face it, as this picture of my buddy Carey shows none of us are at our most emotionally stable during university.

Carey: After roughly *all* of the beers

I can't actually decide which is worse, that he asked to be included or that there are much, much worse photos out there.

I'll have to wait until the journal is published "at some future date" to get my hands on their actual data but for the moment I hope I got at least a few of you to agree there are some serious questions Dr. Bushman and colleagues need to answer.

For now let us say Skål! and drink together.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Fantasy Women: The Birth of the Chainmail Bikini

As I briefly mentioned in another article, Fantasy and Sci-Fi can have a problem with diversity. This is partly JRR Tolkiens fault, partly the fault of longstanding social norms and partly because for the longest time the only people who really cared about the genres were predominantly male, western geeks and they had it to themselves long enough to create the tropes.

Of course the group I didn’t previously discuss who suffer from this most are women. Not only those who are already committed geeks, running the risk of being called out as ‘fake’ by insecure comic book artists, but any who might have a passing interest in the realms of geekdom and are greeted by…well, by this:

The Boobs of JusticeSource

Now I don’t want to spend too long on the visual representation of women in Comics, Fantasy and Sci-Fi because it’s so plainly ridiculous that I think it speaks for itself. I like boobs and chainmail bikinis as much as the next guy, I just don’t pretend that real women look like that outside of comicon. I also don't think it offends as many people as the mainstream media would have you think.

What I’m more interested in is how this started, when did we wake up and decide that all women in genre fiction, but particularly in Fantasy, need to either be completely helpless or to be supremely competent except in the rather vital area of selecting appropriate armour.

Well, this time it’s only partly Tolkiens fault.

Leave me alone you Hairy Bastard!Source

See, in the LOTR trilogy there is a distinct lack of fleshed out female characters. Those that do appear are mostly of the maiden in the tower type, wistfully staring off to the East while their male counterpart. Sorry to break some bubbles but this is actually pretty much all Arwen gets to do, sit around Rivendell sighing wistfully the majority of her heroic badassery in the films is either an addition or else is stolen from Glorfindel (probably because that’s a much harder name to say and he wouldn’t have Liv Tylers lips).

As with the lack of ethnic diversity, this would eventually filter down into modern fantasy because almost all modern fantasy is ripped off of Tolkiens work to some extent.

Now I say it is only partly Tolkiens fault because he did have at least one female character who not only was competent but also remembered to wear appropriate clothing on the battlefield. That character is, of course, Eowyn: Shieldmaiden of Rohan.

Stare too Long and she'll cut youSource

 Eowyn filled in as the Valkyrie type figure in Tolkiens saga, filling in both a feminine role (she is Theodens cup bearer) and that of a warrior (killing the Witch-King) which is a pretty fleshed out character as far as these things go.

So if the grandaddy of fantasy isn't responsible for female fighters in revealing clothes, who is? 

Well the truth is, it's probably barbarians fault.

See, when most of you saw this articles title I bet you immediately thought of this woman or at least something very similar:

Clearly it's a distraction technique?Source

That's Red Sonja, a character originally written up by Robert E. Howard in 1934 then taken up with a vengeance by the publishers of the Conan the Barbarian comics. She pretty much invented the armour bikini that is now pretty much synonymous with female fantasy characters. So much so that if you happen to play an MMORPG like World of Warcraft you are probably completely used to any female avatar wearing basically nothing even if the excact same armour set on a male avatar yields heavy plate.

She, or more appropriately the artists who drew her, is definately the modern progenitor of this trope but the more astute of you might wonder where she herself sprung from. Well, as is my wont, I'm here to fill in the blanks with speculation and historical bias!

First, meet Boudica:

"In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a great golden torq; and she wore a tunic of diverse colours over which a thick cloak was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire."  
Dio Cassius - Roman History

She was the Queen of the Iceni, a tribe of British Celts present during and immediately after the Roman Invasion of Britain. When her husband died her lands were taken, her daughters whipped and she was raped repeatedly. In retribution she led a rebellion that very nearly drove the Romans out of Britain.

The description above is the most famous we have of her and the one which leads artists to depict her like this:

This seems oddly familiar...Source

The thing is, Dio Cassius was writing a good 150 years after the event and he himself had spent most of his life in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. What he was describing was less a literal portrait of Boudica and more a rough sketch of what the Romans considered every barbarian woman to be, as compared to the dutiful and pliant wives and slaves they expected women to be at home. 

It should come as no surprise that the Romano-Greek world still has a huge impact on the stories we tell, and how we tell them. Including, in this case, what we think of when we picture a wild sword-wielding woman on a blood soaked battlefield. 

Did Cassius create Red Sonja? No, a Spanish artist did but I think what he resonated with was a deeply held image of the barbarian woman in all her glory.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together…