Zombicide – Practical survival wear for the zombie apocalypse

Zombicide – Practical survival wear for the zombie apocalypse

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Writer_smallerOn a more serious note

I hate that guy at the counter of the comic shop who rolls his eyes when someone comes up with a copy of the Walking Dead volume 1. That guy who only thought it was cool when no-one had heard of it, and has no time for newcomers, dilettantes, and people just dipping their toes into the hobby. The guy who is arrogant, condescending to new customers, and generally just ignorant. I have nothing but contempt for the shop owner who allows his staff to chase away new business; to actively discourage people from taking up the hobby. I love comics as much as I do board games, and I want everyone to play games and read comics. I want to share my hobbies, to open their worlds up to everyone who is interested.

I am tired of the boardgamer who says ‘you’ll pick it up as you go along’ when playing something complicated, ensuring a newcomer will flounder helplessly through the first half of a game, and then try fruitlessly to catch up for the second half and never want to play again. Playing to win is fine, but it is not the whole of the experience, indeed for me, it’s not even most of it. Games are as much about storytelling as comics are, and for me, games are to be enjoyed, and enjoyed with friends.

I have no time for anyone or anything that works to keep games and comics as niche hobbies that conform to their respective stereotypes; stereotypes both hobbies should have joyfully cast off years ago, welcoming newcomer with open arms, and not condescending stares.

The entrenched sexism of comic book and board game artwork are a part of this exclusionary culture. That RPG manual with all the female heroes busting out of barely fitting armour more fitted to a day at the beach than battle. Female characters depicted in a wholly sexualised light, where their male counterparts (whom obviously far outnumber them) are geared for combat, survival –whatever it is the game is supposed to be about, that is. In that same way that a woman walking into a comic shop for the very first time is not unlikely to be appalled at what is presented on so many mainstream covers, a woman flicking through RPG manuals or looking at some game boxes is just as likely to be instantly turned off what could be a great game. Maybe even turned off what could be a great hobby.

I don’t actually think there is necessarily anything wrong with pin-up art. It has its place in culture. Its place is not, however, on so many comic covers and gaming paraphernalia: out of context, out of place, and there for all the wrong reasons.

Zombicide is not the worst offender here. I just played this most recently, and the issue came up in our group. It could be argued that some of what the game represents is a riff on its source material, old-skool horror and B-movies. Indeed, the game designers have noted the survivor archetype have come from action movies and tropes already embedded in pop culture. While this does mitigate their decisions, in no way does it forgive artwork like this or this. That kind of skewed depiction of player characters does not do the hobby any good. It is awkward, a little weird and adds a strange tone to an otherwise really fun game. As I said, I did enjoy Zombicide, and I would play it again. But I can’t say I like what they’re saying about the hobby, and I certainly don’t think they are helping it.

12 Comments on Zombicide – Practical survival wear for the zombie apocalypse
  • Frances

    You say “pin-up art…has its place in culture.” I’m genuinely curious to know what you think that place is?

    • I guess the point I was making was that pin-ups don’t belong in board games as representations of female characters. I feel the harm in things like traditional pin-up art is when it is used a representation of women, out of the context of the form.
      The discussion of whether things like pin-up art have a place in culture is a different one, and not one I intended to tackle here.

      • Reading it back, that might sound like I’m avoiding the question. To clarify -I was referring to pin-ups in a vintage sense, which is an art form I do admire, consider to be a part of arts culture, and harmless (perhaps that’s naive of me?)

        • Frances

          The way I see it, both pin-up art and the images you refer to in gaming are unrealistic, fetishised, sexualised images of women designed by men for the male gaze. They present women purely as sexual objects. It doesn’t really make sense to me that one is acceptable and the other isn’t. Granted, the pin up images are “tamer” than the gaming images, but the fundamental notion behind them is the same – that women are there to be looked at and lusted over and not much else. In fact, I find the pin up images slightly more distasteful in a way because the woman is usually depicted in a “teasing” pose – coy, with underwear showing and simpering “girlish” look on her face. I would be interested to know the merit you see in pin up art and what you think makes it “harmless.”

          • Dean Giersch

            I thought the comic rather nicely mocked a particular game for elements of sexism, and his subsequent discussion was centered on how depiction of women as bimbos/objects within games can turn people off of hobby gaming or at the very least, a particular game; turning this into a judgement on the artist’s opinion of pin-ups is rather missing the whole point.

          • Frances

            I was actually picking up on something Colin himself said and was hoping to expand on it, which is usually the point of a discussion. Being a woman, I find it rather galling to have men tell me about the sexism I experience every day as though they are the authority on it. If I had written something relating to men and you or Colin had challenged me on it, I would be interested to hear your viewpoint, given that you would be speaking from personal experience. Instead, as is usual, I have had men make a nod to sexism to make themselves feel better and then go on to ignore the deeper issues around it. It must be nice to be able to do that, to just discuss these things in a theoretical way. For me, they are part of my life.

          • Bradley Conder

            There is nothing wrong with sexualised images of females. Men find woman attractive and want to express this attraction through art. The “male gaze” is just basic human sexual attraction. If I am honest, you just come across as bitter.

  • Dean Giersch

    Given the rich amounts of source material, I suspect this is not the last time this subject will present itself. These games are trying to establish themselves as adult, edgy, and different from the next board game on the list. A game of this type tries to have memorable characters – you’re probably going to remember playing as the Black Widow character or the Bad Girl more than, say, the Soccer Mom or the Civil Servant. However, they could have toned down the art/minatures considerably without impacting the overall experience. Also, given that zombies are always trying to scratch and bite people in these games, wouldn’t everyone be dressed in a guard dog training suit or as many clothes as possible?

    • It’s certainly not practical attire (apart from the roller skates!). While they are establishing a tone in the game, I certainly agree with you that they went too far with the artwork. Far too far, really. I have heard stories of people trying to introduce female friends to gaming, and they are just totally turned off by artwork like this. It’s a damn shame, particularly in a game I otherwise enjoyed an awful lot.

  • Wow! The Zombicide artwork you have linked is indeed super-sexist!

    I would like to add two things:

    1.) While women are more often depicted sexualized, or setting high standards, it happens to men, too, all the time! If there are more kinds of characters, usually one is ripped-as-hell, unshaven and half-naked, the other one is a most handsome “latino lover” type, the third one, say, is not strong but has a very high intelligence and is at least a university professor, and so on. So while depicting women in undergarments in a post-apocalyptic environment (or a high-fantasy one where fighting is supposed to be part of everyday survival) is indeed too common, it is not all sexism, it’s partly “heroism”.

    2.) And now, an example in another zombie game for “interesting” portrayal of women: in City of Horror, there is a pregnant woman who can bear a child and then has two vote, and there is a “Blondie” who is screaming all the time, and there is a “Big Fat Mama” character, and of course, “Housewife”… Women roles are somehow all either connected with sexual reproduction or are a stereotype (Blondie), right? (And why this is partly a joke and not to be taken too seriously: this is an exaggeration, there are many more women characters (Businesswoman, Student, Punk etc), moreover, this is a small-town like environment, and the men characters are kind of “templates” as well, without real personality.)

  • D. Skyknight

    I think the game looks fun(didn’t get to play yet, but watched some “Let’s Plays” and collected most of the expansions)! You’re right when you say, some of the female characters look oversexualized. But you have to consider the source material as well. There are tons of zombie movies where the characters look exactly like this. I try to think of it as over the top parodies of the given stereotypes. And don’t forget in later expansions you also get these women:

    Not so much sexual as some of the others. But I think part of the idea is, when the zombie apocalypse starts, most people don’t have the time to go home to change before trying to escape. In Wanda’s case she was working at a drive in, where the boss makes her wear a skimpy waitress uniform. Happens a lot in the real world, too! Don’t know what they thought when they combined rollerskates with a chainsaw! Maybe they aimed for badass, but I think it’s more dangerous for the wearer and all ppl around them!

    I also watch a lot on anime and had to learn how to ignore physical incorrect jiggling of ridiculously oversized breasts to be able to enjoy the story. Really, a lot of these shows would’ve been better with real looking proportions on the characters!

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