Dude, Where’s My Gender?

September 11, 2008

Next week, many innocent souls will be logging into Warhammer Online for the very first time, their minds refreshingly void of any in-depth info about the game, and then it’ll happen. Then the cruel door of sexism will slam shut on their faces, and they will cry, and they will wail, and they will seek restitution. “What do you mean, I can’t make a female Marauder or a male Witch Elf?!?”

Now, if you’re rolling Order, it’s smooth sailing for you. 10 careers, two genders apiece. No problem. Yet for various reasons, the Destruction faction comes off as far more gender-biased, with 6 of the 10 careers lacking both gender options:

  • Greenskin Shaman – male only
  • Greenskin Squig Herder – male only
  • Greenskin Black Orc – male only
  • Chaos Marauder – male only
  • Chaos Chosen – male only
  • Dark Elf Witch Elf – female only

So what’s going on here? Is Destruction really adding “sexism” to their list of evil crimes? Are we missing character creation features? Will Destruction become WAR’s de facto “Boy’s Club”? And most importantly, how is Mythic going to provide an easy answer to the casual player who cares not a pip about lore, but just wants to play a certain gender/class combination? WAAAGH! investigates.

Greenskins – The Third Gender?

While there are female Orcs in the non-canonical Blood Bowl, Orcs and Goblins have always been “male” in the Warhammer fantasy universe. Many folks will tell you that they’re not actually male but an asexual third gender, produced by fungus spores and only looking male-like. However, Games Workshop has deliberately left the question of their reproduction (in the Warhammer Fantasy universe; Warhammer 40K is where the “fungus reproduction” came from) up in the air, so nobody has a definitive answer.

So there isn’t a great, solid reason why all the Greenskins are male(ish), other than they’ve always been male in the Wahrammer Fantasy universe, and females would go against that.

Chaos Chosen – From The Dev’s Lips

Why not have a dark armor-clad female warrior of Chaos? Josh Drescher actually commented on this a while ago:

– There will be no female Chosen. It’s a decision we made quite some time ago that was backed by art and design as well as GW.

– This is not part of a sexist plot. Or a lazy plot. Or a plot aimed at ruining your afternoon. Generally speaking, we spend lots of time trying to think of ways to make players HAPPY, not trying to construct elaborate methods of throwing them into a blind rage.

– Yes, you can find evidence in the lore of female Chaos Champions. I never said there were no cases of female Champions. Adam never said it. No one ever said it. But if you look at the dominant, iconic representations of Chaos Champions, they are enormous, hulking, masculine figures. That’s the core of the IP and it’s the look we’re going for with the Chosen.

– From an artistic standpoint, there was no good way to create a female Chosen that maintained the look and visual impact we wanted without sacrificing everything that could in any reasonable way be regarded as “feminine.” We weren’t simply going to strap a female head onto a male body and call it a female Chosen.

Chaos Marauder – Topless Means “M” Rating

The flip answer to the question of “Why no female Marauders?” is “Because Marauders don’t wear no shirts, fool!” and Mythic don’t want no M rating on their game. Yet the Warhammer IP does include cases of female mutations and potential Marauders, so why not a female version of this class?

Josh Drescher reports that the reasoning was similar to the Chosen: “In cases like the Chosen and the Marauder, we felt that it would be inappropriate for our game to try and develop female versions of these careers. We needed them both to be physically terrifying, even at low levels without any armor on. The absurd bodily proportions necessary to achieve that can work on a male model, as it simply makes them look freakishly huge and intimidating. On a female model, however, they just looked awkward and unpleasant.”

Dark Elf Witch Elf – No Wiggle Room

Josh Drescher: “In the case of things like Witch Elves, for example, there was no wiggle room [in the Warhammer IP]. They HAD to be female-exclusive.”

Believe it or not, the Witch Elf gender question is all about marriage (and lore, of course). The Witch Elves are also called “Brides of Khaine”, an all-female cult of priestesses who apparently like knives very, very, very much. As Josh said, not a lot of wiggle room for males in an all-female cult.

However, much speculation has surrounded the creation of the Disciples of Khaine class (new to the Warhammer IP) as a way for Mythic to present a potentially male alternative — even though the role isn’t quite the same (however, notice how both the DoK and the WE dual-wield sharp, pointy objects).

Dark Elf Sorcerer/Sorceress – Hypocritical?

“Aha!” Warhammer fantasy know-it-alls cry out. “So you stick to the game lore for the other classes, but suddenly you can make a male Sorcerer? Warhammer tabletop doesn’t currently have any male sorcerers — just female sorceresses!”

Is this true? Has Mythic been caught being a bit hypocritical in their class/gender dealings, or is something else going on here?

It is true that the tabletop game phased out male Sorcerers a long time ago (prior to 4th or 5th editions), but they still existed as an actual part of the lore — even though the lore is fluid and changes with time.

There is a HUGE Warhammer backstory to the whole issue of male sorcerers, stemming from a Big Bad Boss named Malekith who apparently slaughtered all of the dude sorcerers way back when, because he perceived them as a threat. Games Workshop and Mythic’s explanation for the inclusion of the male sorcerer’s reappearance is that Malekith is temporarily putting aside his grudge against these guys to grow his army more — but he’s probably going to slaughter them all again once the big battle is finished.

We also won’t discount that Mythic took a hard look at the Destruction side and knew that they were pushing the gender restrictions to the limit as it was.

Josh Drescher: “In the case of Sorceresses/Sorcerers, however, GW made it clear that there was ample room for relaxing the standard ‘female-only’ limitations.”

What Will This Mean For WAR?

Right now, small issues like not being able to choose a certain gender/class combination don’t seem important, compared to everything that’s going on. But for players used to choice in past MMO character creation, this restriction might eventually become a Big Deal, demanding more of an official explanation from Mythic. Just… be wary about bringing the gender issue up on any forums; people there have done these conversations to death, and don’t really feel like digging it up for one more go.

I don’t have any handy statistics at my side to tell you that, because X% of real life females tend to roll female classes, Order will statistically attract more female gamers, but I’m willing to claim a hunch that is true. No matter what good lore is backing it up, Destruction comes off as decidedly more “male” in tone, and people do pick up on that sort of thing.


  1. Yup. This, along with the fact that many parents don’t want their 8 year old channeling demons or running around naked means Order will be the more populated realm once the ‘more casual than beta/pre-order’ crowd hits. Worrying about Destruction being more populated is going to look really foolish in about 6 months.

  2. I don’t really get some people’s insistence that they play the same gender. Play the class and faction you want to play, then worry about whether your digital avatar has the same naughty bits.

  3. OLD

    it’s all for the Gameshop IP, but anyway i still need to see a Female Warrior Priest in the Warhammer Fantasy, or a F KoTBS … and surely the Dwarf Women that are usually TOO much Precious to be wasted on war

    Dwarf don’t breed so much .. so they tend to preserve their women

    but maybe … maybeh Destruction is too much ” Violent ” for Women ( despite i still run in huge fear when a F is trying to bash me )

    or meybeh Destr guys are really smart and they preserve their women to breed new soldiers

    dunno, but oh well … i don’t care

    WAR iz comin’ …. hoping for GOA to not destroy my feelings

  4. @toxic, thats all fine and good but some people are really uncomfortable playing online games pretending to be the opposite gender. I play so many console games where your choice of hero is preset and you don’t have a choice that it doesn’t bother me. But people do treat you different based on who your avatar is and that alone may be enough reason for concern.

    I consider myself more in the camp of that casual gamer your talking about. I only started playing in the open beta because a friend who is really into warhammer is playing and having a friend to play an MMO makes the multiplayer stuff way better, which was enough for me to hop off of WoW. I thought the character class/gender distinctions was extremely weird and arbitrary. The more I play the beta the more I realize that any seemingly arbitrary decision made that seems to be made despite being counter intuitive to the online nature of the game is because of a conflict with canon. I think there putting so much weight on Canon is going to hurt them in the long run. At the very least it will remain a constant thorn in there side.

  5. Great post.

    I’d wondered about these limitations myself. I assumed it was all in the name of staying canon.

    Personally, I’m one of those who would have been happier to have the choice of gender for whatever character I choose to play.

    I’m a guy and I’ve never felt quite comfortable playing female avatars. Yes, I’m sure it says something about me, but there you go.

    But I’m sure there are others — men and women — that feel the same way. So from that angle I’m sorry to see WAR doesn’t provide the same freedom to choose gender for every class as some other games do. I think it will push some people to one side or other (or out of the game) based on that limitation.

    (Sadly, as a husband and father, Witch Elves are out anyways. This hobby requires enough explanations already :))

    – Pidge
    ugly, short, fully-clothed dwarf (because it’s all about immersion with your character)

  6. Once I began research into WAR when I became interested, this was on of the first things I noticed. It was the first big “thumbs up” I gave them for not throwing lore completely out the window (been a tabletop player for years) but still doing their best with what they had.

  7. I know people have issues with it, and I did when I first started playing WoW…

    Well who knows. I do like that they are sticking to the lore, in spite of not giving a rats ass about the lore. It indicates a certain level of dedication that is heartening as far as the rest of the game. Especially versus WoW’s continual nerfing of itself to better capture their subs, a bit of artistic integrity is welcome.

  8. Witch elf all the way for me. Sexy avatar all day baby.

  9. Black Orc says to the Witch Elf, “Hey sexy, want to see my mushroom?”

  10. I have read of a lot of women being upset about the lack of female avatars they can choose to better represent themselves. Personally I have never chosen a class based on gender, I just pick something I think is cool/neat/funky looking that I can stand to stare at for the next 3+ years. And not in that dirty way!

  11. If my guild had wanted to go Destruction, I would have dealt with that. Luckily my Dest char of choice would probably have been a zealot. I do tend to play female chars, and healing ones (and 2/3 dest healers can be both genders, with shaman non-specific ;p).

    I do agree with you though, I think it does have an impact, but there are quite a few chars of both genders to play from, Destruction just has most of the restricted-gender classes.

    Not heard a woman say she’s playing Chosen or Marauder yet, but am sure there will be some.

  12. Keep in mind that the gender of female dwarves and male high elves is largely symbolic.

  13. I’m female and I’ll be playing a Chosen. I’m more interested in the play mechanic than the gender; I rolled a bunch of classes during the previews and liked the in your face melee with party buffs. I don’t look on an avatar as a reflection of myself but as a cool toon to manipulate in the Warhammer world. The Chosen’s gruesome, bulky appearance seems just right to me; I agree with Mythic’s decision not to make a “Queen of the Roller Derby” (“the Roller Derby program said she was built like a ‘fridgerator with a head…” Jim Croce).

  14. […] Dolls Episode 2 – They took a post of mine on the lack of Destruction gender choices and ran with it in their show… good for […]

  15. […] Dolls Episode 2 – They took a post of mine on the lack of Destruction gender choices and ran with it in their show… good for […]

  16. I think it’s more a lack of imagination. They can’t make a chosen intimidating if it’s female? With all that ornate armor? Just go check out some fantasy art for some ideas then get to it. Seems simple to me.

    I guess slapping a bikini top on a female marauder might be more of a stretch but big deal. We have plenty of She-Hulk issues to use as a base 🙂

    It just seems not a decision based on any logic. Does he really expect us to believe they tried to make good looking avatars but just couldn’t think up cool enough designs? That is more like an insult to his art team than it is a defense of their choices.

    Note they added male sorcerers, and they’re not even half naked. Apparently they can make an iconic female into a male and make it look cool, but no matter how much they wracked their brains to make cool looking female avatars they could not? Yeah right.

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