Wargaming has traditionally been a "boy's club" in most senses of the word - the player base is overwhelmingly male, and the representation of genders in older fantasy wargames has often fit in with the high fantasy/swords and sorcery stereotypes - large overly muscular men with oversized weapons shouting on about honour and death and blood and glory, contrasted with slender, overly curvaceous, usually half-naked, seductive women attributed either with the malicious, deceitful machinations of a sorceress or simply sexually objectified. Pretty much the kind of jank you'd expect to see on a Manowar cover:
Ethnic Diversity in the Empire of the Free Cities
In terms of ethnic diversity, I will keep it short - the Guild Ball setting is based on a late medieval/ early industrial-era Western Europe, with a dash of Game of Thrones-style pseudo magic.
You have the Scandinavian influences in the Fishermen and Brewers, the urban Jack the Ripper-style gore of the Butchers, the fashionable dress stylings of the Alchemists and Union, the gothic stylings of the Morticians, the steampunk of the Engineers and the Frankish influences of the Masons.
The setting and its influences are squarely European, which I must admit is one thing that drew me in, as I love European history and cultures. Europe in the "Guild Ball" era was overwhelmingly populated by white caucasian Europeans. To my knowledge, the only non-caucasian characters currently (or soon to be) in the game are Greyscales, Hammer and Scalpel (all black), although you could probably argue a few non-European eastern influences on characters like Corsair or Blackheart, not to mention masked players like Snakeskin, Mist or Minx.
All in all, given the context it is working in and the youth of the game, I feel Guild Ball's ethnic diversity is quite good and there is probably more ethnic diversity than the setting would dictate.
You could of course critique the setting on that which it isn't, namely an accurate representation of our increasingly ethnically mixed and diverse modern day society, or why they chose to go with the setting they did rather than an alternate setting more representational of our modern day cosmopolitanism, but that would take the discussion to another plane of critique well above the purview of this short article.
Gender diversity in the game of Guild BallIn terms of gender diversity, let's take a look at the numbers, including Season 2 releases known so far. I remember Matt Hart mentioned in an interview (likely the CanCon Q&A) that the current female:male ratio in Guild Ball is around one third:
Alchemists - 3/8
Male: Midas, Mercury, Katalyst, Venin, Compound
Female: Smoke, Calculus, Vitriol
Brewers - 2/8
Male: Tapper, Hooper, Spigot, Stave, Stoker, Mash
Female: Friday, Esters
Butchers - 3/8
Male: Ox, Boiler, Boar, Shank, Tenderizer
Female: Brisket, Fillet, Meathook
Engineers - 2/8
Male: Ballista, Salvo, Colossus, Ratchet, [Hoist], Compound
Female: [Velocity], Pin Vice
Fishermen - 2/8
Male: Shark, Corsair, Kraken, Greyscales, Jac, Sakana
Female: Angel, Siren
Masons - 3/8
Male: Hammer, Mallet, Brick, Flint, Tower
Female: Honour, Chisel, Harmony
Morticians - 2/8
Male: Obulus, Graves, Casket, Ghast, Silence, Bonesaw
Female: Scalpel, Cosset
Union - 5/12
Male: Blackheart, Rage, Avarisse, Greed, Fangtooth, Mist, Harry the Hat
Female: Gutter, Decimate, Hemlocke, Minx, Snakeskin
Total: 22/68 = 32% (33% if you include Compound only once)
Conclusion - Matt was correct. Freakishly so.
Compared to the majority of fantasy wargames out there, and compared to the world of peak-level professional sports (overwhelmingly male dominated), having a one third female proportion of players is not bad at all.
Let's go a bit further and look at individual female models and see how many fit the traditional fantasy archetype of the female physique and temperament. In order to broaden the depth of this overview, I have even consulted with NZ Guild Ball's foremost feminism theory expert, Dave D, M. Health Science (Psych.), for a critique of the representation of women within the game. I offer his cold critical perspective sporadically in red:
DD - This gender ratio is not necessarily a marker for whether this is good or bad, but rather will raise the question, why not 1:1? Sure, this shows a trend towards a more equitable ratio compared to other games, but the critical question still remains; why is it still disproportionate to the actually make up of our population? This is a fantasy setting, where we do not have to rely on "real-world" social discourses to explain why things are "the way they are", yet I will propose that it is the strength of these discourses that lead designers, most probably unconsciously yet still deliberate, to make design decisions where men are represented more, and this is assumed as the "natural" state of affairs.
again, female scientist), fights dirty with smoke bombs.
Perhaps it's telling that she is in the same team as the musclebound macho moustachioed behemoth that is Boar?
Fillet - Agile, sleek and very feminine in appearance but utterly not subtle in doing what she wants to do, which is making opponents bleed all over the place and cutting them up in small pieces. 'Seductive' might be the last word attributed to this one.
A goal scoring robot, basically.
DD- Here we have a very clear and present example of objectification of the female form. And this also presents an example of how much gender is a social construction, where we apply meaning and language to identify something by its gender not because of what genes it was born with; This robot doesn't even have chromosomes to identify it as being of the male or female sex. Yet giving it boobs assigns it with a female set of characteristics. Now, I don't want to assume the design intent of the modelers here, but the potential conclusion that could be drawn is that a female on the Engineer's team is equitable to a robot who becomes programmed and controlled by someone else. An object that is devoid of human agency and feelings.
The issue of power is present here because this robot has none.
Fishermen:Finally we move to a team that has the high fantasy female stereotype. However, it's been split across two characters:
Almost entirely like the sirens of old Greek legend :)
In conclusion, I think the representation of women in this game is good, perhaps even industry leading, with a lot of variation and I would be hard pressed to pin it down as the game being "a real boys' club with a few token women".
There are a handful of female characters who fit quite squarely into female stereotypes and probably could not be 'converted' to male models: Brisket, Siren, Cosset, Snakeskin, and arguably Esters, Minx and at a stretch, Harmony. The rest you could probably convincingly turn into male models with only a background change and another sculpt (there is of course the critique regarding the 'necessity' of breasts to be sculpted on a female model or an overly slender physique in order to be identified as female). The same argument could probably be made for a good percentage of the male models (Mist, for sure) in the game, thought probably not to the same extent.
It feels to me like the designers and developers of Guild Ball have taken George RR Martin's stance on female fictional characters to heart:
Overall, it becomes hard to address gender issues without also comparing the female models to the male ones. Because while on the surface there seems to be a range of tropes that GB references in their character design, much of what identifies gendered markers includes what that gender is NOT. If you want to talk diversity, looks at the range of poses and body types the males have, from big burly brawlers to more slight and athletic men. Compared to the males, the females follow one body shape, with the notable exception of Esters, who even then requires great massive breasts so that she is still identified as 'feminine'.
Now I write all this having to disclose that I have not read the fluff. I am purely making these observations based off the design of the models, and what scraps of background information I do have. But ultimately I don't think my opinion would change after reading the fluff. Which is that I disagree that Steamforged have broken any molds. This is a criticism leveled at various media, movies, music, books, etc. that the females either follow standard accepted tropes of female character types, or require characterisation based on masculine standards to make them as vicious as the men in this game. The males are still used as the norm, a measuring stick, around which the various female abilities are compared. And even then, there is a reluctance to move away from a feminine body archetype. This is a critique I also level at GRR Martin, where his depiction of sexual violence and the characterisations he uses, still rely on gendered norms; men are in the position of overwhelming power and set the standard for all others to follow. You either be as viciously cut throat as the men are, or you become a subject of abuse and objectification.
The one thing I can conclude that Steamforged have done is up the gender-representation. The actual cultural impact this has, I'm very skeptical of.