Adam or Eve: Diablo As a Feminine Representation of Evil

Eve. Delilah. Athaliah. Jezebel.

The common link between these names is obvious – each belongs to a biblical woman who either is evil or is often interpreted as such. We all know the story of Eve; Delilah was a Hebrew temptress, Athaliah a murderous worshipper of Ba’al, and Jezebel a false propet.

[Warning: This article includes major spoilers about the Diablo III storyline. Continue reading at your own risk]

Added to the list of female evils based on religion is a new (and, at first, bewildering) character – Diablo. While Diablo of Diablo III fame is a much less significant figure in terms of culture, the pixelated devil has taken on the role of feminine evil in the latest installment to the Diablo series. Traditionally, Diablo has manifested itself as a male when infiltrating the mortal plane, but in 2012’s sequel, the devil took on a new form in the possession of Leah. Assisting the development of a female Diablo is the fact that it also consumed the soul of Andariel, who, up until Diablo III, was the sole female evil in the Diablo universe. These two factors resulted in the first manifestation of Diablo as a woman, which can be seen in the screenshot below.

Those hips don't lie, girl.

Those hips don’t lie, girl.

This brings us to the question of why. Why would Blizzard give one of their most popular villains a sex-change? In this particular scenario, it’s clear it wasn’t because of the age-old cliche of “sex sells,” as Diablo is not an erotic being (unless you’re into xenomorphs, in which case you might want to invest in therapy).

It’s possible that the old-school design of Diablo wasn’t frightening enough anymore; the devil as a burly, masculine figure is old hat by now. Introducing Diablo as a woman adds a refreshing take on the character, as well as providing imagery that may stir anxiety into the hearts of the players. Having an entity that reaches beyond both sexes while simultaneously pervading them is a concept that we as humans don’t understand, which brings bubbling to the surface the fear of the unknown.

If you get possessed by the Prime Evil, you're gonna have a bad time.

If you get possessed by the Prime Evil, you’re gonna have a bad time.

The slow, slinking way in which Diablo moves as a woman is intimidating as well. Personally, I was not an enormous fan of the game, but I did greatly enjoy the cinematic that truly shows off Diablo’s power once it has consumed Leah, whose death was equally disturbing. Some may call the feminization of Diablo misogyny, but to me, it was a means by which Blizzard could explore new character development. Granting a woman that kind of power is a concept that’s rarely explored in the video game industry, which makes the character all the more unique and interesting for the brief period it appears. Really, the only misogynistic part of it is the fact that “she” talks so damned much.

Before this gets to be too long and turns into a college-length essay, I’m going to turn it over to you, the readers. If you played Diablo III, what did you think of the “big reveal”? Do you prefer one sex over another, and if so, why?

Join the Discussion

  • Steve

    I’d be inclined to give them a little more benefit of the doubt if it weren’t Blizzard. Between Sylvanas Windrunner, Sarah Kerrigan, and “Leahblo”, I’m starting to think Chris Metzen has some kind of Claremont-esque fetish for women being corrupted through power.

    • Haha, yeah, Metzen… is an interesting person. I’m not a huge fan, but I didn’t even notice this until you mentioned it.

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  • oh wow. I didn’t even know this. I’ve always thought a woman as a bad guy as more of a strong choice because it goes against “the norm”. Whatever that is..

  • Chaos Mechanica

    I think this is less misogynistic and more change, as well. Women have been interpreted as “evil” for silly, sexist reasons, but honestly, female villians–when done right–are almost always better than men. It’s not that women are inherently evil (though I know some broken-hearted men may believe that) but that there are numerous dynamics and nuances at play when a female is in the role of powerful villainess, especially to a male-dominated (if not necessarily or purposely male-oriented) audience.

    You have the seduction of evil at work (and i’m sure subconsciously heterosexual males would prefer the metaphor for this idea be represented by a female); you have a female in power which–even if it’s evil power–still makes her the most powerful (and if written well, would still give her great character depth if she’s not a 1-dimensional would-be world conqueror); you have a somewhat inherent conflict of gender roles in the bad gal herself, with women being “creators” biologically and this one choosing to be a destroyer instead; etc, etc.

    I’d fear most how she’d be portrayed visually (usually hyper-sexually) and if that would encourage a one-note characterization with bad B-movie dialogue. But as far as simply her being the devil, I’d say that in the idea of fairplay and equality, it’d only make sense that women be portrayed as both heroes AND villains in games and movies, IF done well.

    • Fortunately, Diablo is not portrayed in an extremely sexual way in this game. You can tell that it has inhabited a female form, but it’s nothing that’s going to get you jonesin’ for the Prime Evil.

      Also, this is a very well-written and thoughtful comment, thank you for contributing to the discussion!

  • RandomReduX

    I haven’t seen it so I can’t judge, myself, but I’d have to say on the subject of whether there’s sexism at play in this case depends largely on how the character is portrayed. Namely, how sexualized is she? You mention the ‘slow, slinking’ way she moves – is the hip swaying exaggerated? Does she basically flaunt what she’s got? Having a woman as a villain isn’t a problem in and of itself – all gender identities have good and bad people after all – but I think it becomes problematic if the evil part automatically goes hand in hand with the sexy part. Delilah and Jezebel as you’ve mentioned, Faith from Buffy, Poison Ivy from Batman (in fact, most comic book villainesses), Mileena from MK, Maria in Silent Hill 2, etc. we have this incredible habit of tying evil (or at least danger/mistrust) with sexual women, to the point where it’s practically shorthand for evil (or dangerous). You get that Madonna/Whore complex going on.

    Now that’s just what I’ve gleaned over the years, the kind of complaint I hear most (I AM NO EXPERT. I just have a lot of friends to whom these issues are important, and they are becoming more important to me as well). If this new Diablo is portrayed in the same way as the male counterpart has been in the last couple of games, just made a woman, I doubt there would be any serious complaints. But if the character starts, say, swaying their hips or posing in a ‘sexy’ way in the new form – behaviors that this being has never exhibited before that have come up because the designers wanted to sex things up – that’s where complaints are gonna come in. You get the old habit of male characters being designed as a power fantasy, and women characters being designed as a sexual fantasy.

    But then, it’s Blizzard, whose female representation of the monstrous Zerg race in Kerrigan was still pretty much a bombshell who even grew her own sort of high heels for instance, IIRC, and I don’t recall the corrupted male marines being that studly – I’m not personally holding my breath.

    (BTW, I say this all as a pinup artist – I’ve got nothing against depictions of sexuality. I just advocate putting more thought into these issues, and support people who want to see more non/less-sexualized characters alongside the sexualized ones. As I’ve said in the past, the Dead or Alives in gaming aren’t going anywhere, people just want more FemSheps and Chells alongside them!)

    • It’s a little pronounced, but I think that’s just because women walk differently than men, to be honest. I really liked the change and felt that there was no real difference between male and female Diablo aside from the physical – I thought it was handled very well. 🙂

      Also, a pinup artist! Can I see your art? I love old-school pinups, they’re so cute.