Certain controversial subjects seem to resurface every few months, and without fail, the gaming community is stirred into a frenzy of huffing and puffing that rarely ends in any constructive manner. Take, for instance, the well trodden question of female representation in videogames. I’m certainly not here to claim that such discussions are without merit, but often times people speak from a position of complete ignorance, failing or refusing to understand even the most basic core elements of the discussion.
Are representations of women in videogames offensive? How are we even still having this discussion? Twice in the past week I’ve encountered discussions on female representation in video games, and the amount of ignorance, denial and apologetics that I have seen from the gaming community is sickening. Here are some of my favorite examples from the comments section on IGN’s recent “Bringing a Bikini to a Swordfight”:
Men and women are both overly sterotyped. Not every dude has a full head of hair and a six pack. Its because no one wants to play a fat loser, reminds us to much of reality. Also why i dont wanna rescue/fight with a fat girl. No body willingly wants to be huge so why would we put them in our games??”
I’ll start off by responding to this familiar argument, which draws on the fear that if protesters of poor representation got their way all female leads would be unattractive. This stance completely misses the point of the actual issue and only serves to confuse and distract bystanders from the actual discussion.
Attractiveness is not what we are fighting to get changed. It’s the way female characters are sexualized, needlessly, in ways that go beyond ideal body types. For instance, take this image of Nova from StarCraft. Now, I don’t think anyone would argue that Nova is a poorly conceived character. She’s a capable fighter, she’s independent and she’s strong willed. The issue is that when we see images or movies of her or other female characters in games they tend to represent the character in an unnecessarily sexualized fashion. What one piece combat suit do you know of that’s so tight it slides between your ass cheeks? And why, when displaying a character who is known for her killing prowess, would you choose to highlight her backside over a heroically posed body or action shot? Nova is even a conservative example when you consider that there are games where female character are literally created simply for fan service and cheese.
Except in television and movies we rarely see characters as overtly sexualized as we do in video games. Look at Ivy, or any Soul Calibur character, as an example. What is the point of dressing these women so scantily if not for titillation? It seems to me that these design decisions are actual at odds with the finished product’s objective, to create an engaging, competitive fighting game, and these elements are largely unnecessary. Ivy could still be attractive and sexual without wearing a bikini into battle, but by emphasizing their sexuality they’re completely alienating an entire audience.
Sounds like to me a bunch of angry feminist complaining about a bunch of nothing. I find it funny they complain about women with big boobs in videos games but yet they are covered but at the same time women never say anything about a half naked man running around. Face it women, games are geared toward men and men like boobs and good looking women. If you hate it that much then a bunch of you get together and make a game with men running around in tights or whatever you like to see men wearing. It sickens me to see women complain about so much BS. It is already bad enough most woman hate video games for whatever god knows reason.
Could it be that women hate video games because of sexist representation? Or could it be that we’ve created a sexist, uninviting environment for anyone who isn’t a thirteen year old male? Women are not the only people complaining about the immaturity of video games. Hell, I love video games to death, but even I can’t ignore the inequalities and terrible designs any longer.
As for video games being geared towards men, there’s plenty of content created in every other medium every day that isn’t pigeonholed into a single audience. The issue is that mainstream games, games like Street Fighter, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Tomb Raider, games that should be marketed towards large audiences because they hold widespread appeal, still choose to promote male-centric cheesecake to an audience that really doesn’t even notice or appreciate it. How many people would have truly been heart-broken if Jack had worn a shirt? Or if Cammy actually put some pants on? You don’t see this kind of stereotyping or oversexualization in main stream entertainment anywhere else, save those mediums where sexualization is the primary goal. It’s no wonder that video games get such a bad wrap for being mindless, immature wastes of time.
i think its more noticable because women can be concidered a minority. lets be honest the Male lead role isnt normally a fat slob. he has all the traits women most likely find equally attractive for their male counterparts. i dont know what kind of female character would be concidered acceptable, but im sure the question could be flipped to males just as easy. i think society labels women more as sex symbols and dont focus as much on men. that doesnt mean using sexy women is more perverted than sexy men nor is it any better or worse. Would this topic come up if male gamers out there said things like, “why do all the men have big muscles?” its not even a new topic for crying out loud. Most people dont want ugly fat slobs as their main characters, so just let it die. its a dumb topic plain and simple
Men are not represented in the same fashion as women. If men dressed, acted, or posed in the same manners that women in games did we would consider it homoerotic (and have in the past). Not to mention that men fulfill a wide variety of roles and are endlessly more varied in their designs than their female counterparts. Look at Street Fighter for example. We have a wide variety of male character from all walks of life, all ages, and are generally do not stand out for their fan service ass shots. Yet all the females in Street Fighter are young, nubile, and attractive. Ok, we can forgive that because at least the characters are strong willed and capable fighters. In fact, Chun Li has been top tier in nearly every Street Fighter game. Yet these spec ops agents, international cops, and martial artists choose to wear skirts and thongs into battle instead of decent combat equipment. What thought actually goes into designing a character like Sakura?
These are just a few of the 1200 comments. Yes, I did cherry pick them, but these comments aren’t even the most offensive I could find, nor are they the only comments that are peddling these ignorant points of view. The point is that even if male characters are being created to draw in a female audience, (which I don’t believe developers are doing) female characters are being drawn and positioned in a way that uses their sexuality to describe them, rather than to convey character strengths and flaws. When I look at Kratos concept art from God of War I don’t see a sexualized male ideal. I see a character, one who is serious, battle hardened, and capable in a fight. When I look at Morrigan from Dragon Age I don’t know what to think. She kind of looks like a prostitute, but certainly my first thought is not sorceress or capable fighter. That’s the issue with most action game heroines in general, especially Japanese titles. They just don’t utilize visual representation for anything more than sexual aesthetics. Even for a strong lead character, these costumes, booty shots and nude scenes don’t aid much in understanding the character or even lend themselves well to the game’s overarching design or story. With criminally few exceptions, it’s nothing more than immature pandering.
This is a complicated topic, and I can’t claim to cover ever facet of this discussion in a single article. That being said, I would like to clarify a few things. I do not think that all sexual representations of women should be struck down. I believe that these characters will always have a place somewhere, but we should start moving away from this method of design in main stream gaming and start opening our doors to a wider audience. Videogames have the potential to be the greatest artistic medium in modern history, but before we can have more quality, mainstream, and widely appealing games we need to do some growing up first. Part of doing that is changing the hearts and minds of outsiders looking in and proving that we, gamers, are not just a group of basement-dwelling, misogynistic, immature children.
This wraps up the first issue of Heroine Abuse. There will be more to come, but please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section. Well thought out or well argued posts may be featured in future articles, so keep that in mind when writing. If there’s anything you think I might have missed, feel free to correct me as well.