Dear Fellow Women Gamers,
It’s time to focus! I know that when we get together, we tend to focus most emphatically on the ways we feel excluded from the video game industry. We sit down and vent about awkwardly dressed female protagonists, incredibly weak female characters and boobs would cause serious back problems on any real human being. I love finding comradery with you ladies, and I know when we work together we can seriously kick ass, but I feel like we may be stuck in an emotional rut.
Games are as much of an escape for men as they are for women. We give guys a hard time because they find in-game female characters sexy. Everything is idealized, fantasized, even, but it’s important to remember that men don’t look at these women in games and instantly create a standard for women. What they’re seeing in game, more often than not, probably isn’t a representation of what they really want in a woman. Men freely admit to not finding their own bodies attractive, so I heavily doubt they are worried about us looking at Marcus Phoenix and having that become our standard for men. That argument, that focus on looks as the be-all, end-all of the way gender is portrayed in games is oversimplified at best and counterproductive at worst. We can make this about looks if we want, but I think that diminishes the real problem we face.
Though it’s frequently glossed over, there is genuine sexism is games that doesn’t just doll female characters up like sex goddesses but actually reduces them to helpless, pointless, and worthless accessories. Team Ico is perhaps the most notorious proponent of this misguided approach to women in video games. They have the vulnerable, brainless female character down to a science. In Ico, Yorda is incapable of displaying the slightest intelligence or self-preservation. She may not be dressed provocatively or forced to become a sex object, but she is objectified in the sense that she becomes nothing more than a brainless burden to the player, seemingly for reasons that stem directly from her femininity. And who could forget this gem of a quote from a 1UP article explaining why The Last Guardian has a male protagonist?
Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn’t have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt.
When in game women are constantly being put in a state of mental helplessness, the message is far more damaging than the outfits they’re wearing could ever be, and this can be damaging to how men view us outside of video games. Women are given an oversexualized, perfect image everywhere from movies to magazine covers, but thankfully most other media have at least made independent, realistically portrayed women the norm. In the case of Ico’s Yorda, though, a whole gender is reduced to some weak thing that needs to literally be pulled around by the hand and is constantly being captured out of weakness and an imbecilic lack of foresight. I think it’s time we move forward and stop sitting around moaning about how Morrigan’s outfits defy physics and really put our mind toward fixing these more damaging, less superficial portrayals of women in games. We are a powerful force. We can be demure and ladylike at times, but mostly we are a force to be reckoned with.
What I’m trying to say here is that I think we’re allowing the wrong things to get us down. We need to let go of the superfluous stuff as there is a bigger enemy we have to unite against. Forget the clothing, forget the body types, forget all the little things that get under your skin. By continuing to focus our efforts on forcing developers to be thoughtful in their creation of female characters (of which Alyx Vance, pictured above, is an excellent example), we can attack the one largest problem women face when they sign on for some gaming. When you encounter a female character who is one sided and dumb as a brick (and there are many), write to that developer demanding answers. Tell other female gamers and get them involved. We are a really strong community, and I think if we pull together, we can really make a difference in all of this. For inspiration, I leave you with this picture of Lara Croft fighting a dinosaur.