I am certain that the use of the word “sex” is guaranteed to catch anyone’s attention, especially when it comes to gaming. There were the ridiculous debacles surrounding Mass Effect when Fox News decided to listen to people who stated the game let you simulate rape and engage in all sorts of horrible, horrible sexual acts. But what of the state of how female characters are dressed and addressed in games today? Have the feminists quieted down? Do we still hate developers for the ridiculous leather and lace that barely covers the impossibly gorgeous and well-endowed bodies of heroines and love interests alike? Or do we, the female gamers who are sometimes told do not exist, secretly enjoy the sexiness which we can embody in games?
I once wrote an article that responded to certain gamer girl stereotypes that have been observed throughout the years as female involvement in games increases. I looked at cosplayers and commented on how given the characters we are presented with, we often do not have a choice but to bare it all when it comes to dressing ourselves like our favorite characters. If you google image “female game characters” the first page of results includes completely sexed up, half-naked sex-pot characters. Does this make me angry? No, it really does not. But I am starting to question whether or not my lack of a negative reaction is a problem.
I doubt I will change my mind any time soon since I have always enjoyed fantasy art and do recognize that games have always been a form of art. However, I am concerned as to the effect these voluptuous characters are having on our younger generation. Not just girls who feel pressured to have the perfect body, but rather the young men who grow up objectifying women.
Let us continue by taking a look at a few particular female game characters. I would like to begin with Lara Croft, a heroine we all know and love (or hate).
Lara is sexy, intelligent, agile, and just plain awesome. Her clothes are likely more sexy than they have to be, her breasts are impossible, and her face just screams sex. And yet lots of women idolize her, want to be her, and dress like her for Halloween or any other gaming events (conventions, etc.). She is well-known in the gaming world, having been around since 1996. Nude mods were made for her and movies have since been created. She is, quite simply, iconic.
Next up, let’s have a look at Samus. One of the first major female heroines in a game, she was introduced in 1986 in Metroid. Interestingly, her true gender is not revealed until the end of the game. And not only that, but her costume of choice for the reveal is a bikini.
Seriously? A bikini? They make a big deal about hiding her identity, almost as if “Hey, look, she’s super awesome – she must be a man!”, but then when they reveal her, they simply have to make it painstakingly obvious that she is female. And that she is subject to female game character substitutes. This is a little discouraging. Thanks to this sexy reveal, Samus has since become one of the more celebrated hot gamer heroines. Sure, I am happy that a woman is celebrated. I am not so happy that in order to be celebrated, she had to be in a bikini.
Let us look at one more game character. She is less well-known. She is dressed down. She relies on her intelligence and skill. Jade from Beyond Good and Evil gives hope to regular girls, but is stifled by the bosoms and bottoms of so many other women.
Jade is without a doubt (at least in my mind) attractive. But designers properly recognized that in order to be bad ass and sexy, she does not have to show off an impossible body. While other characters have been created, like Jade, in a more realistic sense (as realistic as you can get in a game with a talking pig!), they are far and few between. I am not offended by the use of skimpy costumes and huge breasts. I am not offended by the apparent need for a perky bottom and sleek figure. I am, rather, discouraged by the apparent need to cater to such a senseless demand that is, though perhaps unconscious, presented by most of the gaming community.
According to WomenGamers.com in 2008, 40% of gamers in the US alone are women. I’d imagine that the figures in other developed nations such as Canada and the UK would be similar. Will game developers start to recognize this and lessen the use of oversexed characters? Or will they stick to age-old, tried and true traditions? New releases featuring sexy heroines such as Velvet Assassin, Bayonetta and WET suggested the latter. Yet quiet hits such as Indigo Prophecy and Beyond Good and Evil suggest that some developers, at least, understand the true worth of realism.
Looking for sensible female characters? Check out these games: – Beyond Good and Evil : Jade – Indigo Prophecy: Carla Valenti – Resident Evil: Clare Redfield, Jill Valentine – No One Lives Forever: Cate Archer (NOLF 1 and 2) – Longest Journey: April Ryan – Dreamfall: The Longest Journey: Zoë Castillo – Half-Life 2: Alyx Vance
For another look at women depicted in games, I plan to look at female antagonists.