Saturday, March 31, 2012

Female Characters in Video Games

This article and its follow-up, written on the blog Paging Dr. Nerdlove addresses the issue of sexism in video games and geek culture quite fully. Well, the first part  presents the issue and the second article was written in response to the vast amount of negative responses the author received because of the first post. That is one of the key problems: gamers are extremely hostile to the idea that they are being sexist. Either they deny the issue, say no one cares, or that it's okay because it's a male-dominated culture so games would obviously pander to a male audience or that male characters are sexualized as well, so it evens out. Dr. Nerdlove goes into depth deconstructing these foolish arguments and why they're not helping.

Even though geek culture and media are generally male centric, women are making great progress in fantasy, movies and comics at an increasing rate. However, it seems that video games are lagging behind. One of the most egregious failing of the gaming industries that the author brought up and I am most annoyed by is the profound lack of good female characters that have. Female characters that actually have interesting stories and development are few and far between, while virtually every game has some swimsuit model gyrating or prancing around as a love interest. Even games that put in an effort to have female characters end up perpetuating stereotypes by treating them as objects of desire first and characters second. Let's look at the author's example from the recent Batman game Arkham City.
These are three very obviously different characters, with different motivations, stories and, most relevantly, body types. The hero is ridiculously muscular, one villain is rail-thin and the other is on the chubby side. Now, see the difference in them and the female characters:
Now which of these is the villain? The hero? They are certainly different, but from looking at them all we get is sexy. There is only one body type: skinny with big boobs, paired with tight and revealing clothing. What changes between them? Hair and skin color and makeup, mostly. They could even trade outfits without much confusion. It's as if for male characters the designers thought, "Okay, how does this character fight? How can we show that?" and for female characters, "So we start with a barbie what color spandex defines her seduction style?" This is coming from a modern, otherwise well written game, of which there are many that have the same problem. This isn't even mentioning fighting games such as Soul Caliber or Dead or Alive (which even had a beach volleyball spin-off), which introduced "jiggle physics" to the female characters' exaggerated breasts to boost sales.

Looking at recent games, it was very challenging to come up with any female characters that had interesting stories and were not overtly sexualized. The only ones from major games this decade I thought of were Elena Fisher from the Uncharted series, Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2 and FemShep from Mass Effect, who only ha an interesting story because she is the main character who you decide the personality and look of. Feel free to give me more examples.


  1. In one of my previous blog posts, i also came across the video game Batman: Arkham City and discussed the over-sexualization of the female characters. The characterizations of female characters in video games are not as developed and just seem to appear to complement the male characters. There is almost no context as to why they appear in the games. Most of them have no superpower and do not contribute to any plot point, but are sexualized in the way they dress and talk, which may be a way to appeal to male gamers.

  2. Your comment about the fact that we can not tell who is good and who is evil based on the appearances of these women caught my attention, because this is also true for the males. Batman looks like an insane evil demon, the Joker looks like a crazy clown (who COULD be good, based on looks; clowns are fun, right?), and the doctor, for all we know, could be a well-respected practitioner of medicine. Outfits and appearances only say so much. And specifically in the Batman world, they say almost nothing. In this aspect, these male and female costumes are identical, and the designer is not being sexist.

  3. I'm really glad you mentioned Dead or Alive; that game was a significant part of my childhood. My sister, our friends, and I would play pretty much every time they would come over and we became quite the pros. However, I do remember, when I was ten and my brother was seven, being embarrassed by some of the clothes my characters were wearing with him in the room. Because of this, we wouldn't play any of the female characters anymore, but stayed strictly to the fully clothed males. Is this fair? I never thought so. I was always upset that almost NONE of the women had fully clothed outfits, but the men did! And as for the "jiggle physics"... I remember my sister being really upset about that when we were a bit older. It's just ridiculous the lengths that men will do to sell products to other men.


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