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Why Gaming is Still Stuck in the 90’s: The Female Image in Games

May 14, 2011 3 comments

All too often I find myself enjoying a game only to get jolted into reminding myself, “Yup, this is a videogame.” Not necessarily because of bad graphics or a poor story, it’s because the portrayals of females is more offensive than not. Listen, I enjoy a pair of knockers as much as the next guy; but when it’s in a game because a developer said, “BECAUSE BOOBS!” doesn’t mean there should be a place for it.

"There's all these heavily armed ninjas chasing me you gotta... nevermind... I'll find someone else..."

Games are becoming increasingly more immersive, their purpose is to remove you from your boring life for a few moments so you can be empowered in another. Story-telling and graphics help to significantly sell the experience. But, every once in a good while your experience is rudely interrupted by a pair of gozungas. You’re probably thinking, “But Chris, I like sex appeal in videogames don’t you?” Sex appeal is fine in video games as they’re more “mature” now than ever. However, if a developer is trying to sell me on an empowered female character, she shouldn’t be wearing a cheerleader outfit with her rack hanging out; I won’t be able to take her seriously. Imagine yourself playing a game and you’re unraveling the finer mysteries as to why the world is ending. At some point (in pretty much every game) you’ll set out with a goal in mind to stop certain catastrophe, when all of a sudden a porno-esque female librarian/secretary “briefs” you on a mission. This particular scenario isn’t from any particular game, but we’ve all been there; playing a game and a pornstar comes out of left field to shove a “set” in our faces.

Lady Gaga kills demons too... and then unnecessarily turns into a recurring character...

“Whoa hot chicks in videogames are awesome!!! What’s your beef?!” My “beef” is that promiscuity can often times TAKE AWAY from a female character instead of adding to them. I don’t know what it’s like for a female gamer to play some of these games. I can’t speak for all of them, but I can’t imagine feeling “okay” with some of the female depictions that are out there.

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!?!?!

This isn’t something that has recently surfaced in the industry; it’s been around since the dawn of gaming. I don’t want to remind everyone of Custer’s Revenge on the Atari 2600. Even during the NES era with the Battletoad’s Dark Queen; while she may be “tame” by today’s standards, keep in mind that 5 year olds (including me), were getting our hands on these games. Double Dragon 2’s Marion was also another one from the NES era that needed to pull up her blouse in front of the kids. Perhaps what sparked the fire was the PS1 era’s Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series. Gameplay-wise the series got increasingly poorer, but her bust size kept increasing along with her sales. No other female videogame character has received as much notoriety as Lara Croft in the 90’s.

Blame her. She won't care.

I’m not here to rain on everyone’s parade saying, “No more boobs” in games. Let’s not forget that the gaming industry is growing up and developers are targeting adults now more than ever. The God of War series is known for it’s sex minigames and female characters that never fail to be topless. Bayonetta is just oozing (no pun, no pun goddamnit!) with sex appeal in EVERYTHING she does in the game. I can’t state that these are the only exceptions, but they’re M-rated and perhaps the developers want to push the envelope a bit, but they can do so respectfully. I’m sure there are female gamers out there whom enjoy these titles, but I can’t imagine myself playing a game where I control a man that gets naked-er as I’m vanquishing foes. Fighting games are infamous for their cast of female fighters. Most fighting games don’t exactly support a strong story for the characters to grow in, so the extent of their “character” boils down to their movesets and how “cool” they look. Soul Calibur is a beloved fighting franchise with a strong roster. However, EVERY female character in that game is… just look at the screenshot below, it tells all….

YOU'RE A NINJA?! HOW AM I SUPPOSE TO TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY?! HOW DO I EVEN FIGHT YOU?!

I’m sure character designers and artists are thinking, “How do we give her more personality?” Most will increase the polygon count in the chest and buttocks region and call it a day. Creating a believable and rich female character avoids that completely. Bonnie from Red Dead Redemption is a tough gal that doesn’t take crap from nobody. She doesn’t look like a dominatrix armed to the teeth. She’s a an appropriately-dressed western girl that has her head on straight. Her blue-collar attitude is what makes me interested in her character; not her bra size.

Being a blockbuster series; Uncharted could’ve easily fallen into the pitfall of having a female protagonist that “dresses for success”. However, Elena Fisher finds herself at the opposite end of the spectrum. She’s a woman that is guided by her career and supports the main character you play as. She doesn’t carry a whip, she carries a camera. She doesn’t rock a school-girl outfit, she wears jeans and a half-tucked shirt. Elena has a way of motivating the player through her dialogue and the energy she projects, not by unbuttoning her blouse. These are only a few of the female characters that are exactly what they are – female characters; not sex goddesses.

She looks nice, but she's got a vicious hook and can handle a piece.

The videogame industry can do a better job of depicting females in games. There are developers out there who understand that an overly-revealing character can be annoying or distracting for all the wrong reasons. It still seems like most game makers are still targeting males, they need to be mindful that women also play videogames. As a male gamer, an army of under-dressed virtual woman would not make me change my mind as to whether or not a game sucks. A bad game is a bad game. Undoubtedly, there are other gamers like me, male and female, who are sick of “characters” that are no more than virtual strippers. If I’m laying down $60 + tax for a video game, I’m paying for the experience and the potential fun, not a shameful peep show. If I want that, I’ll find it at the bar on the Touch Master, not on my home consoles.