In the spirit of Women’s HERstory month at Baruch, I figured it would be as good a time as any to talk about the big, pink elephant in the room — girls in games. For those of you who are new to this column or have not noticed from the glamour shot that graces this column every week, I’m a girl. It’s hard to deny that I’m a bit biased towards my fellow estrogen pumpers, but there is an issue still worth talking about.
Over time, the video game industry has manifested itself from two-dimensional tennis simulators to three-dimensional full-length cinematic experiences. Granted, the media has matured in some aspects regarding technology, story and even gameplay. But there is still one major flaw that is holding it back, and that is gender equality.
Sexism in video games is not a new issue. It’s been happening since the medium’s earliest of years.
Games such as the “Dead or Alive” series that began in 1996 as a fast-paced fighting game has since transformed into a volleyball simulator where sex appeal plays more of a focal role than any sort of gameplay.
Most recently, the game “Dante’s Inferno,” a 2010 action-adventure game loosely based on the epic poem of the same title, employs the aged-old tactic of using women as goals. The game follows Dante, re-imagined as a Templar knight as he journeys through the nine circles of Hell to reclaim the soul of his beloved Beatrice from the hands of Lucifer.
Beatrice is perceived as a sexual goal, shown topless for the majority of the game. It should be noted that these chicks-as-trophies games are not the majority, but the offense is prevalent enough to spark anger in a feminist.
For a predominantly visual medium like video games, characters are often asked to communicate their immediate feelings and overall personality by the way they present themselves.
In an academic essay on sexism in video games, Helen Kennedy explains that a major issue with feminists and games is how they are perceived, saying, “
It is a question that is often reduced to trying to decide whether [the female character] is a positive role model for young girls or just that perfect combination of eye and thumb candy for the boys.”
Character poses, especially default stances or hero poses, become incredibly important in visual media, or at least they do for characters who are men.
When a person looks at an official still or an idle stance for a male character in a video game, their poise and comportment are usually carefully set up to imply a specific attitude.
For example, in the promotional art for fighting games, male characters are often posed to look tough and strong, while females are posed to look hyper-sexualized and alluring.
In promotional images for Marvel vs. Capcom 3, iconic characters like Ryu and Iron Man looked ready to kick ass, while Morrigan and X-23 appeared all too ready to show theirs.
In action games, it’s not much different.
Male characters are posed to look determined while females usually have a “come hither look” through their peep-showesque poses. An interesting case can be brought up when comparing Laura Croft of the Tomb Raider series versus Nathan Drake from Uncharted.
Croft was usually posed strategically to bring attention to her chest and rear, while Drake was showcased looking pensively into the distance, or cockily grinning.
The problem is not that these characters are sexy or sexualized, it’s that this sexualization of female characters imply that designers assume most of their audience are heterosexual teenage boys, disregarding any other type of audience.
As time passes, gaming is becoming more of a mainstream hobby that includes not just adolescent heterosexual males, but adults, gays and females as well.
It’s difficult to take a look at the world and not see human struggles, especially with issues such as women’s contraceptives or gay rights being regular issues during political debates.
If there’s one thing I’ve rallied behind in this column since the get-go is the maturity of video games, and the need for the industry to grow from immaturity niche market to a valuable form of media.