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Women in Video Games

Bringing a Bikini to a Sword Fight – Xbox360 Feature at IGN

“But it’s far worse than that. Women in games are usually treated as little more than eye-candy, and frequently, developers will give you a “sassy” female sidekick so annoying that, when given the option, you’d rather shoot her and fail the mission than spend another minute with her whining and yelling for you to save her.”

Yeah, far too often women in videogames are either vapid dolls or aggressively “strong”. Often you can tell that a particular character was added just so they could put a scantily-clad body on the screen (even with some of the “strong” types).

However, I can think of other games where the females aren’t vapid or over aggressive. In those games, the female is generally portrayed as a normal person, generally with balanced strengths and weaknesses.  But, most of the games that come to mind that fit this are Role Playing Games (RPGs), where (for the good ones) a lot of the focus is on character development and story.  And several of the RPGs that come to my mind have both kinds of female characters in them.  For example, Final Fantasy X had Yuna, a fairly well-balanced female lead, however the same game also had Lulu, a cleavage-heaving character dressed in goth clothes who was so stoic and self-possessed that you could imagine her biting the heads off any man who dared like her, and Rikku, a vapid cute girl that you wouldn’t mind nudging off the airship given half a chance.

And while I generally agree with this article, I think there is a place for a female lead who happens to be sexy.  One of the characters mentioned in this article as over sexualized is Miranda from Mass Effect 2:

Miranda

I simply cannot agree with the article’s author.  The author mentioned that when Miranda started talking he found himself only “instinctually half-listening”.  To this I ask:  do you have problems in public staring at a woman’s breasts when she’s talking?  Do you find that you can only have a conversation with a woman if she’s unattractive or plain to look at?  Do you think about sex so much that you cannot operate properly in the presence of a female, or is it simply that you have problems with attractive females in games because they won’t object to you gawking at them for hours on end?

For myself, yes, I find Miranda attractive as well.  But if the article’s author had taken time to listen to what Miranda was saying he would have found out that she’s very intelligent, she fights with her morality all the time (she works for two very different people who have very different agendas), and overall she has a very detailed history which haunts her (you have a chance to resolve some of said history during the game, which is one of the best sidequests available).  Yes, she is sexy, but she is so much more.    And really, I can’t even agree with “over sexualized” in the basic sense.  Her proportions, while generous in the chest area, are at least believable.  She actually bares little cleavage during the game, and while she does wear a skin-tight outfit said outfits are the standard fashion portrayed by the game.  Everybody wears a skin-tight outfit, even the men!  To me, Miranda is a perfect example of a sexy female videogame character done right.

Do videogame creators need to change their ways concerning the portrayal of women?  Yeah, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.  But while they are doing that, perhaps they could change the portrayal of men, too.  Not every guy is chiseled, muscular, with either roguish good looks or simple straight up sex appeal, able to wield a 10 foot sword one-handed and carry 200 lbs. of armor and gear everywhere.  I could just as easily take offense to the portrayal of men in videogames, since I’m nowhere near the perfect guy that’s so often the lead character.

When it comes down to it, the majority of story- or theme-based videogames are rooted in fantasy.  Not the genre, but the story, i.e. for just a little bit you are participating in the fantasy that you are there alongside the characters.  You may be controlling what’s going on or you may just be watching, but either way oftentimes you are asked to accept a situation that’s far from ordinary.  Whether it’s a different world, time, dimension, or simply that you could be shot 5 times and get healed by just standing behind a corner for 10 seconds, games are deeply rooted in fantasy.  And if you are going to play a lot of the videogames that are on the market, you have to accept that there are people out there who want to embrace the fantasy for all it’s worth.  Sometimes people want the perfectly sculpted man that bullets bounce off of, or the sensual female who laughs and pays attention to them.

For me, I’m going to stick to a very simple gaming tenant:  if the game sucks, I’ll stop playing it.