No, Seriously, Sexism in Video Games

In my last post, I made a point of ridiculing the notion that a lack of female protagonists means that developers are sexists. Essentially, I stated that while there is a lack of female protagonists in video games, it’s due to the fact that developers are simply sticking with the status quo. It’s a decision based on business sense and trends. Calling that sexism only dilutes actual sexism.

Now, if you want to speak of actual sexism, it does exist to some extent in games, but it has little to do with the lack of female protagonists, but more to do with how they are portrayed in many cases.

Here, let’s play a comparison game. See if you can spot the differences between males in video games and females in video games.

Still guessing? Tell you what, we’ll flip the dynamic and see if you catch on. Ha! I’ve been searching for a way to use that Nathan Drake design for some time now.

This is hardly a secret. Game developers may not be sexist, but when it comes to designing women in games, they do seem to revert back into teenagers. Many female protagonists seem to be designed in such a way so as to appeal to young men. Even when women win in video games, it can be argued that they lose. I mean, I was going to post some pictures from Dead or Alive, but that’s just far too easy.

Now, I’m not talking about Lollipop Chainsaw or OneChanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers here. Those games are like the B-movies of video games. The use of a sexy female lead is completely intentional and is very tongue in cheek. I’m talking about totally serious games that can’t help but accentuate any women that show up in their games. Look, I get that lead women would need to be fit. Lara Croft can’t be out of shape and do the cave exploring she does. Samus Aran is one tough cookie and would probably be wearing something a bit tight inside her suit. Still though, even in those cases, is it completely necessary to make them so well endowed? It just reeks of using sex to sell, and developers still view the market as male dominated, despite the fact that females now make up nearly 50% of the game playing community.

In my last post, I defended using past trends to model a game. Unfortunately, this is where that mindset goes off the rails. Developers are still thinking from the mindset of the early 2000′s when Lara Croft was a major sex symbol. I’m not saying she still isn’t, but the novelty of boobs in a game is, well, no longer a novelty. We’re kind of used to it. Now it’s just a case of sticking to an old mindset when all the data should move you in the exact opposite direction. Sales data pushes them towards male leads and certain genres. Player demographic data should push them away from this design choice because, like I just said, the novelty of this is gone.

All of that aside, the continued use of this stereotype is completely unrealistic, even in game. Why do the male leads get layers of armor to protect them, whereas the female characters’ defense seems to be indirectly proportional to the amount of clothes they are wearing? It simply makes no sense. Again, it’s a case of “that’s how it’s always been done.” There is no reason for this to still be the case. I used a picture of Samus Aran earlier, but in the actual Metroid games, Samus is almost always in full power suit gear. Nintendo could have jumped on the Tomb Raider band wagon, but instead kept her covered up, and the Metroid games are consistently highly reviewed and generally very popular (let’s not speak of Other M here).

In this day and age, it’s about the game, not the scantily clad character you’re playing as. Again, that was a major novelty early on. 3-D characters were new, female characters were few and far between, and the gaming public was mostly male. Now, we’ve had 3-D characters for 15 years, female characters are much more plentiful, and the gaming public is almost equally split. I can defend developers using past trends to stick with mostly male leads in games, given the high development costs and risk associated with publishing a game in this market, what I can’t defend is going against all available data to make outdated design choices and marginalize those female protagonists they do give us.

Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.

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