By Kevin Lenaghan
Okay, full disclosure here right off the bat. I am a man. As such I suffer from arrogance, insensitivity, mild stupidity and a proclivity for gratuitous violence. These are things I accept and often embrace because it’s just the way I am. I also know that most game developers are also male. As such 50% of the population tends to get the more unpleasant end of the stick when it comes to their charaterisation and general treatment in this media.
Originally, back in the days when a characters were made up of about five polygons each it was vital to differentiate characters as simply as posible. This led to Ridiculous bust-lines and exggerated features in general. As the years rolled on developers stuck with these archetypes and rules of character design despite the advancment of technology, exaggerating these features more and more. Probably with some soulless greasy marketing scumbag hovering over their respective shoulders slyly whispering “sex sells, make them bigger”, while wiping the perv-sweat off their brows with bank notes and dangling sales targets in front of underpayed programmers. You only need to look at the promotional images for each successive Tomb Raider game to chart this progression.
In the late 90′s and early 2000′s things went from bad to worse. With games like Bmx XXX having female nudity in it as a “reward” for doing well, equality and female empowerment clearly was not a priority.
Of course it’s not just the developers who are to blame. Funnily enough, it US!
Not specifically you and I, lone reader, but the videogame playing public. When our greasy filthy marketing rat spoke the words “sex sells”, he was unfortunately correct. We males are simple dull creatures and will apparently buy anything with a scantily clad female on the cover. Just look at all the vaccuous pointless Lads Mags that cover the shelves in your local newsagents. Playboy even have an annual article where they have the most popular female games character of the year depicted nude. “We’re slathering idiots and well give you all of our money for a quick peek at some digitised flesh!” we seem to cry to game designers. So that’s what they keep giving us.
Now, this is not to say that all female characters in games are one dimensional sex objects. Very often they are a maguffin to spur along the plot. This has been true since the early days of Mario and Zelda. Every bloody game had you saving a beautiful princess from some nefarious and hideously malformed villian. What about all those unattractive princes and moldy old kings who needed saving? Apparently they can sit and rot in a dungeon until they change sex and agree to get off with you in exchange for rescue.
There is even a game in the Dead Or Alive franchise that is, for all intents and purposes, a peeping-tom pervert simulation game. It is entitled Dead Or Alive: Paradise and pretty much has you stalking the various girls from the DOA fighting game franchise while they are on some kind of ridiculous fantasy beach holiday. And you do this by creeping around in the bushes with a camera and try to take photos of them. One of the publishers representatives stated that the game was in fact not softcore pornography and that “we’re trying to show that they are beautiful characters.” Which, translated into logical sense means “I am a massive creep but I’d really like you to think I’m some kind of artist.”
Then of course there is the Illusion Software published atrocity that is RapeLay. I believe I shall allow the Giantbomb.com wiki to describe this one: “The infamous and loathsome RapeLay is a molestation simulation that allows you to terrorize a woman and her two teenage daughters. Events in RapeLay range from groping on a train to gang rape and forced abortions.” WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!? This is an actual game. It actually gets worse than whats in the quotation but I shan’t inflict that upon you at this moment for I fear I shall smash my computer into tiny bits and then eat them out of shear revulsion.
Strong female charcters, let alone protagonists, are few and far between it seems. Though there are a few who do reset the balance somewhat. Games franchises such as Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls, which let you choose between playing as a male or female character, generally have there scripts tailored so that there is very little difference between the way each gender is treated. This may just be a measure to save time and multiple re-writes, but it doesn’t really feel important what your gender is when playing the game.
Claire Redfield and Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil series are completely believable as women who can get s@*t done and don’t need to be constantly saved by their male counterparts! Lara Croft, despite being a victim of a very physically oversexualised visual design, is a very strong, independent and capable character too.
This is all well and good but it’s a massive minority. In recent times, while many other outlets of media and entertainment have come somewhat up to speed on equality and why it’s not ok to exploit women, videogames are still floundering in a sea of testosterone and confusion, leaning on the “tit’s and guns” model, like a bunch of teenage boys sitting at the back of class drawing crude pictures of their female teachers.
As it stands, women are still sidelined in the digital realm, relegated to being a damsel in distress or just eye candy for meatheads. Most lists of female videogame chracters I could find on the internet are mostly titled thing like “Top 50 sexiest female videogame characters” or “Top Ten female videogame characters I’d like to get spongebathed by and then violated”. Some claim to be lists of “strong” female characters. These appear to exist on some fantasy plain where “strong” actually means a little bit cheeky but ultimately submissive.
To be honest I don’t see this changing any time soon. While there are female gamers that are steadily growing in number and vocal strength all the time, it shall still be a while before the lumbering male beast of the games industry starts to value their custom.
So, the next time you look at a game and think “Hey, the chick on the cover of this box is really hot. I shall buy this fine product”, just remember that you are an idiot, put your money back in your wallet, go home and punch yourself repeatedly in the crotch until you know betterTags: feminism, woman