Last time I covered female characters in games I concluded that the games industry as a whole isn’t that sexually biased. What I really meant was, as the media goes, there are almost as many men showing skin as women and therefore it isn’t as openly sexist. When I started to really look at the character design itself I wasn’t at all keen on what I found. It all started with a friendly debate with a friend over IM in which I ended up getting a bit snappy.
This is an example that isn’t directly about games so bear with me. It was about the design of X-23. For those of you who aren’t as Marvel nerdy as me, she is a female almost-clone of Wolverine and was trained as a soldier from birth. I didn’t know much about her so I googled her for a doodle reference. I was horrified by how un-Wolverine she looks. He’s a pretty fun character to draw being Super-stocky and only 5’3”. There’s all these back-story points about DNA being damaged, but I’m calling you out on this one Marvel.
Trained from birth and mostly Wolverine? I’ve heard this kid can take on she-hulk. Show as much skin as you like, I just want her looking as if she can do what you say she can do rather than looking like some anime character with an angry expression. I haven’t played it yet but her design in the new Marvel Vs Capcom game is just as twiggy. Men in these games and comics need arms the size of toddlers to do what she can do.
Character design in games is faced with the same problem. An awful lot of female characters in games seem to be of the same height, body type and to a point, personality. They are either the spunky sexy action hero types or just another princess in castle. The problem is their design doesn’t change much one way or the other. This is most obvious in fighting games such as the Dead or Alive series. Those girlies in number 4 managed to be as strong as the dudes and yet they each had arms like stretched gum and a couple of painfully bouncy-looking hindrances on their fronts. Honestly, when they stopped moving, their boobs took a good minute to calm down.
The breast-physics in Dead or Alive 4 is kind of out of date and an obvious dig. People have always been making jokes about it. My point is this, little wrestling girl fighting massive wrestling guy- looks ridiculous. If she’s going to fight like a heavyweight make her bigger and she can still be sexy.
I have no problem with girls in games showing oodles of skin so long as it makes sense, they do it to men in games all the time. In the first level of Tomb Raider Anniversary it was snowing, you could see Lara’s breath, and she was wearing the somewhat skimpy Tomb Raider attire. As a whole, I’m not offended by Lara. Yes she is intended to be as sexy as possible but at least she kicks some bums and despite hers being on display a lot, she actually wears clothes.
Also, she doesn’t pole dance. But the snow thing just annoyed me. I got the feeling that it was done ‘ironically’ whatever that means. Calling it ironic didn’t stop me from shivering when I played, or stop all the boys from enjoying it. Once again, I don’t care that she’s sexy, I just want her to make sense. She is kind of skinny, but she climbs and shoots, she doesn’t need the physical strength, much like Nathan from Uncharted. The shorts in the snow were pure fan service.
We see a lot of the same thing in all of those MMORPGs out there. I’ve heard that World of Warcraft female armor gets steadily skimpier the higher level you buy it at. Not to mention the fact that the female characters in that game all are tiny and ‘ideal’ girl-shaped while a lot of the men are sort of grotesque. It pushes out the women by making ‘female’ into this horribly one-sided symbol of ‘beauty,’ which once again, fails to make the slightest bit of sense as they apparently have the same genetic make-up as the men.
Symbols are all these designs are. My main point here is that when designing a female character, all thought as to her personality, background and social standing seem to fly right out of the window. Nothing seems to matter except the generic body type with huge boobs being pushed out of the cookie-cutter with the ‘female’ label attached to it. No one cares about the character past her hourglass figure and curvy bits and long impractical hair because the designers fail to develop her.
And yes, this is all done to sell the games or comics or whatever, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a boring habit. I can’t tell if it’s a money thing, if it’s done because the designer enjoys this mechanic, or if it’s just plain laziness. After all, trying to make female characters slightly different has never really been tried, so how will they know if they’ll lose sales over it?
Now, some of you are probably thinking something along the lines of, “But all the men look the same too,” and yes, you’re right. Most men in games are hulking exaggerations of the average male. Now, I’m not saying outright that either way is better because it’s still a lazy cookie-cutter design. But those exaggerated male characters are designed to look tougher. Whatever happens to male character design such as shirt loss and muscle expansion, these characters aren’t created simply for eye candy. Even if I accept it as that, it isn’t the intention.
They’re created this way to make the character look tougher, scarier, gritter, more capable, whatever – not for sex appeal. Some girls, such as myself, kind of like it, a lot don’t. Straight boys feel awkward looking at other boys being sexual in their direction, so it will stop a chunk of male audience from buying the game. It’s a natural thing. How do I know that? Because I feel the same way when looking at Bayonetta. If Chris Redfield’s clothes fell off to reveal his mankini every time he fired his gun while pelvic thrusting in the direction of the screen, boys would be significantly less inclined to play the game.
Seeing a horribly exaggerated symbol of your gender out there getting fawned over is kind of humiliating and acts as a ‘boys only’ sign. Once again, I don’t have a problem with them looking sexy as a result of their baddassery or other attributes, but I’m talking about the characters created solely for sex appeal. Direct sexualisation is insulting when it comes at the cost of a real character.
I can almost hear the famous counter arguments; “But it Isn’t Realism it’s Fantasy,” and “They do it for the money.” Oh that’s good. So I expect Marcus Fenix is going to spend the next Gears of War game in a little pair of pink sparkly speedos right? And everyone in the next Halo game is going to fly around with laser eyes fighting little frowney mushrooms. It doesn’t make sense in those worlds, but hey it isn’t realism, so who cares.