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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.

Sticky McPoutypants herself

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The breast-physics in Dead or Alive 4 is kind of out of date and an obvious dig.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.

Brrr...

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.

 

Andrea Rubenstein- 'Idealizing Fantasy Bodies'

Apparently.

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.

  1. khamani says:

    I’m gonna post a response to this later it’s 3am
    But it seems like, no one knows x-23 in depth or know just how good her story is
    another character of good female story is cassandra cain

  2. khamani says:

    I was going to read this at 2: 30 in the morning until you ran over X- 23. A woman or man does not have to look strong to be strong, in real life martial arts, skill plays a part. X – 23 may be dressed like that but what X Man doesn’t wear tights? X-23 has an amazingly DEEP story and thats why she has her own comic not because of sex appeal, her boobs aren’t even big.. And yes women need more leading roles we need more Lightnings of FFXIII’s
    besides that men are only more muscular because of testosterone, it’s like saying power>skill but skill is >power and skill is >=speed. The art I study is southern shaolin and emperor’s long fist and I have a female fellow student that trains me

  3. kebrus says:

    short answer, they do it because people want it…

    what? you don’t belive it? only now woman are getting into gaming, when the industry started to expand this sexualization wasn’t happening yet and the majority of gamers were men, it’s just the reality…

    then devs started to catter to what men wants, hence the over the top sexualization, it sells… men didn’t cared about men characters having arms with the size of their head but they did cared about woman with revealing outfits and hourglass figures

    this still wasn’t changed, men still like the same things as before, the only difference now is that a lot more woman are getting into gaming, so now they (sometimes) start to make believable characters, but for the most part they still stick with the old system…

    the general man can’t sexually apreciate a character without female attributes exageration, it’s just the reality of things and it applies to the real world, place a women with a boyish figure and see how many men like her, and since sex sells that wont go again until the consumer base has a fair amount of woman that can’t be ignored, until then they are not going to take the risk to shatter men dreams to please woman…

    it’s all a matter of numbers

  4. Jay Watts says:

    It’s always bothered me that tiny girls can take down huge bulky guys in these games. I’m all for “female equality” but that doesn’t mean you get magical super strength! Has to be SOMETHING to back it up.

    I’d like to see more clever girls in games using intelligence or other skills to solve problems and dire situations. In exactly the same way I’d like to see more “normal” guys in games doing the same thing, rather than the ridiculously over-muscled men that use strength and grit to solve everything.

    Actually, what am I saying, I’m a game developer. Maybe I’ll make a little mini-game that has the most realistic and normal female and male characters I can imagine, lol.

  5. Patrick O'Rourke's Friend says:

    You are completely right about it being “scraping the bottom of the barrel” in marketing we can pump sales of the exact same product by simply placing a new and improved sticker on any product as you can easily see right at your local check out counters in the 100s of types of gum from the same company that are the exact same flavors. Oddly enough I believe that it is because video games are an art form that the industry is able to toss out these mass amounts of junk to us. The obvious comparison of late would be the twilight fan craze. People can argue about the quality of the book all they want but its undeniable that it became an incredibly popular book. Due to this a surge of vampire and other cult romance books came to surface. As soon as auto tune was discovered to be able to sell songs we see songs like Friday and literally every other artist on the label backing Rebecca Black. The same goes for films one good movie pops out and there are a ton of similar plots and story lines that just mooch off success. Tons of artists in different fields have much talent but when they cant be sold and marketed become fodder for broken dreams. When art is made for profit people are bound to get screwed over.

  6. Patrick O'Rourke's Friend says:

    You have nicely pointed out the gender stereotypes for a large amount of games for both sexes. There is a valuable point made that most of the time it is a generic cookie cutter look on both the males and the females. However its hardly ever deviated from simply because it works. as of last time i checked male gamers still out number females. Also a lot of the games you have mentioned are aimed at an even greater male audience. Sadly a lot of the time a sexy girl on the cover and an extra bit of fan service will sell a game. Since the male audience is the target market they use the character design that they would most like to see. Which here is the giant macho hulk and the slim flirty female. If you take a look at many jrpgs you can see that the cookie cutter for the male characters is much different. Slim build, angsty attitude and more zippers than the jacket from thriller, this can be seem an almost every final fantasy character (except stupid sexy Barret). These characters are often a very similar build to the female yet can do ridiculous feats of strength like hold a god damn buster blade. From a marketing stand point its simply to easy to change. I wouldn’t want to risk sales on my game to deviate from the norm. For the gamer we have to sift through a lot of junk to get anything good, and it does suck. But alas thats the way the world works.

    • Emily Clarke says:

      @Patrick O’Rourke’s friend:

      Hey there. I should have gone into Jrpg, I’ve thought about it before. The Japanese seem to be more into skilled characters than the typically western hulking ones. You see it a lot in Manga and Anime where the male heroes are very unlike our muscularly exaggerated superhero types. I expect it comes from our cultures having different ideals when it comes to what a hero needs and/or what is attractive, and they happen to value strength over skill. Well, overall as a culture anyway.

      I agree, but I would say that selling games with sex seems to be scraping the barrel for selling points, It’s just another way to replace quality with fast sales which, while being how the world works, is kind of depressing and probably why so many people still refuse to see games as an art form.

    • Ikkin says:

      *hopes this threads correctly*

      @Emily Clarke:

      JRPGs are interesting, because Japan seems to be much more okay with the idea of selling male sexualization to women than the US is, even in media that’s also expected to sell to men. And I think that plays a non-trivial role in their current aversion to super-muscular types — avoiding muscular protagonists is a fairly recent phenomenon, if TV Tropes is to be believed, and apparently seems to have had more to do with marketing to new (largely female) audiences than it did to changing tastes within the base. (Of course, it may have been a reversion to an earlier ideal instead of something entirely new, but I doubt the demographic shift is a coincidence)

      It just really seems as if a character like Sephiroth is being sold to the audience in a completely different way than a character like Marcus Fenix, even taking different societal wishes into account.

  7. mr man says:

    Freeking get over it! for gods sake, if you dont like it feel free to look at something else. Men like chicks in skimpy stuff, men like boobs, deal with it.

    • Did you actually read the story? She wasn’t even being preachy, she actually had a refreshing opinion especially when you consider it’s coming from a female gamer. It’s kind of hard to look at something else when this kind of thing is present in pretty much every video game.

    • Emily Clarke says:

      If you dont like this article feel free to look at something else. Not all men like chicks in skimpy stuff, girls want to play games without looking at pixelated sex objects instead of characters, deal with it.

      Sorry for feeding the Troll guys, I couldn’t resist.

      @R.A.Chowdhury, thanks! I really need to get around to playing Mass Effect, but yeah, Halo: Reach’s female situation is awesome. PMS clan may have had something to do with it. XD

    • girl says:

      Then watch porn. You might get more out of it.

  8. Vampi says:

    The author does bring up sum good posts but i’m gonna have to disagree about the game industry not being sexually biased.

    You see alot of female video game characters with the same body types and skimpy clothing even when the environment their surrounded in doesn’t call for it. Also, i doubt a woman warrior in MMO games has to wear a metal thong bikini when she fights. Its just catering to the lowest common denominator as always and its very insulting to both women and men.

    If you seriously think woman in games are treated equally as men then you really have to play more games and you’ll see the pattern.

    Oh and Patrick O’Rourke, please don’t feed the troll.

    • Emily Clarke says:

      @Vampi:

      I went through a little bit when I thought that they were not as sexist as everything else, my unsexist point was that they show us more semi naked men than movies. Obviously it’s still a horribly biased industry. I realised very quickly it’s not any better at all, that’s why I wrote this.

      As for the fact that it’s insulting to both genders, completely agree.

  9. xino says:

    X 23 is from Marvel comics man. She dresses like that in the comic

    • Read the text in the article… Don’t just look at the pretty pictures.

      Here, I’ll do it for you.

      “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”

      And to further prove the point, earlier in the day this was posted, I was talking to the writer of this article in person in our local comic book shop, we found a tiny X-23 figurine and SHE pointed out that it was the costume used in MvC3 and the comic book it was attached to.

  10. R.A.Chowdhury says:

    when i came across this headline at N4G, i was thinking “ugh, here we go again, another “women don’t actually have boobs” rant, like we haven’t heard THAT before. but i read it anyway, because i was looking for excuses to procrastinate. i do have to say, though – that you had very good points. too many fail to point out that male characters are also exaggerated but for different reasons than why the female ones are. well done! You should try playing Mass Effect as FemShep or Halo as a female Noble six. not as painfully misogynistic as other games…

    • Does playing through Mass Effect 2 as a female sheppard change any of the game’s major plot points around?

    • I’m pretty sure it just changes the relationships. Not the main storyline. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not though…

      If you just ignore the fact that the character doesn’t have a specific gender is it worse than only letting Male characters access certain content and Female characters access other? Should you change a plot point because of a character’s gender in that sort of game? Or should it just be an unnecessary variable that the game only tracks to change he’s and she’s?

      It’s a delicate balance game devs have to walk on. Different issue from the main article though.

    • That was meant to be a reply.. Didn’t seem to work…

  11. mr man says:

    you’re a freaking idiot. grow up.

  12. Great story, I tend to agree with every point you’ve made there. I’ve always found it strange that in fighting games little tiny girls take down big hulking guys.

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