Women have developed an uncanny ability in video games, the power to be fully protected from harm while simultaneously showing a majority of their body. Games like Street Fighter and Bayonetta show women with skin of stone, somehow possessing the same level of protection wearing a bikini as a man in full dragon skin armour. This must be the message, right?
Unfortunately no. The image of a scantily clad woman in so called ‘battle armour’ is an image familiar with gamers, the industry obsessed with selling their women to the perceived demographic of straight male players. It has reached the point where a lot of gamers do not question the inherently sexist representation of women as sex objects and men as strong warriors, a hyper sexualisation of women resulting in their sexuality becoming the main feature of their character. An excuse provided to this overtly sexualised view on women is that they ‘own their sexiness’, and use it as a source of power. Growing up it was always interesting to see my sister’s reaction to these representations. We have always been interested in games, a passion she has carried on into her adult life, but while playing games like Oblivion and even Okami there was always a strange disconnect with my sister the person and my sister the player. Where there was a choice she would prefer playing as a man. She grew up being Link, StarFox, Mario, assuming the roles of a male protagonist.
In most cases the character is a voiceless everybody. Link, already sharing many typical feminine qualities, is a means for players to put themselves into the game. It’s at this point gender becomes irrelevant for a protagonist. This luxary is reserved for male characters, for females the story is very different. Cortana, from Halo, is portrayed as a ‘naked’ holographic woman. The excuse for this is said to be that her sexualisation is a way of ‘putting off’ those who want to intellectually challenge her, distracting them and giving her the advantage. This would be a valid, if not stretched, excuse if all the holograms were portrayed in the same light, the male holograms however are depicted fully clothed. Even if it was not the intention they have suggested that Cortana, as a woman, needs the help of her body to gain an advantage on people intellectually, where men don’t.
Some of the hyper sexualisation comes not from the game but from the marketing campaign. Lara Croft for example, a kick-arse female lead who is fully capable of taking care of herself. Yes, she is a woman, and yes she did have triangular boobs but game wise she was never an overly sexualised object. Her anatomy shouldn’t not be a fixation of gaze, rather as much of a secondary thought as Link’s blond flowing locks. There is nothing in the game code that leads to to players finding any sexual attraction to the character, as the character is supposed to be you. The marketing however had to sell the game, and what better way to attract men to a game where you are forced to play as a woman than to sell Lara as an object of desire. Google the original posters for the game and I’ll guarantee you’ll get a large handful of images of a 3D rendered, wet dream material.
There is definitely an issue with the portrayal of women in video games. The core of any game is the player’s ability to control the character, be they male or female. This is all right, until the character becomes a sexualised object. This suggestion that men can control women sexually, the ability to make them do what you want with just a press of a button, is what the gaming industry are suggesting, and this needs to stop.