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Videogames and Sexism


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#1 Tensei

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:23 PM

Yes, let's open up this can of worms and have a nice discussion about it!

So, what it comes down to, is that I feel that women are treated pretty terribly in a lot of games/communities, whether that be as ingame characters, or actual female gamers.

You would think that as society progresses with regards to gender equality, games would at least somewhat mirror that, and while it's certainly true that in the last 15 or so years, there have been quite a few games with 'strong' female characters (Hell, even Lara Croft was crazy progressive for the time), it only takes something like a stupid Namco ad campaign to show that gaming is still largely targeted at the male demographic.

I feel like it ends up being a bit of a vicious circle, as evidenced by Blizzard Activision claiming that games with female protagonists don't sell as much.

Most issues I have with the contemporary representation of women in videogames can be condensed down to two points: marginalization and sexualization.

Regarding marginalization, there are simply fewer female characters and protagonists in videogames than there are males. In fact, tons of singleplayer games across multiple genres seem to default to 'white male' for the protagonist. Even in the case of games where your characters' gender is customizable, the standard protagonist will be a white male (as seen in Mass Effect, Skyrim, Saints Row 3, etc.)

There is also the problem with the fact that even when there are female characters, they will usually fall into a very small selection of cliched archetypes, while male characters seem to have a much greater variation, and often are simply more interesting.

This difference does not only extend to the writing, but also the character design as a whole, which brings me to my second point: sexualization.

Female characters as a whole seem to default to a supermodel/pornstar-like hourglass figure as their bodyshape, while males seem to be much more varied. Even in games where this isn't the case and males are all very burly and muscular, it's much more of an empowerment fantasy aimed at men who want to imagine themselves as this ripped badass.

Huge bulky guys are not designed to be titillating towards female gamers, while this is definitely the case when it's the other way around; Female characters tend to be very idealized and scantily clad so they appeal to the male fanbase, they typically aren't an empowerment fantasy for women.

I actually strongly suspect that if male characters in videogames were sexualized in a way that specifically appeals to female gamers, most male gamers would be pretty disturbed/grossed out.

Which brings me to another issue. High heels, boob plate, bare midriffs. Sound familiar?

There is this tendency in a lot of games to sexualize female characters to such a degree that it overrides any practical concerns. Who cares that she would break her sternum if she falls over, we gotta emphasize her boobs somehow!

Granted, fantasy armor is generally pretty silly for both genders, but again, in the case of the males it serves to make them look more badass, while for females it just ends up making them look sexier.

Taken to an absurd degree in this game where wearing higher tier armor results in less clothing!

Of course, all of this is not to say that there hasn't been any progress whatsoever. The Portal series is amazing for many reasons, but one of them is the fact that it's explicitly about women: GlaDOS is a brilliantly written character which really wouldn't work as well if she were written as a male, so in that sense her femininity is of definite importance to her success as a character.

Valve in general gets a lot of points from me for designing female characters that, while attractive, aren't very sexualized at all (Zoey, Chell, Rochelle, Alyx to a degree).

Anyway, share your thoughts, show me some examples of games that handle female characters either poorly or amazingly, or tell me how wrong I am!
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#2 Chimpazilla

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:50 PM

Great thread I think. I'm trying to come up with an example of a great game that doesn't disparage women (or exclude them completely)... and it's really difficult... but as I'm typing this, Zelda is in my upper right corner... Zelda games are my favorite... she isn't oversexualized, she's beautiful though, and while she doesn't appear too often throughout the games, she has an undeniably powerful and important role!

#3 Malaki-LEGEND.sys

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:54 PM

I'll come up with a more articulate response later, but A) I totally disagree that we've reached gender equality on a social treatment level, and B) The media only sells what people want, as doing the opposite would be bad business sense. Therefore I think it's a bit naive and irresponsible to blame game creators/publsihers/etc. for catering to their demographic. If change is to be made, it needs to start from the people buying the stuff.

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#4 Darangen

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 04:57 PM

I think people will see sexism wherever they want to look for it.

I don't see anything wrong with making females look hot in games, or guys look ripped even if it's to a ridiculous degree. I don't play video games to mimic reality, I play video games to escape from reality.

IMO, if you wanna see realistic men and women, go to the mall or walmart or wherever. Don't play games if you're expecting them to perfectly depict reality. In a fantasy world you're allowed to have fantasy.
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#5 TheGuitahHeroe

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:02 PM

Even with the small amount of posts in this thread as of yet, I'm still really surprised that nobody's mentioned Metroid yet :P

IMO, if you wanna see realistic men and women, go to the mall or walmart or wherever.


Also this. I lol'd
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#6 Kuolema

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:10 PM

I completely agree with this thread. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

I actually strongly suspect that if male characters in videogames were sexualized in a way that specifically appeals to female gamers, most male gamers would be pretty disturbed/grossed out.


Yeah, I mean look at FF9's Kuja. He's actually dressed in a very similar way to many female characters and all you ever hear from the fans are about how gay or gross he is.
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#7 Garpocalypse

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:10 PM

Compelling argument but,

If any developer used Sarah Palin as influence for their protagonist, in a non-humorous way i mean, that would be my end of this great hobby/vice i've had since 2nd grade.

I am by no means sexist but I use videogames like so many other people do, as a way to satisfy the demands of my lower brain! So I EXPECT a little Sex, Violence, Shooting, Stabbings, Punching, Get my mind off of myself and onto this new badass Duke Nukem esque Axel inspired character with Commander Shepherd elements so I can disconnect for a bit and get on with my life tommarow, Throwing, Kicking and Screaming in my videogames! Preferably all at the same time! With more EXPLO-SHEE-ONS!!

Games satisfy the (mostly but not all)male needs of Conflict and Competition which stems from our base behavior which is also related to Sexism among other isms that I don't feel like getting into right now. While I admire your will to fight in this case these things have been talked about before and if anyone really wanted them it would have been changed long ago.

After a long day at work, you know what? I kinda like the illusion that I can solve all of my problems not by thinking about them, but by just WALKING DOWN THE STREET AND BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF ANYONE LOOKING AT ME! (I reference Final Fight and Streets of Rage but really that's gotta be at least 90% of all games ever made)

#8 Tensei

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:14 PM

I'll come up with a more articulate response later, but A) I totally disagree that we've reached gender equality on a social treatment level, and B) The media only sells what people want, as doing the opposite would be bad business sense. Therefore I think it's a bit naive and irresponsible to blame game creators/publsihers/etc. for catering to their demographic. If change is to be made, it needs to start from the people buying the stuff.


No, you're right. I didn't mean to imply in my post that we've reached gender equality as a society, I just wanted to point out that on the whole, videogames seem more regressive when compared to other media or society itself.

Your second point is good too, that's kinda what I was referring to by the vicious circle: if Activision claims that games with female protagonists sell less, they will produce more games aimed at the male demographic, which in turn will most likely result in fewer females buying their videogames, which in turn will lead Activision to conclude that female gamers aren't a viable market.

I feel like it's really the indie games (Dungeons of Dredmor comes to mind), as well as games by companies that have less of a need to 'play it safe' like Valve (I guess) that seem to be more socially progressive in regards to gender.

Compelling argument but,

If any developer used Sarah Palin as influence for their protagonist, in a non-humorous way i mean, that would be my end of this great hobby/vice i've had since 2nd grade.

I am by no means sexist but I use videogames like so many other people do, as a way to satisfy the demands of my lower brain! So I EXPECT a little Sex, Violence, Shooting, Stabbings, Punching, Get my mind off of myself and onto this new badass Duke Nukem esque Axel inspired character with Commander Shepherd elements so I can disconnect for a bit and get on with my life tommarow, Throwing, Kicking and Screaming in my videogames! Preferably all at the same time! With more EXPLO-SHEE-ONS!!

Games satisfy the (mostly but not all)male needs of Conflict and Competition which stems from our base behavior which is also related to Sexism among other isms that I don't feel like getting into right now. While I admire your will to fight in this case these things have been talked about before and if anyone really wanted them it would have been changed long ago.

After a long day at work, you know what? I kinda like the illusion that I can solve all of my problems not by thinking about them, but by just WALKING DOWN THE STREET AND BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF ANYONE LOOKING AT ME! (I reference Final Fight and Streets of Rage but really that's gotta be at least 90% of all games ever made)


I don't get the Sarah Palin comment, but for the rest:

It's perfectly fine to enjoy the escapism of videogames. If you enjoy being a badass space marine and curbstomping an aliens skull, that's great! I'm even willing to concede that if a game like Duke Nukem models itself after 80s action flicks, it can get away with a bit of sexism because the whole damsel in distress trope was a pretty big part of that style of movies.

What I'm arguing for is that there should be more games with strong, well-written female protagonists. I do not believe most female gamers are less inclined to be competitive (which seems to be what you're implying), but that many of them simply dislike the idea of either having to play a gruff space marine guy, or a high-heeled supermodel with her tits hanging out. I can imagine that a lot of women, upon seeing something like that will conclude "Well, this game is obviously made specifically for men so there's no point in me playing it.", which in turn leads to the whole 'Videogames are for guys' stigma.

Imagine only being able to play games where the main character is a twinked out, barechested pretty-boy wearing asstight leather pants (i.e. something that would stereotypically appeal to a wide range of female players). I think that that is how a lot of women perceive the way female characters are presented in most videogames.
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#9 Dexie

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:25 PM

Even with the small amount of posts in this thread as of yet, I'm still really surprised that nobody's mentioned Metroid yet :P


That's because Other M kind of ruined that for a lot of people. :P

#10 Tensei

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:38 PM

Even with the small amount of posts in this thread as of yet, I'm still really surprised that nobody's mentioned Metroid yet :P


I don't believe Samus is that great of an example though. She was pretty progressive in the first game, but even then the fact that she happened to be female was more like a surprise twist at the end than any significant part of her character.

In fact, she never really had that much character to begin with. She was a cool stoic bounty hunter in the minds of many gamers, but that was probably because they never really bothered fleshing out her character and she barely had any spoken lines.

What's worse, over time they actually did begin sexualizing her more and more with the Zero Suit.

Finally, we got Other M where they intended to finally give her at least something of a personality, and well, it didn't turn out well.
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#11 Bleck

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:52 PM

In a fantasy world you're allowed to have fantasy.


I'm fairly certain the whole point of the sexism in media thing is that the fantasy is clearly tailored towards men, to the point of making any women interested in whatever movie/game/comic uncomfortable to the point of not being able to enjoy it

you know when you see clips of twilight, and it makes dudes uncomfortable because all of the "vampires" are chiseled, half-naked pretty boys who are clearly there to get all of the ladies hot and bothered? now imagine you're a woman, and 99.9% of comics/games/movies make you feel the exact same way

if you claim that this is okay, you're sexist

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#12 Jason Covenant

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 05:56 PM

I'll have more to say on this later, but for now:

I agree the way women are portrayed in many video games is absurd and at times insulting and degrading. Women are portrayed similarly in almost every other medium. I feel that part of the solution is to further explore the potential of female characters in fiction and I intend to do my part towards that end. I've been writing a novel for over a year now about a 16 year old girl with autism. I've tried to give her character as much depth and exploration as possible. Actually, most of the characters in the book are female. When I finish the book, I will seek a publisher and try to get this story out there. It's possible no one will ever read it, but this is a project I believe in so I'm willing to do whatever it takes to expose it to many people as I can.

#13 liquid wind

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:01 PM

Samus was actually becoming less sexualized over time until Zero Mission

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Nearly naked > more modest but still revealing > slightly less revealing and more buff

And then in Prime there was only a helmet removal


#14 Amphibious

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:09 PM

Samus was actually becoming less sexualized over time until Zero Mission

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Nearly naked > more modest but still revealing > slightly less revealing and more buff

And then in Prime there was only a helmet removal


I loved how she looked at the end of Prime, she had a serious, sort of realistic look from what I remember. But in Prime 2 and beyond they seemed to just go completely away from that and went for the cartoony sexed up zero suit we see today. Alas.
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#15 Malaki-LEGEND.sys

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:11 PM

Maybe I've just been living in a place where girls wearing tight-fitting clothes is normal for too long or maybe I'm just weird, but I really don't see anything degrading or overtly sexual with a lot of attractive looking girls in games. Sure, characters like Ivy are a bit exaggerated(especially in 4 maybe), but I feel that even then it adds to the persona of a powerful, provocative character that has no quarrel with maiming you in all sorts of nasty ways.

I'm more than likely going to be the odd one out, but since I don't mind the type of storytelling used in Metroid Other M, I was able to appreciate what they were doing with Samus as a character, like actually giving her one for starters. "Powerful" characters aren't those that are essentially stoic robots a la Master Chief in Halo. In fact, if it weren't for The Fall of Reach, I probably wouldn't give a shit about him.

In Metroid Other M, we see Samus, who by all accounts is still a veritable badass, come to terms with a lot of crazy shit that happened in her past. Sure the way certain scenes worked was off, but that was the general idea. And for anyone saying that her following Adam's orders, which was probably more out of respect for his position as leader of his squad and not him, is degrading, then I'd hate to see how you handle interactions with your superiors at your place of work.

Other games with compelling female leads that I can think of off the top of my head? FF 6, 12, 13 to name a few. So what if they're attractive? That's part of what makes them so empowered! The dichotomy of "cute but dumb girl/ugly, but capable girl" is such a goddamned farce in the first place.

On the whole Kuja thing, I just asked a few of my friends whether they thought he was designed specifically to cater to them, and they fervently disagreed that he was. He was designed to be a disturbingly flamboyant narcissistic weapons dealer(who is also disturbing).

Not to say that I agree with the general male mindset of gamers(who are on many occasions vulgar, racist homophobes), and I am a staunch supporter of equality on all fronts, but I don't think that anyone has ever tackled this issue in a way that wasn't in some way externalizing, unfair or misguided.

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#16 Garpocalypse

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:16 PM

The dichotomy of "cute but dumb girl/ugly, but capable girl" is such a goddamned farce in the first place.


I don't think that anyone has ever tackled this issue in a way that wasn't in some way externalizing, unfair or misguided.


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#17 liquid wind

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:21 PM

And for anyone saying that her following Adam's orders, which was probably more out of respect for his position as leader of his squad and not him, is degrading, then I'd hate to see how you handle interactions with your superiors at your place of work.


Most of us have never been trapped in a life threatening situation at work where we had the tools to deal with it but were forbidden to do so by our superiors, it's a very different situation.

I wouldn't classify Other M as sexist although there are certainly many good arguments for that, I think it was just shoddy writing and the culmination of Nintendo's newer philosophies and a director that didn't like his franchise becoming more popular under another developer. I think you could say that it comes off as that but I don't think it was the intent with the writing, as for Samus' appearance...it's team ninja...that's what team ninja does

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#18 Bleck

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:25 PM

The dichotomy of "cute but dumb girl/ugly, but capable girl" is such a goddamned farce in the first place.


so you think that any woman who doesn't have ridiculously enormous breasts and wears a skin-tight leotard in every situation is ugly

and this is your argument for why you aren't sexist

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#19 Malaki-LEGEND.sys

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:34 PM

so you think that any woman who doesn't have ridiculously enormous breasts and wears a skin-tight leotard in every situation is ugly

and this is your argument for why you aren't sexist


I said

The dichotomy of "cute but dumb girl/ugly, but capable girl" is such a goddamned farce in the first place.


Stop trying to read shit that isn't there, Bleck.

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#20 SonicThHedgog

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 06:37 PM

I only read a few lines, and I will stay this


Sex sells.
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