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Old 02-20-2012, 03:23 PM
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Videogames and Sexism

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  
Old 02-20-2012, 03:54 PM
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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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Old 02-20-2012, 04:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Malaki-LEGEND.sys View Post
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.

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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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Last edited by Tensei; 02-20-2012 at 04:30 PM.
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Old 02-20-2012, 04:10 PM
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I completely agree with this thread. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

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Originally Posted by Tensei View Post
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.
Double standard much?
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Old 02-20-2012, 05:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Tensei View Post

Taken to an absurd degree in this game where wearing higher tier armor results in less clothing!
Wow, this is so obvious here it's hilarious even. Then again, it's still true that most players for games like that are, in fact, male. I don't even think less sexualized female characters would make it any more appealing to the female audience.

That said, the role female characters usually had back in the early 90s, when I was a little girl, was a big part of the reason why I always tended to prefer male characters over female ones. They were usually damsels in distress and what not.
Later on, when I matured, my preference for male characters didn't change, but then it became because I'd rather spend a whole game looking at a fairly attractive male protagonist.
While overly sexualized female characters do gross me out, I've come to not really mind it, after all, like I said before, it's the game itself that attracts the players. A game having attractive male characters in a game is a plus for me, not why I play a game, and having these overly sexualized females won't ruin a great game.

Now for strong female characters, I do agree with the one who mentioned Zelda, and another one that comes to mind is FFVI's Terra.


PS: the third Samus reminds me of Ayla.
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Old 02-20-2012, 05:56 PM
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Originally Posted by LuIzA View Post
another one that comes to mind is FFVI's Terra.
Yeah, so about that:



Maybe it wasn't quite the same in FFVI (didn't a sprite in FFVI get censored in the US?), but well...
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Old 02-20-2012, 05:58 PM
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also, to all the people arguing about 'strong female characters';

that's not the point
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Old 02-20-2012, 06:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Moomba View Post
Yeah, so about that:



Maybe it wasn't quite the same in FFVI (didn't a sprite in FFVI get censored in the US?), but well...
Well yeah, it's different with sprites, but in all honesty, I don't see anything wrong with the picture. Her breasts aren't enormous and people do wear skirts and strapless tops.
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Old 02-20-2012, 06:05 PM
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Well yeah, it's different with sprites, but in all honesty, I don't see anything wrong with the picture. Her breasts aren't enormous and people do wear skirts and strapless tops.
Honestly, that was mostly directed at the naked purple beast and the leotard, the other two images kind of came as a package deal and I was too lazy to edit them out.
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Old 02-20-2012, 06:10 PM
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Honestly, that was mostly directed at the naked purple beast and the leotard, the other two images kind of came as a package deal and I was too lazy to edit them out.
So there's a naked beast, who cares? it's a beast, and other than small breasts, it has nothing else that over sexualizes it to make it uncomfortable. This has more to do with ratings for nudity than it has to do with sexism.
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