Saturday, November 7, 2009

Doin' it for the Ladies

So as most of you have probably figured out at this point, Lynsey and I are women. Though I’d say we’re more “gamers who are female” than “female gamers” the issue of women in the video game industry is one that we tend to talk about with a certain level of frequency. While surfing around tonight in a desperate act of procrastination I came across the old argument of “what do companies have to do to get women interested in gaming?”. Now, I’ve already given my opinion on this before but tonight I wanted to elaborate on what I consider to be a key point on this issue: female avatars.

When it comes to the creation of female characters I feel very confident in saying that most developers design them for men rather than women. What really gets me going with some of these characters is that, in fighting games for instance, they’ll give the female characters all the same strengths and abilities as the male characters only they’ll be nearly naked and bouncing all over the place.

Now, before this goes any farther I need to give an important qualifier: I am not saying that unrealistic body images and the exploitation of those bodies do not exist for male characters. Not at all. However, I do think that for every male avatar who looks like this:

There are 100 female avatars who look like this:

Now, this isn’t always a terrible thing. After all, video games are an escape and I will be the first to admit that it’s fun to get into a fabricated world as a sexy and strong woman who kicks ass but I don’t need to see the avatar’s nearly naked ass for this to be accomplished.

Let’s take a look at some totally random examples:

Okay, so maybe these women aren’t entirely random but they do prove my point. Alyx Vance from The Half Life Series, Chell from Portal, Zoey from Left 4 Dead, and Rochelle from Left 4 Dead 2 are all women who more than hold their own in their respective games and are permitted to do so with hardly a single (if any) reference to the fact that they lack a penis. I remember playing Portal and being surprised when one of the little turret guns called me, “the lady from the test”. Gender is such a non-issue in Portal that it never occurred to me that I could be playing a female character. I – like most female gamers I’d bet – always assume I’m playing as a man when I can’t see my character’s face or body.

I really think that if more developers followed in Valve’s footsteps and made “normal” female avatars it would do wonders for getting women interested in gaming but in order to do that the industry would have to let go of a pretty deep-seeded sense of normalcy: that women are only exciting and enticing when they’re practically nude.

Just a thought.


  1. One of my favorite female protagonists to date is Jade from "Beyond Good and Evil" on the gamecube. She showed midrift and tight pants, but she was just so freaking cool. The only time I don't furrow my brow at outrageously, sexily-dressed women is in stuff like the Mortal Kombat franchise.

    I may have said this already [apologies if I have], but Cam played as Sheva online with some other guy he didn't know, and every time he turned around, the guy was staring at Sheva's ass. Cam quit the campaign. I laughed.

  2. Haha! No, you hadn't told that story before, Kendall but that's great and Sheva's attire didn't bother me especially because, like Jade, she kicked ass.

    Women can still be sexy and strong and still get to have most of their clothes on.

  3. Cool - nice post! This must be a topic on several minds at the moment; GamesRadar put up a list of the top "tasteful" female game characters right around the same time you posted this. Considering how dude-centric most of their articles are, it was nice to seem them talk about it.

    It's also a pretty good list - all of the Valve characters are on there (seriously - is there something in the water at Valve?), as well as Jade from BGE and, best of all, Cate Archer from No One Lives Forever, the totally flippin' awesome main character from one of my favorite games of all time.

    Plus, the #1 spot on the list goes to a total forehead-slapper that I was surprised I didn't think of immediately when I saw the list.

    Anyway, good stuff, cheers!

  4. The worrisome bit for me is how this trend continues to increase. Check out the gradual expansion of bust size in the Soul Calibur series, or the addition of makeup and revealing clothing to previously sensible Aoi in Virtua Fighter. And, of course, Bayonetta herself takes the already clothing-light Devil May Cry series to another level. (Same for men too, actually; the latest Street Fighter game has more shirtless men, with larger muscles, than ever before.)

  5. Murfinsandburglars (Kirk?) - that's a great link. I had totally forgotten about Faith and I loved her! I just didn't like the game too much ;) So nice to see Valve's women mentioned there as well.

    Robyrt - Yeah, Soul Caliber was actually in my head while I was writing this in regards to women who are created to be as strong as the men but exploded in regards to their clothing. Good call.

    Thanks to both of you for visiting and taking the time to comment!

    ~ Cary

  6. Totally agree. I don't get the inability most game-decision-makers have in making a sexy character (easily done for either gender) without making them nude/out of place/insulting/demeaning.

  7. There's this misconception that the sex even appeals to all guys. Don't get me wrong, all guys are somewhat turned on by sexy bodies, and maybe I'm a guy with "deeper" tastes, but if you offered me a choice between an hour with Alyx and an hour with Ivy from Soul Calibur, even though the boob size has a clear winner, I'd go with Alyx.

  8. Kelsin - Exactly, which is why I like the Valve women so much. Those women (I think Alyx especially) are appealing and sexy in their own ways and they accomplish this without shoving their half-naked brests in your face.

    Katana - So very, very, very true. Sex is appealing to pretty much everyone on the planet - it's in our nature to want and desire sex but that doesn't mean objectification and sexuality have to go hand in hand.

    Thanks for commenting! Hope you'll come back and visit us ;)

    ~ Cary

  9. Hm figure'd i'd comment "most of the game you mentioned " Soul Calibur Street fighter are Japanese , and there attitude toward sex and games Never ever has anything to do with Realism and never will given the history of Japanese art culture .

    And most of the counter example of Good female characters are Western and apart of Western culture l . I'll stop there wouldn't even bother trying bridging culture the distances between Japan and the West are extremely broad .

    Frankly the Josei/shoujo Woman oriented comics In have more sex and explicit sexuality than the male center comics and are hyper-idealized .

    Figure i'd point that fallcy ,your comparing two different Media culture under a single umbrella of "Gaming culture"

    with radically different attitude toward sex and there medium Usage for there consumer base

    . Might as well be comparing apples and oranges or oranges and watermelons

    I don't see a Realistic Half life anything coming out of japan unless there specifically trying to sale a game to a US Audience with no appeal in there own culture.
    lol since last time I checked they consider western game art to be ugly by aesthic japaneste taste

    Social Normalcy for Western consider we need a sense of realism and we tend to overreact to any form of female sexuality particular in the USA .
    Has nothing to do with being Deep or intellectual it's just a social -cultural religious aspect of the society related to bunch of complex factors
    (How Americans relate to sex how gender communicate / Social beliefs etc) . The other thing is we by far are more comfortable with hyper-violent realism
    that we are with cleavage . Most of the world tend to be the opposite of the USA in that regard prefeering sex to violence.

    Dealing in the context of japanese games they focus on fantastical or abstract and tend to dislike realism with the few exception of MGS4. But Even MGS4 has more appeal here in the USA than locally in there own culture
    . There industry already cater to a diverse group of people . Getting female gamers isn't a problem in Japan since they already have them it not consider a all male-activity to be honest or a single age group.

    The All male gaming sterotypes is Western Issue .

    If your asking Western developers to develop a greater selection avatars that fine, but most of your examples are Asian Developers "Street fighter " Soul Calibur" Woman who put lauracroft to shame in cup size

    And that might just be a culture conflict and has less to do with gender . And more to do with reaction to Sexuality in Media .

    Japan also has equally idealized men Perfect Features Ultra beautiful and shirtless etc Twilight fantasy come true .

    Getting to the point it more of a conflict between "What one culture desire in there games " TOne culture tend to depise the realism that Western lo or even require realism to enter the discussion of games.

    While Americans/western tend to like hyper real or a pseudo realism to feel more socially comfortable with there artistic media

  10. Ah sorry for the large spaces (Was typing this on a text file *)

  11. Yeah some of the text got cut off "It about what one culture desire in there games vs another " One desire some sense of normalcy a sense of realism, The other does not and tend to treat realism as the ugly step child of art . While In the West we adore the ugly step child . So if your petitioning Western developer for better avatar I can see you getting somewhere ,but not telling another culture what to do . That's a dead road right there.

  12. Oceania -

    I'll be perfectly honest and admit I had a bit of a hard time understanding your comment but from what I gather your critique is that you assumed I was petitioning Japan to change its attitudes toward women. If this is so, that is not at all the point of my post which is why I never once mentioned nationalities.

    Having said that, there are aspects about Japan's sexual culture that don't sit well with me but there are also plenty of examples I could bring up with American culture which is, again, why this post was not meant to question any particular nation's culture.

    Thank you for commenting!

    ~ Cary

  13. They are all guys pretending to be women online!