Well first off I have to say that this is honestly one of the best written and well thought out arguments I have read on the subject of objectification in a while. Bravo. Now to how I respond to your various points.
Thank you! Very calm, eloquent discussion in the thread, too.
Well first off, yes a game doesn't have to appeal to the majority demographic. However when a large part of your audience likes a particulair thing (in this case the thing being sexualised female charecters) it is a fairly good idea to use something that you know a large portion of your audience is going to like. Yes you can totally make a profit from smaller demographics, but marketing is much more difficult. Besides how precisely would one market a game to females and non-heterosexual males? You could use male fanservice, but you stand the risk of alientating your larger fan base just as much, also for whatever reason sex sells seems to apply less to women. There are far fewer male strip clubs and male prostitutes to service women than female equivilants for men. You could go with less fanservice... but that isn't neccissarily a great marketing strategy. As you said games can try to appeal to smaller demographics, but heterosexual males represent a massive demographic in many kinds of games which can be easily marketted to. Still we will leave discussion of demographics off for now.
I'm gonna switch things up a bit to see if I get my point across more clearly. Forget about gender, imagine we're talking about genres. CoD-like FPS games are by far the most successful videogame genre currently in the market. If I went by your reasoning, every game ought to cater to the FPS crowd, then every game would need to incorporate that gameplay mechanic somehow. If that was the case, we wouldn't have games like Amnesia, The Walking Dead, Sim City, The Sims, Limbo, [insert indie horror game here], sports games, simulation games, RPGs, RTSs and so on. There are demographics for games without FPS traits (and who don't fit in the FPS genre), despite the fact that they are the ones that vastly outsell everybody else. If there's something I strongly object to is Argumentum Ad Inevitabilitatis (forgive the pig Latin), the idea that just because something is, then it must always be. Just because the entertainment industry is this way doesn't mean it is because it cannot be in any other way. It could be like this because it's easy and comfortable and change takes effort and faces resistance.
As for "Why are male strippers/prostitutes less popular", look back to my bit in my previous post about slut-shaming. Slut-shaming is a very powerful thing that has been hanging over women for millennia. Women have been denied control over their sexuality through the use of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy.
The only way for a woman to garner respect in society is by complying to the Virgin archetype, which mainly forces her to restrain her sexuality. The Virgin archetype is not about the woman (any benefits she might gain from fitting the archetype well are purely secondary), it's about the men who use her as conquest. Much like hunting has been seen as a gentlemanly sport, the conquest of women has been one of the main yardsticks by which men measure their worth for a very long time, and just like a hunter shows no prowess by killing a prey that willingly walks towards him, only virginal women are worthy of conquest. The Virgin archetype objectifies women just as much as the Whore archetype does, because the women becomes a prize for men to fight over (you may recognise the Virgin archetype as the "good/nice girl" present in countless forms of media). The worthy man gets the nice girl, and her virginity/lack of sexuality serves only to make the man feel special because only HE got sex from that girl, unlike every other man in the world.
The Whore archetype is the alternative, and it also exists purely to satisfy the desires of the man. Since pushing women towards virginity and sexlessness leaves men just as sexless, men (wanting to have their cake and eat it too) simultaneously pushed women towards the Whore archetype as a way to satisfy their sexual desires. But since that affords women power over men (by having them in control of their sexuality), men have ensured their dominion over women by denigrating the Whore archetype. The Whore gets no societal respect, is clearly branded as a "bad girl" and gets "justified punishment" cast over her by the very same men who make use of her body. The Whore, finally, has been considered "okay to rape" by society for a long, long time (and still is, in some places), because she is not considered worthy of consent. She is an object to be used by men and to be constantly put down lest she gain power in society.
Therefore, female sexuality is only now being allowed a place in society, and even then women are pushed towards the same old Virgin/Whore dichotomy (nowadays called "the good girl" and "the slut"). That means that if a woman wants to be a good girl, she must avoid expressions of her sexuality (so no male strippers or prostitutes, and certainly no sex with any guy she finds hot), and if she wants to act like a man, go to strip club or hire a male escort for the night, she gets labelled a slut and loses societal respect. Hell, even if she does none of that and just appreciates the male physique quietly, she gets labelled a slut. So it's really no wonder that the sex market is far from egalitarian. Though I believe it will catch up (Magic Mike reportedly did extremely well at the box office).
On to the next point, I belive what you are refering to, if I may use the TvTropes name, is the so called "girl show ghetto". Generally that media is either meant for everyone, but focusing mostly on men, or it is meant for women and women only with no crossover. This is a pretty fair complaint. And while I would say that scantily clad people of a gender you are not attracted to shouldn't make you feel uncomfortable... I can hardly control how you feel and it would be insensitive of me to merely dismiss it. I can understand that point alot better than many others. Still it would help me if people would refer to the fact it makes others uncomfortable rather than tired arguments about it being sexist to admit that most men like ogling sexy women and using that to make fun and profit. But I digress. But seriously, porn is a terrible terrible example. While most of the things which use fanservice tend to be games or shows with plenty of content besides the sexulisation, but porn is quite literally all about the sexulisation. That is all that is there. Wouldn't a better example be something like Twilight? Or another generally female medium like romance novels or chick flicks? Or shoujo anime? I understand some series have alot of sexuilisation, but no where near porn amounts.
While I do get your complaint that porn isn't a perfect comparison, I point out the Virgin/Whore dichotomy to explain why the romance genre is not the same as media aimed at straight males. While the romance genre (especially nowadays) does contain porn, it's not aimed in the same way as The Male Gaze is. The Male Gaze is based on the notion that men aren't restrained in their sexuality. If they want subtle sexuality, they can have it. If they want it absolutely blatant, they can have it too. Women, on the other hand, are still held back by the Virgin/Whore dichotomy when it comes to their sexualities. Why do you think female-aimed sexuality is framed around romance? Because that's the only context in which the Virgin archetype is allowed to be sexual. She is only allowed to explore her sexuality because she is in love with a man. And furthermore, the Virgin's sexuality is almost always framed as surrender, never (or very rarely) as the kind of assertive, proactive sexuality that men commonly display. The "good girl" is never sexually aggressive, she is "pure" and "surrenders" to her man. This, in turn, validates her role as prizes for men. And while lately romance novels have gotten steamier and more descriptive, there is still a strong current of "good girls aren't supposed to like things that are too raunchy" (or else society puts them in the Whore archetype and robs them of their social standing).
So again, while I accept that the porn comparison is not the fairest, it's also the only way you can fully appreciate how uncomfortable overt sexuality can make people that aren't the target audience. The romance genre isn't as "in your face" with sexuality as media aimed at straight males, so the only way you're going to experience the full weight of what we feel is by going on a sensory overload of bulges, abs and man-ass.
Moving on to the next point,I would argue that while there are not as many female charecters that are main charecters as there should be, it is hardly as terrible as some would suggest. Also sexulisation doesn't mean a charecter needs to only be eye candy, charecters who are designed to be sexy can still be competant, interesting and independant (though I would argue there is room for some female charecters to be submissive without it being sexist, not every charecter needs to defy stereotypes, just enough that the stereotype isn't in play in the medium much.) As for life revolving around men, women in secondary roles or love intrest roles are expected to react to the protagonist, that is how most stories are structured. As for Alyx, I would say she doesn't need big boobs, but if she had them would that really ruin her charecter so much? I am not opposed to Alyx having smaller breasts, just people claiming that is what makes her charecter good.
The reason it's "as terrible as some would suggest" is that it perpetuates the vicious cycle I spoke of in my previous post. It perpetuates the notion that the gamer demographic is only made up of straight males because women and non-straight men get turned off due to a lack of consideration, which perpetuates the industry's faulty assumptions. Making female characters (particularly those who aren't sexualised) is the easiest way to prove that you are thinking of somebody other than straight men. The problem with sexualised female characters has nothing to do with the sexualisation itself (I agree that it's not a problem in itself, particularly if the character displays virtues in other areas), the problem is that it sends the message that the industry is always thinking about straight males. If you can't have a competent, strong female character without sexualisation, you are basically saying, as an industry, that you are a slave to the straight male demographic. It speaks of a kind of backhanded, silent insult: by focusing exclusively on the straight male demographic to the exclusion of everything else, the industry is telling every other demographic that they are so worthless and meaningless that they are not even worth a moment's thought, much less actual consideration while creating a product.
As for Alyx, the point is, I think, that because she is not as sexualised as most characters (and because her bust size makes her similar to a lot of women who have been drastically under-represented), she is a good character from an egalitarian perspective because it shows that the industry was thinking of someone other than the straight male demographic. It's the positive intention that counts, the willingness to consider that other demographics exist and would like to see representation too, that women would like to have something other than a supermodel with a huge rack to identify with when playing a videogame.
On your couch anology, I would say there is room for every demographic. Again not all games need sexulisation, but I have no issue with people having it. And it would help if people stopped arguing that it is misogynistic somehow. But once again I have digressed.
I agree that there's room for everybody, but a lot of people don't listen and/or don't care, so we try to raise awareness the best way we can. Sometimes I admit we don't tackle things in the best of ways, but something I've been explaining over and over in other sexism threads is that... hang on, I'm just going to quote myself:
All of what you've written is true, but you didn't touch on something deeper:
Nobody knows what to do to "fix" sexism. We are a very goal-oriented society. If we identify a problem, it is ingrained in our heads to fix it as soon and as efficiently as possible. When someone criticises something of being sexist, nobody knows how to fix that. The most efficient thing most people imagine is censorship ("Let's get this game off the streets!") and that's just absolutely intolerable for people who enjoyed the game in spite of the sexism! The second thing most people think is "let's not allow another game like this to be made!" which also pisses the people who enjoyed it off.
A lot of people think that sexism is an isolated thing, like a single speck of dirt that we can just wipe off. It's not. Sexism pervades society, and everything society does (and the entertainment industry is no exception) gets contaminated by sexism (almost always inadvertently). If society teaches us sexist things, how can we not put them in the games we create, in everything we do? A lot of gamers don't understand this, and think that society is a paradise of equality and anything sexist is a horrible anomaly (which compounds on the previous points above, because the implications is "you are terrible for enjoying something obviously abnormal and evil, and you are also dumb for not noticing this was so terribly sexist").
Building up on the point above, the idea that sexism is abnormal leads to people dismissing criticisms of sexism by appealing to normalcy. "It can't be sexist! It's not any worse than any other game!" without realising that practically all games have some form of sexism (and it is almost always subtle enough to pass under the average straight male's radar).
The other sexism misconception is that sexism has to be malicious and purposeful, that it has to be born from a conscious, fully-aware hatred towards women. This is obviously false, but it leads to constant dismissals of criticism under the excuses of "But they didn't MEAN it to be sexist!" or "But the game isn't serious!" or "But they don't HATE women!" and so on. Sexism can be inadvertent. If you do what everyone else does, and everyone else is kinda sexist, you're going to do kinda sexist things. It's basic logic.
And going back to the "not an easy fix" problem, a lot of people think that feminism and other civil rights activism is just out to make everyone miserable and find problems where they don't exist, without giving simple, concrete ways of fixing them (as if "fixing society" was simple), hence why their criticisms also get dismissed. I will never, ever forget an anecdote written by a feminist about a conversation with her boyfriend:
[Feminist calmly points out an instance of inadvertent sexism in her boyfriend]
Boyfriend: "But if you weren't a feminist, you wouldn't have noticed this in the first place."
Feminist: "No, I would have noticed, but I would have just thought you were an asshole without really knowing why."
Feminist: [in her blog] "And I think that's where he finally got that feminism isn't making up or looking for problems where there aren't any, but instead trying to understand where those problems come from and how we can fix them."
People who point out instances of sexism, homophobia, racism or the like, aren't trying to look for problems where none exist, they are pointing out problems that we have learnt to live with (and that privileged majorities have little reason to change, as they either benefit them or have no problem with them), figuring out where they came from and trying to raise general awareness so that the people who are in a position to do something about them (such as game developers, for example), can step back and say "Wait, maybe we should be a bit more egalitarian." Or, conversely, the straight white male majority can join us in our demand for more equality (for sympathy's sake and human decency, if nothing else) and the industry will listen.
We aren't out to ruin your day. We just want you to realise that things aren't fair or equal.
As you can see, when we say "misogynistic" or "sexist", we're not being shrill assholes or bitches trying to ruin the games you like. We are just pointing out how society's inequalities seep into something in particular.
Moving on, I was mostly complaining how feminists tend to imply that strip clubs somehow victimise women by using the fact that men like ogling women for profit. And I totally agree that slut-shaming is awful and sexist and society needs to stop doing it. In many posts I have mentioned how much I hate the societal taboo against sex, and the double standard that comes with it.
This is an insightful article on sex workers (though not necessarily strippers): Prostitution. It's written from a perspective that consensual sex transactions between equal and consenting adults are possible, but that in a sexist society, it is very easy for men to use prostitution (and stripping, and the porn industry) to oppress women and engage in sexual violence and abuse. The problem a lot of feminists have with things like strip clubs is that in a sexist society where women aren't afforded the same opportunities/pay/socialisation as men, they are forced to resort to prostitution/stripping/porn to make a living, and that's why they're victimised, because the sex industry is taking advantage of women who have very little choice in terms of work (after all, a study showed that women did worse at math when tests reminded them of their gender, which echoes the societal discourse women hear from birth, which is that they are innately worse at math and science than men. This keeps them away from engineering, medicine, any scientific career, and basically most of the high-paying jobs. And since most of the non-skilled jobs are taken by men, women are cornered into highly specific, female-dominated jobs. So if they can't get into them, all they have left is stripping, porn and/or prostitution).
Now, I want to add that what I'm saying isn't as drastic anymore. We are seeing a great increase in gender equality across most work fields, I'm just explaining where feminist get their misgivings about stripping and the like.
Regarding your closing paragraph, yeah I honestly agree with alot that you have said, and would like to see the industry incorporate as many tastes as possible since that just means that more people get to enjoy media.
Good! I completely agree.
Your example actually proves my point pretty well. If you hand everyone a apple then great. Those who like apples will eat them and thank you for giving them apples. Those who don't like apples just won't eat the apples. I would hardly say it would be justified for someone to complain about you handing out apples because they didn't like apples. Sure they didn't benefit from the apples, but then again other people did. And I am hardly especially concerned for myself, my gender and sexual orientation is entirely unimportant. If the majority of people playing a game would benefit from something and it doesn't harm the minority in any way then I would say go forward with it. Most happiness for the most people and the most sales for the game more people like. In your example I would go find somewhere that gives out oranges, I would hardly demand you stop giving apples.
It's not an equivalent example. Imagine that apples are non-nutritious for some people. So if you don't give them anything other than apples, they don't get the nutrients they need. That's what it's like to be a minority. You starve while watching other people eating from outside a window. In the cold.