114: Holding Out for a Heroine

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Holding Out for a Heroine

"I had a male friend and World of Warcraft player tell me many men would hit on female Tauren avatars but not female Night Elves, because the female Tauren were sure to be women. Only women, he said, would be interested in playing a character that was literally a bipedal cow, where the butt they were watching for most of their gameplay had a tufted tail."

Erin Hoffman talks to women (and men) in games about the women (and men) in games.

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Just when I get burnt out reading or writing or discussing anything video game related, the Escapist comes out with another hard-hitting essay. I love this. It's even got me reconsidering how I play into the idealized female archetype in my own stories, and rethinking them.

I think the problem is two-fold. On the one hand, video games have traditionally been marketed towards young men. That much is obvious. But as Gerard Jones said (I LOVE that book), it's just as much that it excludes female gamers from the target demographic as it is that it particularly caters to the males. But this is yesterday's news.

The other issue, I think, is that most of the people writing these video game plots and characters are males. How equipped is a male author to write a truly believable female character? I consider myself a good writer, but I will admit that one place I struggle is accurately depicting the many particular complexities of being a woman - in the normal world, let alone a fantasy or sci-fi world where she is faced with impossible challenges on top of her normal struggles. So what my female characters end up being are bits and pieces of different media archetypes I've seen on TV, in games, in books, with a little bit of real world inspiration for good measure. I have no real frame of reference, since I am not a woman. So we need to see some more women writers in the industry.

But for now, there are SOME characters - albeit marginalized - who defy the iconic stereotypes, and who at least HINT at some more genuine female complexity. You asked for the mother who fights to defend her children? Her name is Rynka, a minor character in Radiata Stories, who for the mere fact that she was a poor single mother struck me as the most interesting character in the game. Of course, as a minor character, she didn't receive much development.

However, by far the richest, most complex, most developed, and most believable female character in any game to date is Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3. She MADE that game for me. I don't want to write spoilers here, but if you've played this game, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. The scar? Her lover? Her motivation? She was incredible. I just wonder how many people really took notice of her outside the context of being a "villain".

It seems as if you've only really played a few of the possible games that represent what you're looking for. Try looking into Tales of Symphonia for an interesting comparison on female characters and how "attractive" they may or may not be.

A very good article, and I've caught myself thinking the same over and over again. I look at the scantily clad, let's admit it, porn-heroines and I catch myself groan simply because it's so damned cheesy and over-used.

I look forward to the heroine that's dressed like a normal human being, or like a normal human being would dress, and has the proportions, or clothing to fit the proportions, of one.
Do we need more female game-designers, and artists to water out the current perceptions of "quality" and "good enough"? Hell yes. Do the guys making games now need to get their heads out of the box? Definately, since I personally find the selection of heroines at the moment stunningly boring and "boxed". There's a few exceptions, of course, I just don't think they get the attention they deserve.

The point about the Tauren female seems true as well, atleast a higher percentage, from my experiences with the game.

http://www.corrupt.org/transcendence/women/articles/feminism/

Read that, it might be usefull.

I think that heroines should be used in more complexed and emotional storylines - if you have a "Save the world and kill 1000000000000 zombies", yo umight just go with the men.

But if you have something more complex, more deep, more emotional, you should give the way to the female character (and sorry for my bad english....)

In the end of the day, men and women are different - they think differently and they act differently. I think it will be better if women act like women, and men act like men, instead of doing a "strong female chracter, that is actualy a lesbian" or a "emotional male character, who is actualy gay" where you umix things up.

A women can save the world, but not the same way a men would. I men can be emotional, but not the same way as a women.

meh, a strong female char doesn't have to be a lesbian, or an emotional male char doesn't have to be gay. Those limitations should disappear as soon as possible, as I still hear in the street fathers telling to their sons not to cry, because that's a girl thing. It makes me shiver in anger. Seriously.

This article is awesome. I play WoW, and everytime my char (a human female paladin) finds a piece of armor that is more skimpy than real armor, I put the yell on the skies and my whole guild has to suffer it heh. I mean, is plate and it's meant to protect you, not to look like underwear. And when you try the SAME piece of armor in a male char, it looks just as normal plate. I strongly think that we need more women in the design department of MMOs, because those games aren't played just by men, but also by lots of women. And we like to see our chars look like us. Or at least give the option!

And about being a heroine, my own char is kinda mine. She's female, and she's a retribution paladin (ppl who play wow would understand me). I've had to fight a lot of preconceptions about the spec, for a long time, I've cried, yelled, pouted, everything about it. And now I'm the only ret pally raiding successfully in my guild (And my dps is among the best ones). So for me, my char is my heroine.

Kudos to this article, is the best one I've read in a long time

I've just started reading The Escapist and particularly enjoyed this article. I'm a guy but despite my gender I was laughing at the Soul Caliber IV link... particularly the marketing text that emphasized the series has "always" been racy. I've got a copy of Soul Caliber II at home which is prudish in comparison to the concept art on that page!

If I might also suggest-- you might want to look to adventure games for strong female characters. I am a personal fan of the genre and can list at least 5 strong female leads that you're looking for right off the bat:

1. April Ryan from The Longest Journey/Dreamfall
2. Laura Bow from the Sierra Laura Bow games
3. King's Quest IV and VII-- Rosella and Valerie
4. Grace in the Gabriel Knight series
5. Don't remember her name, but the female lead in Syberia
6. Nico in the Broken Sword games (although perhaps not the recent ones)

"If nothing else, someone just needs to get these poor women some underwire support."

Why do we often forget that bras are a 20th century invention? Or that Sixties' feminists took off their bras to signify a first step in liberation from patriarchy-a similar action to Chinese feminists who removed their foot bindings earlier in the century? What happened before bras were there to "provide support"? Corsets... what else? In many native cultures, before the invasion of missionaries, the women folk just let it hang out. But in 'Western world' today, the chests have become so sexualized, even a mother in the very act of breastfeeding a baby has to cover up. That's another dimension to the problem.

The example of Japanese games, appealing to girls and women, doesn't make me to enthusiastic. I'm a Queer Nation person; those Japanese products just serve to reinforce gender roles by continually splitting into two categories. It is better that females are served instead of being left in the cold, but the framework doesn't challenge. Where is my drag queen? Where can I find a game that I don't have to be the 'heroine' but I'm instead a member of the masses, at best the organizer (Beyond Good and Evil is the closest...)

But these are the tensions under the banner of feminism. Still a great article, Erin.

Alexandra Erenhart:
meh, a strong female char doesn't have to be a lesbian, or an emotional male char doesn't have to be gay.

I did not say such a thing, I meant that that's what they seem to be - stron females are made to look kinda like lesbians at times, and emotional charecters are made to look like gay.

I did not say that they should be lesbians or gay men.

Don't listen to the moden feminists, there is nothing good about them.

Read some stuff from this site: http://www.corrupt.org/transcendence/women/

I just discussed this article with my wife who found it quite offensive. She plays games for escapism and doesn't want to escape into a world of sensible footwear and practical armour. She can't run around fighting evil in six-inch heel thigh-highs in real life, what's wrong with doing it in games? I think it applies just as much to men, but we just have different priorities. My wife wants to be sexy first, I want to be badass and I have just as many ridiculous affections displayed on characters I play. Huge, unwieldy swords, billowing trenchoats, pauldrons that you could land a Harrier on and flowing locks that would get grabbed in every single bloody fight are all commonplace. Just don't get me started on spandex.

What about men who want to look good from time to time? Every single male character model in WoW looks like he's been hit with the ugly stick or is a blood elf. I'm sure I can't be the only guy who felt cheated when he realised that black mageweave leggings are, when donned by male characters, Adidas jogging bottoms.

The gripes that we do have with regards to female characters in videogames often apply to both sexes. Forced choice of gender such as Diablo-style "one class, one sex" or being forced to play a character of a specific gender for no apparent reason. Deus Ex: Invisble War's idea of calling the protaganist "Alex" was genius, as it allowed players to choose either gender without compromising on voice acting.

Ridiculous fixed body types, World of Warcraft, I'm looking at you (again.) Male characters are all huge and female characters are all stick thin. Those skimpy outfits would look much better on models with CURVES! Check out the female gnomes and dwarves, much better, more realistic (and in my opinion, sexier) figures than the majority of the female character models. Of course, you hardly see any female players playing those races because they're not pretty enough.

If you want a good indication of what people, both male and female, want from their videogame characters, jump into Second Life. I doubt you'll find many characters with sensible shoes there, even among the genuine female players.

Great article, very compelling. Agreed regarding MMO armor. Them so interested should check out the heaviest Guild Wars plate. It's very properly Human Tank stuff all around...except for the diamond shaped cut out right above the breastbone presumably placed for the breasts can breathe freely. Oh well, points for trying.

Oh, and homosexual characters are worth trying. They're almost present anyway, enough radically flamboyant Squaresoft heroes have debuted that wouldn't surprise me if they actually kissed a lad at some point. Sigfried, Mitsurugi and Sestuka might as well be gay anyway given their total absence of interest in the opposite sex. However they are designed for a projected audience that thinks "girls are mobile cootie spawn points" though given the drop in age of first voluntary sexual experience (yes that's highly simplified for purposes of moving on) I suspect that's just the designers being really out of touch, or compelled to act so. 'Course if I'm throwing aspersions of character around I might as well peg Rapheale as a pedophile.
Of course the first thing you'd do once you've turned a pre-pubescent peasant girl is buy her a corset! What else makes sense? /suicide by sunlight
Lesbian characters are welcome as well of course -I keep railing at my comrades that Ivy and Taki are well aligned circumstancially for a relationship. /lechery.
Though if we're talking apparent Japanese story conventions let's not forget the usual strong dose of xenophobia and homogeny of desire. Every character treats others from different cultures like they're from different planets. Give a setting like Soul Calibur's era that's actually highly appropriate, I only mention so in light of everything else so radically anachronistic and that said tropes are pretty much standard issue regardless of individual game scenario.

Three notes:
1) What about Aya Brea? Speaking of strong yet human heroines in pants. Serious panache on her as well -in Parasite Eve 2 she drives a canary yellow 70-ish Charger she'd named "Carrie*."
See also Konoko from Oni, and the various heroines of the Hunter: The Reckoning titles.
*Not sole instance of panache.

2) Not true about the Tauren ratio imexp. I've played every other race as a female character and you're _always_ a hormone magnet the second you use an ascii emote or express any desire to cooperate.

3) Yup! Rett pallys are good fun. =D

(Posted by a dood whose tastes in video game women run a generously wide gambit).

N1ghtNinja:

I did not say such a thing, I meant that that's what they seem to be - stron females are made to look kinda like lesbians at times, and emotional charecters are made to look like gay.

I did not say that they should be lesbians or gay men.

Oh, then I didn't get you right. Sorry about that ;)

While I appreciate where Erin is coming from - and I'm a huge supporter of market capitalism and the need for gaming to grow to meet new niches, including the presumably huge market segment of women who for whatever unexplicable reason don't want to look like ninja porn stars - I do share bigjonno's sentiment that the "unrealistic physics" of costume and endowment are as evident in males as they are as females.

Male characters in video games use gigantic melee weapons or oversized rifles that are inconceivably unbalanced and unrpactical; wear flourishing capes that never obstruct their athletic movements; don slick sunglasses that let them see at night; and on and on. The major difference lies not in the surrealism of the portrayal, but in what features are exaggerated: For men it is brawn and size, for women it is sensuality and appeal. (I'll leave aside Freudian arguments about what the big swords might really represent).

I would argue that objections to women's surrealistic portrayal in video games has more to do with women being uncomfortable with having their sensuality emphasized, than to do with anything about physics or a lack of realism. Men don't mind having their toughness unrealistically emphasized, in contrary, they relish it. It's not about surrealism in general, but the specific sexuality of the surrealism.

And it may not even be sexual surrealism in general, either. Maybe women are just uncomfortable with the way MEN emphasize women's sex appeal, while they don't care how men emphasize their brawn or phallic ninja swords, or whatever the boys want to do. One only has to look at print magazines to see how women like to be portrayed (Vanity Fair, Vogue) and how men like to see women portrayed (Maxim, Playboy).

In other words "boys can be boys, but women want to be women."

Samus Aran?

First and foremost, she is a bad-ass. Second, she wears a completely unrevealing, very "logical" outfit for what she has to do. Last, she has a fairly deep history that, if you care to look into it, has some heart wrenching and humanizing details.

The one problem that I do have with her, and other Nintendo characters, is that they all play as "strong and silent" type (probably to try to get the gamer to feel as though they are the lead instead of just the puppet master). But the lack of any script for the main character leads to a complete lack of character development within the games, and forces us to look elsewhere ( http://www.mechadrake.com/metroidmanga.html ) for background. This makes it hard to appreciate her as a person within her games, which I think is part of what the author is getting at. Still, despite her "zero suit" status and the difficulty in finding her back story, Samus is a good example of a strong female lead that spends her combat time in a mechanized suit that works for what she has to do.

While I would love to see a strong female character that isn't half naked to a degree that makes her clothing improper for the situation, I don't see it happening because, as cliched as it is to mention, Sex Sells. Take for example the images that accompany this article and the one after it. The article about Sociolotron has some sexy legs as the main image. The article we are discussing has a skin-tight-suit-wearing anime hottie with giant breasts and fully erect nipples. The goal was probably to be "ironic" but its also just another method that catches the eye to increase traffic. Using the "hot female lead" is Marketing 101. By being "ironic" the site comes off more as "aware of how to get clicks". Perhaps instead we could have had some concept images of a female lead that isn't half nude, you know, to shake things up from the normal "stick a sexy woman here because we mention women in the article" protocol.

I like the idea of the article, but I think the presentation makes it feel hypocritical. Instead of legitimately critiquing an industry that objectifies women, the article criticizes an industry for it's somewhat offensive idiosyncratic methods for luring customers while it sits surrounded by the same somewhat offensive idiosyncratic methods for luring customers.

My point is that in order to get a proper female lead it would have to happen on purpose. Someone would have to do what the author is saying here and think "why aren't there proper female characters". I think the gaming industry is working within the most profitable business practices, and so the norm, now and in the near future, will continue to contain extremely sexualized characters that look like they belong in a strip club.

If you want to defy the norm of attractive main characters, there's no better game to play than The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. The reason every character in video games is sexy is because all the ugly ones are deported to Cyrodiil. I managed once to make a character whom people might want to look at, given the alternative - an old, dignified man with a severe expression and a great big nose. I think once I managed to get a neanderthal as well. No such luck with female characters, though, but I once heard a legend of a man who managed to duplicate a famous actress' face.

What was that one line from As Good as It Gets? "How do you write women so well?" "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability." I think the idea is not so much that men can't write women if they try - even as cynically as a Melvin Udall might, though that's certainly an element - but that men are reluctant to write flawed women. Or flawed men, for that matter. Games are sorely lacking in protagonists with real weaknesses, except in the most extreme Kane and Lynch sort of cases. A game won't sell if you can't look up to its characters, or so the saying goes, right?

The difference is, you can make a man ugly and still make him respectable. For a male character, being homely isn't regarded as a flaw, just flavor. He likes rock and roll, is good at sailing, he has bad teeth and big ears. For a female character, on the other hand, being markedly less attractive than the other women really means something. Exactly what it means I'll have to work out a bit more, but it's significant.

Additionally, there's another combination of factors going on. First, and more simply, is that Hollywood realized that movies with romance sell better than movies without romance, and video games like to ape Hollywood. Second, it is a pretty well-documented psychological phenomenon that people feel more comfortable with romances that take place between people with similar social standings. Pairings between people who are in the same league as each other, in terms of age, wealth, intelligence, physical attractiveness, and overall social status are more common, because not only does neither party feel like they can do much better, but neither party worries much about the other one feeling the same. Since you typically want your lead to have a higher status in some way than your target audience in some way, and physical appearance is the most obvious, that really cuts you off from having an unattractive main character, hence an attractive partner (if there is any partnering happening). So the only way to escape sexy women is to have no women at all.

And let's not even mention the fine balance between political correctness and gratuitous sex appeal. You throw the balance out when you make a game that is for boys, but when making a game to try to appeal to any kind of broader audience, it is very difficult to write a character who doesn't reek of Marketing, and the more controversial the topic, the tougher it is, especially when you have to make a wholly different kind of personality.

In conclusion: I mostly agree with the article. And while they're at it, I'd like a pony.

OK, two things.

1) Soul Calibre is every bit as Japanese as Nintendogs. It appeared in Japan first. It was successful in Japan first. So if you're going to claim that Japan has some kind of different attitude to women than the West, then I suggest picking another game.

2) If you want strong women characters in games, get off your asses and start writing them. So many women bitch about female roles in media and yet don't actually do anything to change it.

Apply for jobs writing for the games industry or failing that, start your own companies.

For the first time ever EA have admitted they're over the types of games they're putting out, so why don't you get organised and put together a good idea for a game and hit EA up, for a start!

But you need to get out there and do it yourself. You can't rely on us men to do it, we never do anything right!

There are studies that show us, that women put greater weight on the intelligence then men, and men put more weight on physical attractiveness.
Just a thought.

I can tell right now that when someone finally releases a game with a proper female lead, many gamers wont be able to accept it. Well right away anyways. especially the Xbox people with their big tough manly games(see Zero Punctuation on console rundown)

So you belive everything that he says? Sheep....

Even though he is right :), but c'mon now...

I think it's interesting that Ms. Hoffman laments the lack of a mother fighting to protect her children, yet starts the article off by discussing Soul Calibur IV. While I agree her SC4 outfit is... well, irritating, Sophitia Alexandra IS a mother fighting to protect her children. In SC2, her entire journey was started because a fragment of Soul Edge threatened to harm her children. Something else I think is cool is that after her sister Cassandra took Sophitia's original sword/shield to hastily go out and quest in her sister's stead, Sophitia's husband (a blacksmith) forged new arms for her to bear in protecting their family. And he stayed behind to take care of the kids in her absence.

In fact, ridiculous costumes aside, I feel that the SC series has some fairly strong and kickass female characters like Seung Mina, Xianghua, and even Ivy Valentine (who has both the most revealing and most concealing outfits in the game as far as the females go, interestingly enough).

That just stuck out at me.

FunkyJ:
OK, two things.

1) Soul Calibre is every bit as Japanese as Nintendogs. It appeared in Japan first. It was successful in Japan first. So if you're going to claim that Japan has some kind of different attitude to women than the West, then I suggest picking another game.

2) If you want strong women characters in games, get off your asses and start writing them. So many women bitch about female roles in media and yet don't actually do anything to change it.

Apply for jobs writing for the games industry or failing that, start your own companies.

For the first time ever EA have admitted they're over the types of games they're putting out, so why don't you get organised and put together a good idea for a game and hit EA up, for a start!

But you need to get out there and do it yourself. You can't rely on us men to do it, we never do anything right!

^o^

You know you're talking about Erin Hoffman, aka ea-spouse... right?

A large part of this article appears to be decrying the lack of 'normal' females in games, but really that criticism sports a superfluous gender qualifier; there is a lack of 'normal' people in games full stop. I'm not saying that female characters don't suffer the brunt of the problem as clearly they do, but there is a distinct lack of humanity in the majority of game characters, irregardless of whether they're rubbish at multi-tasking or reading maps.

Let's be clear that I don't want a sequel to Crackdown wherein my avatar recalls how he was bullied at school for only having 3 stars in Agility rather than 4 or Bowser reclined on a psychiatrist's chair exploring the underlying reasons behind his fascination with kidnapping motherly figures*, but I do think there's plenty of room for more complex characters to air their personalities or at very least their humanity.

Honing in further this does not mean that the future of gaming relies on episodic digital soap operas. One of gaming's underlying strengths is that it isn't constrained to reality, but an even greater pleasure than exploring the fantastic is seeing what happens when reality and imagination collide. Fear, awe, wonder, amusement, scepticism, denial: give us characters stitched together from more than a disregard for life and a grim expression.

I don't think it's about seeing men as men and woman as woman, it's about seeing both as people.

*Actually I would like to see that one.

donquixote:
You know you're talking about Erin Hoffman, aka ea-spouse... right?

So? She made a noise and kinda got lucky.

Didn't help me though.

Then again maybe I should have chosen a name like "shaftedbymidway" instead of "FunkyJ".

My point still remains - you want to do something about it, you get involved.

Hello all. Wow, a lot of replies. Thank you to everyone who responded to the article, and I'm glad that those of you who enjoyed it did so. I'm indebted to the awesome ladies over at women_dev who contributed and provided some terrific discussion -- I'd've included more of it if I could have!

First, just because it's the latest comment, FunkyJ, I am terribly sorry to hear about your studio. Oh do I know how that feels. The stories a lot of us could tell about developer-publisher relations... I do truly understand; I've been there, too many of us have. I encourage you to post your story on the Gamewatch forums if you haven't already. One of my purposes for the site and the forums is to create a central repository for these stories, so that those responsible can be held accountable, and developers individually can make their employment decisions with as much information as possible. I have a couple of contacts in Australia, and if you'd like to contact me via email or through the Gamewatch forums I'll help as much as I can.

That being said, given that you have had first hand knowledge of how difficult it is to get a game from pitch to ship, I am a little surprised that you can take the "just do something" line with the game heroines issue. You should know that it is far from that simple. One of my purposes with the article was to centralize some information for those developers who are in a position to write female characters to give them some depth and think about these things that male and female audiences alike are seeing in the current industry standard product. Sheri Graner Ray has a terrific book called _Gender-Inclusive Game Design_, but it's my hope that by having a free online repository for some of these thoughts, we can spread the word. And certainly realize that those of us who express these ideas are working hard to make an impression on the development side as well. Ironically, given your recent story, another consideration, springboarding off of a comment made above about how "sex sells", is that the publishers themselves frequently CHANGE game content to make it sexier, more over-the-top, because they THINK that it sells. It's a catch-22 -- they make their predictions (based on, if I may say, a very base and immature view of the gamer community that isn't always accurate) and change games to fit them, and then the games sell, so they are vindicated.

Thank you also to everyone who posted references to other games. I did include the Dreamfall heroines as part of the article, and I actually had planned an entire section on Samus, but I felt it was more important to get out of the way of the women_dev ladies, since they provided such terrific insight, than to add that historical analysis. Samus is certainly an interesting case. While I agree that she's terrific, another poster hit it on the nail in saying that there is not a lot of character development on her at all within the games themselves. She started, I think, as kind of a gimmick (though I agree completely that the moment when she takes her helmet off in the first game is one of the greatest moments in game history), and the rest of her character development is centered around mystery and how much we're NOT told (and therefore have to fill out in our imaginations) than anything else. I think she also falls under the category of "man with boobs" to some extent -- which is fine, but it isn't the kind of heroine I wanted to discuss.

I was surprised at the comment that someone actually found the article offensive. I should emphasize again that the problem here is not the type of women that are portrayed in games, but that they are, generally, the ONLY types presented. The issue here is one of choice. Women in online games are not given an array of choices when they look at how their avatars are portrayed. The higher I level my Night Elf hunter, the less she wears. What does this tell me? That I shouldn't level up? That I shouldn't play? These are actual game mechanic impacts such that if I want my avatar to be decently covered I am going to have to choose lower level or less effective armor. And there's really no way around it. Again, the issue is not the presence of skimpy armor (logic aside), but the lack of alternative options. If any woman wants to have her character run around triple-D and in three inch stilettos, more power to her! But those of us that DON'T shouldn't be shut out of games because of it.

Yes, male characters are certainly exaggerated as well. This is, after all, fantasy. But they are NOT hypersexualized the way women are. For more on this, see Sheri Graner Ray's book, as mentioned above; you do not see male characters in games running around with their speedos stuffed with socks. And it DOES make a difference. It is psychologically demeaning to be constantly sexualized for the sake of half of the audience (or less -- it's my understanding that not all men like this, either); it screams for objectification. Which, again, is FINE if it is a choice a player is making; when it is their only option, there is something else going on.

Ninja, may I also add that those links you posted are batshit crazy. Please find some other sources to read on modern feminism. ;)

Okay, I think that covers the basics -- this comment is getting way long. ;) But thank you all again for your replies.

ErinHoffman:
The issue here is one of choice. Women in online games are not given an array of choices when they look at how their avatars are portrayed. The higher I level my Night Elf hunter, the less she wears. What does this tell me? That I shouldn't level up? That I shouldn't play? These are actual game mechanic impacts such that if I want my avatar to be decently covered I am going to have to choose lower level or less effective armor.

I think this is a pretty inaccurate portrayal of most online games and is actually a case of seeing a gender-bias issue when there isn't one. My wife obsessively collects different outfits in WoW. She has everything from tank-like armour to skimpy dominatrix outfits to slinky evening dresses and everything inbetween. The actual armour she wears in combat is mismatched, ugly and covers her completely, with the exception of her elbows. The alternative to this is endless raiding to gain an armour set with which she can look like everyone else.

Everyone who cares about their avatar's appearance has, at some time, had to choose between gear that they like the appearance of and the gear with the best stats. This is nothing to do with objectifying women, it's simply poor game design.

bigjonno:
This is nothing to do with objectifying women, it's simply poor game design.

I think it's both actually. By holding out on the skimpy pseudo-armor until a character has reached a higher level, the suggestion is that seeing a female character's midriff is a reward. That's pretty straightforward objectification. It's also, as Erin suggested, bad design, since a lot of folks would prefer to not have their character wear that stuff.

There is definitely a mechanic at work, regardless of how far it was thought out, in making high level armor cover less skin *only* for female characters. You do not see male characters at upper levels running around in speedos and hot pants. I don't mean to beat on online games exclusively by any measure, but their character designs frequently happen to be guilty of this kind of exaggeration more than other game demographics, except fighters. Male characters are exaggerated in ways that make them appear powerful -- huge shoulders, massive biceps. Female characters are exaggerated in ways that make them sexual -- large, enflamed lips, narrow waists, large hips and eyes.

WoW is not alone in this, either, by a long shot -- but that doesn't make them less representative of it. It also varies by character class, since robed classes (warlocks, priests, mages) tend to have better covering overall than fighter classes (hunters, warriors). So it's probably better to look at overall standard character build. In WoW's case they have an entire race (two, now) devoted to the sexy look. Bigjonno, can you honestly look at the elf characters -- and the human ones to a lesser extent -- and tell me that there is not a difference in what is being emphasized between the males and females?

I'm what you might call a "reluctant feminist". I sure as hell would like to see this being as balanced as you're saying. But when considering where games can go in the future, I think these ideas are worth exploring, rather than purely defending where we've already been.

ErinHoffman:
There is definitely a mechanic at work, regardless of how far it was thought out, in making high level armor cover less skin *only* for female characters. You do not see male characters at upper levels running around in speedos and hot pants.

I think the inequity comes down to the large differences between men and women in the portrayal of the ideal woman. Like Archon said, above, compare how women are portrayed in Maxim or Playboy to how women are portrayed in their own magazines.

In contrast, men and women have more similar tastes in the portrayal if the ideal man. Men might want themselves to look powerful and women might want their men cleaned up a little, but the overall appearance of both idealizations aren't offensive to either sex. (The demographic that wants to see male characters in revealing speedos is pretty small judging by the small representation of bulging speedos in popular culture.)

Compound this with the fact that most video games are action oriented. You often see the same kind of sexism in action movies which are generally, but not exclusively, appreciated by men. There are few (if any) game equivalents to a romance movies oriented towards women.

I agree that games need to grow up and be more appealing to female players. At the same time, I think that the sexual biases are going to be hard to uproot.

Hi Erin, interesting topic. My experience with trying to introduce non-'emphasized' character and non-macho action design has witnessed reactions from "Hmm...thats different" to "dude, that is so gay!". The veteran decision makers in the industry too often base their decisions on old school games and are very wary of new directions. They are reluctant to create content directed at what they feel is an uncertain market, and those are the ones who are progressive. The conservatives just want to stick with 'what works'.
(Ironically, as I type this comment there is an ad playing over and over next to this text box. It features a overly muscled warrior wearing some leather straps and a loincloth...and many many weapons. Another fantasy to be played out for somebody.
It also shows the key marketing feature being the ability to break someones leg so it bends the wrong way. Another fantastic exaggeration of Bad Ass-ness.)
I digress. Soul Calibur is clearly ridiculously enhancing their females, that has become a recognizable trademark for them. WoW has a lot more choice in terms of personal portrayals of their female avatars, but there is a trend to skimpiness that is very hard to avoid, which leads to predictable drooling from the menfolk.
(I think you have a very valid point that games like WoW could easily support choices in skin coverage. Certainly a choice of a base layer of undergarments would let you show or cover up, regardless of the armor layer. I am willing to bet that no one in their fortress of testosterone has thought of it.)
In fact, isnt it the Come Hither side effect really the problem with these sexual images? If a gal wants to just get down to work, its next to impossible to do so. Even if I was to choose a female fighter Soul Calibur character to play against a buddy, there is sure to be a moment when we pause and check her out. In WoW its worse, because there are real males observing and commenting on your female avatar, and flirting with you...errr...your avatar.
Is the summary of all this "dressing provocatively should be an option, not an obligation"? Choice is removed, which is always a design sin. Sorry i had to ramble around so much to arrive at that point, seems rather obvious in retrospect.

I think the Soul Calibur thing is... well, interesting. God knows I winced when I saw the SC4 character art for my beloved Sophitia (and I'm worried what they'll do to Xianghua as well).

But even IF she's now wearing even more impractical clothing with even larger breasts... she's still the same character, which is what endeared me to her back in SC1. Sophitia's an ass-kicking mom who's no longer on her mission from the gods (leaving that part up to her sister) but who's going adventuring to protect her children from the evils of Soul Edge, and her (remarkably forward-thinking for the age) blacksmith husband makes her weaponry and sends her off with a promise to take care of the kids while she's gone.

The outfit doesn't change the character behind it. Yes, Mia Fey in the Phoenix Wright series has pretty big boobs. She's also the clearly-much-wiser mentor of the main character, and extremely likeable/passionate when you see her younger self in a flashback.

Honestly, if the character herself is strong, what she's wearing seems secondary at best... to me, anyway.

I want to throw this in since Soul Calibur seems to be the hot game for this discussion...

Fighting games are not the place to find compelling heroes or heroines.

Yes, Ivy is a man with boobs.

Yes, Sophitia is female defending her family.

It doesn't matter- in either case I'm there to kick butt and the game's "story" doesn't really invite me to CARE about who any of these characters are except in very short cut scenes or paragraphs of exposition. Try as they will, fighting games are about butt-kicking and nothing more.

As a well-endowed woman myself, I think at the end of the day I'd really like to play a game where I'm not totally distracted (terrified!) at the wiggly juggly physics of a videogame. I don't particularly care if they're showing tons of cleavage... just.. don't... make them do... THAT. GAH! I think I start to feel pain in my boobs just watching that. Jeez, is that seriously sexy? YOW ;_;

The result is that I tend to pick dudes like Kalik so I won't get weirded out or start unconsciously lifting my boobs to relieve some pain.

I think CantFaketheFunk brings up an excellent female character: Mia Fey.

Something that ruins her for me sometimes is that when she inhabits her sister's body, her sister grows boobs! Why couldn't something other than that happen? Cleavage = Mia's in the house. So we're identifying this character by her boobs. Great.

Looking at fighting games for female charatcer designs is like looking at a action movie for a completing rich story, however SC and DOA are kinda stupid when they go over the top, the top they reached the last game was "bad" enough...I dunno the net might have fried what il brain I have left but as a straight geeky male I find some of it way OTT and annoying.

CantFaketheFunk
Look at Tsunade in Naruto she is the the wise mentor type(for the msot part) and bears the trappings of the "Gs" Or whats her name from Bleach the 2ndry charatcer Kuukaku Shiba another somewhat powerful female charatcer while these are anime the charatcer type is in use.

I always think about movies when I see games do this I feel that movies tend to destroy plot and charatcer to water it down in order to sale it better to the brain dead masses that would see it twice regardless of how bad or good it is, really look at the charatcer designs from the non DD+ fighting games and bring them to life via better physics/clothing and small details you don't need to down size the clothing and up size the boobs its already sold to that set because there's women in it...
media tends to bottom fed to much mew thinks....

DOH wrong thread!

to say the guys in such games are exaggerated to have huge biceps and all that stuff could be exaggeration, or it could be 'cause if they were really lugging around 70 lbs of armor and a huge 30 lb longsword, they'd have to be reasonably big. not to say what we want is what we get from game designers though.

and on the topic of good female characters, i always thought bioware games (and other rpgs like planescape and arcanum) had great female characters.

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