Hypersexualization and the Characters That Break the Mold

A local news station ran a segment on how hypersexualized female characters in video games can affect how their female players will see themselves. It’s actually vaguely in reference to a study done by Stanford University. TIME and the news station liked to point out that the study was a bit more definitive than it was, because looking at the study itself, there was some good stats in there, but there was also a lot of overlap that made some things a bit too inconclusive. There may be a trend, but I think what it comes down to is that there would need to be more done before they could come to any grand conclusions.

I have less of a problem with TIME’s article, though, than I do with the local news station FOX 35’s segment, where they grabbed some Life Coach named Jenn Lee to talk about the topic. The problem, or maybe I should say the sad consistent, in the segment was talking about the hypersexualized female characters and how they have an impact on their female players, but saying nothing about the legitimately well-done women in games that are both empowering and respectable. It harkens back to a time when this was a much bigger problem than it is today, and FOX 35 just reached into the bottom of the dusty ol’ barrel.

I honestly can’t remember the last heroine of a (worthwhile) game that was legitimately promoted as a sexual object. Even Bayonetta, whom I don’t like because of her hypersexualization, is parody of it, and literally uses her sexuality as a weapon. Bayonetta is probably the most over-the-top display of a very feminist-oriented idea of taking charge of a woman’s self and her body. She’s sexy because she wants to be, not because she needs to fill a role in some market targeting. Granted, Bayonetta comes from the zany and exaggerated mind of Hideki Kamiya, but the point of Bayonetta was to utilize common tropes of women and then turn them on their ear, while delivering one of the most over-the-top action games in recent memory.

In the muscle-bound male-dominated action game genre, this gal stands tall, and not just because of her gun-heels

It’s also rather hilarious that FOX 35 chose to mention someone like Lara Croft, who has a logically athletic body because that sort of figure is necessary for the raiding of tombs (tits notwithstanding), and the body is molded into that tone because of the actions she takes during her adventures. Wearing tank tops and shorts? She’s in fucking amazonian jungles! Last time I checked that was pretty smart thing to wear in the subtropics. Do they want a flabby, nonathletic gal running through deserted tombs in the sweltering African Rain Forest wearing a parka? That’s more unrealistic than her regular depiction, like everyone’s favorite Italian chubster Mario (bless his blue overalls) who can run and jump with the stamina of an Olympic athlete.

This is just a totally unrealistic depiction of someone who risks their life adventuring on a daily basis, apparently

I can’t find much fault in making a female character’s body true to the kind of things she performs, and I can easily forgive things like a pinched waist, big breasts, and long legs when I myself, as a dude, sometimes end up playing as the equally exaggerated counterpart – six-foot-tall male characters with rippling muscles, what looks like a twelve pack, and a neck so huge it looks like he could suck his head into his body if he swallowed hard enough. In the end, that’s mostly stylized designs anyway, so it’s nearly as meaningless to complain about as The Simpsons characters being yellow and four-fingered, or anime characters having small mouths, big eyes, and unnatural hair colors.

Female gamers do honestly have the worst of it, though. However, that’s because generations of marketing and male-dominated content development have been way harder on them.

There is the impractical chainmail bikini armor women end up wearing a lot, but that is something I do take issue with, on the grounds of both needless objectification and a lack of practicality. If you want to make me feel like this warrior princess is in danger, it should be because of what’s she’s facing, not because she decided to wear armor that protects her “assets,” but not her vital organs. However, the chainmail bikini argument is becoming old hat in some ways, and I’m glad it is.

Of course…this is a local news station reporting on something they know and did very little research about, so they didn’t really wanna do that much work, I’d wager. They also decided to talk to a Life Coach that, while she might have some great things to say, they are still on a wholly skewed and cursory subject. They took one part of a study while ignoring the other, equally important part, and literally stated the obvious – yes, overly-sexualized female characters are going to probably make people feel inadequate, and of course those players are going to focus more on the character’s appearance because that’s the point.

Because nothing screams “Objectify me!” better than wearing one square-foot of cloth to cover your entire body

Just as artists use flamboyant colors to draw your eye, so do game designers mold characters after what they want you to focus on. A character that does not have a pronounced or sexualized appearance is of course not going draw much focus to it, and instead that focus falls upon qualities that really matter, like her emotions, motives, and, most importantly, personality.

Or what her favorite store on the Citadel is

There’s so many games that have come out this generation that depict heroic, honorable, memorable, and well-developed characters. The female Commander Shepard of Mass Effect, the aforementioned Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, Lightning Farron of Final Fantasy XIII, even the bubbly Wryn of the independently developed game Bleed feels like a real character, despite the game’s simple and bare-bones plot. There’s even been an uptick in great supporting ladies, like Kat of DmC: Devil May Cry, Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite, and Ellie from The Last of Us. There’s so many great women in gaming now that you almost can’t pick a game up without finding one. You have to do the least amount of work and research possible in order to come up with bupkiss, or worse yet, cherrypick facts to fit your segment. FOX 35, I’m lookin’ at you.

Now, this isn’t all to say that I disagree that women have it rough or something, I totally believe they do. However, games are one small part of the greater whole, where society is inundated by media with all those unhelpful and unhealthy depictions of what a woman “should look like.” Ugh…just writing that sorta pisses me off. A gal can look however she wants, she needs to be happy first and foremost. I would hope she’s at least healthy, because that’s important to having a long and fruitful life, but overall there’s a much larger problem with the media industries older than gaming. Right now, we can see how gaming’s landscape has changed. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but it’s a place where you can see a lot of progress already happening.

I’m all for less D-cups on my heroines, but even that’s forgivable if the character herself is actually worth experiencing a game with. She’ll never have to tell me where her eyes are, because I’m too busy falling in love with who she is, and not what’s hanging off the front of her body.


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