Feminism has made quite the journey since its spark was first ignited back in the nineteenth century. There has always been something to fight for, such as birthrights that are handed to men quite promptly but dangled over the heads of women. The ‘fairer sex’ has had to go up in arms for issues such as voting, abortion, equal pay and a bevy of other concerns. Even in this day and age, when women’s rights have improved by leaps and bounds-at least in Westernized nations-there is still rampant sexism aimed towards women in every field of life.
For example, if one gives the gaming industry a passing glance, one would not think that sexism-or anything involving estrogen-would be a matter of concern, but there are many who would disagree. Dauntingly large pixilated bosoms, fan service geared towards males, and opportune camera angles are just some facets of certain video games that have earned the ire of insulted women. And we all know that is a fearsome thing to behold.
However, I am here to state my opinion on the matter and it is neither completely concurrent, nor in total disagreement. When it comes down to it, video games are the building blocks for a certain kind of industry. Industry means business, and business means keeping the customers smiling. Customers will not smile if the video game they are playing involves taking on the role of an obese woman with a monobrow to find artifacts and shoot the baddies. In fact, they would not even buy that game, whether they are male or female. Now if you made that into a shapely siren wielding 9mm handguns-‘agrave; la Tomb Raider-there would be sales.
What most folk tend to not realize is that this is not a one-way road. There are few male characters that fail to possess enjoyable exaggerations of their physique. Most are muscle-bound and endowed with rugged good looks that tend to stay within the world of celluloid and 3-D graphics (unfortunately). The truth of the matter is that nobody (yes, I’m going to generalize) is going to play a game if the character is not eye candy in some way or other. People are attracted to what is pretty, and the video game industry exploits this, as do other industries that rely on visual appeal, like film or advertising.
But women are much more objectified, one might argue. With the multitude of scantily clad women in video games, it is an effortless statement to make. It is true that video games tend to have women in attire that does not leave much to the imagination, such as the fearsome femme fatales of Soul Calibur or Final Fantasy. However, this is presumably done to cater to the male demographic-though there is a significant number of female gamers-just as it is done within other aspects of society. This is a cultural issue rather than one that is present solely in the video game industry. Magazines, movies, billboards, even children’s dolls, use female sexuality as a marketing device.
I am by no means excusing video games that do this, consequently degrading and objectifying women. There are some video games that have themes so disgustingly chauvinistic and disrespectful of women that they are completely inexcusable. For example, GTA is a popular video game where the protagonist is able to hire and use prostitutes. After ‘business transactions’ have been made, the player can acquire a refund through a variety of ways, such as shooting the prostitute, bludgeoning her with a baseball bat, tossing Moltov cocktails at her, then watching her burn, running her over with a car, etc. Cruel, demeaning, and repulsive are just a few words that come to mind. Yet what people need to become conscious of is that all this stems from the fact that there are consumers out there who enjoy such options in the game.
I do not completely oppose haranguing the video game creators who cater to such tastes, but I believe time could be better utilized addressing the real issue. The objectification of women is societal. Video games are in some ways reflective of society, so obviously the debasement of women will be present in some way or other. The only way to remedy that is to make any kind of female inequality unacceptable, though that is not something that will happen overnight. Once the market for such qualities in video games starts to diminish, so will that sort of video game.
To end on a happy note, there have been quite a few video games made that do not adhere to this trademark of devaluing women. Games like Portal, Uncharted, The Sims, Bioshock, Left 4 Dead, and others have very proportionate women in clothes that do not resemble strips of duct tape. The icing on the cake is that there are female characters that are transcending their role as eye candy, or defying it altogether. Just a few examples would be the aforementioned Lara Croft, the formidable females of World of Warcraft lore, Samus of Metroid, Yuna from Final Fantasy, and Cortana and Commander Miranda Keyes from Halo. These women have dominant roles, exemplifying the trend of competent, powerful female presences in video games.
It is hoped that such trends in empowering women will be emulated by other industries, especially since such games have proven to be popular with both male and female audiences. Some might argue that the number of such non-discriminatory games is insignificant compared to the surfeit of games indulging the testosterone-driven. However, I believe that progress requires change, and there certainly is change, even if it is ambling along.