So I was pretty reluctant to write an article on this topic for a long time, purely because I know that it’s another touchy subject within the gaming industry, or at least was in previous years.
Everyone knows that there was a ‘problem’ with the way females are portrayed as a helpless, sex object in video games. They are shown as wearing skimpy, small items of clothing that barely covers any skin and are hardly shown as being the main protagonist. They are either the love interest that gets kidnapped or is in some kind of danger, or are only there to keep the male players ‘interested’. This, to many women, is a problem within itself as it shows women as being mere objects in a vast virtual world. To me, I don’t mind. I don’t get offended by this in any kind of way. It is not a problem at all.
I don’t know whether it’s purely because I can see why they put women in the spotlight like this due to extensive studying of video game design and theory over the last 3 years or whether I just know that it’s not real and all virtual. It’s the same rule as my last article on video game violence, people aren’t being told to go and see women in this way in real life or go and try to kidnap women just because they’ve seen it within a video game. That is not how real life works, it’s a problem within the individual.
Don’t get me wrong, there are video games with strong female leads, such as the classic Tomb Raider or Mirrors Edge. Just like games with male leads, they’ll get hurt, especially when put in a dangerous situation. Women are not invincible. But the truth of the matter is that most gamers prefer to play as a big muscular man rather than a woman. Most males will look at a character and it’ll pull them into the world and put them in the shoes of the character they’re playing as. So, naturally, having a strong female lead could potentially put off some audience members. It shouldn’t be seen as a problem, it’s just catering to the audience’s wants and fantasies. Women, such as myself, often don’t find that playing as a man is off-putting or making us not want to pick up and play a video game. In fact, quite a few people don’t have a gender choice anymore. It is all based upon story lines and the way that it’s being shown to the audience.
There are a fair few different opinions on this subject, and in my opinion it shouldn’t be a problem at all. One of my friends has stated that we have moved on from the “damsel in distress” kind of characters and put in more emotion, feeling and reason for saving the character we need to save, whether it’s a child, friend, dog, cat, any kind of living thing. There is more than just a ‘love interest’ nowadays. It’s a more complex storyline. We have indeed come out of the other side, where women were seen as being a goal for the hero.
Some of you may know the name Anita Sarkeesian. She hosts a show on YouTube called Feminist Frequency that explores women in video games and their tropes. While watching her show, I found myself getting a little bit angry at her opinions and her backing up research. The two most iconic princesses, Peach and Zelda, are in her eyes the classic ‘damsel in distress’ who are waiting for their prince to come and whisk them off their feet and saving them from the bad guys. Anita seems to make out that these two characters are seen as prizes for Mario and Link, when that is not what it’s about at all. While doing some research on this topic, a friend of mine sent me a link to a video, in which a YouTuber called KiteTales goes into detail about her take on the topic. It’s worth going and listening to, as it shows some very valid points and arguments against the so-called ‘damsel in distress’.
Back to the topic at hand, having a customizable option for people to create any kind of character, I feel, would take this subject and burn it to the ground so it is no longer spoken about. Being free to be whatever and whoever you want to be should definitely be an option in future games. But, at the same time, I feel like having a game where I am a strong male, or female by default is half of the fun. Being able to relate to the character is something that I really indulge myself in.
This topic should have died out years ago as now we don’t see women as the victims or the love interest that often anymore. It’s not something that bothers many people. If you have an opinion on the subject, be sure to let me know in the comments. It’d be interesting to hear your opinions!