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Thread: Female Characters in Video Games

  1. #1
    Sysop Ptah's Avatar
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    Female Characters in Video Games

    To set the stage, I think characters in video games should have appeal in terms of their plight, their story, and the gameplay afforded to them -- regardless of their gender. I think the aesthetics of the character should, generally, run concordant with the larger theme/style at work, as well as have some sensible representative quality to the aforementioned (their story, gameplay, etc).

    But there's this dynamic that puzzles and disappoints me, as it applies to how female videogame protagonists are handled.

    First, let me show it from the usual direction. That of needless and senseless oversexualization of the character, athwart if not in contradiction to the theme, gameplay, and/or story.

    Samus Aran, Metroid Series

    This is a perfect example of how the depiction of the character ran rather nicely along with the gameplay, at first.

    As soon as her gender became relevant (which, in truth, it wasn't really... rather, as soon as it was revealed), we started with Nintendo-official imagery like so:

    Spoiler: At first...


    Ok, an athletic woman in some bikini-yoga undersuit or something; sure, maybe played for sex appeal (in "reward" for beating the game), but, really, it was totally incidental to the character and the game, and moreover isn't particularly over sexualized; she is shown as a stylized athletic heroine -- no more and no less than other games show stylized athletic male heroes, if you ask me. But again, the point, is that her gender and her feminine body traits had little if anything to do with the character-as-storied, nor the gameplay, and it didn't really come up until the very end, as an "aha" -- (and an initially brilliant one, I have to admit)





    ... and as things went along, into the 3D era, they introduced an official "Zero Suit" version of her character, what she looks like under the armor (unifying a few different depictions of her, as such, over the years). And, at first, it was basically just the same as before: "Aha, this badass in a badass game you've been playing.... she's a girl". Athletic and capable looking, just as would make sense for the heroine/bounty-hunter she's purported to be in her universe... the bodysuit probably makes sense as an underlayer of the bulkier armor she wears... etc. And -- key here -- at no point is any of this played for sex appeal for its own sake.

    Spoiler: observe, Zero Suit at its start/best

    (starts @19 seconds if you are impatient, heh)



    ... but then along came ... this, and it shows no sign of stopping.

    Spoiler: First this


    It baffles me that Nintendo OKed this... They gave her a bad-boob-job looking bust and began the over-sexualization of her proportions along with how she was shown and portrayed in official Ninteno media...

    She looks less like a badass bounty huntress out of her power armor and more like a lad's fanart, someone who looks like she missed her casting call for those bouncy-boobed beach volley ball games of the 90s.





    Spoiler: And then this

    ...now officially going off the deep end....

    ... even more oversexualized proportions, nevermind needlessly sexualized general animations and depictions...



    /


    What happened? Samus went from being a badass bounty huntress who happened to be an athletic woman under the armor to a balloony proportioned emo-vamp in a wetsuit strutting her assets around to make sure you're still paying attention?

    WTF?


    Next Up: an example of a rise and then reversal of this trend, or so it seems: Lara Croft.

  2. #2
    Member Aurast's Avatar
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    Nerd culture has always had a fixation with fictional, idealized women. You can look back decades and find old Dungeons & Dragons material that would make Miley Cyrus blush. Once upon a time video games didn't really have the graphical power to oversexualize women successfully, but now that they do, the market is just providing what's demanded of it.

  3. #3
    Dr.Awkward Robcore's Avatar
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    Nintendo has always been fairly PG13...never having anything even slightly sexual in their first party games.
    My fave game with a female lead was Perfect Dark on the N64. Cool that you could play co-op also...and that you didn't get paired with some dude in co-op mode.
    She also wasn't sexualized as far as I can remember.
    I never did play the sequel though...not sure how that went.

  4. #4
    Meae Musae Servus Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Samus in that last clip, from Other M, was obviously knocked up by that metroid. So... those were milk boobs.

    Honestly, I was way more bothered by the words she spoke and thought than I was by her appearance. Kept me from finishing the game. I just couldn't stand her. It's really hard to finish a game when the player wants their avatar to die--or in this case, would rather they die than have another cut-scene. I literally dreaded story progression.


    PG13 is a shifting target. PG13 today would have easily be R when I was growing up, but that's a whole different thread and not particularly germane to the topic, unless you think a movie should go from PG13 to R pending the inherent attributes of the actresses involved. It's already pretty twisted we go to greater extremes to hide nipples than bloodshed or cruelty. Not that either should be that controlled IMSO, but I'd definitely go the other way around if I had a choice.

    As for Perfect Dark in particular: it was a FPS. It would be more of a feat to sexualize the protagonist in that situation than it would to avoid sexualizing them. You'd have to cater to a wrist fetish crowd or litter your levels with mirrors or give players the ability to look down and see their body--the last being something almost no developer ever has been willing to do.

    But you are right that Nintendo at one time had a very restrictive code on what could be in their games. They didn't allow blood or decapitations. In theory they didn't allow anything overtly sexual, but the Japanese version of Blaster Master had a final boss with an enormous penis (sanitized from the US release). Ultimately, this hardline stance contributed to their losing the emerging console war because there were games that were wildly popular on other consoles that their self-censorship would not permit--the console release of Mortal Combat was their warning bell.

    Still, the initial release of Primal Rage for the SNES had a character whose finishing move was to dissolve his opponent with urine. It was called "Golden Shower".

    Of course, Nintendo has greatly relaxed those censorship constraints. "Madworld" and the "No More Heroes" games pretty much thumb their nose at them like someone was using those constraints as a design document checklist.


    At the other end of things, you have games which are praised for sexualizing their characters. That is, making it clear their characters have a sexuality--homosexuality. You could argue this sends a bit of mixed message about the merits of sexualizing characters in games, but I think any such argument is moot so long as booth girls are standard issue at all the major video game conventions.

    I think that if you want to remove the overt use of boobs for boobs sake out of video games, you need to get it out of advertising in general. But I'm more interested in getting female characters in games decent dialog, agency, and storylines. To be fair, most male characters only get two out of three of those at best.
    For some, "how", not "why", is the fundamental unit of measure for curiosity. This divergence is neither parallel, nor straight. Where one might have a "why?-5" problem, it might only be a "how?-2" question. But then, there are also many things where the "why?" is immediately obvious but the "how?" is best measured in centuries of perpetual wonder. Both approaches have their drawbacks.

    If one is superior, the other is unaware of it.

    --Meditations on Uncertainty Vol ξ(x)

  5. #5
    Sysop Ptah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    At the other end of things, you have games which are praised for sexualizing their characters. That is, making it clear their characters have a sexuality--homosexuality. You could argue this sends a bit of mixed message about the merits of sexualizing characters in games, but I think any such argument is moot so long as booth girls are standard issue at all the major video game conventions.
    I don't take issue with giving characters sexuality; my gripe is with lad-pandering, needless and in-the-way-of-the-game-itself oversexualization.

    I think that if you want to remove the overt use of boobs for boobs sake out of video games, you need to get it out of advertising in general. But I'm more interested in getting female characters in games decent dialog, agency, and storylines.
    While I wholeheartedly agree with this (for both male and female characters; gender is irrelevant here) ... I am more at odds with whatever motivates people to whatsoever abide female protagonists who are basically just wet dream material by design.

    To be fair, most male characters only get two out of three of those at best.
    That's true; fwiw, I think there could be a similar argument raised against hyperstereotypes and a form of oversexualized male characters in games (for instance, what I've heard called the "buzzcut stubblechin" prototype rampant in shooters).

  6. #6
    know nothing pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    Anita Sarkeesian apparently made some videos on the subject that a bunch of people got their panties in a twist about(lol). Seems like her points revolved around the problems with female characters not just having to do with sexualization but with 'tropes' like just being a quest reward or the motivation to be on a quest in the first place ("rescue the princess" or "get revenge for them killing your girlfriend"). To be honest I start thinking on this and I get confused about what people really want, since it seems like most male characters are just objects for completing a task as well, and the games that treat the characters as people seem like they tread the line of being called 'games' at all and are more like CGI dramas where you push a button to prompt the story along.

    And I don't think having exaggerated masculine features is the same as being sexualized, even though it's still objectifying. But that's the thing, video game characters are all objects. You're either doing things with them or doing things to them but they're props for you to make the story happen.

  7. #7
    Sysop Ptah's Avatar
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    Lara Croft, Tomb Raider

    Do I really need to explain how things started with this character?

    Let me just pass along this little anecdote, and you'll get the idea in case you didn't already have it.

    Spoiler: Way back when...

    ... I was present during a show-n-tell of a very early Tomb Raider game/prototype being hosted by a few of its development staff. I forget the exact phrase that went by, but at some point a developer said something to the tune of, "Originally, the character was going to be a male. We actually had it coded like that until just recently. See, we realized: whose backside would you rather see the entire time, a man's or a woman's? *laughter*, so, we made the switch and, as you can see why, it stuck *more laughter*"


    So it is no surprise that Lara Croft started as an outright sex object of a protagonist; she was made so by design. The early games could only render her oversexualized proportions so convincingly, but they made sure to remedy that as the series went on, concurrent with advances in graphics of the time.

    If you must, just google image-search "Lara Croft". You'll see what I mean.

    Spoiler: Full Disclosure

    I was in my early 20s at the time of that show-n-tell, and so a certain immature part of me was high-fiving the decision, for, well, right-there-before-my-eyes reasons. But even then, I felt a bit ... repulsed by the effective attempt at manipulation at hand. What were they trying to hook me with? Lara's backside ... or the game itself? Why resort to the former if you're not lacking in the latter?


    Her lips got fuller, her breasts bigger, her waist smaller, her thighs more fleshy. Proportions aside, the attire got smaller, tighter. That aside, her demeanor became more sultry with each new game.

    And even that aside, they started adding needless little animations into the gameplay -- truly, needless: having no gameplay effect -- which ostensibly got by as flashy (oh no, I meant "cinematic", of course) acrobatic flourish to jumps and ledge-climbs, etc, but were clearly just there to parade about the more and more sex-appealingly soft-core pornographic character model.

    Spoiler: Yeah, Right




    And need I bring this up? Apparently, the fact that she was a capable adventurer who explored exotic ruins wouldn't sell it. They felt time and effort was necessary for this...

    Spoiler: pathetic


    Quote Originally Posted by JOLIE on recreating the physical attributes of her character
    "This has been the big question, so this is the way I answer it. (My bra size is) 36C - in the film, I'm a 36D. In the game she's a 40 DD, with a 20-inch waist, and 35-inch hips. I have a regular waist, regular hips, so we basically gave her a padded bra. I'm fine with my breasts, and I don't think that's something that little girls should look at and think, 'I should be that,' and get breast implants."
    I mean, for the fact that they pandered to the fapping-lad audience who'd only come to appreciate the game -- and so might only watch the movie -- because the protagonist had a large chest.



    But somehow, earlier this year, there came signs of a reversal of this increasingly rediculous oversexualization trend.

    Astonishingly, at this point, Tomb Raider 2013 introduced a revision of the character. One which more suitably approximated what was proper to the story, the character in it, the theme, and the gameplay.

    Spoiler: Ok, buxom, but not for its own sake




    What's more, at no point in TR'13 did they play Lara for sex appeal. Heck, her gender more or less had nothing to do with the story being told, the abilities she performed, or the game being played.

    On top of that, while the story was imperfect, it seemed rather genuinely intended to portray the harrowing survival story of a young woman as the origin-story from which a capable action-adventurer heroine (as we've come to know/expect as Lara-at-her-best, by now) would arise.

    I'm pleasantly surprised that they took this approach.

    But I wonder -- will it last? Did they dial things back, ground things down only because it was supposed to be an origin-story reboot of the franchise (in a "Nolanized" attempt to grit things up)?

    As sequels go on, I suspect they'll just revert back to the small, tight outfits and a strange accumulation of more and more oversexualized behaviors, played for their own sake, distracting and so detracting from the gameplay -- the game -- itself.

    I hope I'm wrong.

  8. #8
    (╯□)╯︵ ┻━┻ Deckard's Avatar
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    It's mostly a sign of weak character creation, but honestly I don't really see the fuss. If you're going to have shallow characters, why not build then with a bit of eye candy? It's not as though unrealistic physical proportions are limited to the female gender in games. Or are we saying we also have a problem with overly muscled good looking male protagonists?

  9. #9
    Sysop Ptah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deckard View Post
    It's mostly a sign of weak character creation, but honestly I don't really see the fuss. If you're going to have shallow characters, why not build then with a bit of eye candy? It's not as though unrealistic physical proportions are limited to the female gender in games.
    A little eye candy is one thing. For instance, the buxom build of the revised (TR'13) Lara Croft. Not unpleasing to the eye, but the appeal of the game itself doesn't revolve around it, nor is there overmuch emphasis on it. It is inessential, in effect and at the cost of nothing essential.

    Shallow as the concept of Samus may have originally been, for instance, what was served by deepening it with nothing but the impression of her increasingly emphasized chest? Moreover, what does that have anything to do with the gameplay itself? Or, how does it fullfill:

    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah
    ... I think characters in video games should have appeal in terms of their plight, their story, and the gameplay afforded to them -- regardless of their gender. I think the aesthetics of the character should, generally, run concordant with the larger theme/style at work, as well as have some sensible representative quality to the aforementioned (their story, gameplay, etc).
    There's eye candy and there is character compromise, as such; oversexualization at the cost of something essential to the character.

    Quote Originally Posted by Deckard
    Or are we saying we also have a problem with overly muscled good looking male protagonists?
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    ... I think there could be a similar argument raised against hyperstereotypes and a form of oversexualized male characters in games (for instance, what I've heard called the "buzzcut stubblechin" prototype rampant in shooters).
    I acknowledge there is also a case to be made there, yes. Here I'm just taking issue with the female characters.

    Specifically -- I'm puzzled/disturbed by how the compromise-by-oversexualization gets worse and worse -- the sex-appeal exaggerations greater and greater as time goes on/through sequels, in the case of the aforementioned (among other) female video game protagonists, in particular.

  10. #10
    Scala Mountains Resonance's Avatar
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    I think it's merely a correlation rather than a causal relation. Rather, both phenomena are related to franchise degeneration; writing becomes worse and more diluted as the original writers leave or are promoted to managerial roles, replaced with several new ones with disparate ability and lacking feminist education. Meanwhile, more 'skilled' artists are hired - skilled because they have spent decades drawing/designing sexualized women's bodies, because doing so is intrinsically rewarding to them.

    I wrote some more but then I bluescreened; a not-so-subtle reminder that this computer is 7 years old.

    I think it might be a more realistic demand to require games to have sexy males as well as females; that way we can all share in the feelings of inadequacy when 95% of us are below a 5/10 on the hotness scale. And it allows those sex-obsessed young women who are constantly drawing gay men to get game artwork jobs as well.
    Last edited by Resonance; 01-02-2014 at 12:29 PM.
    Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

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