Monday, 16 January 2012

Deja Boob

I happened to catch a recent article in IGN, "Opinion; Boobs, Bad Games and Misogyny", and almost had to restrain a sigh of utter boredom. Not because it's a bad article, it isn't, but due to the fact that this is still, STILL, a subject in gaming circles. Don't get me wrong, it's good we discuss gender issues relating to games; there's still progress to be made in the gaming world with regard to full gender integration (and full sexuality integration - how many LGBT characters can you think of in video games?) But it depresses me that we still have articles and arguments about "boobs in games". The fact there are (relatively) so few women in the industry is far more interesting to me, especially the fact that the number is starting to grow. But instead most discussions of misogyny in games comes down to the size of characters tits... *sigh*

I've played games most of my life; I am no stranger to the way that some female characters have been designed. The most obvious that springs to mind is the one and only Lara Croft, who was known as much for her chest size as her ability to raid a tomb or two. If I'm honest it never bothered me or made me angry when I played the first game - because it was a good game. I do remember playing it with a friend and both of us collapsing into a heap of giggles when we started talking about her boobs, but it never annoyed me. In fact I think I was just happy to have a female character at all, considering before that there hadn't been that many. This doesn't make it okay for all women to be portrayed as Playboy bunnies of course, but what this never ending topic always misses are the countless female characters that were not like this. Those with realistic bodies, sharp minds, and the ability to sharp shoot. So I'm going to list here five of my top female game characters who don't conform to the stereotype of "all sexy, no substance". Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Samus Aran - Metroid Prime series

One of the earliest female characters to not conform to expectations, many players got a surprise when they finished the first Metroid Prime game to discover that the character they'd been playing all that time was in fact a woman. Of course in later iterations when we do get to see her she has the big chest to be expected in games (apparently) but it doesn't detract from the fact that the Metroid games were never about her looks.

Samus has become something of a sex
symbol outside of the games. Unsurprisingly...

April Ryan - The Longest Journey

Not many may have played it but I loved the Longest Journey (and to a lesser extent it's sequel), mainly due to April Ryan being a fantastic and deep character. She has parent issues, ambitions, dreams under threat - and at no point are her looks an issue.

Aeris - Final Fantasy VII

She may have started out as the "girl needing rescuing" but Aeris develops as a substantially important character in her own right, and again her mind and abilities are the focus. Also; Most. Tragic. Event. Ever. In. Games. Period. (If you don't know what I mean, I pity you; you missed out big time)

Alyx Vance - Half-Life 2

A companion to the main character, Alyx is a very useful helper; she hardly dies, opens doors, and helps in combat. And no huge mammary glands.

Jade - Beyond Good and Evil

Also one of the first non-white main characters to grace a game, Jade was smart, brave and has all her clothes on. The developer behind her creation, Michael Ancel, admitted that he wanted to create a realistic character, rather than a "sexy action woman".

Other notable mentions should go to; Chell - Portal, Chloe Frazer - Uncharted, Elena Fisher - Uncharted, Grace Nakamura - Gabriel Knight series, Lightning - Final Fantasy XIII, and the most excellent Elaine Marley - Monkey Island series. The thing all these characters have in common with the "stereotype" is their attractiveness - so far no ugly main female characters have graced our screens. But the same could be said of TV, films, music videos... hell, any visual medium. And I want to emphasise here that I'm not saying it's fine to portray ALL women as bouncing bimbos who get rescued by the big strong man, and can only help by healing him when he gets hurt. But that isn't what I see in the gaming world. I see a vast diversity in female characters; some are 'bimbos', some are smart, some are vulnerable, and some are tough as nails. Some are even a mixture of all of the above. There's still work to be done to get more of this variety into games, but it isn't, in my opinion, the sexist mosh pit that some articles/commentators would have us believe.

The last thing I want to say on this subject is that I've never been insulted by a female character having big breasts, a small waist and a pert bum when I've been playing games. I'm far more insulted by a bad game with awful game play being sold at the same price as the good stuff. It's no surprise that when you're playing a game, especially one that may last for 60+ hours, you want something nice to look at (I play as a male Shepherd in Mass Effect - partly because I feel he fits better with the story, and also so I have a nice bum to look at for the hundred or so game play hours I'll be putting in. I can't blame straight guys for doing the same with female characters).

We can all agree that outright objectification is bad (and lazy). But if that's the case, I think the guys have a lot to complain about too, don't you think?


All images from Wikipedia, unless otherwise stated


  1. Hi Alexa!

    Well, I came to this article, expecting (and I apologise) to read just such an article about the objectification of women in computer games.

    Of course, your post is much more sensible, and pertinent. The fact is, we get so wrapped up in banging on about how "insulting" female images are, we forget that, at the end of the day, they are no more 'dangerous' than Tarantino's Kiddo.

    I grew up reading comic books. American comic books, where by and large, both males and females came wrapped in perfect (and thus, abnormal, inhuman) bodies. Yet I never really 'noticed' them (okay, in my teens, I certainly noticed Gen-13 characters ... there was a succinct and apt name for such comics, which I won't tarnish your blog with) ... it was all about the characters. To this day, my two fave X-men are probably Kitty Pryde and Illyana Rasputin, who both deviated from that abstract norm. They were 'geeky' ... smart, confrontational, complex. It was always their character that interested me, and if (in some corner of my mind) I recognised them as being different to the norms of the superhero world, it was only in a peripheral manner. In the same way that Steve Rogers was the super-soldier, I never made the distinction between him and Peter Parker. It didn't matter. I wanted the stories, the people, the morality, the art.

    Sometimes we point out a problem, not because it exists, but simply because we think there *ought* to be a problem, when those we are seeking to protect (the young, the impressionable) are in no need of such saving. We like to take the moral high-ground, even if once we up there, there's really not a lot to see. We weren't in trouble in the first place.

    Good post as ever, and my apologies for ever doubting you!

    Now, where is that Seven of Nine poster ...

  2. How do you feel about Morrigan from Dragon age Origins? Sure, she's curvy and scantily clad but she definitely takes zero shit from anybody.

  3. Thanks Mike, glad you like the post. Story is always paramount with this sort of thing - I get the fact people get annoyed by baseless gender stereotyping, but it's normally worth looking a bit deeper, or at least painting a balanced picture of what's really going on, in the grand scheme of things.

    Lee, I really liked Morrigan - she's sexy and smart. Her character was deeper than her looks, which she used to her advantage, and that's likely why I have no problem with her wandering around in very little clothing for the 100 hours or so of Dragon Age.

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