Dr. Nerdlove did two amazing, well-written posts on Nerds and Male privilege (see here and here) that deal with this topic to a certain extent, but I wanted to take the time to express my own feelings on the subject of women in nerd-culture, especially the blatant sexualization of costumes that are, for all intents and purposes, supposed to be appropriate for adventuring/combat but usually end up looking more like someone threaded some dental floss across a character’s EE cup chest and said: “Voila! Battle armor!”
Anyone who has played Soul Calibur EVER has seen a great example of this.
This^ is Ivy.
Soul Calibur is a FIGHTING game. These people are FIGHTING. With WEAPONS. And need ARMOR. This chick, in even the vaguest sense of the word “realistic situation”, would die in a heartbeat. Yeah, gaming isn’t necessarily meant to be reality at all, but the manipulation of reality (and physics, especially) in order to support overt sexism seems gratuitously disgusting to say the least.
Believe me, I’ve heard the whole bullshit argument “sex sells, they’re just appeasing their customer base”. I don’t believe it, and here’s why: forty two percent of all gamers are women.(1) FORTY TWO. That’s almost half of the audience. That is a HUGE part of the market we’re talking about here— and this massive potential customer base is not being acknowledged because gaming and nerd culture are awash with the idea that the only gamers are heterosexual males and thus are the only audience worth catering to. I call shenanigans.
To any skeptics who are sitting there saying “yeah, but 40% is still not a majority”, I’ll tell you this: if this many women are playing video games while being subjected to this kind of insulting sexualization, imagine how many more women gamers there would be if the ENTIRE INDUSTRY wasn’t marketing solely towards straight men! I have found that there are a lot of girls who have played video games and liked them a lot, but had their interest in gaming wane in the face of the sausage-fest world of male gaming privilege. Female gamers are presently on the rise as a demographic as is, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some diversity in representing women, making the gaming world we all know and love more accepting and representative of positive female roles? Starting to allow women to choose a character that DOESN’T look like she jumped out of a bad porno?
Yet here we girls are, already at Soul Calibur FIVE and still staring at Ivy’s tits, wondering why the hell we have to put up with this brand of overt sexism and objectification.
Even games/shows that have emotionally nuanced characters (main characters, especially) still place their leading ladies in scantily-clad battle wear. Take, for instance, any given Final Fantasy game. I, for one, LOVE the Final Fantasy series dearly, but they need to grow up when it comes to character design. My example is Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2. Regardless about how you feel about the games, they have a female main character (Lightning Farron) who is not sexualized in personality one bit. She is strong, serious, brave, and pretty damn badass. She’s a soldier. So why, of all things, did Square choose to put her in a miniskirt? You can’t move in that. You can’t jump around and slay monsters, fighting for survival while worrying the whole time about whether or not your panties are showing. It doesn’t fit with who she is as a character— which, in an RPG that is very character-centric, feels very wrong and entirely unjustified— and also with the rest of her outfit, which is rather utilitarian. See what I’m talking about?
If only they had given her a pair of pants…
I will say that there are some GREAT examples of good female character design. Chell from Portal, Elena from Uncharted, FemShepherd from Mass Effect and Faith from Mirror’s Edge… Even Final Fantasy and Soul Calibur aren’t entirely lost (Yuna from FFX and Hilde are ones that come to mind, respectively). However, these characters are certainly a small minority, and many of them only came about in the last few years. Some of them (*cough*X-2Yuna*cough*) even regressed in costume-appropriate wear over time.
There is an important distinction that must be acknowledged here. On one side, there is a character who is confident, comfortable with herself, and maybe has a sexy side because it is part of her character. Think Buffy. On the other side, we have a character who— regardless of her personality or any other traits that are supposedly part of her identity and thus should effect her choice of clothing— is dressed in booty shorts and a bra. This is not even to mention the inhumanly massive boobs often pasted on these characters, further reducing any sense of real humanity in the character’s appearance in favor of the ever-popular “plastic blow-up doll” look.
The fact of the matter is: there’s no reason to keep doing this kind of shameless subjugation to women in games. That’s not to say that there can’t be characters who are attractive, or who have a sexy side (think type #1 from the above paragraph), but it would be really nice to have the option to play as a woman who doesn’t feel like she just walked out of her job at a strip club to be part of this game. Even better would be to see more women who not only are dressed appropriately for the occasion, but who also can be strong AND feminine at the same time.
For now, us lady-gamers will just have to keep on going until the rest of the nerd-verse wisens up.
(1) If you want to fact check me, see the ESA’s survey on gaming demographics from 2011. Check out the bits on how women over 18 represent over twice as big of a gaming demographic as boys under 17.