Women As Game Characters

evolutionnnn.jpegWhen Tropes Vs Women In Gaming first hit the internet as a Kickstarter campaign, I was all for it. As a female Gamer I have noticed the disproportionate way women were portrayed in games, but worse of all how women have been treated in the industry. I was rooting for the project. I wanted to see a deeper analysis of gamer culture and how it relates to women as a whole. It has been nearly three years, and as the videos progressed I felt more and more that the campaign wasn’t analyzing female characters in games, or how women relate in gaming culture, but more so only in how they are created and portrayed in relation to men and male characters.

Right away I found flaws in the videos posted, but what truly disheartened me was the lack of analysis beyond “these games are misogynist because they are.” That cyclical logic is based on the notion that games are made with the intention to disenfranchise women and to turn them into only a commodity, and that this is not only encouraged, but rewarded in every game. The example of Hitman Absolution is used at one point, but what the video failed to acknowledge (in order to try and prove how much games devalue women) is that you are given the choice, you do not have to attack the women what so ever. You can avoid the strippers completely.

Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and not least people into commodities or objects of trade.

Disenfranchisement is the revocation of power or control of a particular individual through requirements applied in a discriminatory fashion or intimidation

Commodification is looking at society and analyzing how real people are portrayed in the media, and how they become a product to buy or sell.

So how does this relate to gaming culture? How can women be seen as a commodity in games?

Karl Marx (1867) uses the analogy of a wooden table. “It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was.”

Female characters in games can be seen as a means to satisfy a basic human need for those playing. There is this stigma that gamers are losers who can’t get a date to save their life, and thus rely on sexy female characters to satisfy a need they can’t get in reality. Which is women. Commentators and critics of gaming culture need to move past this stigma, and look beyond the stereotypes. Games are an art, they are also a product that will move with the market. The problem with seeing women as the only commodity within games is the failure to acknowledge the fact that games are an inherent commodity in and of themselves. Everything within the games design is meant to serve a need that the gamer wants fulfilled. It is by its very nature a wish fulfillment.

There is a flawed hypothesis that  “most video games are designed by males, for males” which not only ignores the women who work in the industry but the women who play games. One of the first game series I fell in love with was Legacy of Kain, whose director was Amy Hennig. She has maintained a positive outlook on her experiences in the industry.

“It’s a meritocracy in the sense that if you’re a hard worker and people see you have an aptitude, you get a shot usually. Then your fate is in your hands.”

Just like any industry it can be a hard nut to crack, or it can be easily the greatest experience in your life. As a female gamer it has become more so the fans than the industry itself who have become a hindrance to the way women are represented in gaming media. Jennifer Helper, for example, was a writer for BioWare  whose thoughts about games being made in the industry was taken so wildly out of context that certain fans response made her quit the industry. I will also bring up the fact that story based games have now become a thing and are now incredibly popular. Thank you Tell Tale Games.

Women have started to take over the market as gamers. The Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK has conducted a study that has revealed that 52% of the gamers in the UK is now women. There is an elitism in the industry that gaming is only on the PC and a console, but the market has been changed drastically due to gaming on smartphones.

This shouldn’t be a surprise anymore to people who are trying to analyze women in gaming. It has been theorized that women are at least 40% of gamers for quite a while. The problem remains that women as gamers are still largely ignored during the analysis of gaming culture, it almost always focuses on men as the gamer in relation to female characters. Women are playing the same AAA sexualized games that men are.

Does this mean that women do not play Tomb Raider, or that as a women they internalize how a game looks verses the reality of their own body types? The internalization of how women are “supposed to look and act” is a difficult one to break down and hard to lay sole blame on video games. When it comes to gamer culture the lines of fantasy versus reality are blurred with cosplay and conventions, where people can dress up as or see their favourite gaming characters in the flesh. Internalization comes from not just one source, but from many. It is strengthened when the characterizations in a fantasy reality are expected in real life, and when they are not met it is seen with hostility or vitriol. A problem with discussing female characters in game settings is the belief that these women are not realistic, are we as gamers supposed to believe that a woman like Lara Croft, who is trapezing around the world cannot be toned or small? Or that Chun Li is unrealistic? Women like that do exist in real life.

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Gaming culture has started to fall into another problem due to the allegations of sexualization of women in games, to the point where games are being censored. Game companies are now afraid of the mob mentality reaction to how women are portrayed in games, to the point where game content is removed when released to western audiences. I am not a fan of censorship. Overwatch faced this controversy head on, and bowed to the pressure to remove a “sexualized” pose in the game because they felt it was out of place. Lets be honest here. It’s a pose. She isn’t stripping down, she is showing a butt. This is no more sexualized than D.Va draping herself over her mech, or Widowmaker’s Over the Shoulder pose. This reaction is indicative of the belief that women are disenfranchised in gaming and that they cannot have ownership of their bodies when they are being viewed sexually. Somehow when a woman is sexual she is no longer in control, and that sexualization only goes one way (the sexual woman viewed as an object by a man.)

So where do the real life women belong who helped make these sexualized characters?

Perhaps simple economics is the driving force. Game companies make what sells, characters are designed to enforce what gamers want out of a certain gaming environment. Characters are also designed in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to the audience. Games are a market and an art form. As the evolution of Lara Croft has shown us, characters and games can change, and so can the market.

As a female gamer I like seeing choices. I want to see the sexy dominatrix games just as much as the story driven games and the games where the sex of your player character is irrelevant. There isn’t one singular way to portray women in games. The industry shouldn’t be expected to fit into a narrow mold of femininity either.

There should remain a variety in female game characters.

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