While women are still fighting for respect and equal rights in the real world, there is not much of a difference in the video game world. As women are sexualized and harassed in their daily lives, fantasy lives cannot necessarily be an escape as women in video games are primarily depicted as hypersexual beings. More than 80% of female video game characters display at least one of the following stereotypes: sexualized, scantily clad, and visions of beauty (Dill & Thill). These stereotypes go beyond appearance as female characters’ roles are also often not representative of real women.
The Roles of Women in Video games
Historically, men make up most people who play video games, so it makes sense that creators of video games would want to tailor to men’s stereotypical wants (Ipsos). However, a marketing tactic does not excuse the absolutely overwhelming and perpetuated representation of women as helpless objects. An example of how women are grotesquely depicted as sexual objects is the infamous Grand Theft Auto (GTA) franchise. Some features in this game include visiting strip clubs and hooking up with prostitutes.
The GTA series is known for its raunchiness and provocativeness, but even the most recent release, GTA V (2013), has not included any progressive amendments to welcome more female players. The same concept of machismo applies to other games such as the Mario Bros franchise. Many of the games in this franchise’s end goal are to save the damsel in distress Princess Peach. However, in recent years, Nintendo has developed the Mario Bros franchise’s princess characters to be more capable and fend for themselves.
In many games in the franchise, the princesses are even playable characters, which is a revolution. Although it is no longer uncommon to find a strong, playable female character, or at least an independent main female character, some video games still illustrate extremely unrealistic images of women.
Poorly Designed Costumes
Moving more to the surface level of female characters, I want to talk about their outfits. Even though a female character can defeat a male character, they often do so in an incredibly minimal amount of clothing. For example, the Soul Calibur series is a classic fighting game, and it even features women as playable characters! However, these female characters include ones like Tira and Ivy Valentine, both nearly naked during combat.
While it can be rewarding to defeat a male player as a female player with a female character, there should be a choice to do so in more than just a mere strip of fabric. Not to say that women can’t demolish men in a fighting game while looking sexy doing it, but there shouldn’t be an expectation for female characters to look this way. Another example of a female character donned in impractical clothing is Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series.
Lara Croft is a revolutionary character in video game history. Although her character was initially drafted as a male, it is still phenomenal that her character has grown so much. Unfortunately, Lara Croft’s original costume design was nothing more than a tank top and short shorts.
But, her most recent costume designs have included more practical outfits for her various environments. She gained pants and even a jacket sometimes, which was an exciting turn of events. Another intelligent and capable female character overshadowed by rudimentary costume design is Samus from the Metroid series. The original and classic costume design for Samus is the Power Suit, a big, futuristic spacesuit, so no problem there. It wasn’t until her Zero Suit debut in Metroid: Zero Mission (2004) that she fell into the stereotype of a vision of beauty. Zero Suit Samus is dressed in a blue catsuit, a very different depiction than her usual Power Suit.
Realistic Representations of Women in the Future of Videogames
One of the best representations of women I have seen most recently is Ellie in The Last of Us Part II. Not only does Ellie grow up from the first installment in the series to be an even stronger survivor, but it is also revealed that she is bisexual. The break-in boundaries were high risk for the developers, Naughty Dog, but with a very high reward. Ellie is one of the main protagonists and playable characters in The Last of Us Part II, and the player gets to know her at a refreshingly personal level. The story allows Ellie to get rough and dirty, which is rare for female characters in the video game universe. Overall, Ellie is one of the best executions of female character design in video game history.
While many video games continue to objectify and sexualize women, some developers are willing to take a different approach and create respectable and meaningful female character designs. As of now, very few games with practical female characters with a strong presence break through to the mainstream, but I think there is a positive trend beginning for females. Considering that modern video games are fairly new themselves, I think that females’ realistic and respectable representation will continue to grow in the future.
Dill, K.E., Thill, K.P. Video Game Characters and the Socialization of Gender Roles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions. Sex Roles 57, 851–864 (2007).
Ipsos. “U.S. Video Gamer Gender Statistics 2019.” Statista, Entertainment Software Association, 12 July 2020, www.statista.com/statistics/232383/gender-split-of-us-computer-and-video-gamers/.