194. The Trouble with Girls (in Video Games)

I am not a feminist. Heck, I couldn’t be a feminist even if I wanted to be. As I learned during my studies in college of literary criticism, the stricter philosophies of feminism disqualify men from being feminists. What a shame.

I may not be a feminist, but I do consider it my business to respect people. That said, I’m bothered by the way ladies are depicted in video games. Never mind touchy issues like gender empowerment—I’m talking about common courtesy.

Here are some of the problems with girls in video games.

Damsels in distress

I just covered this trope in my last post. Ladies in video games tend to be helpless victims who must be rescued by male heroes. Now, this isn’t such a bad thing. Heroes clearly respect these ladies enough to risk their own lives rescuing them. Damsels in distress are also a wonderfully simple plot device. Need a story for your game? The princess was kidnapped and the hero must save her! No further details are needed; we have all the story we need.

Comic adapted from Brawl in the Family.

Art adapted from Brawl in the Family.

While the damsel in distress trope isn’t atrociously disrespectful, it does suggest women are powerless: all they can do is sit around waiting for strong men to rescue them. This implication is unfair. Intelligence, courage and strength are not limited by sex or gender.

I think the video game industry is getting better about this one. The Mario and Zelda series still feature damsels in distress, but Princesses Peach and Zelda have become clever, resourceful characters—they don’t just sit around waiting to be rescued. Meanwhile, female protagonists like Samus Aran from the Metroid series and Chell from the Portal games prove ladies can take care of themselves, thank you very much.

Sexual objectification

I’m not sure how to put this tactfully: ladies in video games tend to be… curvy. They’re often impossibly slim and buxom, and not particularly shy about showing it. These ladies tend to flaunt their curves, say flirtatious things and generally do things most self-respecting women don’t do.

There is nothing wrong with having an attractive character in a video game. Beauty is a good thing. Sexual objectification—stripping away a lady’s dignity and treating her as an object—is not a good thing.

(For the record, I also object to the sexual objectification of men in video games: those absurdly muscular, super-macho dudes who have no personalities and refuse to wear shirts.)

Treating a person as less than a person, as merely an object to be ogled, is utterly disrespectful—even if the person happens to be a video game character.

Chain mail bikinis

I’ve mentioned this one before. When male characters are completely covered by heavy armor, female characters wear… swimsuits and lingerie. (I’d cite examples to prove my point, but none of those pictures would be appropriate for this blog.) There is no tactical advantage for ladies to expose legs, midriffs or bosoms in battle. None.

Where are the heroines?

Not many video games feature ladies as the lead characters. There are a few, sure, such as the aforementioned Metroid and Portal games. For the most part, however, video game protagonists are men.

Why?

Does the video game industry believe all gamers are prejudiced males who won’t buy games with female protagonists? Does the video game industry think women are not as capable as men? Seriously, what gives?

O people of the Internet, what bothers you about video games? Let us know in the comments!

One thought on “194. The Trouble with Girls (in Video Games)

  1. I know a lot of guys both older and younger who won’t read books that have female main characters. Girls on the otherhand usually have no problem reading books with both male and female main characters. Perhaps video games are the same? Companies know there is a bigger market and therefore profit wrapped around “male heroes”

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