Video games often do a lousy job of respecting women. I’m no feminist, but I do believe women should be treated with respect.
One of the major problems I see in video games is sexual objectification, the deplorable practice of making people mere objects to be ogled. People are people. Treating them as anything less is demeaning, yet women in video games are often reduced to little more than slim waists, big breasts and curvy figures.
What about characters who are merely attractive? We like our heroes and heroines to be beautiful, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Good looks are a good thing. When does a character cross the line? At what point does an attractive character become a sexual object?
After thinking about it, I hit upon a few basic principles.
Appearance: Does a character have a realistic appearance or exaggerated physical proportions?
Attire: Are a character’s clothes appropriate or inappropriate?
Character: Is a character given a genuine personality or merely a shallow persona?
Context: Does a character’s appearance make sense in context?
Let’s put these principles to the test and take a look at some video game girls.
Ashe (Final Fantasy XII)
Despite wearing the shortest of all possible miniskirts, the princess of Dalmasca in Final Fantasy XII is definitely not a sexual object. Ashe is a driven, intelligent person who fights for her subjects and earns the respect of her companions. Even her less-than-modest clothes are standard for Dalmasca, a kingdom enveloped by arid deserts. Ashe’s outfit is, in a literal as well as a figurative sense, cool.
Tifa (Final Fantasy VII)
Tifa Lockhart is a wonderful person, but her personality fails to save her from becoming a victim of sexual objectification. She wears a miniskirt and mini-shirt, even into battles against vicious monsters. How she avoids death and injury—not to mention charges of indecent exposure—I can’t imagine. Tifa is a strong woman with an empathetic, motherly nature… but too many gamers remember her only as the babe from Final Fantasy VII with the long legs and huge bust.
Shantae (Shantae series)
Some women in video games look uncomfortably like strippers. Shantae looks more like someone in pajamas. Her clothes are revealing, but Shantae is no less modest than some of Disney’s kid-friendly princesses. Shantae is an upbeat, well-developed character, and only one of her physical features is greatly exaggerated… her ears. Even her outfit makes sense given the context of her hometown’s blazing climate. Shantae is definitely a person, and an adorable one at that.
Samus (Metroid series)
Samus Aran, the solitary bounty hunter from the Metroid series, is an interesting case. In most of her games, she’s a silent protagonist without much personality—yet she’s treated respectfully as an independent, capable person with the good sense to wear full body armor into battle. However, upon removing her armored suit, Samus becomes a babe in pointlessly revealing or form-fitting clothes. Whether Samus can be considered a victim of sexual objectification depends mostly on whether she’s on or off duty.
Physical beauty is a very good thing. Sexuality is an amazing gift, which is exactly why it shouldn’t be flaunted or cheapened by flagrantly sexualized characters. People are people. All people—even video game characters—should be respected.