Portrayal of women in games: A personal take

By Ian Chee - on 08 Mar 2015, 11:00am

So we recently came across this blog post on the ideal female character designs from the perspective of women.

Before I go any further, let me just say that in regards to feminism, I’m indifferent to the cause, for with every good point an actual feminist brings up, there is always someone else who is going to warp it into something either completely pointless or absolutely misandric. The same applies to this one. This is because while I support the appropriate dressing of female characters in games, sometimes the people who are pushing for it are just either missing the point or getting the completely wrong idea.

Let me just start with MMOs. One thing that I do agree with is that higher-end armors for female characters should be more concealing. It makes little sense that a full suit of leather armor provides less protection than, say, a titanium micro bikini. Of course, this is when the character you play is a fairly generic one, despite what the narration will want you to believe.

Of course, this issue is more prevalent with female characters than it is with the male ones. The rarer instances where the man is less covered up than the woman are just as ridiculous and, personally, hurts to look at. Just take Chris Redfield’s ‘Warrior’ costume in Resident Evil 5, for example.

Even Sheva's officewear makes more sense than this 'Warrior' getup. <br> Image source: JEUXVIDEO.

Or his unlockable 'Sailor' outfit in Resident Evil: Revelations.

Is this even a proper sailor's uniform? I think not. <br>Image source: ZOMGPlay.

They are impractical, they don’t fit the setting and they don’t match the character. Of course, these are alternate costumes that are meant to, ahem, change the experience of the game; for better or worse, I hesitate to decide. Also, these are still fine only because they are alternate costumes, but when you have a default costume like the one we find in the upcoming Mevius Final Fantasy...

Armored swimsuit is probably one of the best ways to describe this. <br> Image source: USgamer.   Armored swimsuit is probably one of the best ways to describe this. <br> Image source: USgamer.   

So yes, the (over)sexualization of characters in video games is not exclusively a problem for the ladies. But I digress, and I get it. The ladies don’t want to be objectified in such a sexual way and they want people to know that beauty comes in many forms, not just physical. For most of us civilized men (or women, if you are so inclined), we think the same as well; we don’t see some exposed bits of skin and immediately take leave of our senses, nor do we forget the rest of the world when we see some bits of fatty tissue jiggling about.

Despite so many people being against it, however, it continues to exist. People continue to put stuff like that in their content. Some call it fan service, and it works. I won’t get into details as to why that is so for two reasons: one, I already have (on my personal blog) and two, doing so here might offend people. The point remains; it works. The game publishers’ marketing gentlemen (or indeed ladies) in their suits keep telling the developers to put in things like this to entice people. As little sense as it may make to you, this happens. I know this from personal experience and while I’m at it, let me tell you this: nothing feels more awkward or wrong to have a lady tell you to include more scantily-clad women into your content.

But again, I digress. Back to oversexualization, and this is where I get to the missing-the-point and getting-the-wrong-idea part I mentioned earlier. The response – or remedy, to some – to this problem is simply, a different portrayal. This actually works most of the time, as simple as it sounds. In fact, what some characters need are simply a bit more cloth over their skin to make them look much better. Take some of the examples from the blog post earlier. Some, like Power Girl, Pirotess and Emma Frost, need only some more cloth added over their skins (and maybe moving some around) to make them look better than their original, without being out of place or character.

However, this sometimes leads to another problem, which begins when people don’t see that these three conditions – practicality and compatibility with settings and character – are not absolutes. You don’t have to have all three for a costume to make sense but at the same time, sometimes not having all of them wouldn’t work either.

First to be promoted on the page is Princess Peach. While it’s fine to make her stronger and more independent, it doesn’t quite fit her character since she is, after all, a princess. It’s fine to make her a little more like Princess Zelda, but completely revamping her outfit and giving her a rocket launcher totally messes with the setting and her character, as practical – and I hesitate to use the word, even on the loosest terms – as it may look.

Because the Mushroom Kingdom really needed a bazooka-blasting princess. <br> Image source: Muddy Colors.

Then we have Dragon Age’s Morrigan. Anyone who has played the game would know that if she could, she would be completely naked. Yes, it’s impractical for such an adventure, but it fits the setting and her character. SPOILER ALERT: Remember the bit near the end of the game where she threatened to burn the castle down the next time a servant offered her more concealing clothing? Obviously, the person who redesigned her doesn’t.

Sure, this redesign is more practical, but it doesn't fit Morrigan's character. Muddy Colors.

Next is Zero Suit Samus Aran. Yes, it’s impractical, yes it doesn’t fit her character, but it is very arguable that it fits the setting. The Zero Suit is technically an undersuit, to be worn under her Power Suit the same way F1 drivers wear a flameproof layer beneath their race suits and helmets. She was never meant to go on her missions on just her Zero Suit, but Nintendo has decided to market her that way because fans like that look. As we’ve established, publishers know sexualized characters sell, and that’s why they continue to do it.

The redesign would make for a great alternate costume, but not as a Zero Suit. Not that the Zero Suit made much sense in the first place. <br> Image source: Muddy Colors.

In the end, if there is one similarity between the popular female characters in popular media, it’s that almost all of them have ‘perfect’ bodies; hourglass figure, pretty faces, well endowed and the like. While it won’t make things right, a way to possibly reduce what people perceive as the sexualization of female characters is to have more variety; more body types, some tall and some short, some with fair skin and others with darker skin. Also preferable is to have this sort of variety in leading roles, not just as supporting characters. But I wonder how that will go, considering the redesigns by the ladies over at the 'Women in Fantasy Illustration' group still have near-perfect figures.

And on that sarky bombshell, adieu to y’all.

Ian Chee

Ian Chee / Writer

Having given up his dreams of playing games for a living, he has gone for the next best thing: writing about them for a living. Or at least, whenever given the chance. Quite clearly a Japanophile, it's a wonder why he doesn't yet speak the language, although that might have something to do with the fact that he doesn't speak much in general.