Female video game leads should be strong, not sexy
With a predicted global net worth of over $76 billion by the end of 2013, it is evident that the video game industry has taken the world by storm. As women become increasingly active in the gaming community, their interests need to be valued just as much as men’s.
There has been a shift in the assumed profile of the average gamer. Gone are the days when gamers were only nerdy, sweaty-palmed teenage boys clicking away at controllers in dark basements. Today, approximately 45 percent of gamers are women, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and women over the age of 18 represent 31 percent of the game-playing population. With such an overwhelming female presence, it is time for game makers to acknowledge women’s creative and economic contribution to the industry through the creation of diverse female characters.
Polygon, a video game news website, reported that a mere 4 percent of video games feature a female lead character.
Frankly, 4 percent is not enough. A few characters provide female gamers with subtle rays of hope that attempt to pierce through the dark cloud that is the rampant misogyny within the video game industry. Power and precision take a human form in Faith from the game “Mirror’s Edge.” Tenaciousness is embodied by Chell, the test subject in the award-winning “Portal” series. And the new “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” released Nov. 5, finally offers the option to create female avatars in multiplayer mode.
Unfortunately, these strong female characters are far outnumbered by overtly sexualized ones with little-to-no substance beyond their scantily clad bodies — complete with unrealistically tiny waists and enormous breasts.
Tifa Lockhart, in “Final Fantasy VII,” for example, wears a miniskirt, and her large chest is covered with a white crop top revealing her perfectly flat stomach. Kasumi from “Dead or Alive” is an impressive fighter but often shows off her skills in bikinis, thigh-high socks or schoolgirl outfits. This disturbing trend continues throughout many modern video games.
Female characters’ talents, regardless of how remarkable they may be, are greatly overshadowed by their exaggerated features and revealing clothing.
Sean Gundu, a sophomore studying information systems and acting, said he enjoys playing simulation, role-playing, sports and adventure games.
“A lot of sport games and action games — like war games — do not have girls at all, with the exception of a few new games,” he said.
It was logical for years for the video game industry to appeal to a male-dominated fanbase, but as more women are participating in gaming, the messages being sent to them must be considered as well.
70 percent of female characters in mature-rated video games and 46 percent of female characters in teen-rated video games have abundant cleavage showing, according to a 2002 essay by Berrin Beasley from the Department of Communications and Visual Arts at the University of North Florida and Tracy Collins Standley from the Department of Mass Communication at McNeese State University. The study also showed that 86 percent of the female characters have low or revealing necklines, and 48 percent don’t have sleeves.
That’s compared with only 22 percent of male characters who wore clothing without sleeves, and a mere 14 percent of them who sported low or revealing necklines.
We, as a society, must consider how these sexualized traits negatively affect the sense of self-worth among women and young girls. When an exposed body is the characters’ most noticeable feature, the confidence of female gamers is compromised.
This summer, Anita Sarkeesian used Kickstarter to raise $160,000 in donations from over 7,000 people to fund a video project that explored female stereotypes in video games. The immediate interest in her idea reveals that this is not a small-scale debate.
Overflowing cleavage and skimpy, revealing outfits are demeaning, bluntly sexist and draw a gamer’s attention to the character’s superficial appearance as opposed to her strength or power within the game.
In recent years, game makers have taken steps towards a gaming experience that is more inclusive of the female demographic through some solid, strong characters; however, there is still a long way to go. A diverse set of consumers deserve a diverse set of games to choose from.
— Shelby Thomas is a journalism sophomore. Follow her @alayneshelby.