The Depiction of Women in Video Games

Kettlemag, Women, Video Games, Francesca Poggi
Written by Franny

In a world where gender equality is still a big issue, we fight to change the way we are represented to the world—on magazines, television, in the workplace and even in video games.

Different Movements 

In their second series of ‘Tropes vs Women in Video Games’, Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian explores how the female character’s body language differs from the male one.

Movement can be a powerful thing. Most of us who play games can appreciate the importance of a well-timed jump in a platformer, or a skillful dodge in a fighting game, but sometimes it’s the seemingly ordinary movements that actually tell us the most about a character. The way they do simple things like walk, or sit down. And like anything else about a character, movement can be used in ways that resist tired gender stereotypes, or in ways that reinforce them.

Although we are in the 21st Century, gender stereotypes have been a constant since the birth of video games. Women in their late 30s who are passionate about video games certainly remember Street Fighter, right? If we use this as an example, we can certainly recognise how male and female character movements show contrast between one another. Even the posture is different. Women look more graceful, while men look more imposing and overpowering. 

Bayonetta 2/Platinum Games

Sarkeesian continues by going straight to the point of why there is such a diversity in the way male and female characters move.

The way that women move in games isn’t just used to suggest their confidence or their skill or some other facet of their personality. It’s very often used, in conjunction with other aspects of their design, to make them exude sexuality for the entertainment of the presumed straight male player.

This very valid statement can only make us wonder: why do game developers assume their game is going to be played mainly by men? This can be perceived as discrimination, due to the fact that we are—not very subtly—told what type of video games we are entitled to play. 

To emphasize the way women are depicted in videogames, Sarkeesian mentions a couple of popular female figures: 

Catwoman from the Arkham series has a deeply exaggerated hip sway when she walks. In combination with her clothing and the game’s camera angles, all of this is meant to drive the player’s focus to her highly sexualized butt. In Resident Evil: Revelations, Jill Valentine somehow manages to wiggle her whole body while she runs. In Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Evie Frye is a character who avoids falling into many of the sexualizing traps that some playable female characters do. But she still walks with an exaggerated hip sway.

Different Apparel 

When it comes to video games, gender stereotypes are not only encountered in characters’ movements, but also in the way they dress. The majority of female characters are always dressed in succinct clothes, highlighting their breasts or bums so that they can be regarded as sexual objects rather than warriors, officers, or whatever role they are meant to be playing in the game.

Metal Gear Solid V/Kojima

Low-cut crop tops and shorts have now become a common choice, and clothes for combat or fights envelope the female body so tightly that they are way off how a woman would normally dress in situations like this in real life.

While exploring the way female characters are dressed in video games, Sarkeesian raises an excellent issue, which I believe it’s something many women playing video games have asked themselves:

Of course, in the real world, people do walk with a sway of the hips when wearing high heels. If we want to get really technical about it, this slight hip sway occurs in order to maintain balance. This in and of itself is not a problem, other than generally being deeply uncomfortable, but it raises an important question: why are these female characters in combat roles wearing high heels!? With all the fighting, running, and climbing these women have to do, dressing them in heels is clearly a decision rooted in sexualized aesthetic pleasure rather than believability.

Another issue that raises red flags amongst us women, is the way female characters in video games are designed. Drop-dead gorgeous, a supermodel body, a pronounced bum, and breasts so big that are borderline anime-like. This obviously creates unrealistic expectations and we are—once again—forced to assume that they are designed for a game meant to be played by men.

Hope for the Future 

The Last of Us/Naughty Dog

With the advance of gaming technology and the use of motion capture, games like The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and the popular Until Dawn, showing us that gender stereotypes are being diminished. These are interactive adventure/horror games who focus more on feelings and the actual game plot rather than how the characters are depicted—since they take after real actors. They focus more on the stories, slowly sliding into our psyche and testing our emotional strength—which should be the main reason we play video games. 

As Sarkeesian concludes: “The path towards equality and liberation does not lie in equally reducing men and women to objectified parts, but by treating people of all genders and with all types of bodies as full and complete human beings.

We can only hope that the birth of interactive, motion-capture games like the ones just mentioned are a big, positive step towards that path.

Watch the full video below and let us know your thoughts on women in video games in the comments!