Objectification of Women in Video Games
Are we taking it seriously enough?
I remember once reading a fantastic article in a mainstream gaming magazine (here in the UK) about how women in video games are often seen in nothing but sexual terms and that their objectification was a damaging part of the industry. I was impressed and happy to see that they were giving the time of day to an issue that still spoils the image of gaming. I then turned the page and was so struck by the irony of what I saw that I nearly laughed my drink out of my nose. On the next three pages were reams upon reams of scantily clad women in suggestive poses offering their phone sex services; the variety was staggering, from ‘busty virgin school girls’ to ‘desperate MILFs’. I recognise the need for advertising but they could have at least moved the position of that women article so that the effect wasn’t so jarring. It managed to undermine everything good about the previous article and just made me think that actually, this issue wasn’t really important to them at all, they were just covering it in their magazine because it was considered the done thing.
First off, let me stress that I am not a feminist in the way it has come to be seen today, in fact, I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist because I don’t see the need when all I desire is the basic human courtesy of fairness and equality. Sadly, feminism has unpleasant connotations of being the label attached to groups of irate, men-hating bra-burners who think they’re better than men and deserve more. That’s just ridiculous; for women to desire to be above men is blindingly hypocritical. What the majority of women want and what everyone should want is equality; that’s the zenith of achievement.
I see the gaming industry as quite unique in that it doesn’t seem to discriminate against women, it just doesn’t have as many women who actually want to be there. It is unequivocally a male dominated environment and for reasons I’ll go into at another point, women don’t seem to want to be a part of it. This doesn’t make the industry discriminatory, just lacking in diversity. However, this history of little diversity has resulted in games being made by men for men. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; both sexes generally have their unique past times that the other wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. You may then go onto argue that the portrayal of women in video games isn’t a problem because it’s just men animating their desires in order to appeal to other men.
I do think, however, that this portrayal only helps to reinforce male hegemony, cultural stereotypes and the role of females as objects of desirability to men and little else. And that is socially harmful to both men and women. I’m not going to get all preachy because I strongly believe that the gaming industry is one of the least damaging aspects of a society often geared towards objectifying and sexualising women; there are many other far worse offenders, such as pornography, the fashion industry and advertising, all of which make me incredibly proud of the industry and community which I so fervently support. But, just because it’s not as bad doesn’t mean it should be able to get away with it. The gaming industry especially should have a vested interest in appealing to women, because even now they still constitute only a very small part of the overall consumer pool.
The issue is that for many years, women in video games have merely been a walking pair of breasts with ‘jiggle physics’ abound; flat and insipid characters, merely there to appeal to men. It’s just incredibly gratuitous. Sexy clothes are fine in certain situations but when your warrior is running around the mountains in nothing but a pair of chainmail knickers, thigh high heeled boots and what basically amounts to metal nipple tassels, it just looks ridiculous and the required amount of disbelief suspension is too grating. How are we expected to believe that she’s sufficiently protected? We’re not because she isn’t. It’s just gratuitous nakedness that damages the overall feel of the game, giving it less gravitas and making it seem more puerile, as well as strengthening the idea that women are just around to be sexy. To that end, it gives male gamers the wrong idea and just exasperates female gamers.