Monday, August 9, 2010

The (Big-Breasted) Curse of Women in Video Games

Video games. Sweet, succulent video games. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day . . .?

Um, sorry about that.

Though my gaming experience hardly compares to my brother’s (who I swear was playing Zelda: A Link to the Past in the womb), I still consider myself a full-fledged gamer, and a darn good one at that.

But what does it mean to be a gamer and a girl? "Teenage boy" and "video game fanatic" are often synonymous, but the same can't be said for someone like myself. In fact, in her article What Women Want, Aleah Tierney suggests that to be a girl and a gamer is to be "a stranger in a strange land . . . a male-created virtual space."

Unfortunately, I don’t think Tierney is that far off. According to We need more women in games, an article by blogger Jacob Aron, women represent nearly 38% of all gamers, but only 11% of game developers. But when you think about it, is it really shocking that more women aren’t lining up to work at places like Nintendo, Capcom, and Konami (just to name a few)? Childhood I-want-to-be-a-ballerina fantasies aside (hey, don’t look at me!), women are taught to be practical. *Puts on sarcastic tone* Why risk doing something so math- and science-oriented like developing video games when we should be flexing our natural abilities as helpers and nurturers?

Video game developing just doesn’t appeal to most women (sadly enough), and that’s probably why a majority of the game universe has been molded around puke-inducing male fantasies of macho, gun-totting heroes and exotic, large-breasted women.

Though they make up only 49% of the US population, research shows that 85% of all video game characters are male - and that figure rises to 90% for characters that players can actually control. Excluding race as a factor (which is another issue entirely), male characters in video games are as diverse as ever. They can be bulky-as-heck, gaunt, or average-looking. They can be triumphant heroes, shady villains, or your Average Joe off the street. They can be hunky, intelligent, sleazy, or badass - it doesn’t really matter. There’s no end to the possibilities of what male characters can be.

Expectations for female video game characters, however, are much more constricted. They're often forced to play the “helpless princess” role, giving a male lead the chance to flex his muscles and "save the day." Female characters are also constantly portrayed as meek, shy, submissive, innocent, naïve - the list goes on and on. I’ve even noticed that 4 times out of 5, fantasy-game-women are given roles as healers or sorceresses rather than sword-wielding warriors. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with having supernatural abilities (heck, I wouldn't mind having a few myself), but it makes me think back to the whole "women are supposed to be helpers" theory.

Helpers. Sidekicks. Servants?

Now, for those of you who don’t play video games, I hope you don’t think they’re all sexist piles of crap! On the contrary, there are plenty of awesome, strong women who hold their own against male counterparts (Samus Aran from Metroid and Jill Valentine from Resident Evil both come to mind). But I do have one gripe . . .

Women in video games are always, always, always inhumanly “beautiful.”

Whereas male characters can place anywhere on the scale of attractiveness from “purposefully repulsive” to “god-like," video game women always have to fall under the latter category. With physiques that make Barbie look average, these characters have impossibly long and slender legs; skinny waists (but wide hips); and breasts that mimic medium-sized watermelons. Just type in “women in video games” to Google Images and you’ll see what I mean!

What the heck? Do you think the people who created these - um - overly-endowed characters just sat down one day and said “so, how big do you think we can get these puppies"?
Because it seems pretty frivolous to me.

I’d say the body proportions of 90% of female video game characters are a huge insult to women in real-life. What is it, video-game-developer-who-lives-with-his-parents, we're not good enough for you?

Aleah Tierney wrote about her own frustrations when playing Tomb Raider for the first time. The game’s lead (Lara Croft) is often seen as a beacon of female empowerment, but Tierney didn’t exactly see things that way:
I couldn't wait to load and play Tomb Raider when it first came out, but when I saw Lara, I just couldn't take the game seriously. The giant twin pyramids mounted onto her chest look like something she could use to impale her enemies. In many ways her kick-butt presence is a triumph, but the designers' decision to sexualize her to the point of deformity angered me. I couldn't get past her proportions, so I put the game away. I'm waiting to see if Lara (or her designers) will evolve in future versions of the game.
I don’t think Lara’s changing anytime soon, pal. In fact, video games are becoming more and more sexualized as time goes on - and as kids (people in general, actually) are becoming de-sensitized to staggering levels of violence and sexualization in all areas of the media, I don’t see conditions improving for video game gals anytime soon.

It’s kind of funny, actually. I can play the bloodiest, goriest games ever - the kind with chainsaws, zombies, and flesh-eating dogs - and they don’t bother me a bit. Why? Because killing zombies is hardly something I’m going to pick up as an actual hobby (and I don’t foresee a People for Zombie Rights group anywhere in the near future, so I'm not offending anybody by takin' them out). But the gender stereotypes and hypersexualization in games? That affects us. And it sucks. It really, really sucks. Because no matter how kickass a female character is - like I said before - as soon as you type her name into Google Images you’re going to be bombarded with twenty pages of fan art of the woman flashing her (mutant) breasts. It's degrading.

So I’ll be sticking to my survival horror games, thank you very much, because zombies don’t care if you’re male or female - or whether or not you have gargantuan jugs - they’ll try to eat your brains either way :)

Are you a female gamer too, just looking for a little support? Check out this site!


  1. Boy do I agree with this article. I was in a very popular game and book store here in town. The shelves were loaded with video game characters. All the women had huge Breasts. Where is the reality in these games. There are all sizes and shapes of women out there guys. Not all have huge breasts. Some actually have brains to admire. Only fair guys, if you must show off our Breasts, I want to see huge penises on all the male super heros from now on, and I want them hanging half out, like the girls Breasts. Since we are measured by how huge you can blow up our breasts, wouldn't that be more equal! Get a life guys. Tone down the breasts. If women's breasts were that huge we would not be able to stand up! What Good is a super hero that is falling over forward all the time, or who has back pain all the time, and is out of commission and cant help anyone! These figures are so laughable, they really are not funny. Just degrading, not only to women, but it makes you guys look like idiots . This is what you want your sons and daughters to grow up believing. That all women, are just Breasts! OMG I feel sorry for your daughters!

  2. Very true. Another place where women characters are always super busty is in comic books. I can't think of any female comic book character (excluding Ethel from Archie comics, who hardly counts), especially in super-hero comics that doesn't have overly large breasts. And as far as I know, most comics are written by men, as well.

  3. So true, unfortunately. I noticed this such a long time ago. I've been playing video games since I was like three. I didn't understand why I always had to play as male characters. Or if I could play as female characters, they looked inhuman.

    There are a lot of stereotypes against women who play video games too. As a kid, even, I played against and beat tons of guys (including some adults) who said, "girls don't/can't play video games." According to my sister, all female gamers are "ugly, anti-social, and/or act like guys." And she calls herself a feminist?! I pointed out that she was stereotyping, but she said she didn't care. After arguing about this for a while she changed "all" to "most." As if that's much better.

    As you pointed out, the sexism in video games goes beyond appearances. It's just ridiculous. Maybe the game industry would like to lose 38% of it's customers.

  4. It's not so much the game developers that are responsible for perpetuating the sexual-objectification in video games; even if more females were developers it would still persist, I fear. Instead, it is the market. They know that teenage boys eat up that kind of female-erotic imagery and the fact is that males aged 8-25 make up by far the largest pool of video game consumers (Watch out for misleading statistics: there's a difference between how many people play a video game and how many purchase a video game). So naturally, for profit reasons, they have an incentive to use the female body to sell their games. It's just good for business!

    To change the product, you have to change the market.

    "I’d say the body proportions of 90% of female video game characters are a huge insult to women in real-life. What is it, video-game-developer-who-lives-with-his-parents, we're not good enough for you?" -D. Burch

    That's not quite what's going on. Look at the males in video games and comics. Many if not most of them are pretty unrealistic as well. Muscles upon muscles, stubble you couldn't cut with diamond, chin and jawlines like rock...even the final-fantasy type males aren't much closer to real men. But you wouldn't call that imagery an insult to men, would you? Be fair, now. No, it's more simply that any and all relevant physical characteristics get hyper-amplified. On females, that is obviously going to be her "curves."

    This is because it is the sexual aspects of females that are most highly valued in our society. Obviously. If that were not the case, then the picture of females in gaming would be different. It's sad and frustrating, I know, but it has to be recognized for what it is.

  5. @Anonymous - Believe me, I share your frustrations! And like you, I've actually thought "well, why don't they make guys in video games have big you-know-whats?" But that would be degrading BOTH sides, and we shouldn't wish for that, either. :/

    @Kanadra - Dang, I know what you mean! I was trying to find a picture of a female superhero for a project and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them had huge breasts, tiny waists, toned legs, etc. Male superheroes are impossible-looking as well, but I don't know, doesn't it seem like blowing up a woman's breasts is more degrading than giving a man a chiseled chest? That sounds insensitive, but...

    @Roni - What a lame stereotype! Girl gamers are supposed to be ugly and anti-social? I guess the same stigmas (kind of) apply to all gamers, but still. What a jerky thing to say.

    @blakerivers - I understand that sex sells (heck, just look at barista coffee stands!), and I also understand that the game industry isn't changing anytime soon. I guess I just needed to vent. HOWEVER, I stand behind the belief that male video game characters are at an advantage - because they are more diverse. As I said before, male characters are more likely to be portrayed as skinny, average, bulky, overweight, etc. etc. etc. But female characters are almost always hypersexualized (to the point of deformation), and relentlessly play the "helpless princess," "the victim," "the prostitute," etc.

    And of course I realize huge muscles and "stubble you couldn't cut with diamond" are insulting to men - who are already faced with too many stereotypes of what it means to be "masculine" as it is - but as a woman it doesn't automatically register, you know? I'm sorry; I need to be sure and look at things from both sides...

  6. Great post! I loved it. I'll be playing the sims 3 nonstop over the Christmas break :p


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