Now here's a topic the googly gaze of the mainstream media never seems to shy away from "the over sexualisation of women in videogames" It's fair to say that not many subjects cause as much controversy between gamers as whether or not blatant sex appeal in video games is "nothing but harmless entertainment" or "degrading to women everywhere" My personal take? Well I'm not one to cast such blanket statements, or hold such black and white views. Instead I would like to pose another "broader" question to you all, and that is. What is the difference between "acceptable sexualisation" and "over sexualisation" of female characters in videogames?.
The first thing I think we need to consider here is, is there actually such a thing as "acceptable sexualisation"? Or does the very fact that a character was designed to look sexually appealing in the first place already classify such a character as "over sexualised"? Now my personal take on the matter is, no, I do not believe that a female character who was designed to look sexually appealing should automatically be labelled as "over sexualised" videogames are entertainment after all, and sex appeal is as valid a part of entertainment as any other. So with that being said we can now go about setting the defining parameters regarding what is "acceptable sexualization" and what is "over sexulisation"
A female character that I feel does well to define the term "acceptable sexualisation" is, Samus Arran, from the critically acclaimed Metroid franchise, although some could claim that Samus's more recent design being a striking, blue eyed bomb shell in a skin tight suit, is in and of itself a form "over sexulisation" however the very fact that she spends the majority of the videogames she stars in, inside of a full body armoured space-suit does well to detract from such claims that she is "over sexualised" Samus is being sexualised, of this there is no doubt, but I personally believe it to be well within the realms of "acceptable sexualisation".
But then does this mean that a female character's attributes must be covered up in order for her to be acceptable? Not at all, we have many videogames with attractive women who needn't hide themselves behind a few inches of steel. One such female character that comes to mind is Lara Croft, from the critically acclaimed Tomb Raider franchise, "Lara Croft!" I hear you gasp, "but isn't she practically the original over sexualised female characters of videogames? Surely the big breasts present on her original character design serve to define her as over sexualised!" (Ok, maybe you didn't say all that, but I bet you gasped at least) Well to answer this perfectly plausable question. Nope, many Women in real life have big breasts, even without having received surgical implants, though granted Lara Croft would have found many of her attempts at acrobatic stunts hampered by paralyzing back pain, purely being a large breasted female videogame character does not by extension, automatically label her as being "over sexualised" because lest we forget, Lara was also (the) ass kicking heroine and female videogame Icon of the 90's. Lara hardly ever used her sexuality in order to get one over on her enemies, and her personality was such that her resourcefulness and intelligence was what lead to her surviving many of her perilous adventures. So, that right there goes a long way to defining Lara Croft as an acceptably sexualised female character, as far as I'm concerned at least.
But what about a female character who is a little bit more up to date? Well how about Lightning from Final Fantasy IIIX? Even though Lightning returns has yet to of hit store shelves many pictures highlighting Lightning's new threads have hit the interwebs, one of which has caused more controversy than the others, but wait, let me take a step back a little. Now while I personally never really saw Lightning as a sexually appealing character before, there are without a doubt those who did and surely still do. It has been mentioned a good few times before how her attire in Final Fantasy XIII-2 was a little more "revealing" than that of her clothing from the first game, however I doubt many consider her valkyrie-esque armour in the second game makes her appear "over sexualised" but what about her clothing in Lightening returns? Or better yet, what about her new breast size? yep Lightning got a level up in the breast department, and it's created some controversy to say the least, but does her larger breast size mean that she is now "over sexualised"? Well maybe, but wait! what about her new sexy Final Fantasy XIV inspired threads? Surely that along with her larger breasts means she is being "over sexualised" for sure!...
OK, I have to be honest here, I'm a little conflicted, you see on the one hand there was really no reason to increase Lightning's breast size outside of making more sexually appealing, and some have said quite rightly, that such a change in appearance to her original design was unnecessary, but if I have to be truly honest (which I do) I'm OK with it... Now please don't hate for saying that, just hear me out OK? You see I understand why Square Enix did it, they wanted to make Lightning more sexually appealing, (evidently) and that, like I said earlier isn't necessarily a bad thing, it was kind of disrespectful and many female gamers have every right to be a little annoyed about it. But like I said, sex appeal is just another piece in creating entertainment, so Lightning's larger breast size while not entirely necessary is also within the realms of "acceptable sexualisation. Now let’s come back around to discussing Lightning’s sexy new Final Fantasy XIV inspired clothing, shall we? Well again, I have to say I was a little conflicted, but I've decided on where I stand with this, you see I beleive that because each one of the costumes Lightning can wear are "optional" (unlike her new breast size) it's not technically "over sexulisation" unless you, yourself choose to dress her up in sexually appealing clothes and decidedly "sexually objectify" her, but even then having seen the clothing I can't say that I would agree on the Final Fantasy XIV clothes in particular making Lightning look "over sexualised" A fair point many gamers have made about some of Lightning’s new clothing options available (clothing options that apparently range from 100 different choices so far) is that they are not the kind of attire many fans believe she would wear. Now this is very much a valid point but, I honestly think that given the fact the player gets to (choose) what Lightning wears, stands in the games favour and helps Lightning returns fit neatly into the category of "acceptable sexualisation"
OK, had to make some tough calls there that maybe some people disagree with, but I stand by my points made. Anyway, I really hope you're still with me because now we're going to discuss what I personally define as "over sexulisation" in regards to female characters in videogames.
And what better way to do just that than with the female characters of DOA (Dead or Alive) which in all fairness is honestly a solid beat 'em up franchise, regardless of that though, even the creator of Dead or Alive (Tomonobu Itagaki) admitted that the female characters of Dead or Alive where made to look sexually appealing purely so the player would want to ogle them. Meaning that from the outset the Dead or Alive girls where being "over sexualised" by design (not too surprising to be honest) However, not much comes close to Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, which takes the well endowed ladies of the Dead or Alive beat 'em up franchise, and puts them on an Island resort along with a change of attire in the form of various skimpy bikini's. If there is such a thing as blatant over sexulisation in gaming, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball took it to a whole new level.
Next I want to talk about another recent videogame that has caused some controversy. From the very early screen shots showcasing the unique art style and controversial proportions of certain female charcters featured in the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita exclusive "Dragon's Crown" there has been debate going back and forth between gamers themselves, and the mainstream media arguing whether or not the exaggerated body proportions of certain female characters (mainly the sorceress with freakishly large breasts) are over sexualised or not? Well as for my personal opinion, Yes, yes I do think The Sorceress and certain other female characters in Dragon’s Crown are over sexualised. So, should I hate the art style, the game and the developers who chose to design such overly exaggerated characters? Maybe I should, but I don't and I'll tell you why. Vanillaware, the creators of Dragon’s Crown are one of my favourite developers and have been ever since I first played their still criminally underrated Playstation 2 game "Odin Sphere" which I still to this day hold up on a pedestal as one of my favourite games of all time, I also happened to really enjoy Muramasa: the Demon Blade although to a lesser extent. So what I'm getting at here is that Vanillaware isn't just some new dev team trying to make a name for themselves by deliberately causing controversy to sell copies of their latest game (though that didn't stop the mainstream media from pretty much helping to do just that) Vanillaware are a very talented dev team with true passion, they are capable of creating beautiful, vibrant looking worlds and characters all in a hand drawn art style, and I find the attention to detail in many of their character, monster designs and stages to be breathtaking. So while it is true that certain female characters in Dragon's Crown (especially The Sorceress) are over sexualised, it shouldn't really interfere with our enjoyment of what I am hopping to be a fantastic game, and I for one am looking forward to finally getting my hands on Dragon's Crown.
As mentioned above, the subject of women being over sexualised in videogames is nothing new, this is partly due to the fact that there honestly is much legitimacy to such claims. As you already know by now, you don't have to look too far to find a female videogame character that was created solely to be gawked at, but it is also true that there are many bloggers, journalists and others in the media wishing to create a name for themselves, and who wish to use such a controversial topic as "over sexualisation in videogames" as part of their own personal agenda, attempting to create controversy and choosing to see a problem when there honestly is none to be seen. This of course is not the case every time but please do keep that in mind when reading articles and blog posts regarding controversial topics.
Before I rap up here I just want to "reiterate" or better yet "re-structure" and "flesh out" a valid point Jim Sterling of Destructoid fame made a while back in regards to how Men are portrayed in videogames as apposed to Women. What he basically said was that Men in videogames are often portrayed more or less as "ideals" something we as male gamers would want to aspire to be like, as apposed to how Women are generally portrayed in games as "things to be rescued and/or objectified" This was to counter a point that many gamers state when they claim Men are sexually objectified in vdeogames as much as Women are. And in all honesty I actually agree with Jim on this, you see when developers create a male lead they usually create one that we, the player would desire to be, and often they are either large, adventuress, muscular, grizzled, confident and/or capable, or a combination of any and/or all of the above. These attributes can be seen in many popular male leads such as Kratos, Marcus Fenix, Master Cheif, Solid Snake and even Nathan Drake
My point being here is that there is a vast difference between "objectification" and "aspiration" and that when it comes to the roles male and female characters play in videogames, it would be nice to see a little more diversity, although I do feel we are getting there, no matter how much the media tries to blow certain subjects like this out of proportion.
Well if you managed to stick with me till the end, thank you for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed it and as always if you have anything to add or disagree with any of my points made then please feel free to leave a comment.