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The portrayal of Women in videogames: Acceptable sexualisation vs over sexualisation.

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.

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fsfsxii1956d ago

Great blog, finally something refreshing from the recent blog garbage. A definition of an over sexualised female is DOA and Ninja Gaiden. In the mean time, both games have solid gameplay that is really addicting. Is the games i mentioned all about sex appeal?? No, its just fan service at its finest.
I really think people should stop moaning over sexualised females with busty tits. As i said before, busty women do exist, are we gonna censor them too??

Feminazis are going to eat you. Again, nice blog, PLEASE do more.

Pisque1955d ago

I think over sexualisation has been caused by major conservative groups & oil companies to distract the attention from global warming which is going to be a disaster.

Bimkoblerutso1955d ago (Edited 1955d ago )

I have always been of the opinion that the sexualization of women is more an indication of a lack of creativity than it is objectification.

People always like to bring up the "fantasy" bit, but then my idea of "fantasy" extends well beyond the concept of big-breasted women jiggling around for my amusement. If anything, acknowledging that these games are fantasy should make people a little disappointed that developers could make these characters anything they want, but so often resort to just...big breasted, sexy versions of everything (or brawny, muscly versions of male characters).

I mean, why is it that so many male gamers are so quick to categorize characters like Master Chief and Marcus Fenix as generic tropes, but then seem to be so accepting of female characters so often getting the equivalent "sexified" treatment with just as little or less characterization?

If it serves a contextual purpose, then that's perfectly fine. I never felt like the sexiness in games like Catherine or Indigo Prophecy was uncalled for in the least. But sexualizing a game in an attempt at SELLING SEX is a trait best left to pornography. Because there is just too damn much these developers could be doing with these characters besides selling me my boner back to me over and over least, that's my opinion of the matter.

zerocrossing1954d ago

Thanks for reading and commenting!

It is true that there's a little too much complaining going on about the "misrepresentation" of women in video games, what I think people need to realise is that gaming is still very much a male dominated pass time. However, it is also true that many pubs/devs may be missing out on purchases from female gamers who dislike the over sexualised top and often exaggerated proportions of many women portrayed in video games.

It's possible that the more women that get involved in the industry, the more we will see diversity and variety in how woman are portrayed in games. And if you ask me that can only be a positive thing.

But I really do dislike the extreme black and white view that either side are "feminists" or "misogynists" that's simply untrue and only leads to creating a wider rift between gamers. Obviously there are those who have a personal agenda, who just want escalate things and matters worse, but overall I think the majority of gamers really just want to see our hobby expand without having to loose what we are currently enjoying.

iamnsuperman1956d ago (Edited 1956d ago )

It isn't just women who get sexualised. Men do too. From a games point of view we must be a 6ft muscular attractive man.

"This was to counter a point that many gamers state when they claim men are sexually objectified in games too. 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 even a combination of all of the above."

You mention it here but it is still sexualisation. It is a problem where you bombard people and children with the idea that these are the ideals. They shouldn't be. I get gaming is about playing out fantasies but we have to be careful what we are teaching younger children and teenagers (even sometimes adults)the wrong thing because by showing these "ideals", it gives them the wrong impression of what is acceptable and what should be. This issue is also applicable to race. I am not saying we should become PC addicts but gaming is showing an uncomfortable trend to what is "socially acceptable" for a hero. It happens to be a white 6ft muscular male who more often than not has an attractive, female, sidekick.

(note I do recognise some games break the mould which is good. But I do wonder how many games have, stereotypically, unattractive heroes)

zerocrossing1954d ago (Edited 1954d ago )

I agree that portraying men in an overly muscular physique, is also in itself a problem, but I think it's less "over sexualisation" and more along the the lines of "self projection" Characters like Kratos and Marcus Fenix for example, weren't designed to look sexually appealing to women, they were designed the way they were in order to appeal to men, so that we could idealise them and enjoy playing in the shoes of what many men would consider an alpha male, a "man's man" if you will.

But it goes both ways, there absolutely is a need for a more accurate and diverse representations of both men and women in video games, however it doesn't mean we cant still have "over sexualised" and "idealised" men and women in games, but a need for more variety and diversity is evident by how generic (or better yet, archetypal) such designs have become.

SeraphimBlade1955d ago (Edited 1955d ago )

Good read.

I'm sick of the "men get sexualized too" defense. If you REALLY cared, the argument wouldn't only be used to silence the other side. Consider the phrase "women want to be with him, men want to be him." This can be applied to a LOT of game heroes, but designers are mostly concerned with the latter phrase. If women are into the character, that's cool, but it's not what the designers are focusing on. If Kratos were designed for women the way characters like Dragon's Crown's sorceress were designed for men, he'd not be wearing the skirt and his junk would hang down to his knees.

On the subject of journalists using controversies for attention. This DOES happen, but I feel like we use that rationale too much to the point that where ANYONE having a controversial stance just wants attention. Also remember that they might have a good point, regardless of their reasons. To use an example, the alleged "hit-baiting" Kotaku pulled with Dragon's Crown's devs a few months back. The original post was actually a very small opinion piece, that the art actually was NOT sexy (not that it was too sexy, as everyone assumes, because nobody bothers actually reading kotaku's posts) It was then the game's artist that escalated the whole conflict, implying the writer must be gay. And THAT is the point where it became a legitimate controversy. When a game dev pretty much says "lol u must be gay," you are justified to write about that stuff.

(also, from my experience as an editorial writer. A lot of them have quotas to meet to, you know, keep their jobs and feed their families. Little stuff like that. When there isn't stuff to write about, you either pick a controversial topic and give your thoughts, or you write another damn top 5 whatever in games article)

More on topic, I think the Witcher franchise is one of the most useful to discuss with this subject. What's fascinating is that I would define the first game as being "a bit much" but the far more explicit sequel hitting the mark.

The first one put the most important woman, Triss, in this ridiculous, fetishistic leather get-up, and then later in a dress that showed off the top of her butt. Women practically threw themselves onto the main character and you got a freaking trading card with a dirty picture on them for your efforts.

By comparison, the second game, even though it had a lot more actual nudity and sex scenes, almost completely covered Triss up in her normal garb. The result was she could be taken more seriously and she was more attractive in the way a real woman would be. The sex also had better context, and was a lot less out of place. It shows that games "growing up" doesn't mean sacrificing sex appeal.

I think another important factor is multiplayer, actually. Fighting games and beat-em-ups thrive on community and are most fun with a friend. I completely understand when people say certain character designs "alienate" women. It says "this game isn't for you, ladies, move along." As a player, I also like to get my friends to play, and I'm a little sick of giving the "yeah, I know it looks like it was designed for horny teenagers, but it's really good, I swear" speech. By comparison, I LOVE Bayonetta and I don't have to justify it to anybody.

The real irony in Square's actions with Lightning's costumes is that they keep complaining their multi-million-selling games don't sell nearly enough, and here they're hurting their appeal with the female market, which could potentially be half their sales.

zerocrossing1953d ago

I unfortunately have never played any of the Whitcher games, but I do know what you mean.

Like you said, a game having a strong and independent women can be undermined by having them dressed like stripers, or by making them easier to get than cake on a fat kids birthday.

I have actually played Beyonetta and yeah the character is without a doubt over sexualised, but to such an extent that the game becomes a kind of parody (not quite as much as Lollipop Chainsaw though) but Beyonetta is a solid action game regardless of the Beyonetta herself being over sexualised.

Square enix's decision to make Lightning more sexually appealing just reeks of desperation IMO, they know the IIIX series is nose diving to irrelevancy, so they want to make a few extra sales from fanservice before the series is no longer profitable.

JD_Shadow1955d ago

And this is why I've been saying that what Anita Sarkeesian has done is damaging to this whole debate. Her hit pieces are nothing more than that, and they only ignite flame wars rather than honest discussion, and they then create things like controversies that are not there but become too overblown anyway. One side then overreaches to find absolutely ANYTHING to call sexism in gaming, while the other side will never want to talk about it because they believe that people like Anita and her supporters are the only people that they ever see enter the discussion for the opposing side. It's not that they are women haters or wouldn't want to talk about it in any other situation, but who wants to deal with crazies who won't ever listen to reason and find things that only they could ever find. Some get tired of talking about it when you never get any civil opposition with anyone!

As for the new FF game, just remember that the game is not even out yet, so we should take anything we hear about the game and any controversies about it with a grain of salt until we actually SEE the game.

zerocrossing1953d ago

I don't know Anita Sarkeesian personally, but I disliked the way she bends the truth and chooses to see problems in many games that simply aren't aren't their. Obviously there are female characters that are represented very poorly, but I can think of a great many that do well to convey women in games in positive light.

So, I'm honestly not sure of what Anita's end goal is, but I'll say this much. If you're handing out BS don't be surprised if all you get in return is flys. Meaning that most of her followers are only their because she is providing them with what they want, and anybody who can see through her lies and misinformation will know better and keep away.

Well there is more than enough footage and screenshots to get the gist of what FF IIIX is all about as far as Lightning redesign is concerned, but as long as the game is good then I don't think it should be a huge issue.

There are two ways to look at it. The added sex appeal will draw in more gamers equalling more sales, or it will put off many gamers equalling less sales. My guess as to what will happen? a little of both I think.

zeroskie1953d ago

You should give her video series a try, actually.

I started with the mindset of "this lady is just trying stir up controversy where there is none, to make money and gain attention" but actually her series has brought to light not just specific incidences of sexism in games, but the whole thought process of the industry when it comes to the portrayal of women.

It's not enough just to find examples of games that "convey women in a positive light" that's like saying the default is that women should be portrayed in a negative light. As a heterosexual, Caucasian male, it was easy for me to just pretend these problems don't exist because they don't directly affect me, but try to look at it objectively and you'll see that little girls are constantly barraged with messages that tell them they're weaker and dumber than boys. That's fucked up.

Thinking about this stuff, thinking that the gaming scene that I love needs to change, makes me uncomfortable, and so my immediate reaction was to shun Sarkeesian + feminists and come up with my own points that validate my perspective, but try to keep and open mind and you may not change it (your mind) entirely, but at least you'll have more depth to your discussion after seeing things from another perspective.

And while her stuff is a little opinionated (it's actually pretty objective) it's definitely doesn't qualify as misinformation or truth-bending. Her points are heavily supported with evidence and examples and thoroughly explained. Even if you disagree with her message you have to admit it's not misinformation.

I enjoyed your article. It's a good and honest point of discussion, but characterization based on gender goes far deeper just appearance and boob size. It's about innate ability, roles, strength and weakness. Characters such as those in fighters have no real personality and thus making them sexy doesn't really matter, but when you take a character like lightning that was originally a strong protagonist, and suddenly you highlight the importance of her boobs over her other attributes you're telling girls "this is what's really important."

I honestly have no problem with the objectification of men and women's bodies for advertising and such. The world would be so dry if we didn't appreciate shapely curves or chiseled abs, but anything that perpetuates the view that the most important goals/achievements in life of women and men are innately different is dangerous and wrong.

Nice article, try to keep and open mind of other perspectives.

Cat1954d ago

What the sexualization of a character (male or female) does most, in my opinion, is send a message about who the game is *for*. When I see art for Dragon's Crown or when I get a PR email with the subject line "Protect your wenches!" my gut response is, "This isn't for me". Targeting a male audience is fine, I just wonder that some folks don't realize that's the message they're sending.

Now, when I played Dragon Age II and every female NPC had massive tatas and my own female avatar had a more rogue-functional chest size I thought, "How is this the one woman in the realm that wasn't in line when they were handing out giant breasts?" So there's something for being inclusive ;)

coolbeans1954d ago

I think the Elf in Dragon's Crown has a question similar to your own.



zerocrossing1954d ago (Edited 1954d ago )

Thanks for commenting!

I can't say I'd ever considered that before, I imagine a fair amount of female gamers pass on many of those types of games due to just that exact reason.

Publishers and developers would do well to take note of this, it seems these days instead of catering their games toward those who would find most enjoyment in playing them, they instead continue to create accessible, watered down, generic experiences, and then hope against hope that they sell well purely due to the fact that their games are being made to be as open and inoffensive to as many individual tastes as possible (but apparently excluding women for some reason) whilst clearly missing the fact that women are as much a viable demographic when it comes to "gaming" as any male gamers out there.

Haha! yeah it is funny how a "fantasy" game almost always implies "women with a huge rack" but as coolbeans said earlier, the Elf in Dragon's Crown is probably wondering something similar ;)

zeroskie1953d ago

It doesn't entirely make sense.

If you think about it the muscular build would be natural for male heroes, knights and such that get see a lot of action. On the other hand, the women surely would have slim athletic builds from all that running and fighting instead of giant tits in skimpy armor.

Here's hoping for every man to have a giant cock-bulge in DA3.