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Over the years, my thoughts on sexualized character designs have changed and for today's post, I finally understood some of the gaps in my logic on the matter.

Josh Bycer, Blogger

May 20, 2015

6 Min Read

Awhile ago, I defended Dragon's Crown on the topic of secondary sexual characteristics saying that by showing the extremes of both genders, that the game was on the better side of things; not off the hook, just not as bad. But I've been thinking about it more and I had an epiphany on the matter of sexualized female characters that I wanted to share and it may surprise you that I was wrong before.

sexualized female character

Quiet, originally posted Metal Gear Wiki

Sexual Characteristics:

To begin this post, I want to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to defining sexual characteristics. Primary sexual characteristics are the ones that are obviously directly related to sex. Secondary sexual characteristics are those that are used to define the gender in the eyes of the opposite sex. So the secondary characteristics of a man would be the broadening of the shoulders, arm muscles, facial hair and so on. While some for women would be elements like rounding of the face, widening of the hips and breast size.

This means two important points. First is that having a sexualized man with features that are on the feminine side of things is not equal to having a sexualized female with giant breasts; AKA the common defense of Scarlet Blade. This also means having a woman with masculine qualities next to women with overt female qualities is not equal for the same reason.

sexualized female character

Scarlet Blade, originally posted on MMOculture

While the men are sexualized in Scarlet Blade, it is not based on the secondary masculine characteristics

Second is that for people who joke (or are serious) and say that the only way to make things equal would be to show men with giant penises along with women with unrealistic breast sizes are also wrong.

The penis is a primary sex characteristic while breasts are secondary; meaning to go this route would simply make things worse but on the other side of the equation.

In my previous post, I stopped there with declaring Dragon's Crown wasn't as bad as people were saying. Yes, from a technical standpoint that is correct. Overt giant rippling chests on men are just as sexualized as giant unrealistic breasts on women. However and it's a big however, there's more to this than just the technical side of things and why it's not as equal as we think.

Societal Views:

The common defense that is brought out whenever sexualized men and women share a game once again has to do with the balancing of sexual characteristics. This is similar to the "power fantasy" argument which is shot down because the perception of an overt male is not the same as an overt female.

And that is where I had my epiphany on this argument and why despite it being technically balanced, it's not in the overall view of society. Speaking from an American perspective and experience, views of sex are very much defined from a masculine point of view.

No one asks whether it's demeaning to show men without a shirt on because men don't care about that. But we still live in a society that views sex very cautiously and the portrayal of any sexual nature is looked at closely. While it's okay for a man to go around without a shirt on, it's a far different story when a woman does as society treats and views a woman's body differently than a male's.

sexualized female character

Quiet from MGS 5, originally posted on avtora.com

Yeah... No. It doesn't matter how the males are portrayed in MGS 5, this is high up on the sexist scale.

That is the heart of this debate and why we can't say that having sexualized men is a free pass for sexualized women; as even though they are technically right, it's not the same from a societal point of view.

And why having a woman sexualized next to a sexualized man doesn't solve anything as the connotation is different between the genders.

It's going to take a major shift in gender politics and society for the day when things are equal enough that sexualized characters are looked at equally and it would be possible to use this defense. Will it come during my lifetime? I don't have the answer to that.

What does the Future Hold?

What this means at least from my point of view is that games that feature sexualized female characters no matter how the men are portrayed are going to be considered sexist, at least to some degree. Until the day that society as a whole changes, that will remain the case and something that game developers need to weigh in when they're creating their characters.

Whether or not being sexist is enough to spoil your enjoyment of a game or impact a review is not up to me to decide and this is a matter that's not going to be solved with one post and one person talking about it. While there have been some strides made in the discussion of gender equality and women being treated fairly, there is still so much that needs to be done. 

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About the Author(s)

Josh Bycer


For more than seven years, I have been researching and contributing to the field of game design. These contributions range from QA for professional game productions to writing articles for sites like Gamasutra and Quarter To Three. 

With my site Game-Wisdom our goal is to create a centralized source of critical thinking about the game industry for everyone from enthusiasts, game makers and casual fans; to examine the art and science of games. I also do video plays and analysis on my Youtube channel. I have interviewed over 500 members of the game industry around the world, and I'm a two-time author on game design with "20 Essential Games to Study" and "Game Design Deep Dive Platformers."

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