(Originally posted at http://snerts.blogspot.com/2009/11/im-too-sexy-for-my-game.html)
Last November Kotaku posted the article Their Bodies Our Games.
The subject of the piece is Massively’s Seraphina Brennan opinion on gender
physique in video games. She mentions how the most common complaint denotes the
representation of women but not men. She questions why there are not more
complaints about the shallow muscle bound heroes who apparently insult men
everywhere. Apparently there are not enough Mario’s in the video game world.
“While our interactive media may have started with a slightly overweight plumber as the titular hero, we've certainly turned to making sure all of our character models feature strong, burly, and oversexed men who's muscles can give a woman's breasts a run for their money. I mean, look at World of Warcraft, for example — a game that we normally don't consider sexually charged. How realistic is their depiction of men compared to the average guy?”
So I guess most guys don’t have buns of steel and more abdominal definition then Superman. Is this something to be upset about? Should men start lobbying developers to include more variety? Maybe, but I have my doubts. The stereotypical hero has been around since dawn of written history. Giligamesh is not depicted as a skinny boy or fat guy. That is not to say protagonists aren’t as thin as Jesus, or lack the jolly gut of Santa Clause. It simply indicates that the popular depiction of men as muscle bound handsome heroes has withstood the powerful test of time. Do not expect such a force to lose its appeal with the creation of new entertainment medians.
To be clear, I am not stating that all males should fit a stereotypical physique in video games. Variety is the spice of life, and there have been a handful of very successful characters that break the mold. The easiest examples are fighting games like Street Fighter—E. Honda and Dalsiem. The same can not be said for women. I am hard press to come up with any video game women who are not sexy in some way. Even female monsters have a strange appeal. If anyone knows a game with a less sexualized women, besides Fat Princess, then please let me know.
Sex, however, is not the only trait female protagonist represents. According to Brennan, “While VG women certainly may have overblown proportions and tight clothing; many of them aren’t exactly weak or stupid.” This I agree with completely and I would like to dub this idea the Wonder Women Scenario. Women in video games have taken up a cornucopia of roles that depict power. In Dragon Age: Origins, for example, they are depicted as high priests, queens who rule without kings, powerful mages, and skilled combatants. That doesn’t mean the disgust some women feel is nullified. All the women in Dragon Age have an hourglass figure—even the dwarves—and all female demons are topless with nipple jewelry. Until video games start producing a broader representation of the female form there will continue to be valid criticisms from various concerned parties.
The big question going forward is will games illustrating non-traditional gender physique sell? Unfortunately I don’t think many studios will give the idea a decent college try. The industry is notorious for sticking to what makes money. So do not expect a dramatic shift any time soon. A more likely scenario is gradual change as even more women start playing and developing video games. I imagine things will move slowly for the representation of men. I can’t think of any “masculinists” out there willing to fight the good fight. Regardless it will be interesting to observe the continual evolution of fictional entertainment in western society.