Virtual Suffrage: Women in Video Games

By Fabian Pißors

Picture your favourite video game character. Is it a brawly, bearded and armour-plated knight? Or maybe even a well-suited, bald, male assassin? Very rarely female characters make those lists. Why is that?

Females in video games are mostly NPC’s (Non-Player Characters) who help you progress the story, or might even just walk around not even acknowledging the player. Otherwise, female characters are over-sexualized which defeats the point of having them in the game in the first place! But there are a few games, however, that do let you play as a female or even actually focus their main story on the female lead.

Females only as NPC’s

But what do I mean by females only as NPC’s? Let’s look at one of the biggest video games in the industry. Grand Theft Auto V made one billion dollars in three days, making it the fastest-selling game in the world. This is an achievement in itself – three main characters roam the city of Los Santos to the players desire, mostly to wreak havoc upon the unknowing passengers and police officers. It can be great fun but that’s not the point. All those three characters are male. The biggest game series in the world never gave you an option to play as a female lead, at least in the single player portion. While you could create a female character in the multiplayer portion of the game, it didn’t change anything in the story. Moreover most of the female characters are chosen by young boys, just because they’re hot! Later that will be explained. Most of the females in the single player portion are either hookers, strippers or just plain placeholders – where as the family of one of the main characters is made up of two females, his wife and daughter, they’re just there to make the game world feel more “alive”.

In my current favourite video game, Forza Horizon 4, an open world racing game set in the UK, from Edinburgh to the Midlands, you can choose a name and an avatar. You can choose skin colour and gender. But what does it change? Literally nothing. Your character is sitting in their car, never saying a word to anyone and just driving away. Sure, there is no sexualization on that, but why include this option? Just to feel included? One good thing that happened to racing games is that those “sexy startline girls” have been replaced by LED Lights, smoke screens and traffic lights, so that means no more over sexualization in one sense.

Over-sexualized females.

The worst offender(s), in my opinion, are the games which sexualize women just to entertain their (mostly) young and hormone-driven audience. First, we have one of my favourite franchises, the “Batman Arkham Series”. You are able to play as the Dark Knight to fight the goons of Gotham City, such as The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow and even more. He has to side with his sidekicks such as Robin, Nightwing and sometimes even Catwoman. And here we have the issue. Catwoman’s character model was changed two to three times, but every time the only thing that changed was her cleavage. Or Poison Ivy, whose outfit consists of half a lab coat which barely covers her chest and panties made out of – you’ve guessed it – poison ivy. The list in that series goes on – it destroys the whole sense of being a saviour or a hero. Imagine the game from a different perspective, Batman swinging his dick around to punch the goons and a suit which is just made out of panties. Wouldn’t really work, would it? So why does it have to work with females?

Glorifying Abuse on Women

Next on the list would be the most disgusting piece ever created. Have you ever heard of “Metal Gear Solid”? The world famous game series created by Hideo Kojima? You play as Solid Snake in ever-changing locations to save the world from different kind of threads. In the latest game of the series though “Metal Gear Solid V – The Phantom Pain”, you get a companion with the very fitting name “Quiet”. She is a super soldier, which doesn’t speak much and has basically super powers. Sounds good so far? What could be bad about this? Her outfit and the explanation on why she wears that outfit. Or rather doesn’t wear.

The only thing this ‘super soldier’ wears is a brown-ish bra, fishnets which are ripped and her panties. And besides an ammo belt she never wears anything more. The explanation from Hideo Komija is that, she “breathes through her skin and she needs to be naked to do so. Clothes are suffocating her.” This on its own is bad enough, that we can’t get a female super soldier which has to be 70% naked all the time, but she is introduced to the player with an attemptedrape scene after being almost drowned. After a while, and after developing a perfect ‘bond’ with the player, which you have to maintain, you can have a shower scene with her, where she is stretching and touching herself all over. This scene is filmed in first person, unlike every other third person scene in the game..

One example, which is becoming more and more a laughing stock for all gamers, but still an offender, are those medieval RPG’s (role-playing games), which you see in those 30 second ads in any app, with stupid names like King of Kingship. Here, if you choose to play as a female, your armour covers your breasts and crotch area. Makes sense, as obviously these are the areas, where the vital organs of any female are, isn’t it?

One game that did it right

Obviously, there are a few games, although sadly just a few, which portray females in a good and realistic way. My absolute favourite is “Life is Strange”. In this game you play the 20+y/o female heroine Maxine Caulfield. Her ability is to rewind time and the whole story of the game is tied to a murder mystery of a girl calles Rachel Amber. She has to find a way through normal locations such as her college, the gym or a murder barn in the middle of nowhere. She has her best friend and potential lover Chloe Price by her side who she has to save from being killed. The whole story is beautifully created and the focus is only set on the characters and their chemistry, not any “sex sells strategy”. And without telling any spoilers, this is one of the only games where I cried at the end.

Despite there being a few more games which portray the female characters in a realistic or even a heroic way, such as Alien Isolation, if more video game companies chose to have a female lead we would have a more diverse lead situation which could lead to super interesting premises. A game which focuses on a queer or non-binary protagonist would encourage people, who might not even be interested in video games, to buy this game, because they’re finally included, and they can “connect” with that character. This opens up whole new audiences to engage in gaming culture. Whereas today, if I play a game, it’s either a muscular guy or a person which can’t speak. So far, the game industry has a lot of catching up to do.

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