It’s no secret that the videogame industry is dominated by male consumers and producers. This dominance has had many influences on the illustrations projected by producers to inspire players to play their products. There is often flashy graphics and lots of kick ass utilities circling around an over powerful male protagonist; however, what about when there’s a female protagonist? Sure she could be strong, but unlike her male counterparts that fit many molds, she most often just fits into one mold; as does her female media promoters as shown below.
This first clip is a Japanese film that was a sequel to the hit Japanese game Final Fantasy VII. All but one character in this movie are white Euro-American featured. In this scene we see 3 characters; a heroin (Tifa), a villain, and a child. One of the first things to notice is the difference in attire between the 3 characters. The male’s clothing covers his full body, while both females are wearing clothing that reveals their arms and/or legs. During the fight scene you see Tifa start out by busting some moves, but take note that in many of the action shots her sexual assets are quickly placed up close in view. For example, when she does a slide kick her butt slides into full exposure up to the camera. Even the tail on her jacket lifts up to reveal her tight mini shorts in this shot.
Another key thing in this is the power dynamics. Even though the female starts out strong, she is inevitably weaker than the male villain and becomes a damsel in distress by the end of the scene. The male is literally toying with her, even starts the fight out saying “play with me” as if he knew he was stronger than her from the beginning. Also, notice that the heroin is designed to be an attractive female while the male has a symmetrical face yet gray hair and is expressed to be emotionally weak, when he states he’s not crying. Also the scene starts with the females having a happy moment while standing in a patch of flowers and the male claims that the flowers are gross, giving symbolism to the feminine qualities of flowers/nature and man’s repulsion to the thought.
This second clip is from the hit game Bayonetta where you play as a female protagonist. In this scene we see Bayonetta entering a room and fighting with what is presumably male monsters. During the fight she has a moment where she taunts one of them with references to cheating and the monster having visual pleasures in someone else. Bayonetta is seen wearing very tight clothing, accentuating her robust sexualized parts and revealing a slender structure. Throughout the scene she makes many provocative motions towards the camera, like hip thrusts and booty bumps, while she fights or has dialogues. Her clothing reveals an open back as well as nearly transparent leggings, adding to her being hyper sexualty. Once again the Japanese produced game provides a white, Euro-American featured female.
The 3rd clip is from the famous Street Fighter series. In this scene Chun Li and Cammy are the female protagonists. During the opening dialogue, the characters have slight transitions between different poses to portray different types of expressions; however, in each pose their breasts are heavily accentuated. Especially with Chun Li being front and center. They also show them bouncing with each slight movement which is very over exaggerated. Once the fight scene starts up and you can see the full outfits for both characters, you can see that both are wearing very little to no clothing on their legs. Cammy is practically fighting in a one piece bathing suit and Chun Li’s outfit looks like the bottom half is missing as the top at least covers most of her skin.
While fighting, their breasts and butts seem to bounce with every motion, and a lot of motions put their sexual parts into focus of the camera. For example, their high kicks expose the crotch region to the camera. Once again, almost all the females are white and one is Asian with a much lighter complexion.
In the fourth clip we watch a female videogame critic discussing the “top 5 female protagonists”. In this she starts with Laura Croft, a white female who fights crime while wearing a very tight tank top and mini shorts. The clothing once again makes the sexual parts of the character be over exaggerated on the slim structure. Next is Samus Prime, who is still an attractive, slim, white female. In this game they tried to mix up the gendered stereotypes of videogames by putting the female protagonist in bulky armor allowing the player to think it was a male till finally removing the helmet at the end to reveal Samus was a female. She still has an hour glass frame with wider hips, however. The third one is Princess Peach, a more “virginized” character. She seems very humble and modest, however, with this she’s not a hero. Rather, she is a damsel in distress. Also she is white, slim, and blonde. The fourth is Jade, a character that the critic says is not overtly sexualized. In Jade’s image there is still skin exposure on her back, a slim frame, tight clothing, breasts sticking out, and her butt center framed in full view with given detailed curvature. Also, she is white and has an attractive feminine face, which goes against the rough, masculine persona they try to give her. The final female is FemShep. In the image you can see that she is another attractive white female. What can’t be seen in the clip is this female is yet again slim and wearing tight armor that accentuates her breasts and hips. The female critic also follows suit under these criteria: she’s white, attractive, has her hair done nicely, has make up on and is wearing clothing that accentuates her breasts.
In the final clip Nikasour, fan showcase star for League of Legends, shows off artwork produced by players representing characters from the hit game. The female characters portrayed in all the artwork follow the stereotypes yet again; slim bodies, tight and revealing clothing, and accentuated breasts. This time they’re not all white; however, as we are introduced to fictional races. Also again, the video host is white, attractive, glammed up, and wearing tight clothing that accentuates her breasts.
As stated before, the videogame industry is very patriarch dominant. Much of the content is produced by males to entertain other males. This has produced a massive problem with the representation of women, especially for female viewers. As expressed with the clips above, female protagonists are dominantly portrayed as white, attractive, slim, over sexualized females. This is due to videogame producers pleasing male players’ scopophilia, their pleasure in viewing (Mulvey).
The females portrayed in these videogames are being objectified for the sexual visual pleasure (Berger). By producing images of overly sized sexual anatomies, very revealing clothing, and sexual postures; the females in the game are no longer being just a role to play but also a role to be watched. The female protagonist has to be seen as something sexy and seductive in order to become a sexualized fantasy, thus making the character as an object to produce a sexual euphoria. This is not seen often however with male protagonists. Male protagonists may have over defined muscular bodies, but are not typically forced into sexual gestures or positions unless done so to produce humor; but rarely ever for a sexual fantasy. Because of this, female players are only left with the option of playing the role of a character they may struggle to, if at all, relate to.
Most of these female characters are so anatomically incorrect to produce a stronger sexual image that they’re not realistic. The image produced by these games to females is that in order to be a hero you must be white, you must be attractive, you must be slim/fit, wear seductive and often revealing clothing, and be proactively seductive. So who are all the other female player’s able to relate to that don’t meet these requirements? Usually they’re the villains/monsters; although, now, as shown in the Street Fighter clip, female villains are often following the same cookie-cutter formation as heroines.
So where do women of color often see themselves represented? Usually women of color are only seen as villains, damsels in distress, or unimportant roles like the local vendor. They are left with an oppositional gaze to where they are only provided associable roles that are not typically desirable (Hooks). This creates a void, so to speak, between the player’s relation with a character and the reason behind playing a particular role in a game. Because of the lack of skin colored diversity, the age old stereotype of the “white hero” is just continually being reproduced. This provides a power dynamic between races. While women may still be bound to objectification, they are still allowed to be in a heroin role. When taking a step back, this lack of non-white heroin representation portrays females of color to be bad people and white females to be good (McIntosh). This only re-enforces racial oppression within our culture. But the male objectification of the female body in the videogame industry extends beyond the characters within the games. Many games and game critic media now use video as a source of marketing; and typically use a female star that upholds to the stereotypes built within the games. They are white, slimmer, attractive, glamorized, wearing revealing or accentuating clothing, and produce a seductive appeal. Sometimes the seductive appeal is by being the “cute, innocent virgin”, or the “sexy, scandalous non-virgin” (Brooks). This male dominated industry has produced a culture in which many women find it hard to fit in and relate to what characters they are provided; and this has inevitably helped males uphold their dominance on the industry.
Berger, John. Excerpted from chapter 3 of Ways of Seeing. (London: BBC/Penguin Books, 1972). 45-54, 62-64.
Clevver Games. “Top 5 Female Video Game Characters – Top 5 Tuesday.” YouTube. YouTube, 06 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.
Darryltran74. “Bayonetta Chapter 6 Cut Scene XBox 360.” YouTube. YouTube, 18 Jan. 2010. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.
Eriolsan. “Tifa vs Loz – Final Fantasy VII Advent Children (English).” YouTube. YouTube, 25 Jan. 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.
Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators”. Black Looks: Race and Representation. (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992). 115-31.
Jhally, Sut. Image-based culture: Advertising and popular culture. The World and I. (1990, July). 506-519.
League of Legends. “Hats – Summoner Showcase #86.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 08 Oct. 2013
McIntosh, Peggy. “White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Peace and Freedom (July/August 1989), 9-10; repr. in Independent School, 49 (1990), 31–35.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Screen (1975); reprinted in Visual and Other Pleasures. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). 14-26.
Street Fighter. “Street Fighter X Tekken: Chun-Li & Cammy – Opening, Rival Cut-scenes and Ending.”YouTube. YouTube, 03 June 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.