Leading Lady Links: Women and Videogames

So, if you read my post from yesterday then you know that on Mondays I am going to start doing a weekly roundup of articles about women and gaming from the previous week. Considering the HUGE amount of articles/reviews/news/pictures that Comic Con has generated this past week, instead of doing a roundup (which would be too massive to do) today I am going to do an overviews of exactly how I see women and gaming.

Women in Gaming

If you read my first introduction post then you might remember that I discovered the answer to what the internet is for (porn). As it turns out, videogames have quite a lot in common with the internet: both contain a ridiculous amount of skimpily clad women! A recent article by Brand Sheffield of Gamasutra sums it up:

I won’t pretend to be above biology: I like boobs and butts as much as the next hot-blooded heterosexual male. They’re just about the most aesthetically pleasing configurations of fat and muscle you can find on a person, and I am far from being immune to their charms. But women are a lot more than boobs and butts. That may seem obvious, but the game industry and its fans are demonstrating their ignorance of that fact time and time again

So what are these instances where women are reduced down to t&a? Well one of the first recent examples that comes to mind is The Hitman: Absolution trailer, and the game Lollipop Chainsaw

Let me tell you, those assassins DEFINITELY needed to be super-sexy women dressed-up as nuns. If I were a female assassin that would clearly be the way I would dress.

Now, cheerleaders are people too…but I’m not quite sure this game presents these girls as people. Like the sexy nuns, they seem to be something sexy to look at onscreen while going about the humdrum business of killing things. There are many other examples of this in the gaming world (Bayonetta anyone?) Unfortunately, this is not a problem with just these two games. There seem to be a multitude of ridiculous looking women of impossible proportions throughout the world of gaming. The fact that one blogger made a list of ‘The 10 Most Ridiculous Undergarments Worn by Women in Videogames” shows the extent of the problem: too much focus on programming undergarments and not enough focus on developing the women as characters

Of course, at this point you may be thinking “but there are strong women too!” I supposed it depends on your definition of strong and woman. For instance many people hold Lara Croft to be the symbol of strong women in video games. Ah wishful thinking….Looking below the surface of these “tough” characters demonstrates that their authority is undermined in sometime subtle, sometimes blatant ways to make the character more appealing to a male audience. Lara Croft is visually stunning, making her visually accessible to gamers even while she is in some aspects a powerful character. These character depictions make female video game characters (with a potential few exceptions) available for male consumption: they are there for players to undress figuratively and literally (Many mods have been made to various video games to allow for less apparel to be worn by the female characters).

The consequences of this trend are felt by women in gaming, who are often expected to be as available for consumption as in-game characters and as vapid.  For example, Katie Williams a Kotaku writer recently wrote of her experiences at E3 where a male PR person refused to let her play the demo because he didn’t think she knew how. Another problem with conferences is the prolific use of booth babes, attractive scantily clad women, to sell products. This reinforces the image that women are just meant to look pretty, not actually play games.

One response to Katie Williams piece has unfortunately been for internet trolls to devote time to finding pictures of her and explicitly describing how they’d like to have sex with her. Why?

Nobody does this to men in the industry. Nobody says Cliff Bleszinski is wearing such a tight shirt today, and oooh I’d love to rub my hands all over him. At least not to the point where he’s uncomfortable at tradeshows. Likewise nobody sexualizes male characters. Some may argue that Kratos represents an unrealistic image of a male, but there aren’t massive forum threads dedicated to whether and how people would like to have sex with him. Kratos, Marcus Fenix, and their ilk, are the object of power fantasies, not sexual fantasies. There is a huge difference there. You want to be as cool and powerful as Kratos. Again, nobody wants to be Lara Croft all the time.

Another example of this is women playing FPS (first-person shooters) or practically any games where mics are involved. I personally refuse to play with a mic on most games because I get tired of rape threats and name calling. The blog “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” has made a history of these threats, and reading through the archives is the antithesis of pleasant, but if you’re a woman who’s played games many of them sound familiar.

So where are women in games? Well, they are present, anyone in the gaming community should be able to name a few prominent female characters, but they are present in a problematic way that facilitates a high level of misogyny within the gaming world.

So what do we do now?

Well, unfortunately in the past few decades the misogyny has only grown more creative, graphic, and subtle. What started out with a game like Custer’s Revenge where the goal is to guide a cowboy with an erection towards a tied up Native-American princess has evolved into letting female characters narrowly avoid rape to foster “protective feelings” from male players (Sidenote: Who would have the power in a “protective” relationship…not the near-victim).

To counter this, women need to share their voices and experiences, but even that can often have terrifying consequences. Anita Sarkeesian stumbled across the consequences when she launched her Kickstarter to produces a video series on “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”. She was threatened, had to spend exorbitants amount of money to beef up her website security, and had her project repeatedly reported for “terrorism” by particularly unpleasant trolls.

Having a horde of internet trolls turn on me could be one of the most frightening prospects that I could realistically imagine happening to me in my lifetime, but having to silently put up with sexist comments and images everyday in my life as a female gamer is worse. So what’s a girl to do? I plan to discuss strategies for dealing with misogyny in later posts, but for now I want to publicly add my voice to the other brave women who call attention to misogyny on the internet and in gaming.

While not all my posts on here will directly deal with this issue (you can breathe a sigh of relief now!), I will occasionally be addressing misogyny in the gaming community and potential tactics to deal with it. If you have questions/comments/critiques of this feel free to voice them in the comments! Nothing will get changed unless we’re in polite and respectful dialogue with each other. So, have a question? Ask! And stay tune tomorrow for my answers 🙂


  1. You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation… said Plato. What do we learn about men (or women) who spend many hours playing video games that objectify and disrespect women? We learn a lot. We learn a lot about what needs to change not just in the gaming industry, but also in world culture overall. Glad to see that you’re thinking about this. And for dating women out there: take note of what games your boyfriend plays!

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