, , ,

So another blogger posted an interesting survey recently, although the sample size is small enough that I suspect there is some definite self-selecting bias in there. To me, that means we really can’t make broad extrapolations from the data. I still find the issues raised to be interesting – how does our gender identify with our toon? How does our gender affect our play? How does our relationship status interact with our gameplay?

However, the biggest “reveal” seemed to be the “issue” of female toons being hypersexualized.

I, personally, don’t understand the drama and “issues” that come up regarding costumes, especially those of female toons. Part of what attracted me to Tera (though I never truly played, their free-to-play launcher has serious design flaws with the download) was the highly sexualized costumes. On the same note, I love to transmog my blood elf in WoW to wear pantypants and crop tops.

See, I’m a female gamer, and I’m straight. I just like seeing my avatar as sexy – I don’t have the sexiest body IRL, and I like the escapist fantasy of running around as a badass damn sexy lady. I even play my characters in MUDs (text-based games) or freaking D&D as wearing skimpy gear. So do the other RL females in my D&D group. Think about that for a moment – there are no visuals attached to these last 2 genres, but we still make a conscious choice to pick “sexy” outfits.

Perhaps that hints at an underlying issue with society. Perhaps, however, it hints at a deeper issue with the portrayal of females in games.

These surveys always seem to insinuate that there is some underlying motive, usually by men, for wearing sexy gear, but why is it so bad to want to play a super sexy version of yourself as a female gamer? The overly muscled avatar isn’t nearly as criticized, but that is the male equivalent. To be frank, we like playing our idealization of ourselves – and I see nothing wrong with that.

My visualization of my MUD thief. Skintight leather, aye!

My visualization of my MUD thief. Skintight leather, aye!

I got into a rather big fight at work once with a handful of other gamers about female avatars and how they are portrayed. They were indignant and upset that female characters were portrayed as sex symbols, rather than as legitimate characters. My response to this, however, is that ACTIONS are what define the character, not her clothing – and that fact that the focus is on her clothing, even if it’s to protest what she’s wearing, is focusing on the wrong thing.

If a female character is marginalized in a game, there is a lot more than her outfit as the culprit (unless it’s something incredibly asinine and nearly-porn-like such as Bayonetta, where the devs seemed to think that her outfit constituted half the gameplay). Often there is a flat story or lack of real character development or motivation.

Consider WoW. Let’s name some strong female roles: Jaina, Garona, Anveena, Sylvanas, Sindragosa, Lana’thel, Vereesa Windrunner, Alexstraza, Tyrande, Onyxia, Magatha Grimtotem. That’s a good number of chicks; tweleve. Now, let’s remove all the one who have a big chuck of their story intertwined with a love story. This leave us with….Sylvanas and Lana’thel. Wait, out of 12, only two have stories that stand independent of their relationships to males? And those two got screwed over and corrupted?

Applying the Bechdel Test to video games yields a depressing result:

In order to pass, the film or show must meet the following criteria:

  1. It includes at least two women,

  2. who have at least one conversation,

  3. about something other than a man or men.

That, in my opinion, is what makes a female character marginalized. Tyrande could walk around 24/7 without clothing and still be an entirely powerful character if her focus was on freaking leading the night elves, instead of making her get caught up in (and her actions subservient to) a random love triangle. There are dozens of male characters who have storylines – or even ambient roleplay – that have nothing to do with romances. It is often the exception when their romantic lives are involved. Why doesn’t the same apply to the females?

Interestingly enough, touchedthesky’s survey shows that both male and female gamers, on average, got the same amount of insults about their ability – something which suggests that gamers, on the whole, are egalitarian with their dickish and trolling behavior. We all know that there is the random weirdo and creep, but it seems like today, perhaps, there isn’t actually a huge stigma associated with gender and gameplay. So, I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t some huge bias against female gamers on the part of the devs.

Another self-portrait of my sexy Thief lady!

Another self-portrait of my sexy Thief lady!

My theory? I think it’s unintentional and merely a result of the industry. Video game companies hire far more males than they do females (again, due to self-selection bias, but this time with the job applications). The gap is lessening over time, but it is still a largely male dominated industry. I’m not trying to suggest that male devs are sexist – I am merely stating that they may have stumbling blocks when characterizing females. Hell, I know I’ve had issues trying to RP a male character and have resorted to stereotypes.

However, until a conscious effort is made to make a solid gender equality in games, or we get enough of both gender hired that it becomes irrelevant, I worry that this is something we’ll be stuck with. And it doesn’t matter how many sexy hotpants you give me in game, if the female characters are badly written, I will be turned off.