Female Characters in Video Games

When it comes to the characterization of women in video games, several sources suggest that to be a female characters are the background eye-candy for the player, the damsel in distress to be saved rather than one who directly takes action. The female character, in contrast to the powerful, dominant male hero, is portrayed as requiring constant aid or rescuing over the course of the story, often exhibited as an overtly sexual figure to be desired and lusted after. This is apparent when examining how female characters are portrayed via their clothing or appearance in video games as many are “dressed in such a way as to bring attention to their bodies, particularly their breasts”.[1] This provocative look, in turn, takes away notions of the women as characters and portrays them more like objects or goals for the player to reach.

In many cases, “while there are instances in which female characters are portrayed as positive role models, in general most games minimize the roles of females,”[2] further creating the sense of women as passive inactive objects for the player to court and protect. Furthermore, women in video games are often considered lesser in comparison to their significant male counterpart, the character of Ms. Pacman being a prime example. According to Anita Sarkeesian, the example of Ms. Pacman articulates the principle of the ‘Ms. Male Character,’ a female character “defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts”.[3] In terms of the Ms. Male Character principle, the female character exists only because of the popularity or relevance of her male counterpart, once again submitting the notion that women in video games lack a distinct, strong identity.

However, I find myself feeling more optimistic on the subject, taking characters such as Ellie from The Last of Us or Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as female characters that are more than simple sexual tools or Ms. Male characters. While the claim that female characters are not considered as important as male characters might seem like a statement with strong evidence, I like to believe that things are not so black and white. Many good franchises exist out there where there are women who do more than just fade in the background or exist to motivate the male characters. As we grow and evolve as a society, I am confident that more female characters will begin to pop up and thrive as powerful, strong figures in video games.

[1] This quote can be found in Berrin Beasley and Tracy Collins Standley’s Academic article on clothing as an indicator of gender and stereotyping in video games. Mass Communication and Society, Vol. 5 Issue 3 (2002): 279-293.

[2] This quote can be found in Tracy L. Dietz’s academic article on Violence and Gender Portrayals in Video Games. Sex Roles, Vol. 38 No. 516 (1998): 425-442.

[3] This quote taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqYLfm1rWA and features an intellectual discussion and examination of the Ms. Male Character principle.

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