The sexualization of the female body is a particular and difficult theme in videogame works of art, especially if the person talking about it is a white, cisgender male like yours truly. This is why it seems right to me to specify that the article you are going to read is meant to be a point of communication and a commentary on the great battle that the world of true feminism has been carrying on for a very long time, without, therefore, having the pretension of teaching or worse still impose a particular vision.
The point of view, therefore, in which I am going to conceive this text is that which wants the woman to be recognized and represented to the highest degree not only in video games but in every field. And if the many battles have certainly brought about an improvement, my suspicious and insistent spirit invites me to consider whether the representation that is being carried forward in this historical moment is really the best possible one for women or whether, instead, in the desire to desexualise the female form you don’t end up getting a different discrimination, even if unwanted.
AN ALL-MALE STORY
It is well known that up until about ten years ago (let’s also do two, NdMario) the video game industry was an industry that catered almost exclusively to a teenage male audience. A sort of macho myth in a small way, with super pumped up heroes, often tamarri or super military was the rule in the titles of the 90s, with rare exceptions. Most of the female characters, even when protagonists, were represented aesthetically with super buxom and highlighted shapes, and temperamentally with a provocative femme fatale. Lara Croft is the most striking case in this sense. It must be admitted that with exceptions (which are the titles we remember with greater intensity and appreciation) in principle there were no particular ambitions in the screenplay and even less in the depth of the topics covered, so it is natural that if the stories did not already aspire to be particularly profound, the male protagonists ended up being fighting puppets, and on the other hand the women could only be stereotyped and represented only from the most immediately attractive point of view for an audience of young males, the sexual one.
the main target of the video game industry was young males, and the protagonists of video games were aimed at them
All of this was certainly not recognized as a problem or as a source of discrimination, certain that video games were a specifically male hobby and could never be of interest to a female audience (and how could it if the idea of a girl playing video games immediately turned into a “tomboy”?). The gaming press itself couldn’t wait to promote this vision with the “hunt” for the sexiest testimonial during the fairs, in which obviously every software house and publisher offered its roundup of models in “skimpy clothes” (how much does “skimpy clothes” magazine make in the 90s?). PSM’s “Bathing Beauties” is just one of the memories one can have of this continual proposition of female shapeliness in association with video games, a bit like cars did.
This trend has gone on for a long time, even where the press and its pens have reinvented themselves, there have also been some small (euphemism) scandals in recent years and if a certain news about a wild boar only leads to a Page not found, the same cannot be said of so many small attitudes and situations that still manifest themselves today. It’s not just a publisher and press issue, of course, and although the world of video games is currently much more representative and inclusive, not all of the public has made a leap in quality and remained anchored to the most toxic mental forms. In this sense we are talking about both attacks and insults aimed at editors and developers accused sometimes of not understanding anything about video games as women and other times of not being beautiful enough to be able to talk about them. We even get to criticize Aloy’s face and the presence of realistic hair on her face, not understanding (or being in bad faith, which is a nice way to say the least) that if you attack a videogame character for this type of aesthetic issues actually it is attacking and insulting a certain type of femininity.
THE TURNING POINT WHICH IS REALLY A ROUNDABOUT
Starting from a period that we could place around 2010-2015, with the evolution and differentiation of the video game market, we have been able to witness a rethinking of the female representation in video games with less shapely characters and more varied and profound psychological forms. Lara Croft in the 2013 reboot not only has smaller breasts but also from a character point of view offers many more facets and interpretations. The representation of LGBTQ+ minorities also went hand in hand, even if sometimes in a somewhat forced and naive way (see the abuse of red checked shirts). Ellie of The Last of Us, in particular of its second act, was a bit the forerunner for a certain vision that associates a reduction of the forms with a reduction of the sexualization of the character in question.
It is precisely with this idea that I would actually like to deal with in this article because, in my view, it produces a double problem precisely where it wanted to solve the one related to the sexualization of women and the female body in video games. Why should we ask ourselves, despite the good intentions, what message does this vision really send?
THE HYPERSEXUALIZATION OF FORMS
“If I have shapes, a fifth of breasts, protruding hips or a round bottom, should I feel more and legitimately sexualizable?” I would ask myself this if I were a woman of this type, thinking that if the video game representation pushes to propose models without shapes (net of the technical difficulty of making them) to prevent one’s characters from being sexualized it is automatic that if those forms are there, there is also immediately sexualization. Yet it is full of girls and women who are curvy in one part or another or all of their bodies and each of them has a different, important and representable psychology. It’s filled with extraordinarily diverse physicists in general. It seems absurd to me that the terror of sexualization has led to a systematic removal of curvaceousness with the consequence that a female player with a little breast or hips can feel immediately sexualized in return.
THE DESEXUALIZATION OF A BODY
“And I who am thinner, with just mentioned breasts and a flat stomach and hips, on the contrary, can’t I be sexually attractive?” The other side of the coin is that, on the contrary, it is communicating that a woman of this type can have no desire for sexual appreciation, which, as in the previous case, is terrible because it discriminates against a whole series of girls who inevitably end up feeling unattractive. Then we wonder where the widespread idea of having the breasts and other parts of the body to be enlarged comes from.
There is so much fear of discrimination that perhaps we do not realize the reality. A reality, that of the female form, so varied that it is impossible to represent it all, but it is certainly not protected by the representation of the least shapely bodies possible. A good job has been done with Alex from Life is Strange: True Colors, who has a physique far from the idea of perfection (which for human beings is nonsense) but not devoid of shapes, and which represents a possible and normal girl, both the thinner ones and the more curvy ones.
If anything, we should think that negative and toxic sexualization is the one that derives both from a representation that places the female character stereotyped from the point of view of character and in actions and from an audience that, unfortunately, is able to sexualize everything and would sexualize, put in the conditions, even an apartment boiler, literally. Finally, we must consider that the stories we experience in video games are very often extraordinary and as such include extraordinary characters. It is difficult to find the male character with a beer belly and, at the same time, God of War certainly cannot be a skinny boy (or yes…). It all depends on the story you want to tell, to which you need to give the greatest importance and in this sense develop plausible and real plots and characters.
This article was written for The Games Machine by Critical Frequencythe Italian video game blog.