Sexism in Gaming: When Sexy becomes Sexist

by on July 23, 2013

Being a gamer located in the Middle East means that some of the stereotypes that I have to endure are somewhat different than what the global community has to face, including the insane focus this region seems to have on Call of Duty instead of a variety of other excellent FPSs available on just about every console. However, there are some stereotypes that remain the same pretty much internationally and that is the rather unrealistic objectifying of women in terms of every possible aspect including game character development, cosplay, booth babes (totally despise that term) and so on. While the degree of where the industry chooses to draw the line in the Middle East may vary (booth costumes consist of somewhat revealing tanks tops rather than straight out half naked costumes) the intent is still there.


This brings us to another issue, which primarily consists of female video game characters usually having to abide to a specific genre, usually comprised of being a certain body shape, in a certain costume, within a certain distressed situation (or at least rendered completely useless in a secondary role). While some games of course have some badass female leads, with some of personal current favorites being Borderlands (The sirens, all of them) and Tomb Raider (Lara Croft, she’s been pretty much iconic all through my growing up), there is no denying that there is still a degree of objectification happening.

While some games of course have some badass female leads, there is no denying that there is still a degree of objectification happening

I mean if we consider the direction in which Crystal Dynamics claims they wanted to go by decreasing the size of Lara’s ever so popular cleavage and getting her to instead dress in a more realistic attire and ditching the fanboy favorite, we’d think “Hey they’re actually trying to build a solid female main without the itty bitty sexist bit”, but then they go in a put in the weirdly exaggerated groans and moans (admit it, you found them at least slightly uncomfortable) as well as a sexual assault scene (not to mention the voice actress’s only role I can remember is that of her on Californication).


Now you can argue that these aspects brought life to the character, even contributed to a solid storyline and game production but really don’t you think she would’ve had enough character growth after she’s watched half her team die without the need of throwing in that bit of attempted rape? It’s all driven by the need to get the male population playing the game to want to save Lara or protect her, because hey, that’s the only way they can get them to connect to her.

With that in mind, you’re forgetting the  larger than ever female gamer population, now becoming a solid 50% of the total count. You’re isolating them and forcing them to relate with the ridiculously longer list of male leads and reducing the alternatives to something less than satisfying. That problem aside, you also have the very dedicated (to the point that it’s scary sometimes) cosplay community to consider. When the female cosplayers, whether of the gaming industry or the comic industry (that’s an entirely different rant of its own) have to choose costumes (that are accurate) they basically tend to look like they’re walking out of an adult film, or filling in the gaps of one lonely nerd’s geeky fantasy.

Because you girl

That would mean that by objectifying women in the games being developed you are limiting them to feeling isolated and out of place or just pushing them to be realized versions of unrealistic female standards (that’s not saying women don’t do that on purpose sometimes). Either way the industry is forgetting to account for the development and inclusion of the female gamer community whether it’s in the Middle East or on a global scale and that’s not only limited to the development of characters but the whole outlook presented in the community that’s not really moving forward in terms of equality.

Now realistically speaking, I’m not saying this represents a 100% of the cases, there is Claire Redfield of Resident Evil for example but then there are significant differences in face time in relative to someone like Ada Wong. I don’t expect things to change overnight, and I know that there is dozens of articles out there with similar complaints, but I do believe that there is room to educate people in charge, and the people who can bring that change forward. It would be nice to see leads in the future that are not dressed in outfits that defy the laws of gravity and common practicality as well characters that can handle their own and hold a solid story line without the added bits that make you feel like you’re limiting the target audience to one gender.  So yes, maybe the next female lead can be in a baggy shirt? We are looking forward to some titles that could actually be redefining the current vision such as Beyond: Two Souls, so the tunnel is not all that dark right now.


This issue also reflects on how the community chooses to operate and communicate. The isolation instilled by how the industry chooses to majorly portray the female image and the role it has in pushing guys to only consider them as some sort of “eye candy” of sorts is probably what I consider the most problematic consequence. It’s been one of the major causes of why female gamers are not taken seriously as “Hey, how can you possibly know anything about games if all the characters are guys.”.

I’ve seen it reflected on my local community to the extent once I walk in to a Network Cafe, people would automatically assume I’m there to see a boyfriend rather than play myself, therefore taking forever to establish myself in a new realm if I choose to visit one. It has also pushed me to religiously choose female characters in all games that offer them as a choice (mainly fighting games) as otherwise I would be playing a man in most scenarios.

The industry is forgetting to account for the development and inclusion of the female gamer community

This tick has of course cost me the chance to play numerous well developed male characters that I would’ve probably enjoyed, but can you blame me if positions were to be reversed? But while I might get the occasional lame comment about how I am girl and therefore probably suck gaming wise, there are a lot of women who’ve had it a lot worse than I have. Feeling like outsiders in their work place, being the subject of cyanide hurtful remarks or even sexual harassment and you only need to look at the stream of recently published articles about events like the E3 Expo this year, and some of the horrors that some really influential names had to go through entirely based on their gender to accurately begin to assess the degree of this issue.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that some of this stuff actually commonly occurs in a number of work environments in different industries but does that mean we just have to stay quiet about it? I don’t think so. Not to mention that the level of which this behavior has been tolerated and accepted as a norm is absolutely disgraceful in many cases. I mean, I wouldn’t personally opt to wear a skirt to any of the convention I attend because that’s going to cause trouble for me; though probably shouldn’t be the case if we’re looking to be fair.

So looking at all of this, something should be done if this industry is ever in hopes of having any sort of coexistence between both the males and females who are so dedicated to the life. Talking about it obviously isn’t enough, so what is? What sort of radical change can possibly save this industry from the sexist path it has fallen in or is it completely doomed?

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  • PT
    July 23, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    Really good article and you’re right that there has definitely been a large increase in female gamers in recent years, but I thought that AAA games were still predominantly played by males? Don’t get me wrong this isn’t an excuse for sexism but maybe just an explanation of developers creating game for a predominantly male audience? And when the AAA model is under threat, do developers want to take the risk of developing for a new audience?

    The rape scene, grunting and cleavage on show are for one reason only and I can understand how this may be objectifying females and is totally wrong, but also consider that the characters in any game need to be realistic, a middle aged man or woman running around in a baggy t-shirt with a overhang on their trousers isn’t very realistic unless you introduce a sit down and have a rest feature to the game.

    Whenever I go to the gym (not as often as I should) the majority of the women are wearing a tight fitted top and a pair of short shorts, I’m guessing because this is more comfortable when you’re working out.

    • Febronia Armia
      July 23, 2013 at 5:47 PM

      Firstly, thank you. Secondly, while I get your point of view, just because an industry is dominated by a certain gender/age/demographic, it doesn’t mean that that should be the only target market. Assuming the video game industry followed that line of thought, games would still be developed majorly for children with no mature content whatsoever and pretty much the same could be said about any expanding industry. It isn’t a healthy or positive response at all. The baggy shirt thing was merely a joke however I did indicate that Lara’s outfit has become more realistic. Finally, as a woman, I’d like to point out that women tend to dress like that at the gym mostly to show off, sports bras are ultimately still bras not outer wear besides I wouldn’t imagine shorts as a great idea for climbing and heavy exploring unless you want legs that look like you’ve been attacked by a bear.

      • PT
        July 24, 2013 at 6:04 PM

        Surely the industry is developing some games aimed at a more feminine market? There are game portals aimed entirely at women and girls and there are similar mobile games.

        With regards to AAA games, I get your point about games still being developed for children but surely that has changed because the first generation to be gamers are now well into their 40’s and still enjoy games, in the 70’s and 80’s the adult generation had never played games and so were less likely to get involved.

        If a developer was to invest millions on a new game aimed predominantly at a female audience what do you suggest they do? How would you change. COD, Madden, Fifa or Gran Tourismo to make it appeal more to a female audience.

        I admit I have never rock climbed and I’ve never been a woman, but from what I’ve seen on google images (I accept maybe not the best source) theres a good proportion of men and women wear tight fitting clothing as I’m guessing you’d be less likely to get it caught on something

        • Febronia Armia
          July 25, 2013 at 10:11 AM

          Haha, while I do agree that tight fitting clothing works best in this case, booty shorts with that specific material are not the way to go. Seriously, it wouldn’t be a pleasant climb, not to mention the cold you’d have to deal with. Either way, my point is not to turn female characters into badly dressed, asexual looking creatures. I still think they should be developed to look attractive just not in a manner where the entire character development is centered on how they can be more appealing sexually or visually even. You could just look at the armor in some games to get the idea of what I’m saying.
          What you’re saying is true, but gamers who grew up with games are only a small percentage of a now 10 times larger gamers’ market. As for suggestions, in most cases really it’d be as simple as providing a female character option (there have been numerous articles about why large franchises like GTA haven’t done that yet), also the fact that most female options currently available are merely ports of male ones shows lack of initiative which tends to be disappointing. One more thing would be to add more titles with female leads, I mean really just like women can play as men, it works both ways. That much is clear, no one minded playing as lightening, or Lara, people loved playing with the Sirens and Jill. It can work and it can be done in a way were it isn’t offensive to either gender. There are numerous successful titles, the number just isn’t what it should be.
          You might have not noticed that bit in the article, and it’s been posted in numerous other articles, but the female population of gamers, according to recent statistics now makes up about 40-50% of the total market which is a significant number which renders investments as the ones mentioned about even less of a risk however the significance is sorta snuffed out by the stereotypes dominating the market.

  • August 25, 2013 at 7:04 PM

    This was a fantastic article! So many people think that articles like this are made to simply complain, but the issues discussed here are very connected to the way that women are treated in the gaming community and industry. If we’re being subliminally taught that women exist only to be eye candy, we are not being looked upon as equals.

    Greetings from SheAttack.com!

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