Do you remember Mario when you were young? Remember how there was a captive princess, the damsel in distress who needed a man to rescue her? The message here was subtle but stereotypical. Women need men to save them. And video games have always been perpetuating imagery of how men and women are expected to be by means of hyper-masculinization and hyper-feminization of characters, putting them in stereotypical boxes.
Last year the world’s largest revenue earning gaming company Nintendo was embroiled in controversy over it’s games Xenoblade Chronicles X and Fire Emblem Fates (yea, these are the same guys who gave us Mario), where one could actually change the female character’s breast size. The Japenese giant was recently in the news again for firing Alison Rapp, an employee in their product development division, following her shout out on social media. (Kotaku). Alison claims her termination came due to her outspoken views on feminism, but the Company of course denies it.
Video games first popped into existence in the 1970s. Pacman was the first video game that was designed from a gender neutral perspective, targeting a female client pool as well. Remember Tomb Raider, the sexualized yet more aggressive character Lara Croft, who kicked ass and was perhaps the first and most powerful feminist character in the gaming industry?
Existing today are mere reflections of how women are being perceived in our male-led society. According to a Springer research of 2007, female characters are portrayed lesser aggressive and more sexualized that male ones. The research also showed that these portrayals lead both men and women to believe that the average woman is less attractive. In short, low self image amongst women and unrealistic standards amongst men. Teenagers form the largest chunk of gaming content consumers as of today. Though men and women are (almost) equal players, it is the men who have more representation with a stronger imagery.
The gaming industry has long been at the receiving end for it’s provocative and sexual imagery, which objectifies women. There are plenty of examples that confirm this.
When Microsoft went wrong
At the 2016 game developers conference held earlier this March at San Francisco, Microsoft faced some serious flak for welcoming the attendees with dancing women on a stage. Though the response from attendees was positively unexpected, the event did throw some light on how some of the software giants in the world view women in gaming.
Blizzard entertainment banks on the female body
While we can only presume the reason why, but Blizzard entertainment launched a new female shooter ‘Tracer’ for their game ‘Overwatch’. Though the character seemed a little more powerful and sporting, the focus of her victory pose still remained on her butt crack (Forbes). Thankfully, game director Jeff Kaplan announced to take the pose down after the online backlash.
The world’s most popular games and trash talk
League of Legends is currently the most popular global e-sport with 27 million people playing everyday and an annual revenue of 1.25 billion USD. The game promotes obtusely homophobic language and toxic behavior.
The existing misogyny and sexism in the gaming space finds its roots in the fact that women are highly underrepresented in the workforce, which eventually translates into their status being lowered in the games that are developed. This won’t change unless more women recognise the gap and decide to be a part of the change that is much needed.