Fighting the Status Quo: Companies sexualize women in games

Emily Lau
News Editor

Documentary filmmaker Elke Teichmann sat down with Hope Caton, one of the writers for the 1999 game “Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation,” and handed her a sheet with nine different designs of the game’s protagonist, Lara Croft. After a quick look, Caton spotted and pointed to the fourth variation.

“This is the one that I did,” Caton said. “I mean, look at those boobs and that waist. I don’t know that women would be so accepting of that now as they were.”

Teichmann co-produced and co-directored the documentary “Boys’ Toy?” for her master’s in digital media production dissertation at Oxford Brookes University in 2014. The documentary explores the relationships between women and the video game industry and asks why there is not only a lack of women working in the industry but also in video games themselves.

There is already a shortage of strong female lead protagonists in video games and even when they are placed in major roles, many of them are poorly represented, oversexualized, objectified or reduced to mere damsels in distress, Teichmann said.

“Because so few games already have women, people are very reluctant to change, and it’s really risky because they need to make money,” Teichmann said. “It’s really sad, but you need to start seeing the change from somewhere.”

Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, a video game research company, found that only 24 of the 669 titles released in 2012 featured a woman as the lead character. This is not a coincidental act by these companies, Teichmann said. While conducting research for “Boys’ Toy?” she found that many triple-A video game companies are interested in one thing when developing games: profit.

Electronic Entertainment Design and Research’s co-founder Geoffrey Zatkin said female-led games just do not sell as well as those led by male characters.

Games with exclusively male heroes sold about 75 percent better than those with only female heros, Zatkin said.

Teichmann said the few games that do feature strong women sexualize them by having them scantily dressed or exaggerate their body appearances. The breasts, butts and hips are enlarged to become the focus of character, which detracts from the women as characters.

Some female video game characters, such as “Tomb Raider’s” Lara Croft and “Halo’s” Cortana, have been regarded as sex symbols by media specifically. It is not uncommon to find lists arranging the women by their physical appearance and sex appeal rather than their abilities as a character.

“I think one reason is that sexuality just sells,” Teichmann said. “It appeals to people and a lot of marketing changes what the writers actually write the characters as.”

For some companies, money may be a driving reason for the lack of female characters in video games, but others claim the amount of work it takes to animate a woman is just too much.

While developing “Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” Ubisoft released a statement saying there would not be any playable female characters in its new game because it would have required more animation work.

“A female character means that you have to redo a lot of the animations, a lot of the costumes, it would have doubled the work on those things,” James Therien, Ubisoft technical director, told VideoGamer. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality of game development.”

Video game companies may have full reign over the final decision of their characters, however, strong criticism from the gaming community has made some significant progress for female characters.

Blizzard Entertainment, known for games such as “World of Warcraft” and “Heroes of the Storm,” have been criticized in the past for their female character designs, such as their female characters in “World of Warcraft” who are portrayed in “bikini armor” that accentuates the characters’ body.

Its newest game “Overwatch” has been praised for its inclusive cast of characters, but when the community spoke out about one of the character, Tracer’s, victory pose as “suggestive” and “sexualized,” Blizzard responded immediately removed it from the game. It replaced the original pose with an alternative that was already designed.

“We want everyone to feel strong and heroic in our community,” Kaplan said in a forum post. “The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented.”

As a fan of the upcoming game, junior art major and gamer Dynasty Nakatani said she approves of Blizzard’s decision to remove the pose.

“Her appeal was never meant to be sexual,” Nakatani said. “It’s something that is not necessary. You can still create a good female character without having her be sexualized.”

Emily Lau can be reached at emily.lau@laverne.edu.

Special Report: Fighting the Status Quo
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Companies sexualize women in games

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