With the recent release of Tomb Raider, the question of whether women are portrayed in a positive way in gaming has been put back into the spotlight. I pondered to myself for a while thinking does it still exist and thought in order to understand it I’d have to look at the history of it.
Take Mario as a prime example, the story of a down and out Italian plumber who just wants to get the girl, a man who overcomes all the odds to get through Bowsers castles. Seems fair enough, but then you look at Princess Peach who is left waiting in the castle until Mario rescues her whilst Bowser gets up to god knows what with her. This is also the case in newer games such as Bioshock, in which you, the man, must rescue girls known as Little Sisters. Why aren’t they little brothers?
The reason women don’t appear as main protagonists in video games is that there’s a sense in the industry that games with female heroes won’t sell. Unfortunately this is true. Take 2009 flop “WET” (just look at the name), in which you play as Rubi, a young girl who is hell bent on getting revenge in the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Tarantino videogame. The game received pretty good reviews with mostly an aggregate score 70/100, something that most developers hope for when making a game. So why didn’t it sell well? It had guns, lots of blood and swords so by all means it should have sold bucket loads. But it didn’t and I can’t help feel this was down to the fact Rubi wasn’t a Robert.
We then have how females are actually shown in videos games. Point in case being Mortal Kombat. Known around the world for its sick combos and addictive multiplayer, Mortal Kombat is the king of dressing women up in skimpy clothes and we all know it. Now I know you might say “But all the lads are ripped beasts” but this is a fighting game so why wouldn’t they be, whereas I can’t see any advantage to the female characters wearing the worlds tightest bra. If you’re sitting beside a lad while reading this ask him to name one female character from Mortal Kombat, a tenner says he replies Mileena.
But we do see a lot of strength from the few female protagonists that are present. Metroid was the first to show this in 1986 when it was revealed that Samus Aran was in fact female at the end of the first game. The world was shocked, how could a woman defeat an entire alien army? Madness. Then came Lara Croft, a posh English archaeologist whose boobs have gotten biggger and her shorts have gotten smaller with each new addition to the series. This is obviously to do with people starting to notice how women are represented. In the newest edition we the creation of Lara Croft with scenes of rape as well as Lara conducting her first kill. Although Lara was the first explorer; she is still compared to Uncharteds Nathan Drake who wasn’t created until a decade later.
Most games that have a female protagonist are third-person games. Is this a Coincidence? I think not. This also doesn’t help the stigma attached to gamers themselves as sweaty fat nerds who can’t get girls. This also seen at many game shows such as E3 where “booth babes” stand beside demos to entice players to come over.
There are also the covers and extras that come with the games, highlighted recently by the Dead Island: Riptide Rigor Mortis edition which comes with a statue of just the torso of a dead female in a bra and thong. The developer, Deep Silver, received hefty backlash from plenty of gamers and apologized stating to “fans and industry how deeply sorry we are, and that we are committed to making sure this will never happen again.”
Video games are no longer the niche that they once were, now up there with films in terms of reach and profit, so why aren’t women represented the way they are in other media formats? Again it seems that sex sells.