Following up from my Voice of JST video: Female Power Fantasies In Games, a series of comments on the video got me pondering more about the core issues.
The question is: do women get offended by female character design because they feel that male designers are making prescriptive judgements? I would answer with a question: Why should that be the case? Why take one person’s preference in design to represent anything more than his artistic vision? It’s not like all women are narrow minded and can’t see beyond surface reasons for a character’s design. Also, let’s not forget that male artists draw more than one type of woman. And it’s ART, it’s FICTION. Who cares if it’s realistic or not. The bigger question is: why do men not feel threatened by male depictions in games whilst women do? Is it a fundamental difference in perspective? I should note however that both men and women get offended by female characters in games, so this is all conjecture. However, this article is trying to address the female perspective specifically and hopefully spark discussion.
It could be that male and female sexual empowerment is different; women is physical and emotional, male is power and success, so when this is overtly depicted it causes issues. These attributes are interchangeable of course, so it’s not like a character can’t have all of the above. The problem starts from the belief that men are never depicted in the same sexual way, but that’s because they can’t really be done the same way. Big bulging boobs aren’t the same as a big throbbing man piece, mainly because a man’s piece is a sexually reproductive organ so depicting that is different. And it’s not like we have visible vaginas in our games just as much as we rarely have visible penises. There’s a lot of penises jokes or vag references in some games, always done in jest, but we don’t see any explicit sexual parts (unless the game has the rating for it). Also, for the sake of example, if we’re to flip the table on its head and have a big, bulging man piece flopping around, chances are guys would find it hilarious. Let’s not forget that dildos are a concurrent joke in crude games, such as the use of a dildo as a weapon in Saints Row The Third and Saints Row IV. Yet you’d never see someone running around with a plastic, fake set of boobs and beating them over the head with it, and if they did you could imagine the shit that the game would get for it. Ultimately though you’d see guys not kick up a fuss about sexual depiction whereas a lot of women tend to do so, regardless of context or reason.
One could say it’s the history of gaming as being a ‘male dominated culture’ that’s led women to feel that they’re not welcome and that they’re only worthy as objects within games. We know this isn’t true and that female characters are often treated with as much respect as the males ones, yet people are quick to cry ‘sexist’ whenever there’s a sexy character. I don’t want to go into the long contextual problem with calling sexy characters ‘sexist’ but I will say that I believe it’s false to say this. I’ve already talked at great lengths about female characters in games in my various videos, so I don’t want to tread familiar ground. And I know it really comes down to opinion and preference, but I’d really like to know what it is about men that lead them to not be offended by unrealistic or absurd depictions of men or male sexuality whilst women easily get offended by it. Is it purely due to the fact that women feel like female characters are designed by sexist, sexually repressed men? Do they feel that their prescriptive judgements shine through the character?
I don’t believe that women can’t play characters unless it’s done by a woman, cause that implies that women developers will only develop female characters that women will like by default. This doesn’t happen; not in games and not in fiction. The designer of Bayonetta was a woman and Bayonetta is a character that doesn’t stop getting criticized. The author of 50 Shades of Grey is a woman yet people always talk about how stupid and submissive her depiction of the main female character is. Men designing men and women in fiction get criticized just as much as women designing men and women in fiction. I’ve already mentioned in one of my videos how I don’t believe simply getting more female developers will allow women to feel more represented, because in the end the artist’s depiction of the character or their characterization might still be subject to scrutiny. Think of Code Geass’ character designs, an anime where the guys are bishonen and lanky as hell, but the women are also very lanky but very busty as well. The designer of Code Geass, CLAMP, is group of women that make shonen anime but with very bishonen looking guys. CLAMP receives a TON of criticism all the time for this and it’s an example of how not all women will make female characters that appeal to women alone,
In the end, it comes down to either artistic expression or target audience. A male or female artist might want to create characters with big, absurd boobs because it’s something they like or because they want to appeal to an audience. Anime and manga artists do this all the time and it’s no different with game developers. So in regards to whether the offense comes from male designers alone is inconclusive. However, if there exists women who design, voice act, cosplay and generally appreciate female characters that others might find sexist then it really just goes back to the ultimate term to describe most morally relative things: opinion.