There is a peculiar disagreement going on at the moment within the gaming industry as it strives to grow up and embrace the semi-respectable sphere of grown up entertainment.
I say peculiar because the participants are in a battle (albeit a largely juvenile one on the internet) that couldn’t possibly be won by either side. It can be boiled down to gamers who enjoy or have no problem with impossibly shaped women in video games. On the other side of the equation are folks who have the usual complaints that these images degrade women and set a bad example for everyone who sees them.
Collectively those are the folks who occasionally needle each other and even roll out the put-downs about what is and is not okay to be be attracted to. Since I have no fear of placing my own bias into this editorial rant I will use a confessional story of my own to illustrate a salient point. When I was 21 or 22 I was at a bar drinking with friends and talking about the usual things, chicks, video games, cars, what have you. I had a few drinks and decided to admit something I was a bit embarrassed about because it was a guilty pleasure. I knew my friend Jason had the capability to be attracted to pixelated women and I told him about my recent application of the nude patch for DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball and how awesome it was to play.
“So what,” said the grim faced John, sitting in our same booth. I read his eyes, they said that he couldn’t understand how a human could have any kind of titillation from something not real. As if my gaming time is an actual stand-in for my real life interests. That I was clearly demented and must be locked up.
What can we learn from this? People have different tastes. It is when taste intersects with gender politics that an explosion of idiocy occurs. This is most often observed when a game with racy images such as Dragon’s Crown releases out of Japan and folks who don’t understand the cultural differences are quick with negative opinions.
So how do we reconcile taste and gender politics? We have to allow them to co-exist like trains on different tracks. Earlier this month Ashley Johnson (the voice of Ellie in The Last of Us) spoke out about the lack of women in Assassin’s Creed Unity. In her interview with Videogamer she said “…it would be nice to see stronger females in a game that are not just the damsel in distress, the love interest or she’s oversexualised.”
There is nothing wrong with that opinion in and of itself, but it is incomplete and seeks to place blame where it simply does not belong. I fully agree with her, I would love to see more “real” women in video games. Hell I want a female assassin in a main AC entry too. I have very much enjoyed the performances behind the characters of Ellie (The Last of Us), Madison Page (Heavy Rain), Jodie Holmes (Beyond: Two Souls), The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3), Heather (Silent Hill 3), Clementine (The Walking Dead), and so on. It is not an either/or scenerio.
So when we run into Ivy from Soul Calibur and are nearly clobbered in the head by her gigantic breasts I can see why people scream out Sexist sexism! Look at that awful imagery that demeans women! Here is the problem, to demean women the content would have to have been a game produced for, say, a general audience like maybe Assassin’s Creed, which has many female fans. If there was a female assassin in there, and she was constantly being exposed, sexually abused, and made out to be a ditz, then I’d be right there with the chorus.
When I enjoy the stylings of the lovely Ms. Ivy Valentine, or Kasumi, or Juliette Starling and her pom poms I do so because I am consuming an entertainment product devised specifically for a certain audience. It is hand tailored to an audiece’s never-die juvenile fantasy. This brings us back to my story, let me speak frankly. Obviously I’m not always playing DOA for the tight combat system, but really…so what? You can argue over whether or not that it a thing that makes a fellow gamer “weird” but it’s a real thing. Bayonetta is proof of that. DOA reminds me of a time when I had a lot more hormones and yeah that was the main way women were portrayed in gaming. Remember that commercial for the original Xbox with Kasumi and the geek saying “She kicks high… “, gaming connects to people in many different ways, even via their manchild status. It is for the haters of this media to judge whether or not I and others should be put in straight jackets for being able to enjoy the female form in its many incarnations. It has nothing to do with lack of involvement with real women (trust me) or some kind of troubling view about women, it’s just about a fantasy. Human fantasies are as many and varied as there are people on earth to have them.
If the product is aimed at juvenile desires then why are so many of them rated M? It’s as I said before, this product sells on a preference in the market. It’s up to the rest of us to control how much gets in front of kids eyes. That is a thing which is true of all entertainment. Will your kids be ruined by exposure to some digital boobs? I don’t know, but you can’t hide them from everything in the world.
Games with sexy busty women are not the enemy of games with realistic, deep and heroic women, they are just their competition. The reason there are more games with bouncing boobs than brilliant brains is that the audience for the former is much larger. We have seen a pretty good boost in smart and realistic women lately and that bodes well for those games gaining an even larger audience. I think it is a huge deal that we have things a bit like activism in gaming now (remember when Naughty Dog refused to take Ellie off the cover of their game?) I believe one kind of game does not cancel out the other just as one product made to titillate its audience does not mean one game with a thoughtful female protagonist was not made.
We long ago decided as a society that so long as there is a market for a product, it’s okay to make money off it within reason. A 3D rendered Ivy Valentine isn’t a threat to anyone but maybe a superfan with high cholesterol. The real focus should remain on the advancements by women within the industry and as characters in a game. They have a long way to go and there really is no reason to use it as a cudgel against other kinds of games. Even if you killed all of the Kasumis out there and all women in games were normal human women all you would have is a half dead industry.