Life in 2D: Why Are Video Games Still So Sexist?


While watching a friend of mine play the latest version of Metal Gear Solid, the Phantom Pain, I discovered the game’s primary female protagonist, Quiet. Quiet, as the name suggests, is quiet. She does not speak, but, despite this and her lack of attire, she is a skilled assassin, accompanying Snake on missions throughout the game. Bikini-clad because she breaths through her skin, Quiet forms a bond with Snake, a bond that is reinforced the more he stares at her and works with her on missions. Stare at her for 10 seconds and she will suggestively wiggle her bum at you, reach a 100% bond and she will treat you to a personal shower. My friend and I couldn’t help but laugh at the portrayal of Quiet, this powerful assassin that only needs a stare from Snake in order for her to be won over. On the otherhand, we couldn’t help but wonder how much this representation of a female character would slip and impact on both men and women players of the game?

Video games continually cause debate for their representation of women, (and portrayal of violence), which has been much discussed in Anita Sarkeesian’s videos. Sarkeesian’s videos haven’t failed to garner a huge amount of publicity and have divided opinions in the gaming community. Recently, the BBC Horizon programme discussed; Are Video Games Really That Bad? Are there any examples of well-rounded female characters that can be looked up to by both female and male gamers? Does the video game community even have a moral imperative and ethical responsibility to think critically about their portrayal of women?

Academic research does indicate that video games are male dominated. In the top 25 best selling games of 2013, there was only one game where the main character was female. Male characters are more likely to be the game protagonist and if there is a choice between male and female characters, there tend to be more male characters than female to choose from. My main feeling when learning this information is isn’t the industry missing something? There is so much more potential to games and their stories if they present both male and female characters who are realistic and have their own unique personalities. By focusing so heavily on male characters and presenting women as one-dimensional, (as illustrated by Saarkeesian’s videos), there is a possibility that certain audiences will be alienated and eventually become bored with the games and associated characters on offer to them.

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There are examples of female characters that have been extremely popular in addition to being well rounded, strong and not defined by their sex. Samus Aran from Metroid is one of the most popular video game characters of all time and the franchise of games has been extremely successful. Heavily influenced by Alien, Metroid follows the armoured bounty hunter called Samus Aran as she hunts Space Pirates. At the end of the game, the surprise reveal is that she is a woman. Although, you could argue that the big reveal is in a way contrived; it is supposed to surprise you that such a powerful character is in fact female, Samus Aran is an example of strong, admirable protagonist who does not need to rely on male characters in the game to survive. The key reason I like Samus Aran is because she defies gender, she simply is hunting some Space Pirates, the fact that she’s a woman does not limit her in any way.

Despite all this, it can be argued that the video game market is changing. The Internet Advertisement Bureau reported that 52% of the video game audience is female, a growth in 3% from 2011. Gaming platforms are moving from our computers to our smart phones, and in turn widening their grasp on a greater spectrum of people. When female characters are represented as positive, well-rounded and as personalities in their own right, they have the potential to be very lucrative tools for game developers. It isn’t just an ethical imperative or moral responsibility for those calling the shots to think about their portrayal of women, but a business decision. An unwillingness to give women the narratives they deserve will only isolate a growing majority of female consumers who want more from their characters than buxom breasts and a need to be rescued.

Words by Ailsa Burns

Illustration by Melina Thompson

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