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What's the deal with "strong non-sexualized, realistic, believable" female characters anyway?
by Sergio Rosa on 01/06/14 03:58:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This is going to be a short post, mostly because I am not here to provide an answer. I am just here to question things. This is a good way to start a year, I think?

Our protagonist is this realistic and believable non-sexualized girl with a strong personality...

Why do we usually hear that pitch when we're faced with a game with a female lead developers want to be taken seriously, but we never hear this: our protagonist is ths realistic and believable non-sexualized man with a strong personality?

As someone working on a game where the protagonist is a 19 year old girl, sometimes I get this "I'm watching you" feeling or whatever, telling me that I need to be extra careful when shaping her, or else this group of people or that group of people will be offended. It seems I need to question if she's smart enough, autonomous or independent, etc... and I'm aware some of those elements are your usual "writing stuff" but it's still a valid question because it's like I'm not building a character, as much as I'm building a character that X and Y will be pleased with.

It doesn't stop there, because it looks like "the system" also cares about how she looks. Is the dress too tight or too short? Is more than one third of her breasts visible? The dress makes her butt look too big. Maybe she should wear loose pants instead so we can't see the curves. Are the breasts too big? Maybe now they are too small. She's too thin. She shows too much skin. Those high heels are unrealistic...

Now the believable non-sexualized strong female lead is ready... but... maybe at some point in the game she gets a "Y2J-beating" during the game, so the game is misogynist...

So I have to question why are female protagonists put under a microscope, studied and dissected to see if they fit the "unwritten checklist of female characters"? Also, is it about making a female character for a game, or is it about gaining Anita Sarkeesian's (or any other woman-from-the-media) stamp of approval?

She's smart and independent and that's ok... but what's with the yoga pants/sexy dress/skirt/sports bra?

At some point, someone makes a game and comes up with a male protagonist like this one, there's no reason to complain about him being unrealistic or sexualized.

[As the honest trailer guy says: "I'll give you 6 reasons: Aaaaaaaabssssss"]

As I said before, it is not my intention to provide an answer because I don't have any. I am just here to question what's the obsession about making "the perfect female protagonist everybody will be happy with" but nobody does the same for males.

The best answer I can give is "I don't know."

Don't bring the "it's been a boy's club for many years" argument, because that's not an answer.

Just like anyone else, I believe female leads are important. However, sometimes I believe people think they matter based on the wrong reasons, because that character wearing the sexy dress is not of a lesser category than the one wearing the jacket and loose pants.

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Dan Felder
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There's two main reasons as far as I can see:

1) Society has developed a kind of symbolic association where any number of female tropes = sexism and objectification of women. Show a woman in a sexual way and, because we decided it did, it comes with the associated message "women are objects". Is this rational? No, but neither is the new association with rainbows as a symbol for gay pride. Societies decide that certain things mean certain things. The issue is that there are SO many tropes with negative connotations, writing female characters becomes something of a minefield. There's even been a, "Man with boobs" trope proposed. Not even kidding.

2) Society IS extra-sensitive about this topic the way it's been extra-sensitive about racist undertones. This magnifies the perceived crime several-fold.

Basically, it's like this. If you show a white guy tribesman throwing a spear - you're fine. There is no negative stereotype assosciated with white guys throwing spears. If you do it with a black guy... You're hitting an offensive stereotype.

This isn't necessarily hypocrisy. It's what society has determined is offensive - because one trope means one thing and the other doesn't. Irrational? Yes. Hypocritical? Depends on the application.

Sergio Rosa
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That's a good point, and I also like when you say writing female characters becomes a minefield. It makes me wonder if every time someone may try to come up with a "good female character" it will be subjected to relentless criticism.