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In Defense of the Sexy Ladies
by William Johnson on 04/23/13 10:58:00 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 a response to Anjin Anhut's tumblr post. Which itself is a response to Jason Schreier's Kotaku article.

So I’m a big fan of sexy ladies, and also I’m a big fan of feminism. This is the one point where I disagree with the common cultural critique of feminism.

I don’t think we should have boring female protagonists. Now, I don’t think that’s what people, like Anjin Anhut, are advocating, but I do think without offering good examples of where it works, people are basically going to go to the extremes, and think the only way to counter the sexy lady problem is by creating the most horribly boring, bland, and uninteresting female characters.

I’m going to defend sexy ladies in video games. You see video games are art. In order to make a point art will almost always be exaggerated. So if you are going to create a female character, a degree of exaggerated female characteristics is going to happen no matter what.

This is the crux of the medium. Everything is exaggerated, or else it wouldn’t be real, because its not real already. Explosions need to be bigger. When you jump you have to be able to jump at least 3 times your height, if not more. You punch something it’ll go rocketing in to the sky or explode in to a million pieces. Without some exaggerated visceral feedback, it doesn’t not feel real. It doesn’t feel at all.

So in character design, exaggeration goes nuts. If your character uses guns, they’ll probably have a giant gun. If he uses knifes, and since knifes are suppose to be small, instead they’ll probably just have a billion knives. If they use a sword, odds are the sword will be bigger then the character.

If your character is male, they’re probably going to be hyper masculine. This isn’t a good thing, per se, but it is a conceit of the medium. So a female character to emphasize that they are in fact female will have exaggerated effeminate features. This isn’t a bad thing.

I don’t think beautiful hyper sexualized females are the problem. Sex and sex appeal should not be something we should fear or be offended by. People should not be afraid or ashamed of being beautiful, sexy, or whatever.

Subtlety is not good game design, its not good character design, and often isn’t good art (sometimes it is). I don’t want the world to be bland and unattractive. I want it to be exciting and over the top. And if that means characters are going to be so over exaggerated and hyper sexualized they become abstract and frightening towards the viewer, that is awesome!

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Alessandro Ricci
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You say:
"I don’t think we should have boring female protagonists. Now, I don’t think that’s what people, like Anjin Anhut, are advocating, but I do think without offering good examples of where it works, people are basically going to go to the extremes, and think the only way to counter the sexy lady problem is by creating the most horribly boring, bland, and uninteresting female characters."

Susan Calvin, from Isaac Asimov, described everywhere as dull and not feminine and ugly. But with an extremely keen intellect.

The opposite of sexy is not "boring". The opposite of Boring is Interesting, and that's what we need. Interesting != sexy (see Susan Calvin above).
Also, the problem arises when EVERY girl depicted in a videogame has "sexy" has her most prominent trait. How many female warriors have you seen with armor that covers the bellybutton? Not many, I'd argue ;)

Kevin Weatherall
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I think when he says the opposite of sexy is boring, I think he means visually boring, not boring as a whole. If this is the case, I have agree somewhat. There are a few ways to make a visually interesting character, but if you are trying to not be too far from reality, pretty and exaggerated-feminine characteristics are much more appealing than plain and average looking.

"Also, the problem arises when EVERY girl depicted in a videogame has "sexy" has her most prominent trait. How many female warriors have you seen with armor that covers the bellybutton?"

The same can be seen about men and their traits, although I think guys have a few more tricks up their sleeves rather than just biceps. I mean, the game which started this conversation (Dragon's Crown) has extremely exaggerated masculine features for the guys, including epic beards!

William Johnson
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I agree characters need personality and skills, and can't just be eye candy. Because that really is boring too.

I don't think Susan Calvin would make an interesting playable video game character. She might work as a character in a slow paced adventure game. Where you are problem solving and trying to figure out the psychology of the positronic brain. Actually, that does sound really cool for a game.

But I don't think she'd work as well in, say something like an action game. Though she could, but it'd also end up redefining her as a character as well. Not to offend, but I don't really recall her being a woman of action from I, Robot, but it has been a while since I've read it, so I could be wrong.

I agree that armored bikinis are a stupid cliché, unless its in an barbarian fantasy setting, because then it makes sense that these savage people can hold their own without needing wimpy armor holding them back. But when you see men dressed in full plate mail and women not, that breaks immersion. So I can agree with that.

But if a woman is in full plate mail that exaggerates effeminate features, and I don't mean showing skin, I mean being curvy. I think that's okay.

But try thinking about it this way. If we use male power fantasies as a way to discredit male protagonists, which I don't think power fantasies are really a bad thing either. What's a female power fantasy? My assumption, they're probably going to be pretty sexy. Not because its what men want, but because its what women want to be. Being beautiful is powerful.

Sean Hayden
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Objectifying people is bad. If you think you can create a hyper sexualized character that doesn't objectify, go right ahead. But most of the game industry currently cannot or will not do so. And until they learn how, they need to stop sexualizing characters.

William Johnson
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All characters in video games are objectified though. They're literally game objects.

Like wise art in general objectifies people. Both males and females.

You can not have people not be objects when viewing them, as a third party.

So I don't buy this, idea to not objectify people. Because we have to turn them in to objects in order to simply use them as subject matter.

I'm not saying we should not give them objectives, personality, a reason for being, and keep them boring and uninteresting as characters. But I do say they do have to start as an object first, and then should have personality added on to them to make them more interesting as characters.

Sean Hayden
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That is not at all what is meant by objectifying. To objectify women, for example, means to imply that women should be treated as less than human. (Or less human than men.) When a game puts all its female characters on display as sex objects, making them wear stupid clothes and giving them shallow stereotyped personalities, that is objectification. Whereas simply having a female character is not objectification (even though they are a game object).

William Johnson
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I see where you are coming from. That's lazy design.

I don't think hyper sexualization does not mean you can't have an interesting female character or that she should only be window dressing, which they often are.

I guess I'm trying to say, its not the looks that matter, but the actual character's personality. Looks will draw people in, having a good and compelling character will keep people interested and playing a game.

Kevin Weatherall
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I don't think sexualisation and objectification is necessarily a bad thing. For guys, it is hardwired into our brain to check out the curves on a woman, so I don't think having images of women presented in a manner pleasing to guys is actually causing any kind of harm. I'm sure if there was a study on this, you would find that viewing images of sexualised women hardly has an effect on how men actually treat women. I personally believe it is upbringing that is more likely to determine how a man treats women, such as how a son sees his father treating women.

There are 2 main issues I do see with this though.

The first problem is the body image thing; this is what has been complained about for a very long time for all sorts of media and advertising, where the women are always the "height of attraction" and often set the bar so high that it is difficult for most women to achieve. It harms both men and women, as the women try to make themselves look like those people and men become less accepting of "flaws" in real women. Video games also have the problem where we are creating people from scratch, so it can be easy to create a woman that is unrealistic. (Photoshop helps this become an issue for real photos, but at least they have a realistic starting point.) At least that's the theory. Of course, I think Dragon's Crown is so over-exaggerated that this is really not a problem; I don't think we're going to see women who see that and think they need breasts THAT big to be attractive.

The other problem is that this may drive women away, as the sight of sexualised women may be unappealing to witness for more than a short period of time. But then this breaks down to an argument of whether or not every game NEEDS to appeal to both sexes. The overuse could help perpetuate the idea that games are for men, but in a hypothetical world where most games have their female characters as pretty regular looking, I don't think the occasional big-breasted women thrown in for the guys would be a problem.

I would also like to remind people that objectification is NOT exclusive to males; women objectify too. One video I watched on this mentioned the fact that men objectify women based on physical characteristics, such as breasts, while women typically objectify based on status, such as quality of their clothes, e.g. business suit. I don't know if this is based on science or not, but it does make sense in the idea of evolution; men want characteristics of a healthy, fertile woman and women want characteristics of a man who can provide. Of course, the media seems to think women want to see topless men with 6-pack abs and large biceps, so maybe women objectify men on how their bodies look too and then we either have to say that we have to stop ALL exaggerated gender features or accept that big breasts for men are like big muscles for women.

Sean Hayden
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I'm not sure what you are intending when you say objectification is okay, because I suspect if I asked you "is it okay to treat women/men as less human/inferior to others?" you would say no. Because that's what objectification is -- to treat a person as an object.

As for images having influence over behavior... imagine your typical office workplace. One day the boss comes in and plasters the walls with sexy pinups. I expect the atmosphere and behavior there is going to become very different -- images do matter.

Arseniy Shved
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I'd also like to add couple of things.
1. Games are a dream. In real-life I love my wife who is perfectly normal and does not have those super-exaggerated curves, and I wish not to change a single thing about her. However I like to escape reality in games, and I like to fell super-powerful and be surrounded with hot chicks.
2. Hyperbolized female characters, in my point of view, are opposite to being offensive. It is a tribute to female beauty.

PS I have several straight female friends who love breasts more than I do. Being artists they spend lots of their time drawing hyper-sexual female characters not because men told them to, but because they like it.

Mara Smith
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Feminism doesn't demand that women look a certain way, or even that they stop being objectified. It's about the double standard, and who is telling the story. Samus and Rainbow Brite are going to be my examples of good feminism, and I think we all know which ones are the bad examples. In the case of Rainbow Brite you have a character that is not the narrator, but the story is told very much from her point of view. She is presented as a young person type thing with incredible bravery and the power to help others and herself, and is never sexualized (depending on how you feel about that skirt). At the time Rainbow Brite was actually on the air, there were boys my age that willingly pretended to be Rainbow Brite, right amongst others that were pretending to be He-Man or G.I. Joe. She was a real hero with power and fortitude and that's all those boys cared about.

The same is true for the original version of Samus. The newer 3d versions have made her dumber and whinier along with being cuter and softer under her suit. The original Samus didn't need someone to come and save her any more often than a man might, and especially not from nebulous emotional crises. The original Samus was a true hero with power and fortitude, and it didn't matter what her gender was (but thanks to the devs of that original game for making her a chick).

To sum up, you can give the lady all the hips and boobs you want, but give her honor and power as well. In may not make much of a difference to the male players, but it makes a huge difference to the female ones. We'd like to see more and more female protagonists with strength, honor and the ability to fulfill their duties without needing someone to come and rescue them or clean up their messes (helpless women that they are). There are plenty of sexy male protagonists out there, but most of them clean up their own messes and may even have dimension to their personalities as well. Just sayin'.