Contrary to the popular belief that people who play video games are predominantly male, women actually make up nearly half of the world’s gaming population. Since such a large piece of video game profits come from women, it’s surprising that not only are women grossly misrepresented in video games, there is also a shocking amount of sexism and sexualization in the industry.
Sexism: The Misrepresentation of Women in Video Games
Sexism and misrepresentation of women in video games has been a hot topic of debate between gamers and feminists for some time now. With heavy hitters like feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian weighing in on the subject, it’s pretty difficult to deny that feminists and female gamers alike would be happy with at least some changes in their online gaming exchanges.
Aside from being perpetually labeled as “girl gamers” and therefore, different from “regular” male gamers, there are also fewer heroic female characters available to play. When there are female characters to play, they are usually outfitted in some seriously questionable barely-there armour designs. Following that are orgasmic grunts and moans coming from those scantily clad she-warriors mid-battle, rather than the more realistic sounds of exertion and strife.
Are female characters in video games in general overly sexualized, or are they simply sexual beings? Most feminists agree that expressing sexuality is no crime, however, the sexualization of a (fictional) character against her perceived will is considered by many to be demeaning.
Bayonetta and Feminism
When it comes to sexy female leads in video games, few characters have the sultry online presence that Bayonetta does. Bayonetta is the attention-grabbing main character in a game series by Sega that was so popular, it even inspired an anime movie. Fans love the spunky, spectacle wearing temptress, who is a pro with firearms, uses her magical powers to strike down her enemies and can shapeshift, all while entertaining her audience with a sassy, witty attitude. Her legs go up to her chin, and the game is chalk full of erotic crotch and boob shots. Bayonetta simply exudes sex and attitude.
She also kicks butt, and her fans love it.
Jimquisition, a game reviewer and Youtuber, and a part of The Escapist, an exceptionally popular gaming publication, explains in depth the intricacies of sexism in the gaming industry, particularly through Bayonetta, whose bizarre powers and quirky personality are cause for pause in the female gaming community.
He agrees that while Bayonetta is clearly pushing a sexual agenda, he says, “the most important thing to me is that Bayonetta has agency… personality, and a clear level of power and control over her world.”
Valid Criticism from Feminists?
Feminists, and in particular Sarkeesian, insist that their criticism of Bayonetta and other saucy seductresses in video games is that they are being sexualized, not that they are sexual beings. Bayonetta is a fictional character and as such has no free will, so she can’t be deemed as simply a sexual person. Sarkeesian affirms that fictional characters have their sexual natures imposed upon them with a clear intention of attracting “straight males.”
And yet, there are scores of women who truly love the game – in fact, a female game developer even described Bayonetta as “sexy done right.”
Where then do we draw the line between sexuality and sexualization in video games, if some women are for it and others entirely against it?
Empowerment through Video Games
Women in video games are more often than not dressed in a way that is designed to appeal to a straight man’s sexual desires, and not to make the woman who may or may not be playing said character feel valued. Alternatively, many female gamers believe that sexuality in a character is not something that ought to be shamed, just as it shouldn’t be shamed in a real living person. One thing is clear: enough women are playing a variety of video games that it seems likely that the sexual behaviour doesn’t bother them. Some women even declare the sexual nature of the women in video games to be empowering.
Video games: A Kinder Space for Women
While the last few decades in gaming culture haven’t been particularly kind or inviting to women, there have been improvements. As more girls and women pick up their console controllers or sit down at their PCs to conquer the world one bad guy at a time, game developers are striving to make their games more female-friendly. The number of female game developers is growing, too. What matters most to female gamers, and indeed all gamers, is the experience, and that their experience is equal to their male counterparts’.
No gamer is the same, whether they are male or female, and that goes for their gaming preferences, too. And while it’s promising to see more enlightened, gender-friendly games rise to fame in the industry, there are still games that aim to please a predominantly male audience. There will likely still be games released that portray women in a disrespectful light – much like other forms of media. But if gamers collectively push back against true sexism in the industry, female gamers may see more changes take place, over time. There may even come a time when all gamers will feel more comfortable and included in the gaming world, even while Bayonetta’s magical hair clothing is a thing.
Especially while magical hair clothing is a thing.