Women Want What Now? - Female Fantasy and Videogames - Article

By Matt Ashbaugh, August 2, 2012
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Thanks in no small part to the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot and some very poor choice of words by the game’s producer, suddenly the gender debate has started again.  There are calls of sexism, misogyny, feminism, alarmist, chauvinist, and a bunch of other words that tend to be launched when people don’t have a good argument in their arsenal to use.  However, I’m not here to argue.  It hardly ends up solving anything, especially online.  Instead of focusing on the symptoms, I’m looking at the cause.  The fundamental cause of the gender debate is - wait for it - that men and women tend to think differently.

Oh, did I just blow your mind?  Yeah, men and women are different.  While there are always exceptions, based on sexual preference and cultural factors, in a wide majority of cases this holds true.  This is especially the case when you look at what kind of entertainment we gravitate towards.  How and what we choose to entertain ourselves says a lot about who we are and how we wish we were.  As a male I have a pretty good idea what most men are motivated by.

Can We Be Objective about Objectification?

 “It’s not like men have never used sex to get what they want.

 How can we possibly use sex to get what we want? Sex is what we want! “

- Frasier Season 3 Episode 6

 sexy objectified ladies of videogames

Exhibit A

 It is hard to say that these ladies are not designed in a manner that is objectifying.  Their clothing is generally revealing and emphasis is placed on displaying the female form.  The only real exception to this is ol’ Princess Peach who is not scantily clad, but she is largely just the prize to be won for defeating the big bad.  You know, an object. 

The women from the fighting games dress in largely loose fitting clothing that shows off a lot of skin.  Sure, pretty to look at in a hyper-sexualized way, but there is a reason athletic women don’t dress like strippers.  Things that jiggle when you move around a lot hurt. So even though these fighting game women are portrayed as physically strong, they are still seen as eye candy.  But hey, these are imaginary women.  What’s the harm in a little imagination?  Women do it too right?  Men get objectified aaaallllll the time.

objectified fantasy men

Exhibit B

But here’s the thing.  When is the last time the male love interest in a romantic movie was a hulking musclebag in a loincloth?  All we’ve done is put an idealized male form into an equal amount of revealing clothing.  Is that what woman fantasize about?  Are those ‘objectified’ men really appealing to a woman?  I could try to answer this question myself, only… I’m not female.  By and large I can only guess how women actually think.  So instead of guessing, I did this wildly experimental procedure.  I asked women for their opinion.

 Imaginary Guys Women Want To Bang

 The following are quotes from real women when they answered the following question:

 “If you were to make a list of the sexiest fictional characters of all time, who would be your #1 and why?”

top guys for ladies 

Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind)

  - “He is smart, passionate, charming, and protective of his loved ones.”

 Jean-Claude (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series)

 - “He is strong, passionate, cunning, and able to hold his own against a strong woman but at the same time is supportive of her.”

 Aragorn (Lord of the Rings series)

- “Rugged, strong, brave, dependable, and loyal.  He’d kick someone’s butt if they messed with me but he still has a sensitive side.”

Leon (Resident Evil series)

- “Brave, athletic, and smart.  Plus he dresses really well for a guy who fights zombies all the time.  I’d let him escort me any day.”

Solid Snake (Metal Gear series)

- “He’s like Batman mixed with James Bond and a touch of Chuck Norris.  Smart, rugged, level-headed, and the only guy who makes a mullet sexy.  Plus you get to spend most of his games checking out his sweet ass.” 

sexy guys for women

 Alistair (Dragon Age: Origins)

- “He’s cute, chivalrous, protective, and a total sweetheart.  I use mods just so I can keep romancing him.”

Nathan Drake (Uncharted series)

- “Smart, strong, witty, and cute.  He’s protective of those he cares about and loyal to a fault.  Plus that half tuck. Yummy.”

Dante (Devil May Cry series)

- “He’s a demon slayer who dresses like a rockstar.  Confident, brave, strong, and doing it all to get revenge for his dead mother.  He’s got a total “bad boy with a heart of gold” thing that just makes me want to melt.”

Ellis (Left 4 Dead 2)

- “What can I say?  I love me a sweet-natured southern boy.  He’s rugged, strong, protective, and charming.  Plus he was in a band.  That is very hot.”

Geralt (The Witcher series)

- “Smart, strong, tall, mysterious, protective, and dripping with charisma. “

There were others, but these were the guys that kept getting mentioned over and over.  Based on this group, it seems that women want a man who is, well… manly.  They like a guy to be brave enough to take action but be smart enough to not get himself killed for no reason.  He can be easy on the eyes, but he has to have both the confidence of his convictions and the charisma to make conversations enjoyable.  Basically, they need a guy to be more than a sex object to think he is sexy.  It is as if they didn’t let their lady bits control how they think.  Weird right?

Of all of these, I noticed one word pop up way more than I thought it would.  Protective.  Aren’t overly-protective guys vilified in entertainment that has female protagonists?  After seeking more answers from “the source”, I got this. 

               “It goes back to what we want in a man.  We want someone to be strong and compassionate and being protective is a way for a guy to demonstrate this.  On many levels we recognize our own vulnerability and having a man we know can and will protect us is comforting.  Protective becomes over-protective when the strength we do have is ignored. We don’t want to feel like a burden or, worse, worthless.”

 Which feeds into my next line of questioning…

 Fake Women that Real Women Idolize

If you asked any random guy who he would like to be, you’ll probably get James Bond, Wolverine, Batman, or something along those lines.  In a male fantasy-oriented entertainment the guy is smart, strong, brave, lucky, confident, can use extreme violence without consequence, and pretty much can get any girl he wants.  They are typically hyper alpha males that are fun to live vicariously through in our entertainment.  What about the ladies, though?

“If you could be any fictional female character, who would it be and why do you admire them?”

idolized women 

Rogue (X-men series - comic book version)

- “She was a real person.  She made mistakes.  Big ones.  She would fess up to these mistakes and worked hard to not repeat them.  She was also independent, strong, and didn’t take crap from any one, just like a true southern girl.

Mulan (Disney’s Mulan)

- “She is smart, strong-willed, and goes against those telling her she can’t do something because she’s a girl.  She’s still feminine especially by the end, proving you can be all girl and still win.”

Dottie Hinson (A League of Their Own)

- “She’s strong, intelligent, caring, and stands up for what she believes in.  She took charge when no one else would and is someone you can rely on when the chips are down.  Through it all she never hides her femininity but doesn’t let that be the only thing that defines her.”

Catwoman (Batman and self-titled series -comic book version)

- “In a world where Batman always wins, she can bring him to his knees.  Intelligent, witty, excellent tastes, has a strong set of beliefs, but her greatest weapon is her femininity.  Plus she can use a whip better than Indiana Jones.”

Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer series)

- “She is all the things a good action hero should be.  Smart, brave, selfless, resourceful, protective, and damn attractive.  However, she never stops being a girl.  She still does her hair and nails, dresses well, and hopes she’ll get the guy.  To me she is the perfect strong female because she is always both strong and a female.”

idolized women

 Lara Croft (Tomb Raider series)

- “She’s Indiana Jones except beautiful and British.  It didn’t matter that she wore short shorts or had boobs till Tuesday.  She still kicked ass, went on the adventure, got the treasure, and saved the day.  What was her motivation?  She’s awesome and that’s all she needs.”

Anita Blake (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series)

- “She’s intelligent, powerful, and caring.  She takes charge of any situation and fiercely protects those she cares about.  She is sexy without letting that define her and feminine without letting that label control her.”

Miss Piggy (Muppet series)

- “She is determined, persistent, and totally rocks a full figure without remorse.”

Hermione (Harry Potter series)

- “She is intelligent, brave, and resourceful.  She knows what she wants and isn’t ashamed of it.  She has a strong set of morals and beliefs and fiercely upholds them.  She ends up saving the day just as much as the title character.  She is not just the girl in the group, she is a valued member of the team.”

Samantha Carter (Stargate SG:1 series)

- “How smart is she?  She’s an astrophysicist.  Very strong but still feminine and charming (her milkshake brings all the boys to her yard).  She isn’t afraid to take charge and can problem solve crazy alien devices.  No wonder she goes from Lt. to Col. by the end of the series.”

There are others but an obvious trend is forming here.  Strong.  Intelligent.  Brave.  Determined.  And above all feminine.  But wait, I am pretending to somehow hear you say, what about Samus?  Way ahead of you.  Luckily I know plenty of ladies who play videogames.  So I simply asked, why not Samus?  She is strong, smart, brave, determined, resourceful, and underneath that power suit quite attractive. 

samus

She’s strong and a hot girl.  Win freakin’ win!  Right?

 “For her character it is irrelevant if she is a female.  Most of the time she could be a woman, man, or a stupid robot.  It is like her gender and personality are completely neutral.  What’s to relate to?”

 “You play through the game looking like a robot, killing and destroying things.  Your only motivation is survival and stopping the evil.  You pretty much only get to see her as a woman as a reward for finishing the game.  The faster you finish the more naked she is.  She is both the faceless silent hero and the objectified sex symbol, the two most boring tropes in all of videogames.”

So what? 

The main reason I sought to write this article is because I believe videogames to be the next great entertainment art form.  Something that will be universally accepted as more than an activity people do for fun.  Video games should be prized for both their entertainment value as well as the mark they leave on our culture, similar to other escapists mediums like books or movies.  Nobody walks around and says, “I’m a reader” or “I’m a movie watcher”, we just assume people read and watch movies in their free time.  They only have to give themselves a label when they are an enthusiast.  “I’m a bookworm” or “I’m a big movie buff.”  Likewise, I think the term “gamer” will fade away as it becomes more universal. 

Except how can it become universal if publishers and developers keep assuming that only horny teenage boys play them?  They act as if a game that doesn’t have enough of the three B’s (bullets, booms, and boobs) will fail to capture the “main videogame playing demographic”.  Except, if you only cater to a small group, how can you expect that demographic to grow?  The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

Does this mean that there needs to be more games with female protagonists?  Not necessarily.  It means that being able to play as a female should be more than a binary option at the beginning.  It means that female characters in games should probably not be so objectified.  Through talking to all these ladies, it became apparent why they can’t stand objectified women.  It’s not the impossible standards of beauty that make them feel inferior, it is what the character stands for in the game.  These characters are an object.  Up until very recently in history that is all women were: objects.  Things traded to improve the family’s station, cleaning, and for baby making.  They only had value in these womanly abilities, not as people. 

As far as I can tell, a woman wants to be represented with as much care to her character as is given to the male heroes.  You can argue against this viewpoint until your brain falls out, it is their opinion.  You don’t need to understand it so much as respect it.  Game designers would be wise to pay attention as well. 

Unless they are simply allergic to money, that is. 

Thanks to all the ladies who offered up their insights: Heather D., Jessica G., Amber A., Laura M., Sara D., Jennifer H., Barbey B., Rachel V., Elizabeth H., Joanne W., Sherri C., Barbra C., Courtney M., Lara A., Brittany B., Linda M., Amy T., Dana L., Megan D., Lindsey F., Rita O., Beth P., Miranda C., Lisa G., Sarah G., Pamela S., Aubrey T., Kira H., Jill G., Christina R., Amy S., Sherry L., Rebecca P., Dena M., Kendra M., Pam S., Barbara G., Adrienne G., Amber B. , Angie F., Brandy T., Kara B., Michelle A., Mindy B., Nicki B., Rebecca H., Shawna M., Sheri W., Suzy J., Tara W., Joy C., Jen C., Susan E., Jamie D., Amanda L., Alysha B., Angela P., Roberta O., Gloria S., Raven D., Amanda H., Melissa V., Helen A., Heather L., Carolynn B., and any others I may have missed.

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