Ellie Langford - Dead Space 2 (cosplay)
This is not the type of topic I usually concern myself with, but discussions of it in a few locations - which served to focus the issue, to me - made it something I wanted to chat about. As a general rule, I feel that my gender excludes me from... "the right" isn't the right way to put it...
I feel that, because I have a penis, I am perhaps not the best person to discuss this issue. I am well aware that ninety per cent of our popular culture is aimed at my demographic - or, more specifically, my demographic but five years younger. Sex sells, so they say, and it's simply part of our culture. But - so they say - the unexamined life is not worth living. So let's examine.
When I'm discussing the echoes of sexual violence in Alice: Madness Returns or coming to the defense of Duke Nukem Forever's ridiculous portrayal of women, there is one step I never miss: I get a family member who has a significant history with sexual violence to review it, and give it her stamp of approval.
This one's on me.
Y'ever notice how hot women in video games are? As a general rule, they are very hot.
Cammy - Street Fighter (figurine)
Take the ladies of popular fighting games, for example. Why does Cammy fight in a one-piece bathing suit? Is there a tactical advantage to flossing? I'm not even going to bring up Soul Calibur.
Y'know why she wears that one-piece? 'Cause it is sexy. Thank you, Mai Shiranui, thank you, Sarah Bryant, thank you, Lara Croft. You are all sexy.
Of course, there's a quick response to this attack on our beloved gaming fashion sense:
Zangief is, technically, wearing less than Cammy. So does Kratos from God of War - but that's not the point, according to those who argue a disparity remains in gender representation in gaming, comics and film.
For me, this whole question came up when I saw a Kotaku post at the beginning of December. It contained a comic from Reddit...
...this is, also, not the point. In fact, it may be completely wrong according to Kotaku commenter Seoul Sister.
"The Man-In-Loincloth is *not* the equal of the Chainmail Bikini. They are both wearing very little clothing, but they are not equal portrayals.It has to do largely with agency and *why* the character is portrayed the way they are. Nariko is drawn the way she is for very different reasons than Kratos is drawn the way he is..."
Kratos - God of War
"...Characters like Kratos and Conan are male power fantasies. They are fulfillment fantasies. No, not the fantasy of every man, but broadly speaking, they are designed as male power fantasies. They have agency. They are who you are supposed to *be.* Their nudity is a reflection of their power and strength. Conan is such a bad ass barbarian that his strength and will can carry him through, unlike lesser men who wear armor. Maybe a woman might enjoy looking at them, but they are fundamentally designed for the purpose of a male, heterosexual viewer. Robert E. Howard didn't make Conan as beefcake for the ladies - sorry, that isn't what happened.Chainmail Bikini characters are not this way. They are not some equivalent female power fantasy. They *can* be, some women might see them as empowering, but they are not created to be female power fantasies, they are created as male sexual fantasies. You can see this in the way the muscles are illustrated, in the poses they take, in how the camera lingers on them. Their nudity is not a symbol of their strength and their agency - it is titillating. It is expressly for the purpose of a male viewer."
Catwoman - Batman: Arkham City
Seoul Sister is right. She makes a lot of points that ring very, very true. There are no (or at least, very few) made-for-ladies female protagonists in western development, and even fewer from Japan.
Take one of the most recognizable manly men of the current gen, for example.
Marcus Fenix - Gears of War
I doubt Marcus Fenix was focus-tested and found to be a big hit with the ladies (while I'm sure there are a lot of ladies who are rather fond of him).
After reading Seoul Sister's post, I was convinced she was right - but I couldn't see the next step from her conclusion. I'm not a feminist or a masculist (hey, I made a word!) - I'd prefer equal treatment and consideration for all* - but I found myself nevertheless handicapped by my gender and sexual orientation.
*[update] Turns out that's that feminism means. I'm a feminist - thanks, Ozzie! [/update]
The problem was that I didn't see the problem. "Yeah," I said, "girls in video games are hot because that's what guys like, and guys in video games are power fantasies because that's what we (men) want to fantasize about. What's the problem?"
Well, first of all, the problem is that the number of girls and women playing video games is fast approaching fifty per cent. We're not the significantly controlling interest, any more - and equality means equal consideration for all - but still, what harm is it doing?
I didn't find the answer to that until a week or so later, while reading one of my favorite webcomics, Shortpacked.
And that is the harm it does. Lemmie bold that.
"THAT ART MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE.""WELCOME TO THE BACKGROUND RADIATION OF MY LIFE."
...and this doesn't just apply to gaming or comics, of course - it applies to almost all popular media. Fellow gentlemen, imagine if everywhere you went - everywhere - attractive men were represented like this:
Camili-Cat by Patrick Fillion
I suddenly understand why so few men are anorexic. We're not subjected to this. Women are - constantly - and that's rather awful.
It begs the question, though - what's the next step? What is the road we need to start walking down?
Raiden - Metal Gear Solid 2
Oh God, just think about it. They're ahead of the equality game. For all our jokes about tentacles, Japan's already done it!
Vaan - Final Fantasy XII
They've been doing it for years. Basch was the main character in Final Fantasy XII until he focus-tested badly with women and they invented Vaan to shore up the female demographic. JRPGs have men that are (ostensibly) attractive to women and women that are (ostensibly) attractive to men.
Have all our complaints about bishōnen characters in JRPGs simply been a North American man's reaction to what women are subjected to all the time?
Is this the future of equality?
Noel & Serah - Final Fantasy XIII-2
Maybe... maybe that's just the Japanese interpretation of equality in gaming. Lots of western developers have done great things with both genders, lately. Alyx and Faith and Elena Fischer and Nathan Drake and Isaac Clarke and Ellie Langford...
Maybe we're on the right track. Look at Commander Shepard.
...is that... good?
I don't even know any more. This entire exercise seems to have robbed me of what little perspective I have. I like cool, sexy game protagonists. I like Nathan Drake and Cole McGrath and Eleanor Lamb and Faith and Rubi.
If I can't have that and have half the gamers in our hemisphere be comfortable with how their gender is represented... well then, what's the answer?
Perhaps it's the sexuality applied to the characters that's the problem. There are tons of complaints about Cammy and Ivy, but no one complains about how Marcus Fenis and Kratos are depicted, because they're not designed to titillate anyone.
Perhaps that's the solution. Make male protagonists the power fantasy of that gender, and female protagonists the fantasy of women.
...I wonder what a female power fantasy looks like?
Brawlin' Ladies by Kuroi-Tsuki
...I dunno - that's an awful lot of pink - and Samus's zero suit leaves very little to the imagination.
Here's a better question - does it make anyone uncomfortable?