VIDEO GAMES: Female Distortion

The distortion of the female image is still alive in modern society as video games continue to exaggerate the female form to unrealistic standards.
“(The female) body (in video games) is not in proportion,” Dr. Katherine Larson said. “And that plays into the young male fantasy about what women should look like.”
Larson, an assistant English professor at the University of Toronto whose main focus is gender studies, stays as far away from video games as she can. Why? She disapproves of the way women are depicted in today’s video games, which show strong female heroines. Larson says she appreciates this but still stresses the inappropriateness of the way they are designed.
Larson says the way women are represented is a problem because it gives young girls the wrong idea of what a woman should look like.
“This is how beauty is defined, and that operates at a very conscious and very powerful level. It’s the same thing that happens when you pass a magazine article…and see a size-zero model. That message is internalized,” she said. “Games are bringing in female characters that are trying to play stronger roles and take on a better plot of the game, but even in those situations it seems that women are depicted in a very stereotypically sexist way.”
She is worried about the effect images might have on young girls and even young boys who play or watch these games. She thinks this will reinforce society’s belief that sex appeal is an important quality.
“I think that it’s harmful for young girls and… young men who are playing the games because they are not challenged to think about how femininity and the body are actually presented.”
Marc Saltzman, a video game reviewer for USA Today, agrees that female video game characters have over-the-top bodies, but says it needs to be this way in order to complete the gamer’s fantasy.
“Video games are very much about escapism and fantasy. You’ve got people paying money to lose themselves in a virtual reality for a few hours,” he said. “As a result, we have characters that have more accentuated features that aren’t physically realistic. But I think that if you factor in that most gamers are male, they like looking at women that have these accentuated features. ”
Zoey Hallman, an art student at Sheridan College, has been playing video games since she was four. She says she loves seeing sexy female heroines in video games and enjoys playing as them.
“What girl really wants to go around and fight crime in something like a snow suit? Girls like to be looked at like that sometimes,” she said. “I don’t think there should be games where they’re dressed in a piece of string, but I don’t think it’s that bad, really, as a female gamer.”
Saltzman says this representation of women became most famous after the release of Tomb Raider in 1996. The game`s Main character, Lara Croft, is strong and independent but sports a pair of short shorts, a tank top and lots of cleavage. Despite Lara Croft`s strength, her body was created to look a little ‘too’ perfect.
“It’s no secret that Lara’s dimensions probably make Barbie look fat,” Saltzman said. “She’s obviously very curvy, with accentuated breasts and hips.”
Enrico Sacchetti, a fourth-year game design student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, agrees with Saltzman. He says the way women are represented is “not a big deal” and designers are simply doing what they must to market their product.
“It attracts attention in gamers and it helps sell the product,” he said. “Same reason why women are at conventions for cars and electronics – it drives the predominantly male crowd.”
Larson, on the other hand, believes although video games are targeting young men, they are drawing out the same type of stereotypes that are used in other media.
“Media, like video games, are sending a very contradictory image that women are actually defined as sexual objects,” she said. “Certainly from a more objective standpoint looking in and observing it as a cultural phenomenon, I think it’s very troubling.”
Hallman though says it’s the ones who aren’t playing the video games that have problems with these female characters.
“If you just come in and see someone playing a video game like that, you’re going to be like, ‘Oh, what the hell is that? Why is she half naked?’ But I mean, when you’re actually a gamer and you’re into the game, it really doesn’t matter,” she said.
Saltzman says some games try to be more realistic, but a sense of fantasy will always be there despite the type of game. He also says it doesn’t matter what type of game it is; female features will always be exaggerated.
“Sometimes it’s a little gratuitous, like when you’re playing a volleyball game and the women’s breasts are jiggling and the camera is right in their chest,” he said. “The guys making the game know that guys what to see that, or they assume guys want to.”
While Larson wishes this would change, she believes it won’t. She feels they are always going to be sexualized and stopping this will be difficult.
“I think both men and women have a responsibility to help create change,” she said. “I think women have to be aware of how they’re being represented and young men need to do the same.”

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