As part of my videogame analysis and criticism course, this week’s readings focused on violence, racism, and sex in video games.  Two of the readings, which focus on violence and sex, were mostly from the mouths of game developers; they can be found here. Although these three issues are clearly contentious and controversial in gaming – from all perspectives, including that of the player, creator, and parent of the player – none of the readings, and indeed almost none of the readings I’ve done in this field, actually relate to how these games view women.  Predominantly, I’m finding, as sexual objects, often devoid of the personality found in their male counterparts in the same game.

I found the What They Play piece paricularly disturbing considering that  it addressed sex inside of videogame worlds and narratives, and focused directly on the act rather than the participants as if it were some sort of Roman arena game and the participants unworthy of notice by the spectators as being “people.” Is the sexual act – both as an “unchanging” thing from game to game and the detail in which it is rendered – really the only thing worthy of exploration in a piece like this? I do not think so.

Mass Effect contained a sex scene which generated enormous amounts of controversy. However, as I did not play Mass Effect long enough to develop a sexual relationship, I cannot comment on it directly – but I can comment on what I have experienced. To do this, I look to three games that have captured my attention in recent months, and the suggestions that they make about sexual relationships, those games being The Witcher, Risen, and Champions Online. (Note: Champions Online doesn’t seem to actually have sex acts inside of it, but I am interested in it as far as it portrays physical characteristics of women.)

Insert euphemism here?To begin: The Witcher. A dark, brooding, and often difficult action-RPG game from the eastern side of Europe, The Witcher follows the path of Geralt, a monster hunter, in his quest to figure out what in the hell is going on with the world. While a rather great game on its own that I enjoyed immensely, its treatment of women as sexual objects is nothing less than childish. So childish, in fact, that when Geralt conquers a woman – often by way of showering her in gifts and complements without actually developing any sort of real relationship – a trading-card-style piece of artwork is shown of the woman in an often comprimising position. By comprimising, I mean draped in nothing but a sheet with a black cat centered directly over her crotch. By childish, well –

Although the actual sexual act is shown in blurry, hasty camera shots that reveal no actual details about the act, the process of getting to the act is perhaps more disturbing than anything the act itself could be. Encountering a woman in The Witcher is tantamount to initiating a mini-game; the first question tends to be, “Is she one of the NPC women that will fuck me?” followed by (assuming that the answer was ‘yes’), “How can I get her to fuck me?” The second question is relevant because each woman seemed to have a particular path that must be followed to convince them to engage in coitus; as mentioned above, some women seekWasn't this witch in the first Conan movie? gifts, like flowers or chocolate. Some require a topical, conversational relationship and can be rhetorically convinced to disrobe and engorge. Others require Geralt to undertake a quest of sorts, and reward him with fleshy trophies and a trading card.   (Here is a link to a video with all of the sex cards.)

My language concerning the first question asked when encountering a woman is important and intentional: “Is she one of the NPC women that will fuck me?” I feel the most crass language is necessary here, as the object here isn’t even getting to potentially see a naked lady: rather, it’s a mission to collect a trophy. In a game genre dominated by item-collection, little more can be expected when the player is given a trading card for a sexual conquest.

In a similar vein as The Witcher, the recent Pirahna Bites’ game Risen treats women similarly, although doesn’t objectify them quite as literally. For example, as written about by Alec Meer on Rock, Paper, Shotgun , the first woman – and the first NPC the player encounters – is dressed in a bikini top and a long skirt. To quote Meer, “At this earliest of stages, I don’t have the foggiest what the game’s general attitude to women is – but the first example Risen gives of it is not a positive one[,]” and I found that upon finding myself in this situation that I absolutely agreed.


Sometimes, the best armor is no armor.Things don’t get much better from there, however – almost every woman that I have now encountered in the game has been dressed almost identically, with supermodel/pornstar-esque breast measurements, and an ability to dance like any top-class stripper on the seedier side of Flint. Incidentally, the majority of all of the women I’ve seen in Risen, after playing for about twelve hours, are actually prostitutes. While presumably unintentional, it’s still disturbing; I’ve now concluded the first chapter of the game, explored the three major centers of civilization (two

of which lacked women altogether with one notable exception), and found that women exist in quantity only in the whorehouse. Whether it was out of curiosity or chauvenism, I solicitied one of the prostitutes, paying her owner fifty gold pieces.

Almost thankfully, the game neglected to provide me with even a cutscene, instead blacking the screen out and having my character deliver stereotypical lines about how he had places to be. Incidentally, she said I was the best that she’d ever had, and gave me a magical scroll as thanks. At least she didn’t give me a trading card.

The Witcher and Risen, in addition to being similar thematically and in terms of genre, are also direct narratives from the game writers to the player. This sort of relationship forces a certain responsibility on behalf of the game-maker to understand the messages that they are sending: similar to a novelist and a film maker, the views of the artist are often expressed by their characters, whether consciously or not. It’s pretty easy to play through The Witcher and Risen and have eye-roll (or disgust) moments and move on, chalking it up to male chauvinism and sexism at the developer level. They’re both pretty clearly games targeted at 20-something men, and should probably be viewed as such.

(This is one of the screenshots used to display the graphical improvements to the Witcher Enhanced Edition, and is the most common image found when searching on Google for it.  Interesting choice of subject matter.)

However, some games – like Champions Online – are perhaps even more subversive in their views on women than even games like The Witcher and Risen. In Champions Online, as with many other online and role-playing games, the player is allowed to customize the physical appearance of their character. This allows for a veil to be placed in front of the eyes of the player, shielding them from what might be sexist ideas that the game-makers may have: surely, if the player can create their own character, then if it is a false, media-driven idealized image of a woman, then it is the fault of the player.

But what if the player cannot help but create this “idealized woman”? I should probably explain what I mean by “idealized”; the purpose of Champions Online is to create a superhero-type character that can aspire to physical and mental perfection, flawless in physique and in mind. Unfortunately, the “idealized” woman of Cryptic’s otherwise pretty-decent MMORPG happens to be the “idealized” woman of American media; tall, long-legged, large-breasted, seductively-hipped.

(full-size for maximim here, full-size for minimum here)

Alright, so this speaks to what Cryptic views as the “ideal” woman – but what does that have to do with an excellent and staggeringly-flexible character-creation tool? Problematically, for all of the options allowed in character creation, small, reasonable breasts are simply not an option. Literally, not an option – see the screenshots below. Damningly, when creating a new character and enterting the “Custom Body” menu, the “Breasts” slide bar begins fully maxed-out. Further, it appears to be difficult (if not impossible) to create a more masculine-looking woman. One of the variants allowed in character generation is the posturing of the character; average, heroic, huge and beast for the men, and average, heroic, vixen and beast for the women. My favorite posture for male characters it that of the beast; hunched over, ready to lunge, ready to kill – but the beast posture for women is rather a girl leaning forward on one leg, which looks nowhere near as badass or aggressive.

This is a bestial woman.The other stances are also troublingly sexual; even average, which for the males means standing with both feet firmly planted and not favoring either side (you know, standing normally and at-ease) .. but for females means flaring the fingers ever-so-slightly and ever-so-coyly, with one leg bent forward at the knee. In terms of posturing, hip and breast size, it is impossible to create a non-over-sexualized female character.

In The Witcher and in Risen, the player could choose not to progress down avenues of fucking women NPCs, and is actually fully-capable of treating women with respect and dignity in the course of their adventures. However, in Champions Online, the player is explicitly barred from playing anything but a

...and this is a beastial man.

full-hipped, skinny-but-long-legged, fully-breasted woman that carries an appearance of lustful detachment.

Although the quests are generic and boring and lacking and character and, thus, tend to avoid putting women into any sort of constricting role in the confines oftheir narrative, the female figures of Champions Online have nevertheless managed to be more chauvenist and objectified than any of those found in The Witcher and Risen. Many, many more games provide examples similar to these three in the ways in which women are viewed as sexual objects first and characters second, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find another that managed to do this with its character creation system alone.

Unfortunately, I believe that the reason topics like this aren’t really addressed, either in the form of assigned readings for a class or from the mouths of interviewers and game developers, is because the way that women are viewed just isn’t thought about. Even though there are more female gamers out there now than there ever have been, it’s still very much a male-dominated pastime. I fear that as a result of this, game developers write their female characters exclusively for men. Not that this justifies anything – far from it – but I believe that it explains a lot.

And that’s part of remedying the situation – it isn’t enough to say, “This is happening.” It isn’t remedying anything by saying, “Men make games for men.” If gaming writers are slowly beginning to feel comfortable confronting sex and racism in the context of a game, then they can become comfortable with those most-dreaded of frameworks: feminism. It really strikes me that the best way to shift the perceptions of women inside of a game is to be able to identify bad perceptions where they lie, and point others in that direction. Once people know what to ask for, I’d like to think game developers would be willing to give it to us. Or maybe just me, but hopefully not.

I don’t know, though.  I’ll close with a quote from one of the developers of The Witcher from an interview with 1up:

“In the game, you can pick up girls. I’m going to show you where to find one, and you can go to bed with her.” Um… OK. We hit the village and quickly find a milkmaid willing to chat. After being impressed with a bouquet of flowers, the maid leads Geralt off the screen to do the deed. In return, I am rewarded a playing card and a painting of the milkmaid topless and pouring a ladle of milk over her bare breasts. “Through the whole game, when you pick up a girl and go to bed with her, you receive a card like this,” says Iwanicki. We observe an awkward silence.”

-Michal Iwanicki

Below, some of the other male/female pose comparisons of the Champions Online character creator.  Note: all poses we made using the default costume, face, and body options.  Note the muscle definition of each, and keep in mind: these are supposed to be superheroes.

Heroic Pose:

CO-posem-heroic-cr

Vixen and Huge Pose:

CO-posem-huge-cr

And, finally and most damningly, the choices for average:

CO-posem-average-cr

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Comments

  1. Kim on 11.14.2010

    WOW! You REALLY need to get a life girl. You act as if men just recently started viewing women as sexual objects or something?! Men have been doing this for centuries – BEFORE feminism and BEFORE men and women even knew anything about each other. Men dominate women physically and often mentally (probably because men don’t allow emotions to override their brain like we often tend to do or look too deep into issues that can’t be controlled through social experiments). Face it, you’re a woman and so am I and men want us for sex! Women aren’t nearly as sex starved as men tend to be but should we be punishing men for this? Of course not. That’s their weakness! Could you imagine how awful it must be to constantly think about needing an orgasm? That must be Hell for men! It’s like a lifetime of torture and depending on a woman to give you what you need. If you were a man you’d be drooling all over women too and doing anything and everything you could do to “get your rocks off” for a moment of peace. I feel bad for men and understand that my place in life it to serve men just as men are to serve Christ. We were put here by God as a give to Adam. Not the other way around! It’s obvious that our duty as women is to stand by our man and to be the gift to our man that God intended us to be. You sound like a whiny brat that hates being a woman because in your opinion men are given everything! Well tell me this – If men are given EVERYTHING then why are they turning to video games and pornography for self stimulation? That tells me that we, as women, aren’t giving out nearly as much as we should be. We torture our men and then we punish them for being in pain. That’s just horrible. Feminism at this point is a joke. I was all for women having the right to vote and work jobs but I’m not about to join up with today’s feminism crowd that seems hell bent on punishing men for simply being what they are – MEN! I’ve seen enough hate coming from feminism today that it makes me sick to my stomach! I can’t understand what the need is to depict men as being dumb in 99% of television sitcoms. Hasn’t feminism just reversed the table here? Feminist used to complain that women were always depicted as “unknowing” and “dumb” in old television sitcoms (I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, Andy Griffith, etc). Women complained so much about this they reversed it and now men are depicted as “unknowing” and “dumb”. We never complain about THAT now do we? Of course not. We love to see the shoe on the other foot because that’s what this is all about isn’t it? Women reversing the tables and putting men in the place of women for a change. But why? Are men going to start popping out babies and breast feed? Nope. Are men going to start crying and telling us how fragile they are? Nope. Feminism today is pointless and it’s embarrassing that women are still actively pushing these non-issues! Get a life and stop playing games if they make you feel so bad about yourself. I honestly LOVE to play those same games and I’m flattered that men find that naked form of women to be so appealing! God help us if they ever stopped finding us appealing. Imagine what kind of hellish nightmare life for women would be like then? I don’t know about you, but I like having my man around because I sure as hell am not going to mow the grass and get all dirty! I like being clean and smelling good. I like staying home and raising the kids well my man is out PROVIDING for me and our kids. It makes him happy to be fulfilling his role as a provider and I am happy being the nurturer. And I have no problems with working and have done so many time in our marriage when we need the extra little things his paycheck couldn’t afford. And he never gave me any grief about working or helping out that way either. You really need to get a man that’s a real man and learn to love being a woman!

  2. d4niel on 11.18.2010

    Assuming this isn’t a really, really long-winded troll, then

    1. You should probably read the name of the poster – Daniel. That would be me. I’m reasonably sure that I’m a male.

    2. Your dramatic over-generalizations more or less support one of the ideas I was going for, so thanks for that.

    If this was a troll, then lulz to you, sir.

  3. Bob on 03.25.2011

    Indeed either an impressive Troll or a woman who puts herself lower than she should be out of some irrational fear that if men and women would be treated equally then suddenly women would loose their alleged sexual power over us…

    what a weird way to think

    but I must admit I like the visually sexualized women in games. Especially when used a way thats halfway believable like it was done in Dragon Age Origins (and NOT in Dragon Age 2)

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