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Their Bodies, Our Games

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That picture above poses an interesting question to Massively's Seraphina Brennan. Why, she wonders, is the knee-jerk reaction to get bent out of shape about a buxom, indiscreetly clothed woman in a video game, but not a ripped, stripped-to-the-waist man?

Second Correction: Seraphina Brennan is in fact the transgendered identity of the writer and is the byline she now uses for all of her work. Our commentary on this excerpt has been changed to reflect this.

Moreover, Brennan seems to ask why disproportionate weight is given to a woman's physical appearance and not the role she occupies in a game? Incorporating jiggle physics. How is endlessly commenting on it - and not the fact it belongs to a playable female character in a strong, assertive and in many cases nontraditional role - helping the issue instead of reinforcing the character's physicality and perpetuating the objectification?


I have a couple problems with the argument. She acknowledges the obvious double-standard - that physical representations of men are more likely to connote themes of power and heroism, whereas with women it's almost entirely about sexuality and desirability. But it's not given much treatment in her final point, which is simply that video games aren't expected to provide realistic depictions of anyone's bodies. The logical extremes of that position are obvious but I won't point them out because I don't want this to get off topic. And the piece does raise a valid point: Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder; what else might it be overlooking?

Boobs and You [Massively, Nov. 20, 2009.]

Very few of our protagonists (Nathan Drake and Alan Wake to name a few exceptions) depict men in what I would call a non-degrading manner. Honestly, how many of you readers out there right now are as ripped as the guy from Blade & Soul? My guess is very few.

While our interactive media may have started with a slightly overweight plumber as the titluar hero, we've certainly turned to making sure all of our character models feature strong, burly, and oversexed men who's muscles can give a woman's breasts a run for their money. I mean, look at World of Warcraft, for example — a game that we normally don't consider sexually charged. How realistic is their depiction of men compared to the average guy?

[...] Finally, I really believe that I have to take this one on - the notion that video game women degrade or defame real women because of their depictions. In my honest opinion, that's only really half true.

While VG women certainly may have overblown proportions and tight clothing, many of them aren't exactly weak or stupid. They're usually also not just there to be saved by some handsome, burly man. Many of these women are extremely dominant, going out to take care of things instead of waiting around for someone else to do it.

Off the top of my head, Lara Croft is a world-renowned archaeologist/historian, Joanna "Perfect" Dark is a highly trusted secret agent, Sniper Wolf is a trained military expert, Antonia Bayle rules Qeynos with a strong passion and intelligence, Jaina Proudmoore strains herself keeping relations between the Alliance and the Horde in check, and Bayonetta is someone who can and will kick your ass.

All of those women may have questionable outfits/fashion taste, but their positions aren't exactly "degrading to women." These are all highly respected and highly trusted women in positions of power, and that's not even including the characters we create in our games who end up being heroes of the land. If anything, video games have a history of keeping a very level field between men and women, sometimes even flipping the traditional power roles to favor women.

- Colin Brennan

Weekend Reader is Kotaku's look at the critical thinking in, and of video games. It appears Saturdays at noon. Please take the time to read the full article cited before getting involved in the debate here.