Friday, June 22, 2012

Skin Deep

Lightning, Jade, April, Zoe, Nariko...just naming some of those rare fresh faced 21st century female protagonists to appear in the world of video games. Sadly, none of them did particularly well as far as selling games go. Hence the reason most marketing departments demand that the main character be a 30 something short-haired white males. Not that this is unusual or anything. Movies and TV tend to strongly favor similar leads. "Doomed to be the sexy" seems to be a common complaint brought up now and then with female video game characters as well. Yes, I agree that throwing in a pair of tits is a sleazy (and all too often used) way to try and sell more copies of an otherwise crap game. No, I don't agree that it's necessarily unfair that heroines in games look beautiful while their hero counterparts are often depicted as short, fat, ugly etc. One could argue that the mildly unattractive Mario paired up with Princess Peach is symbolic of the huge amounts of effort some males go through just to get (and keep) an exceptionally hot girlfriend. Honestly though I think arguing about appearances in video games is an overly shallow viewpoint to take.

The upcoming Tomb Raider game has taken a lot of flack for it's depictions of violence against women, as well as strong hints at rape culture. Every time I hear this kind of claim I find myself thinking that the originator's sense of scale might be off or at the very least they didn't study much world history. Pre-modern first world society was (and still is) a bad deal all around for both men and women. Do you think all those ancient torture devices were just for show? Racks and Brazen Bulls have been around since antiquity. Certain forms of legally enforced mutilation such as "crucifixion" and "drawing-and-quartering" were used so extensively that they had their own terminology. Castration for the purposes of making eunuchs was also common in many parts of the world. Records from the Ottoman Empire indicate that only 1 in 10 boys recovered from the procedure. Yet in popular media this violence against men is often depicted as a joke. I could go on, but it's a divergent topic, back to video games!

Rather than nitpick over the details of physical appearance I'd much rather see titles that explore gender themes and the social aspects of relationships such as marriage and having children. Very rarely are these fundamental parts of humanity given any attention in gaming. Even in warrior dominated societies weddings and the production of heirs was extremely important for political reasons if nothing else. Only a handful of obscure Japanese titles have even tried to delve into this territory to any degree though. Worse yet one of the most recent entries brought over to the west, Record of Agarest War, suffered from pandering fan service and poorly implemented gameplay. I'd love to see a game which has procedural generated offspring based on the (possibly customized) appearance of the parents. Multi-generational stories are also something sorely neglected by developers and storytellers in general.

Sorry if this is a bit rambling...I'll try to finish with a focused conclusion. The video game industry does need to grow up with regards to it's handling of human sexuality, but from were I sit I'm not seeing a lot of ideas being tossed out there. Instead forums and message boards typically get filled up with petty arguments over hip, waist and bust ratios or more annoyingly whether Fat Princess is objectively offensive to people with weight issues or not. Quit being so vain people and focus on the stuff that matters!

1 comment:

  1. Most people who buy video games are 30 something short-haired white males. People make products for their customers. the book series Twilight made money, not because it was a great book, but because it was targeted at teenage girls (the primary book reader now days). Until women or old people play video games (or kids have enough money to buy a $60 video game) the majority of game will be targeted towards 30 something short-haired white males.

    As for the relationship that the main protagonist has with the main female character, it mimics the typical relationship status that the 30 something short-haired white male who bought the games has (dating). Married people often don't play video games, or if they do they are not the typical big sellers. Single males usually don't want to see marriage in a video game because they can't relate to it.

    In order for video games to change the type of person who buys them needs to change :(