Whilst playing the fantastic ‘Dead or Alive 5’ I noticed something incredibly odd. After the fighters have finished their brawl the victor, whilst saying one of their crazy speeches that probably sounded really good in its original Japanese but just sounds weird when translated, will have droplets of sweat running down their bodies. There’s even an option to turn this sweat feature off in the options menu. Now DoA (as the game will be known from here on out) has a long history of, shall we say, producing eye candy in its series. The female characters have ridiculously large and bouncy breasts whilst the men are ripped to within an inch of their lives and apparently allergic to wearing shirts. The original game even had an option to turn off the ‘bouncing breasts’ option, though why anyone would utilise this feature is beyond me. Just leave it to good old default.
The developer’s foreign offices had even asked the development team to tone down the size and wobbly of the young ladies assets. This however was quickly reversed when a demo of the game was supplied with ‘Ninja Gaiden 3’ earlier this year. The fans reacted negatively and the team gave the ladies a bit more bounce in their step, shall we say. Game director reacted to the fans by saying “There’s definitely still room for having sexualized aspects. If you have a solid fighting game system there, there’s nothing wrong with having beautiful characters as a layer on top of that – that’s another layer of entertainment that there’s a need for. If there wasn’t a need for it, people wouldn’t have responded to the alpha demo like they did, and send us feedback.” democracy in action and, weirdly, linked to the article I wrote last week claiming the joys of capitalism in the consumer market place. It’s almost like I plan these things out in advance.
Some would quite rightly say that this is an example of women being paraded around for men’s pleasure in the video game arena. And they’re right, though so are men (but we’ll forget that for now). It did however get me thinking about the portrayal of women in video games over the years. Whilst they are bouncing around the place in what I suppose qualifies as a full outfit, they are at least playable. Not only playable in fact some are the best characters in the game who can hold their own against any of the male characters. This is a far cry from how many people think of females in games. Many think of Princess Peach having to be rescued time after time by Mario from Bowser. This has been going on for well over 25 years now, can she not just stop being so damn useless?
The same is said for games like ‘Double Dragon’ ‘The Legend of Zelda’ series and even recent games like ‘Super Meat Boy’. I have to ask are these not more sexist than DoA? Sure none of the females are sexualised, but at least in DoA they aren’t completely pathetic and dependent upon men to save them. In fact if I had to put money on it I reckon Ayane from DoA would be able to rescue the Princess in half the time it would take Mario to do it.
So the options are scantily clad and playable or respectfully dressed yet useless? Not quite. Most games that have a character creation option, mainly role playing games like ‘Skyrim’ and ‘Demon’s Souls’, give you option right from the get-go to create a female protagonist. This character goes on the exact same journey that a male character would and can emerge just as strong and ready as a male character would. Equality at its dragon slaying finest.
On the non-player controlled front, we now have characters like Alyx Vance in the ‘Half Life’ series. She is an intelligent and savvy character who can hold her own against a head crab as well as any man with the exception of Gordon Freeman. But you do also get characters like Sheva in ‘Resident Evil 5’, who you wouldn’t trust to tie her own shoe laces let alone watch your back whilst plague ridden enemies come wanting a bite out of your corpse. Let’s call this round a draw.
So lets end with female protagonists that are created by game designers, not the gamer themselves. The obvious starting point here is Lara Croft from the ‘Tomb Raider’ series. Lara started off as the prime example of girl power in video games, but as time went on her bust got bigger and her games got worse. She’s now a shadow of her former self. But there is still hope in the form of next year’s series reboot, ‘Tomb Raider’. A nice easy title for a game that will no doubt set the series back on the right path. Plus her breast size has gone from ‘teenager’s fantasy’ to ‘just slightly bigger than she would probably be in real life’. Which is most definitely a plus.
The real flag bearer for girl-power in video games though has to be Samus Aran from the ‘Metroid’ series. The sheer genius of Samus is that she wears a armour suit. Without prior knowledge of her sex, many often believe that she is a male.In fact the first time that the player is told that Samus is in deed a female is at the end of the first game, once the game has been completed. This came as a massive shock to many a gamer that found out that they had been playing as a girl the whole time. Points are deducted for telling the gamer she’s a female by putting her in a pink bikini and in subsequent games having her wear a skintight blue spandex thing. But she’s a bounty hunter! The only other badass bounty hunter that people know of is Boba Fett! Samus could easily kick the backside of any male character across any video game, including Duke Nukem. Definitely a plus for gender equality.
Princess Peach still sucks though.