Video Game

By Katherine Walker

The world of video games is one in which the role of women has never been clear.  As discussed in class, women’s roles in all types of media have been grossly unrecognized, unaccepted and unappreciated.  The realm of video gaming is not exclusion to this truth.  Women have been marginalized in all types of media, and there are still many areas of media where male dominance is the accepted norm (Class Lecture Slide 3/4/2011).  While sexism has actively declined since the 1960s, it still exists and prominently so in all aspects of video gaming.  In many ways considered a boys club from its beginnings, the role of women in videogames has changed over time.  While statistics suggest an increase in the number of women gamers with the rise of games like The Sims and casual gaming apps, the type of game that comes to mind at the mention of a “video game” is still a male dominated ideal.  But what is it that keeps women away from these shooter and action games?  The fact is, women are under-represented on the business end of gaming, and this computes to video games women are as drawn to playing.  For the purposes of this project, I am referring to first and third person shooter games, and action games.  These include games like Call of Duty, Halo and Tomb Raider.  In these games, women are often the targets of violence, or a type of reward for a job well done.  In these games women are either the victims or overly sexualized examples of the female body.  It makes sense that neither of these things would lead most women to wanting to play these games.

However, women are not entirely shut out of the game world.  Websites such as GamingAngels and WomenGamers bring together women that are as passionate about the game as many of their male counterparts.  WomenGamers sell merchandise so women can proudly advertise their love of gaming.  They focus more upon game developers than anything else, acting as a connection point for women game developers.  GamingAngels is an attractive and user-friendly site offering reviews on all sorts of games, including widget or app based games, merchandise, gamer news and upcoming events.  The site also offers a scholarship for those interested in studying computer programming.  These sites are designed by women to bring together female gamers.  They work as support groups of sorts to connect women interested in a male dominated field.  Men have seemed always to dominate not only the creation of games and those playing the games, but the characters known as “avatars” within the game as well.  There is, however, one major exception to male avatars, and she has become one of the most popular women in the world.

This specific case, and one of the most popular games in video game history, is Tomb Raider, which came out in 1996.  The heroine, Lara Croft, is an intelligent, butt-kicking, gun-wielding, sexpot, ready to take on whatever comes her way.  So why don’t women play Tomb Raider more often?  In this game, females are not the weak arm candy portrayed in many other films, but Croft is still an overly sexualized version of a women in many ways.  And while it seems the portrayal of a strong and intelligent sexy lead character would prompt new discussion about women in video games, in many ways this character seemed to exacerbate the already wide divide between women and male gamers.

Lara Croft is beautiful.  While nowhere near realistically proportioned, her pouty lips and athletic physique would be attractive to many.   Tack onto this image the back-story of wealth, intelligence, and the overall ability to physically dominate whatever she comes up against, and you have a very memorable heroine.  Croft is, in fact, so popular that she is often times treated as though she is real.  She was declared one ofDetails magazine’s “Sexiest Women of the Year”, was on the Forbes list of wealthiest celebrities, and was even nominated as the British Ambassador for Technology (Lancaster 87).  But how is a fictional character treated in so many ways like a real humans being?  While it cannot be entirely her image, her physical appeal cannot hurt.  As Kurt Lancaster, a Communication professor at Fort Lewis College, writes, “The company doesn’t want you to just play the game. With this image they want her in your sexual fantasies, for they know that you will keep coming back for more.  Lara’s a girl that kicks ass and then later bears hers for your virtual pleasure,” (Lancaster 90).  Croft represents the best of both worlds to male players; both pleasure and adventure.  She never ages, or gains weight.  She is tough and aggressive, yet sensual and feminine.  Angelina Jolie, the actress portraying Croft within the Tomb Raider films, said that, “Almost every other suggestion for a movie I’ve done has been for a short, brown haircut and leather pants becausethat’s what a tough girl is.  A tough girl couldn’t possibly be a curvaceous woman who also is comfortable with her sexuality,” (Lancaster 96).  Here, Jolie supports the idea of Croft acting as both butt-kicking heroine, and sex symbol all wrapped into one.  It is important to note that the Tomb Raider game is a third person shooter game.  This means that the player is able to see their avatar throughout game play.  This is opposed to a first person shooter game in which the player cannot see their own avatar, just the view of what their avatar would be seeing.  This is important because if Tomb Raider were a first person shooter game, it would not matter what Croft looks like because the player would never get to see her.  Designing the game in a third person shooter way allows the player to constantly get glimpses of the body of Croft herself.  This only works to enhance the idea of Croft as a sex symbol, and a very deliberate one at that.  A patch (hacker device) was even created called the Nude Raider patch that, when applied to the game, stripped Croft of all clothing throughout game play.  This only further goes to portray Croft as a sex symbol as much as an action hero.  Why else would you want to play with a naked avatar?  If it were just for fun, there would be similar patches for characters such as Mario, Princess Peach, and Link.  But there is none because these characters were not created with sexual appeal in mind.

But what else might male players be getting from Croft?  It is true that with this sort of character, “boys and men are permitted to develop unrealistic ideals of female body type, or to dispense with relating to human women whatsoever, replacing them with easily controlled virtual bots,” (Schleiner 223).  However, there may be another sort of catharsis going on other than just viewing a ‘perfect’ female.  A male playing with an overtly feminine female avatar allows for gender roles to be broken down in a way, as the male players are allowed to “wear” a female identity without the backlash that could come with exploring femininity outside of the virtual world (Schleiner 223).

While we have talked about what Croft can do for men, she also has the potential for impact on girls and women as well.  Croft can act as an entryway for women into the male dominated world of gaming.  After all, if the avatar is a woman, then why should a woman try her hand at playing the game?  Croft brings to the table a very necessary new type of woman in gaming culture.  The previous options were Barbies and simulation games, but along with Croft comes the example of another type of woman.

Leigh Alexander is a female video game blogger and analyst, gradually becoming a respected opinion and player of many varied games.  She chose an interesting name for her blog, SexyVideoGameLand.  When asked why she chose this name, she said,

My first “real job” out of high school, I was a junior assistant in the marketing department of an enterprise storage company. I often heard the PR bigwigs complain that their task — getting people to understand and be excited about their industry — was made more complicated by the fact that “storage isn’t sexy.” And when I later became a writer, I realized that one of the challenges in getting people to understand and feel good about video games was that they weren’t perceived as “sexy” either. Naming this blog was in part a statement of a goal to play some small role in helping change that. It was also a reflection of my interest in not shying away from sexual issues in games.

She understood that sex sells, and used this to her advantage.  The name itself can make you wonder what it is all about.  If you chose to follow your curiosity, you will come across a witty and well-written blog by a woman who clearly knows what she is talking about.  Respected by men and women alike, she says she was once naive about her gender impacting her career.  She states,

… I have a higher profile [than] the days when I was just a community-facing blogger, and receive a great degree of attention to my work on a regular basis. Now the answer is yes-yes-yes-yes, and I feel a bit embarrassed to’ve been so naive about how people would treat me outside of a carefully-curated group. I don’t care to elaborate, but suffice to say it’s hard, so I’d rather just deflect attention from my gender and focus on my writing, thanks!

She has clearly come to see that being a woman in the gaming industry does matter.  Though she has not let it stand in her way, her honesty is helpful to all those girls in pursuit of becoming serious gamers.  When it comes to Lara Croft, Alexander has real concerns, though they are very different than those discussed this far.  She worries that too much female glorifying of Croft, and the constant pondering over what women want in a game, will hypocritically begin to form a “girl’s club” mentality, a type of exclusivity men are often looked down upon for.

So in the end, the reasons women are not as engaged in action games cannot entirely be proven.  While women are still over-sexualized in many video game designs, women offering their opinions and becoming strong voices in gaming is on the rise.  Lara Croft provides an interesting character for analysis and thought as to the portrayal of women in gaming.  She is sexy, but strong.  Giving women something to look up to, as well as giving men something to fantasize about.  Perhaps where the disconnect is, is in the ethical dilemma of whether or not provoked voyeurism by woman is degrading.  In some ways, having the power to make people look a certain way could be seen as empowering.  While the ethical and social implications of the portrayal of women in videogames has no clear answer, one thing is for sure; Lara Croft is strong, sexy, feminine and fit woman who has grabbed the attention of the gaming world, and will not let it go.

Articles

Anders, K. (1999). Marketing and Policy Considerations for Violent Video Games. American Marketing Association 18(2), 270-273. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from the JSTOR database.

Lancaster, K. (2004). Lara Croft: The Ultimate Young Adventure Girl. Or the Unending Media Desire fot Models, Sex, and Fantasy. Performing Arts Journal26(3), 87-97. Retrieved April 3, 2011, from the JSTOR database. 

Schleiner, A. (2001). Does lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons? Gender and Gender-Role Subversion in Computer Adventure Games. Leonardo34(3), 221-226. Retrieved April 3, 2011, from the JSTOR database.

Websites

Gaming Angels: http://www.gamingangels.com/

Women Gamers: http://www.womengamers.com/

PBS Video Game Revolution: http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html

Sexy Video Game Land: http://sexyvideogameland.blogspot.com/

Tombraider: http://tombraider.com/

Video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8ZVZRsy8N8

Pictures

Angelina Jolie:  http://www.impawards.com/2001/lara_croft_tomb_raider.html

Lara Croft: http://www.beyondhollywood.com/olivia-wilde-as-tomb-raiders-new-lara-croft/lara-croft/

  1. March 22, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for giving your ideas. I’d also like to express that video games have been ever evolving. Modern tools and inventions have assisted create reasonable and active games. These kinds of entertainment video games were not actually sensible when the actual concept was first being used. Just like other forms of technological know-how, video games way too have had to progress as a result of many many years. This is testimony towards fast development of video games.
    I’ve observed that in the world the present moment, video games include the latest rage with kids of all ages. Many times it may be impossible to drag the kids away from the activities. If you want the very best of both worlds, there are several educational video games for kids. Thanks for your post.
    One other issue issue is video games are generally serious anyway with the key focus on learning rather than enjoyment. Although, it comes with an entertainment aspect to keep your kids engaged, every single game is often designed to focus on a specific skill set or programs, such as math concepts or scientific discipline. Thanks for your posting.
    I have realized some important things through your site post. One other stuff I would like to mention is that there are several games out there designed in particular for preschool age youngsters. They consist of pattern recognition, colors, wildlife, and designs. These often focus on familiarization in lieu of memorization. This will keep children and kids engaged without having a sensation like they are learning. Thanks
    A different issue is really that video gaming has become one of the all-time biggest forms of fun for people of various age groups. Kids play video games, and also adults do, too. Your XBox 360 is amongst the favorite games systems for people who love to have a lot of games available to them, and who like to relax and play live with other folks all over the world. Many thanks for sharing your thinking.

  2. June 4, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Im getting a little problem. I cant get my reader to pickup your feed, Im using google reader by the way.

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