I like sex just fine. I’m married, and my wife and I have a completely healthy, normal relationship in the bedroom. Before we were together I watched more than my fair share of porn. I’m not a prude, and I’m not scared of talking about sex, or sexual things. I’ve masturbated. I’m also not in the Anita Sarkeesian, uber-feminism camp. I don’t agree with most of what Ms. Sarkeesian has to say, nor do I think that it’s all that meaningful to the overall discussion of women’s rights and equality. All that being said, the hyper-sexualization of women in some video games really bugs me.
I recently played through Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots (you can read all about it here). If you’ve played that game, the sexualization of female characters in it should be familiar to you. If you haven’t, here are a an example.
Upon finishing MGS4 I picked up Bayonetta. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, here is an example.
My problem with these games is the way sexuality is portrayed has nothing to do with the story. During one scene early in MGS4, Naomi Hunter, is wearing a lab coat and a button down shirt…with almost all of the buttons undone. She’s also clearly not wearing a bra. The thing is, she’s in her lab, not out on the town, or trying to seduce her would-be boyfriend. She’s just working on some genetics stuff, boobies all hanging out. Who works like that? This has absolutely nothing to do with her role in the storyline. She’s a completely self-serious character, delivering important dialogue while looking like the doctor themed stripper you ordered for your best friend’s bachelor party. The sexuality adds nothing to the story, nor is it ever addressed. There is no indication that she’s attempting to seduce Snake, nor is there ever any mention of her sexuality during the rest of the story. She just likes having her boobs out apparently.
By contrast, the Grand Theft Auto series constantly get slammed for it’s portrayal of women, but to me, at least the sexuality of women in those games is kind of realistic. There are strippers, but they’re typically in strip clubs, not researching the cure for cancer. Also, the entire GTA series is one big tongue-in-cheek joke. There is a certain understanding within GTA games, because of the tone set by them, that this is all just very dark humor. I’m not necessarily saying that what GTA does in regards to women is ok, and I’m certainly not advocating the violence against women that those games allow, I’m simply saying that what GTA does, it does for a purpose. There was nudity in The Sopranos for exactly the same reason. MGS4 seems to have no purpose in portraying it’s female characters like sluts other than to show you some sluts.
Bayonetta is another example of this. The story of Bayonetta, as far as I’ve gotten at least, seems to have nothing to do with her sexuality. Bayonetta’s creators choose to dress her that way. I haven’t gotten to the end of the game yet, so I can’t make a full judgment but thus far, just like in MGS4, there seems to be no indication of why this is; no logical (or even comical) reason explaining why Bayonetta dresses the way she does. What’s even creepier in Bayonetta is the cinematography during the cut-scenes. For instance, Bayonetta might kick a guy and then backflip off of his chest and the camera will sweep in between her legs as she flips, Bayonetta’s crotch perfectly framed and in your face.
What I find especially troublesome in a game like Bayonetta is that the sexuality is not only illogical, but it’s also restrictive to an audience that might otherwise appreciate the game. Let me explain: I have a nephew who’s a freshman in high school. He loves video games and he’s very interested in pursuing that career. Bayonetta is an awesome game, with a lot that’s worth experiencing. He would be well served by playing it, as there is a lot to be learned about combat design from it. If I bought him that game though, his mom and dad would be none-to-pleased with Uncle Steve. Bayonetta doesn’t have to be that way though. Conceptually it makes sense for Grand Theft Auto to be restrictive, but for a game like Bayonetta, it makes much less sense. To me it seems like making a rated R Transformers movie.
I’ll say it again, I like sex. I’m not a prude. But I don’t watch porn for the story, and I don’t play games for the porn. I’m simply not interested in this type of sexualization, and what bothers me is that the games in which this stuff is prevalent are games that I really like. These aren’t fringe games either, these are mainstream titles. These are triple-a titles that win awards, the Oscar contenders of games.
Not all games are like this, obviously. I think there are a ton of games that offer more realistic portrayals of women while still maintaining their sexuality. Ironically, the Tomb Raider reboot is a good example of this. In that game Lara Croft is a very attractive young woman, but she’s still a real person. Her figure is proportional to a normal person’s and the game doesn’t go out of it’s way to over-exaggerate her sexuality. The fact that she’s a woman isn’t even relevant. To me, that’s a character that makes sense in a way that Bayonetta and Naomi Hunter don’t.