Sexism in video games is not having buxom female characters in a game, or about not having enough realistic characters in what is basically entertainment and fantasy, or even about games that are basically softcore porn in disguise (though that in itself is not necessarily the mark of a good game). Sexism in video games is about four things:
- Underpowering a character, or characters, of a certain gender, based on gender. Such making the man weaker than the woman because he’s a man, or making the woman weaker because she’s a woman.
- Promoting one gender as good and the other as evil through writing and subtext.
- Demoting a character to a weakling based on a gender. For male characters, this is demoting the male to a gimp because he’s a man. For female characters, this means demoting even woman warriors to the status of damsel in distress based on gender.
- If the main character is man, then he is a stereotypical model of the male gender. If the main character is a woman, then she is a stereotypical model of the female gender.
Truth be told, I don’t see this in many video games, or at least many games that I’ve played, but it’s not as though they don’t appear. And it seems most of the sexism happens to female characters. I’ll just list a few examples of sexism (mainly sexist writing) regarding the female gender in games that I know, and keep in mind I don’t know if any of it is intentional.
Probably the biggest example of sexist writing regarding women is Princess Peach from the Mario games. Why? Because in nearly 30 years, she seems to have never developed from being a damsel in distress. Her getting kidnapped by Bowser in the first game wass enough, but then she continues getting kidnapped by Bowser. And since the Mario games tend to repeat themselves, she’s always getting kidnapped. You could say this about Zelda because she’s a princess being saved by Link, but Zelda actually isn’t a total damsel in distress, as the games show she is smart, wise, and has a few tricks up her sleeve such as magic and assuming the guise of a Sheikah warrior.
In the Sonic series, the strongest female character I know is Blaze the Cat. There is Rogue the Bat, but good lords what a horrible choice of sex symbol they picked for the series. Most of the other female characters aren’t capable of much, even Amy gets captured a lot.
The Ninja Gaiden reboot (which was released for the original Xbox, and later the PS3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma) features a character named Rachel, who is also one of the only female allies in the game, who you first see as a tough fiend-busting woman warrior, but then she encounters Doku, a very powerful Fiend, stupidly decides to fight him (and does a sloppy job of it), gets knocked unconscious, and afterwards she gets carried away by Doku like a helpless damsel. There is story behind it (Rachel was planed to be used as a sacrifice by Doku to awaken her sister, Alma), but come on.
Not mention, Rachel’s mode of gameplay is nowhere near as good as Ryu’s (though this partly owes to her having a heavier and slower weapon and fighting style)
In Dead or Alive 5 (which funny enough was made by the same company behind the Ninja Gaiden games), it seems a lot of female characters that seem like little more that squeaky, loud, perky, sexy fighters, which is even worse in the game’s story mode, which besides a bland, pointless story in general, couples pesky voice acting, not much in the way of personality, and a really bad sense of humor based on cringe-worthy innuendo.
Soul Calibur V introduces two new characters: Patroklos and Pyrrha, who are actually brothers and sisters and descendants of Sophitia from the previous games. Patroklos is your stereotypical white light masculine hero, complete with unlikeable attitude, while Pyrrha is easily the weakest female character in the whole game in terms of personality. Pyrrha is always scared even in combat, screams all the time in battle, shows no desire to fight even while wielding a freaking sword, and has been shown to be highly susceptible to corruption and temptation by the evil forces and Soul Edge. You can just about figure out the writing behind it for yourself.
And finally, just to cap it off, The Legend of Spyro trilogy has Cynder (though she isn’t really human, she is female and has a human personality), who goes from being the main villain and final boss of A New Beginning, to being guilt-ridden and by-and-large helpless in The Eternal Night, to being simply weaker than Spyro in Dawn of the Dragon (though she is faster than Spyro and has some nifty evil powers).
To Cynder’s credit though, she never chose to be a villain, rather she was being used a pawn of the Dark Master (a.k.a. Malefor), but doesn’t just further her writing as rather sexist? Her whole life she was existed as pawn, and after being defeated by Spyro is guilt-ridden and all but helpless. And she’s the only female dragon you find in the entire trilogy. And in the end she falls in love with Spyro and she tells Spyro her feelings at the very end of Dawn of the Dragon.
Keep in mind though, not all sexism in video games regards women. Men are pretty stereotyped and bound to expectations in the video game industry too. And just like I did with female stereotypes, I’m going to list some sexist writing regarding men (though we might just run into a more examples of sexist writing towards women along the way) in games, though not necessarily all games I’ve played.
If you look at the video games industry in the West, a lot of male protagonists are either grim and lifeless Jason Statham clone soldiers, or stereotypically dashing hunks. To me, that’s setting up expectations for men in the same way as setting up expectations for women, so don’t you dare think it’s only women.
Examples of the rugged stereotype include Grand Theft Auto, inFamous, Too Human, Mass Effect, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, Gears of War, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and the list could go on further. Examples of the “dashing” stereotype include Uncharted, Dark Void, the Resident Evil games, and Soul Calibur in terms of their protagonists (Siegfried and Patroklos, the latter of which I already mentioned), and believe it or not Dead or Alive 5 (more on that later).
It seems to me like the stereotypical ideal male is that a man should be big, tall, muscley, and rugged, which is what must males are probably being brought up to early on as a boy, and we seriously don’t need more of that stereotype.
You could argue that Duke Nukem is a stereotype of the male gender, and is thus a sexist analogy of men. But really, I don’t see it that way. I think Duke Nukem more of a caricature of the American action hero and masculine sensibilities, and what’s more I feel his character is largely played for laughs in his games. And at least he’s still unique anyway. At least he’s not Matt Hazard, from Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard and Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond. Matt Hazard is supposed to be a parody of action heroes, but he ultimately fails to be an effective parody and what you have left is basically another near-bald male stereotype.
In Bionic Commando, the main character Nathan “Rad” Spencer is already somewhat steretypical in his military design, but at least he was a playful and cynical character on top of that, and his hair is slightly different from the blonde stereotype. Then a 2009 reboot is released and Nathan’s design becomes far more typical, and until recently I didn’t think dreadlocks could be that typical. He goes from being a playful, cynical, military type character to an angry and gritty guy with his wife for a bionic arm.
Going back to Dead or Alive 5, we have Eliot, a baby-faced fighter whose muscle mass and presence in the DOA games isn’t very realistic. He seems like a shy, “dashing” character whose there solely for the sake of having a baby-faced fighter, never mind that he’s actually pretty uninteresting.
Some could argue that the Final Fantasy games are sexist, though I don’t really see it in many of the games. The only thing I can see in some of these games is that the male heroes tend to be generic or brooding, and the white mage class is usually female, but this does not recur often and in some of these games you can give any character of any gender any job class you want, which opens the doors for a male white mage (I’ve actually done that before). If anything, the most sexist writing in the series has to be Dissidia Final Fantasy. Why? It’s the fundamental conflict of the game: light versus darkness, and light is good while darkness is evil. The representative of light is Cosmos, the goddess of light, good, and order, while the darkness representative is Chaos, who was also the final boss of the original Final Fantasy, and is male. This to me is writing that places evil as male and good as female, thus implying women are good and men are evil, which is total bullshit.
The weird thing about it is that Cosmos is still this dainty, pure, by-and-large high and mighty woman, so it’s almost a representation of the idea of the fair, weak, and corruptible sex, but it almost seems like apparently this ideal is a good thing, like it’s good to be weak?
Like I said before, I don’t really see outright sexism that often in games, at least any more than sexist writing, and I don’t all video games or the entire industry is sexist, but I just wanted to point out what sexism actually is in the world of video games. And I don’t want to sound like one of the whiny political types (both liberal and conservative) who wants to take away our right to play as whoever we want without having to care if he/she is stereotypical, or our right to enjoy it. I just think that (1) we have a poor idea of what sexism in video games is and (2) it would be nice to shake things up in the industry even just a little. I encourage both established developers and rising artists and designers to write and design whatever they want, not to please a crowd but for their own sake. Write for yourselves and challenge the industry, and see if you can’t bring about greater diversity.