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To clothe or not to clothe: Why industry oversexualisation turns away female gamer-folk
by Greg Mengel

Girl gamers? I understand your pain.

You’re torn. You're conflicted. You're unsure. On one hand, you love videogames for all the obvious reasons. They’re fun. They’re pleasantly addictive. They come with a rich and popular culture. On the other, they’re often shallow. They can be sexist. And more often than not they send heroines into battle with naught but a thong to guard them.

I hear you, sister - men are pigs.

It's no secret that video games have developed a bad reputation amongst non-gamers for creating a gallery of shallow, oversexualised female characters. Snobbish fans of other entertainment mediums hang their hats on this; they love to point out that whilst our heroines seem to be paid by the midriff, there wasn’t a navel to be found in Citizen Kane. Our favourite industry has leapt many a hurdle since its economic genesis in the mid 80s, bounding repeatedly and with quantum leaps towards fully-fledged artistic respectability, but characters like Lara Croft, Cammy, Sivir and hundreds of others hold it back.

If you’re a man, pick your favorite male protagonist. Someone cool, and heroic (if you can't think of anyone, go with Han Solo). Now close your eyes and imagine them as accurately as you can. Make sure to account for every detail - their height, weight, stance, clothes; all of it. Once you've got a clear image, pin it down in your mind. Got it? Good.

Now have that character meet your gaze.

Now give him a speedo.

Now make him dance. He seems different now, doesn’t he? At the very least, he's less badass than when clothed. Do you still want to cheer for that character; want to lead him into dangerous battle? That’s how I imagine women feel about their videogame heroines.

Anybody who’s spent a summer of adolescent sexual tension at theatre camp knows that a character is only as good as his or her costume. You immediately realise that Malcolm Reynolds is a bona fide hero because his outfit screams 'space pirate'. We all know that a worn leather jacket + weathered brown fedora + ripped khaki adventurer's shirt = caution-to-the-wind, globe-trekking archaeologist. Combine face piercings, a hooded leather jacket and a $10,000 shopping spree at Hot Topic and what do you end up with? The troubled cyberpunk genius Lisbeth Salander, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. These are just a few iconic characters that to some extent are defined by what they wear, by how they are presented to us.

So when a game company dresses their leading female character in a slutty bikini covered in knives, what do you think of them? Are you struck by their intelligence? Do you think they could be a doctor, or a philanthropist? Maybe a Congresswoman? I bet Margaret Thatcher wore her medieval G-string to work.

As a fan of good storytelling, I have trouble viewing scantily-clad warrioresses as real characters. They’re too impractical to be real people. Too shallow and robotic. Their existence makes me turn off the PS3; turns me away from their products. And I’m not the only one.

To be fair, there are plenty of videogame heroines with the two-hit combo of clothes and personality to choose from. Alyx Vance, from Half Life 2. Chell, from Portal. Zelda, from the Legend of Herself. Samus Aran, from Metroid. Jill Valentine, from Resident Evil. Faith, from Mirror’s Edge. Jade, from Beyond Good and Evil. Female Shepard, from Mass Effect. There are plenty of respectable women-folk to be found in the great game character sisterhood. But at the end of the day it's the gun-toting, skin-baring, Victoria's Secret model look-a-likes that seem to get the most attention.

By continuing to loudly voice how much we the gaming community enjoy seeing these clothed, believable female characters in our games, perhaps we will convince game developers guilty of oversexualising their female characters into changing their tune. If we stand together as consumers and call for more independent, badass lady-folk in our games, we might get them.

But as long as the videogame industry allows companies to create games about X-rated beach volleyball, it will remain barred from the lounge of artistic respectability, and therefore continue to press its hands longingly against the window as it watches art, film and literature converse tastefully amongst one another whilst wearing smoking jackets, puffing on expensive Cuban cigars and mahogany smoking pipes.

It's up to us to keep demanding respectable female characters in our games, brothers and sisters. We’ll slow the creation of over-sexualised video game heroines yet. And I don’t care if that lingerie is made of diamond-coated mithril tungsten - it’s not going to stop that swarm of arrows flying full-speed at your crotch.

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- Greg Mengel

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