Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

As some of you may know, Shira and I run a feminism club at our high school. Our big project for the year was putting together a magazine of student writing. This series, spread out over the next week or so, will feature a selection of those articles (posted with permission of the writers).  Enjoy!  -Miranda

Beware The Virtual Babes – by Luke, a high school junior.

Part of a surging industry, videogames have been met with scrutiny and criticism. Critics have carped on videogames for encouraging violence, social isolation, and academic laziness. However, there is subtler problem that plagues many videogames: the unfair representation of women’s bodies. It may sound redundant to criticize the videogame industry for being “unrealistic,” but it’s important to consider the prominence and influence of games in our culture. 80% of all U.S. children have played videogames. An entire generation is absorbing a virtual, distorted image of what women “should” look like. Although more women are becoming involved in the game industry, it is still a patriarchal industry.

The story of sexism within the videogame industry begins, perhaps, with the videogames series Tomb Raider. Featuring the adventurous, beautiful, and powerful Lara Croft (later played by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation), Tomb Raider is one of the world’s most successful games. Lara Croft set a sexual precedent for women in future videogames: voluptuous curves, minimal clothing, and flawless faces. In addition to her beauty, Lara Croft can leap with cat-like agility, perform death-defying stunts, and wield dual pistols. Thus, videogames send a dangerous message to women: without “beauty,” you cannot be powerful.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I'm not talking about her guns.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I’m not talking about her guns.

But Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Since then, the hyper-sexualization of women in videogames has become even more extreme. Released in 2008, Age of Conan is an online game where you can create your own male or female characters. You can customize their height, weight, and even body type. However, when I tried to create a female that looked like the average American woman – size 14 – the game wouldn’t let me. At the very most, I could make a size 10 female.

One might argue that because videogames are largely consumed by male audiences, they do not damage the female psyche. Such an assumption is not supported by the numbers: the Entertainment Software Rating Board estimates that 42% of all PC gamers are girls. And even if girls didn’t play videogames, these fictional females give unrealistic expectations to male gamers. If boys grow up expecting real life counterparts to “Casilda,” they will wind up very disappointed.


Meet Casilda, a typical Age of Conan female.

But can we really blame these videogame companies? Like other companies, aren’t they just trying to appeal to their target audience in a time of financial hardship? The answer is yes: we can blame them. Sex may sell, but the profits reaped by these software developers come at the expense of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women.

However, if we solely criticize the game industry, we dismiss our responsibility as consumers. We are responsible for being aware of these stereotypes, so that they do not spread further throughout society. Furthermore, society is responsible for accepting women as being powerful in their own right. After all, you don’t need to wear a bikini in order to fight bad guys.


§ 9 Responses to Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes

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  • Aileen Wuornos says:

    You know, when Lara Croft was first created, her creator decided specifically on her outfit as all the other “virtual babes” were wearing nothing but chainmail bras and knickers. Not to mention until Lara Croft came along the only role women had in video games was the quintessential damsel in distress role.

    Whoever wrote this has probably not even played Tomb Raider or even ever bothered to read Lara’s biography (she’s actually constructed to be an intelligent, independent and strong woman) – not to mention that she was originally created as an alternative to Indiana Jones – archeologist, adventurer and articulate individual.

    Sadly, game designers fail to realise that not all women in games have to be like Lara.
    So I agree with some of what has been said here, but god damn, does it fucking piss me off when people bag out Lara – especially seeing as she’s been my positive body image role model for my eating disorder recovery.

    • mirandanyc says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Aileen. I didn’t write the post, but I think what Luke is objecting to is not the symbolism of Lara’s identity or character, or her body itself, but rather the fact that the vast majority of women in video games have bodies like Lara’s that don’t reflect the majority of live women. I think Luke’s point is that every woman should be able to be powerful, whether or not her body is similar to Lara’s and the many other characters who resemble her physically. I doubt he is objecting to regarding her as a role model for strong women; rather, he is commenting on the fact that women with bodies like hers seem to be the only role models that the videogame industry is willing to offer.

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  • Aileen Wuornos says:

    Well, yeah, the trouble is with gaming manufacturarers (& I’m saying this all as a pretty hardcore female gamer, meaning, it’s not actually playing unless you do it for several hours :D) is they fail to realise that 46% of gamers currently are women.

    That number is set to tip to 50/50 at some point in the next ten years (the links for this study are in my blog… somewhere!) and games, like movies, seldom pass the Mo Movie Measure (Tomb Raider, Adventures of Lara Croft, Angel of Darkness, Legend and Underworld) actually all pass. That would be a huge start I think.

    As someone who did dabble in a bit of game creation at uni and knows several people who are studying it I have to speak up maybe just a little bit in defense of the uh, distinct look that most female gaming characters possess is often created out of time constraint, laziness and motivation for profit than anything else. Lara’s proportions were created from an accidental resize to 100% instead of 10% or something along those lines (I can’t remember the numbers, but the story is the same.) Still, I can see the point the poster is trying to make, I just know it’s not always the developers who have the final say in these things.

    Maybe I should just get that degree in game design and start a company that deals exclusively in games for women with strong role models of all different shapes, sizes and colours 😉

    That’s probably why the Sims3 is so awesome heheh.

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  • Margo says:

    Samus is a strong female video game main character. She is sometimes Shown with long blonde bombshell hair and the classic “game Babe” look. While other times, She sports a short tom-boy cut. Though this is all rarely seen, due to her space suit. Just another character to throw out there.

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