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.
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.