Following on from <a href="http://makegamessa.com/discussion/33/video-games-and-male-gaze#Item_15">Video games and Male Gaze.</a> I thought it would be appropriate to talk about female characters in video games, and gender representation.<div><br></div><div>[I reserve the right to edit this instantiating post when I have something clever to put here]<br><div><br></div><div><br></div></div>
PS I neglected to mention that Angel(kof 2002) is also one of my favourites(mmmm I wonder why). No its her awesome infinite combos
Now that I think of it arcade fighters have a pretty balanced roster of female variation
In King of Fighters I mentioned Leona. If you look at the character or maybe played the game you'll see the feminism. For one she is the leader of the akari team(made up of muscleheads Ralf Jones and Clark Still).
I will read that link now.
Also what happened to that girl in that Capcom tournament is terrible but I think its just to unsettle oponents. Do you know who won
@skinklizzard not being females ourselves is a very good. Lol I don't think that cosmo reviews games or female characters in games
@Karujii (Off topic pontification to follow) Yeah I think realism and immersion are constantly at odds with each other. Most games have higher difficulty levels that tend towards realism - one shot kills and so on. CoD and Far Cry to some extent do rely on realism, this is why there is a low sense of immersion with some of them - because it is not consistent with the real life situation it reflects (it doesn't take hundreds of bullets to kill someone in war, for example). Essentially, there is low coherence for what happens to your character relative to their environment. I would theorise that the Fantasy games you enjoy have high levels of immersion? I interpret this occurring because of a low level of reliance of realism. You are consciously aware that this is not a real life experience - there is strong coherence for what happens to your character relative to their environment.
I mention this because I find it most useful to think of it like this. Players quickly learn how fictional worlds work and, so long as they are consistent, won't have any big breaks in immersion.
i.e. Soldiers in real world games (which should conform to real world laws) who take bullets with no visible effect break consistency, just like a fantasy world with unclear or contradictory laws fails. I suspect this is part of why "elegant" designs for games are so appealing. Obviously consistency doesn't provide immersion, responsiveness and cultural signifiers and fidelity do, but consistency breaks immersion when it fails.
For me this is why I didn't appreciate the first ME 3 endings. They broke the world consistency by destroying the Mass Relays, which would have destroyed every system in which there is a relay - this wouldn't have been a problem in of itself. However, they clearly implied that life was born again after this event. Immersion Broken. Cue, Take Back Ending petition
[Edit: Now that I think about it again I believe it's usually termed "Internal Consistency" in game design]
My favourite female character in a game is ling Xiayou. And Athena KOF. Xiayou's clothing and fighting style is congruent with her character and valid in the real world(minus the pet panda.
@dislekcia Yes! That is the most honest and entertaining review of the Snow white movie
@BlackShipsFilltheSky: Actually, I was ranting about the "modernisation" of Snow White. They did "update" it to make it even more daft and about being pretty uber alles. It actually kept kicking me out of any immersion I could have had going, it literally made me wonder about the people who made it and how they see the world all the time.
I think it's that "How do these creators see X", where X can be anything - most damagingly "me" - that creates debates and anger around sexism. Internal consistency is broken when people surface from the constructed experience and go "Wait, I wouldn't construct anything like this, you've lost me". Personally, I'm inclined to say that the "I wouldn't construct anything like this and I'm offended that you have because you're clearly insulting me" reaction is overboard, but people do love taking offense.
@Bensonance: Yes, I think there's something to internal consistency being easier to maintain with things we don't see all the time. It's exactly that concept that leads to the uncanny valley of failed identification of emotion as human depictions get closer and closer to 100% realistic. All you need to do with the familiar is screw up one small thing, but you can imply with the unfamiliar or fantastic and still get great engagement. (Which is another reason that it's no surprise that a studio dominated by male viewpoints could easily produce a sexism game)
@dislekcia I don't want to be combative here, or condescending. I know I am a bit belligerent on this subject, but I do really believe it is important.
Regarding problems people have with female characters in games. The problem certainly isn't "How do these creators see X". Although that is generally how the language is phrased when the critics talk about it. It obviously doesn't matter what the creators were thinking, they may have been thinking nice thoughts and have made an ugly game, or the other way around. Taking offense at someone else's point of view is obviously a silly position to hold and you're right to reject that.
I think if a developer wants to attract a demographic it is important to portray them well, but the question of which demographics a developer courts is a question of business, not of ethics. (I do in fact wish more developers would court women, but that is because I have a vested interest in this industry)
The problem that I have, and I imagine most feminists have, with the portrayal of, and behavior towards, certain demographics in certain games is that gamers are taught by the games they play. Just as viewers are taught by movies, etc. Players and viewers do adopt attitudes and expectations from the media they engage in. This is well backed up by countless studies.
Obviously I'm not suggesting violent games lead to violence. Players don't go shooting people after playing Call of Duty or Battlefield, even though they may learn how to behave better in a combat situation. Though while reenacting Call of Duty in real life would be ridiculous, these players may come away with a reinforced negative image of Russia, and that is problematic (whether or not the developers of Call of Duty, or Battlefield, themselves consider Russia to be villainous).
In my mind this is not a question of who is offended by our games but of what we are teaching those who play and enjoy our games. I believe developers bear responsibility towards their players, and that it is fair to criticize them when they resort to unimaginative and harmful stereotypes. I know this is a somewhat paternalistic stance.
Soul Calibre is definitely problematic in its portrayal of women. It is not a mature game targeting adults who already have complicated notions of gender, it's a 12+ game. I still enjoy playing it, I don't feel offended by it, I certainly don't wish for the sexiness to be removed. But I think it could be contextualized better without removing any of the pleasure of the game (and I expect several years from now the franchise will have moved in that direction).
I think the anger and offense around sexism in games is heavily compounded by gamers' reactions to complaints. Feminists who go into any critique of games anticipate horrendous backlash (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/internet/2012/07/what-online-harassment-looks). Gamers historically have had very defensive reactions to these sorts of criticisms and what should have been a healthy debate often becomes an intractable internet feud.
[Edit] Sorry folks I've edited this post a bunch of times, struggled to get the wording right. Also I apologize for the number of "obviously"s in this post. I fear I've worn it out.
I agree that as developer we have a moral implication to accurately portray different people in our game.
One the of gamers' reactions: gamers have made gods of their games, and god help you if you say anything bad about games. The more I look at gamer culture the more divested I feel from it. I don't see any purpose to T-Baging or calling someone a 'noob'.
If I take feminism as: The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. than I am 120% behind that. I'm also behind bringing that same theory to all other groups that are, or can, be represented in our medium. I'm not saying that I want everything to be rainbows and unicorns, but we need to get rid of tokenism.
With regards to the reactions. I found a sense of irony in it. The claim is that free-speech impedes free-speech. But the point of gamer reactions does conform to what I said above.
1: I use moral because I feel that the obligation is moral instead of ethical: the ethical person knows not to steal, but the moral person does not steal.
2: The fast majority of games appeal to heterosexual male fantasy, both men and women in these universe are crafted to appeal to the hypothetical 15-20 year old that play games. Games can be used for much more when we can directly use them to give players experiences of other people's situations. Looking at the work of That Game Company I am more convinced than ever that games can accomplish this.
3: I am rather sick of this term. From recent observations the notion of the gamer doesn't exist. Social and mobile games have brought games to a mass population. Ironically this spreading of the medium, is what I believe, to be one of the causes in gamer hostility. Their territory is being encroached on by those who do not understand the precious 1337.
I think the term need to go.
4: Noob, much like gamer, is something we need to get rid of. Like words such as lol it has lost its original meaning — of newbie — and is a slur against anyone who does not match the gamer's view of 1337. Recently I have been responding to people calling other's 'noob' by showing how they are 'noob' at English, and should "Stop typing: every word you a greater 'noob' at English." In general I have had a positive response in that these 'gamers' cease the harassment of the new player: giving me a chance to coach them at the game.
5: I quoted a definition of feminism here since I am not familiar intimately familiar with the ideology. I've read various documents, and watch shows such as Feminist Frequency I haven't always understood, or agreed with, the goal, or the purpose of their discourse. But I find that I would call myself a pro-feminist when talking in the context of that definition.
I'm not in agreement with everything this guy says here, I'm not particularly fond of his easy assumption that sexual objectification is so unassailable in games, but he is calling a spade a spade. And I like how Bayonetta as a character has to be seen differently. That's basically exactly what I was talking about above.
I think it is safe to say that feminists all self identify as gender egalitarians. And "feminism" and "gender studies" are interchangeable in my experience at UCT. There's no need to say "well what about other problematic portrayals". Feminism isn't limited to concerns about women. It's about gender, but feminists have been involved in much of the discussion about race as well.
I'm not convinced that Bayonetta is subverting prejudices about women in games. From my experience of the game so far I think she is more of a case of sanctioning them.
The problem is this:
The video posits that women in games exist to serve male sexual desires and then goes on to applaud Bayonetta for fitting more complex of male desire. Game Overthinker is still only judging her in terms of her objecthood. He doesn't say it in those terms obviously, he's a guy, he's happy that all the female in his games are designed for his sexual desires, he just wants a better fantasy.
He even starts the video defining her as an object of male desire. A "Project". Imagine if this were a film. Basically Bayonetta is Pamela Anderson's Barbed Wire. Which is to say an improvement on an awful lot of female game characters, and much better than just about all the sexualized female characters, but I struggle to applaud that.
If Bayonetta is only five percent of what the desire for the representation of female characters in video games then I suggest that the victory is seized since victories in this area are few and far between.
If there is progress then let us work towards the next five percent or more.
@Dislekcia I don't know. I get the feeling that the game is so overtly sexist that to any smart person it seems like it can only exist as a parody, yet it also seems that the great majority of players are playing it absolutely sincerely with no sense of irony. So far in the game anyway the delivery seems pretty sincere. There doesn't seem to be any context other than a very fleshed out world where the most powerful females actually get naked to execute their enemies and attach guns to their high-heels. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the game doesn't seem to think so.
It's only subversive of the incredibly low expectations set of female characters in video games. The only way it could be subversive is if one goes in expecting a typical video game fan service character.
But it's still not a aspirational portrayal of a woman. She still exists to be fuckable before everything else. I can't imagine you think she feels aspirational for women? At best it is still fan service even while it mocks lesser fan service. But I'm not even totally convinced that there is any real mockery going on. The game never makes the viewer aware of what fan service normally looks like. Any subversion that is going on is only because the viewer is doing extra work to bring in that context to the game. The game itselt doesn't seem to create that context (from what I've played so far, it never brings in references to unabashed fan service besides its own).
And I feel its own fan service overshadows everything else. Being aware of its fan service doesn't its make fan service a positive thing I think. Surely it just stops it from being completely insulting.
There are ways to make a female character that is sexually aware and sexual in appearance and nature and make her strong and tough and a positive role model. Bayonetta just isn't that character. She isn't in a context that allows her to be that character.
I think I just have higher expectations. I don't think I'm going to change your or Karuji's mind.
So, while you agree that as a character, Bayonetta is subversive, you disagree that this is meaningful? Or is that there isn't enough subversion going on? I also don't see how Bayonetta's main purpose as a character is to be fuckable. Yes, she's attractive, but as I said above, the gaze is all wrong. Where am I not following here?
I guess I'm in a similar boat to @Karuji, in that any subversion of these themes, especially something that I perceive as quite directed and very intended by the designers, is good. Especially in the current context of games. I would argue that expecting ALL portrayals of female characters in games to be aspirational, and thus dismissing stuff like this as worthless is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I hate to do this, but turn the lens around and aim it at your own work: Is Kicky an aspirational male character? No, he's a joke. Something constructed in the context that you find that sort of game. Yes, he's not motivated by a "women in refrigerators" type moment, but that's only due to the gender of his sensei... That's a hideously simplistic analysis, I know, but my point is that not all characters have be all aspirational all the time.
Look, I'm not arguing that DOA-style fuck-dolls are ok. Just that the thing we need is MORE aspirational female characters, just like we need MORE vulnerable male characters and MORE complex characters in games in general. That doesn't mean that we need to destroy all the simple ones. Especially not ones that aren't AS simple as a single element of their construction makes them out to be.
At best the wink is there, but it is just there to appease more literate players, while under the counter the developers hand other players an uninhibited fan service experience. Although honestly I feel that is giving the game too much credit.
I'm trying to say that she conforms to a MASCULINE idea of female empowerment. Which ISN'T particularly subversive. And so allows players who are inclined to, to appreciate her as sincere fan service.
I'm going to say again what my lecturer from University said: She is being applauded for fitting a more complicated male desire than usual.
What I want is a female character who is sexually empowered who doesn't represent a patriarchal view of female sexual empowerment. That would be subversive.
Granted, loads of people may not see that at all and that's fine. That's why I posted the video link I did above - that dude started out viewing Bayonetta as a sexual fantasy object and ended up having to change his preceptions. The sheer fact that it challenged the only lens he had SO HARD as to force him to come up with a different way of seeing the character seemed pretty powerful to me.
So what would a non-patriarchal view of female sexual empowerment look like? Could you make it an action shooter? Would it need to ridicule existing tropes through parody, or would it subvert the familiar instead? (BTW: I kinda feel like your perspective totally denies any attempt at subversion - you have to begin with the familiar and unchallenged in order to subvert and reclaim, which takes time to bear its full fruit at the end of the experience - you seem to say that any echo of the familiar is instantly invalidating to the entire process of subversion. At best we have different ideas of what constitutes subversive messages).
I do have to say that I find this debate to be somewhat funny: we are arguing to what degree bread with butter is better than just bread.
I do have to say the @BlackShipsFilltheSky is right in that Bayonetta is not overtly subversive (as paradoxical as that sounds.)
The Femenist Frequency video highlights this
But one must be aware of a trope before one can subvert it. And while referencing the common tropes of women in fighting games would have enhance the subversiveness of Bayonetta as a character it would have been a negative impact on Bayonetta the game.
And when you look at Bayonetta the game it is a ridiculously fun game with a female lead who is subversive. In the space of video games where female character are normally just used to pander to men.
I don't think that a female would look up to Bayonetta as a role model in the same way that I would not look up to Marcus Fenix as a role model. They are hyperbolic representations of their gender.
But like I said we are debating to what degree bread with butter is better than bread.
Reading up about this made me realise just how ignorant I was to the issue and I want to avoid making this mistake in future games that I might create.
I thought about the female characters that I liked through the years and one that really stood out to me was Jaheira, specifically from Baldur's Gate II. I don't know if anyone is familiar with her, but I hope someone is. I think that she is a good example of a strong female character in a game. Should we endevour to create characters like her, or just characters NOT like the ones mentioned here?
Your assertion that both Marcus Fenix and Bayonetta are both hyperbolic representations of their gender is really really problematic. (Are you really saying that you see Bayonetta as an exaggerated woman? And Marcus Fenix as an exagerrated man? What does that say about the way you see men and women?)
@Karuji And you seem to suggest that Bayonetta is not pandering to men? (Or at least you contrast Bayonetta to a space "where female character are normally just used to pander to men.") From what I've seen anyway, taking her clothes off isn't necessary for the story, crotch focused camera angles aren't necessary, contortions that emphasize her genitals aren't necessary, there is no one there to see her besides the player, these things are there for guys to see vicariously. Whether or not you think Bayonetta is empowering for women it's safe to say that Bayonetta fits very well into a space that panders to men. (You've seen those Japanese subway advertisements.)
But Bayonetta is a power fantasy as well, and she has agency in her own story, and she is in control of her sexuality, and doesn't need any help or attention from men in her story, and indeed is fighting against a patriarchal system, and this is what is awesome about Bayonetta.
I don't think Anita Sarkeesian did a good job reviewing Bayonetta either.
This is an article that supports @Dislekcia's argument very well (I think?). http://hastac.org/blogs/amanda-phillips/castrating-straight-male-gaze-bayonetta-or-least-making-room-other-ones
Although I feel I agree more with this article (which kind of says that Bayonetta doesn't make the viewer ever uncomfortable enough for it to really challenge players and be more than an exercise in masculine pleasure) http://www.tannerhiggin.com/making-men-uncomfortable-what-bayonetta-should-learn-from-gaga/
And I feel really badly, and guiltily, about the way this conversation has gone.
@Rigormortis For myself anyway, I'd love for one of the community's goals to be to foster an environment where women feel welcome. We are nearly all men (at least 90% internationally and possibly more locally) and a lot of us here have core taste in games, games that are heavily targeted towards men. This being targeted at shows in the things we make and the things we praise. I'd personally like more women working on games in this country for their material contributions and their point of view.
Men in this industry are then in a position of power to determine the nature of the games that get made. I take that responsibility very seriously.
Admittedly I make games for men (or at least in a style played mostly by men) but it is very important to me that I portray women in a way in my games that gives them agency, makes them believable, and gives them roles that don't value them less than their male counterparts or diminish them to their sex or objectify them. (I haven't achieved this yet, but I'm trying).
I don't want to teach my players to view women as objects (or as less valuable than men), I want my players (both male and female) to really believe in the worlds I create, and I don't want to offend women because, as a developer, I'd like to make games that women would be keen to contribute towards and feel proud of owning.
As such, when I think "good female character design", I don't necessarily think "good marketing material" (which seems too often to be a heavy influence in female character design).
I know that @Dislekcia is trying to portray women well in his games. I feel ridiculous arguing with him about Bayonetta. He's easily the game developer who's opinion I respect the most on this subject. I guess I have problems showing that. I am sincerely sorry.
@Rigormortis I cannot actually recall much of Baldur's Gate II. But Bioware do give women significant roles in their games (though I haven't played Bioware games in a while). I think in pointing to Bioware you are pointing in a good direction. Recent Bioware games allow for romantic and sexual relationships with other characters, and Bioware have received a lot of praise for this (both the even-handed sexiness and the role of women in their games). (I should really play more Bioware games I guess).
FilipOrekhov posted the female protagonist from Dragon Age as an example of good female character design. I imagine he agrees with you @Rigormortis.
As @Dislekcia has said: sexualization of female characters is not necessarily bad. I'm not trying to say that. I do think that creating a sexualized female character without succumbing to pleasing male sexual fantasies and diminishing the character is terribly problematic. My friend who lectured Gender Studies at UCT often bemoans that (she bemoans the difficulty and pitfalls, not the existence of sexualized female characters, she is all for sexually empowered female characters).
Chloe from Uncharted 2 is an example of a sexually empowered female character. Visually she's very attractive, but not very sexualized (I'm not trying to suggest her as an example of a good sexualized character). She is realistic looking (which suits the Uncharted world of course).
I felt the playable female characters in Diablo 3 were pretty strong. They look for the most part like they kick ass and fit their roles.
Even if the storytelling was very conventional.
@Rigormortis I hope like you that something positive comes of this debate (it started out positive). Sorry about the epic post and picking at scabs.
@BlackShipsFilltheSky please do excuse me if my tone if off. We have had good discussions about this topic, but right now I am repeating myself. I know it is stretched out across a long thread, and perhaps some of it is still in the female gaze thread, but I honestly believe that I have already answered your questions but to go in short.
Marcus Fenix, Bayonetta, the cast of DoA, Soul Calibur, and most AAA, core, face games are male targeted, and pander to male fantasies. It as close to a fact that there is except for Bioware.
Is Bayonetta pandering to men?
I believe so.
Is she a better female character than 95% of the one out there.
I believe so.
Could Bayonetta be a better character in terms of promoting a female role in games?
Yes, but at the same time she is a step in the right direction.
With regards to the crotch angles, de-clothing etc.
I've already said it pandering, but at the same time I feel Bayonetta owns her sexuality, and to be honest I really can't think of another female character that does that. Also the de-clothing is taken to it's extreme. I mean her clothes are actually her hair, so she never actually has clothes; just a difference in how she covers her flesh.
To be honest I find this is where things start to break down. Especially in the analytical articles, and @dislekcia put it best that Bayonetta is rediculously fun, and is trying* to be subversive. As far as beat-em-up go I haven't played anything as good. Devil May Cry wishes it could be Bayonetta.
To go off on a tangent I've gone an watched a good deal of Anita Sarkeesian's videos and I can't say I really like them. I know I've watched a lot of content fro The Escapist. So in 5 minutes I expect a fair amount of content with at least some depth. Sarkeesian's videos feel like rant's about fluff to me. So I withdraw that video of being evidence of anything.
To carry on Sarkeesian amended the Bayonetta video to focus on the marketing. I think there is a reason it was suggested that the business aspect for MGSA was represented with tentacles, and I believe marketing falls under business. E3 is evidence that the AAA marketing believes sex sells. So why would the people who market Bayonetta think differently. I'm not saying it's right, or that I condone it.
That links to the point of Bayonetta causing discomfort to the player, as per the Gaga article. In AAA space such a thing is not possible, when a published funds millions or tens of millions or hundreds of millions into a game. They want a return so I highly doubt that they would completely alienate their target audience.
So why do I celebrate Bayonetta. It's a fun game; an original IP; Bayonetta, the character, subverts** the normal roles assigned to her gender in AAA games.
If you can celebrate Indie games and believe that because the developers were challenged by their limitations, and still made a good game. Than why not apply that to a AAA game. There are limitations on what they can do too, and I believe given those limitations Platinum did an excellent job.
To expand on my earlier metaphor. Most games show female characters as bread, boring generic cut outs. We want cake, there are lots of cakes there are very different, and complex structures. Bayonetta is bread with spread on it. How good that spread is is up to your taste, but bread with spread is better than just bread. Sure it's not cake but at least it's a step in the direction.
* and ** in both these cases it depends if you think the spread tastes good :P
So in an attempt to not talk about Bayonetta any more. I propose a shift to talking about games that women play.
Also I'm sorry if I came across poorly in any of this it's 1:30am and I've been at this post for a while, and I'm kind of surprised I don't have keyboard impressions on my face right now.