Controversial video game critic, Anita Sarkeesian, analyzes tropes in video games through a feminist lens (YouTube Channel: Feminist Frequency). Often times, Sarkeesian argues that these tropes serve to objectify women. Is this the case, and if so, doesn’t that make them sexist?
To answer the first question, I think it would be disingenuous to argue that women and men aren’t sexualized in video games. Many male characters are rendered with huge muscles and a chiseled abdomen. On the other hand, there is no doubt an emphasis on breasts and the rear-end for women. It’s fairly obvious that the trope of “incredibly fit and attractive” characters stem from human sexuality and it’s prevalence in culture throughout the world. I would, however, disagree with feminist critics like Sarkeesian that argue that this sexualization only happens with women. I would also disagree with the assertion that sexualization, or sexually liberated characters are inherently bad.
One character that Sarkeesian has been critical of is Bayonetta. The character (her box art shown above) is no doubt a rather sexual character. While Bayonetta is, in parts, a marketing ploy- she is also an incredibly powerful character who is unafraid of sexuality and expression. Her very existence seeks to refute the silly notion that women should be submissive and conservative inherently. Her in-game character foil, Jeanne, serves as another strong character who is often times far more conservative in her manner of dress and sexual expression. I can understand being tired of a trope that has been used so much, and we should challenge writers to work harder. At the same time, I can’t find myself agreeing with the idea that a character like Bayonetta objectifies women when so many times male characters are sexualized just as much (ie. Dragon Age’s male character- Iron Bull). There is nothing wrong with a character exploring or being confident in their sexuality, just as there is nothing wrong with a character with a subdued or even absent sexuality.
This post doesn’t assert that video games, or media (on a larger scale), can never have sexist tendencies. I don’t think there is anything wrong with challenging creators that put forth tired tropes and stereotypes without any nuance or substance (Lara Nara, from Xenoblade Chronicles X, comes to mind). It’s important to recognize the difference between a character with an established identity and a poorly written trope, but it’s equally important to recognize that some characters- just like people- may fulfill certain stereotypes while still remaining their own unique entity. That’s okay too, and the only way to know for sure is to actually play these games for yourself.
So are video games sexist? Sometimes, they can be. Though, I’d save the picket signs and pitchforks until after you’ve had some experience within the community and with the game in question. Happy gaming.