Tropes vs Women in a Nutshell
The first video in the series is actually out so I’d recommend giving that a watch before jumping on the whole lol-sexism-in-videogames-lolol-silly-feminists bandwagon. Granted, the DeviantArt submission was made before the first video in the series was released, but I feel that the same message still applies.
People often argue against the idea of sexism in videogames by naming the instances where sexism is not present in videogames, either by inclusion of a female protagonist (ex. Tomb Raider), collaboration of male and female characters (ex. Mario Kart), and/or omission of gendered characters entirely (ex. Tetris).
The basic premise of sexism in videogames is that female characters in games are often (often, not always) sexualized, objectified, and/or reduced to a static representation of their gender. But it’s not a black-and-white issue.
While it’s true that women are often sexualized in video games (skimpy outfits, “perfect” bodies, tits and ass), I believe it is worth mentioning that men are sexualized in a similar manner to some extent. Male protagnists are often sculpted and muscular with rugged good looks and square jaws. (Or pretty boy “bishie” looks, depending on the target audience.) It’s the idealized version of the “perfect” male specimen.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for male characters to be dressed in a way to accentuate these physical features (ex. skintight bodysuits, vests or armless tops, etc.). So women and men are both portrayed as their physical ideal in videogames.
But how often are men objectified?
I feel it’s important to acknowledge that the physical sexualization happens on both sides of the gender, but an important question to ask yourself is where does it stop? For men, their characters may be sexualized and/or idealized to reflect the “perfect” male, but these characters usually go on to display depth of development (ex. personality, intelligence, courage, etc.)
On the other hand, countless female characters in videogames are present merely as sexualized objects. The hot sidekick or the hot villainess or the hot damsel. (Anita Sarkeesian talks in depth about the “damsel in distress” in her first video. I admit I was not a supporter of Anita Sarkeesian at first because my idea of her was that-one-person-who-took-a-bunch-of-peoples-money-to-do-a-video-series-about-lol-sexism-in-videogames-and-didn’t-deliver-and-oh-god-she’s-going-to-be-so-one-sided-about-the-issue-and-further-alienate-people-who-believe-that-straw-feminism-is-representative-of-all-feminism. Her POV is obviously biased toward the feminist message, but overall I think she does a pretty good job of it.)
“But wait! What about all the strong female characters in videogames? You can’t just ignore them!”
This is also true. There are examples of strong female characters in videogames: Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Samus Aran in Metroid, Zelda/Sheik in The Legend of Zelda, Chell in Portal, various characters from the Final Fantasy series (ex. Lightning, Aerith, Yuna, Yuffie, Rikku, Tifa, etc.) I’m sure you can name more.
But here’s where the issues start, when you take a closer look under the first layer of “See, I can name strong female characters! Sexism in videogames, what a joke!”
Yes, you can name strong female characters. You can even name a couple female leads. That has to mean something, right?
But how many strong male characters can you name? How many male leads?
I find it upsetting when people try to argue against sexism in videogames by naming strong female characters or identifying female presence in games. Sexism isn’t a black-and-white picture. Feminists aren’t arguing that females don’t have any role in video games or that strong female characters don’t exist. But the fact that these female characters are more an exception to the rule is a point of concern, as is their limited representation when compared to male counterparts.
For me, that’s a lot of what issues like sexism and racism amount to: representation. It’s the idea of “privilege”, which is a perfectly valid idea, although it’s become more of a joke these days (check your privilege cis scum). Because like it or not, in Western society there is often a divide between groups in terms of gender (and gender identity), race, sexual orientation, economic status, and “ability”.
The “default” representation is white, male (cis), heterosexual, upper/middle-class, hearing, seeing, “able”-bodied. That’s who we see as the protagonist(s) in our movies, our TV shows, our books. That’s the target audience. These groups do enjoy benefits in society, whether you want to admit it or not. (The same way attractive people enjoy benefits in society. You don’t want it to be true because it’s not fair, it’s not right, and it invalidates your characteristics and traits outside of physical appearance. But it’s true.)
But really, that’s a discussion for another time.