In any discussion about gender portrayal in games, someone will talk about how female characters are unrealistically hyper-sexualized. Many people argue that it may have a lot to do with the fact that most game game developers are male and so don’t have anyone to act as a check against their juvenile urges.
Regardless of the reason, I wonder why hyper-sexualized elements, or any elements of a game, end up in the finished product if they aren’t specifically called for by the game designers.
In many good films, every scene is planned out in painstaking detail. If it’s on screen, it’s probably there for a reason. I remember an art teacher in high school talking about a film about people getting into brawls. He said that as far as you can tell, it’s just mindless fighting, but then if you listen to the director’s commentary, he’s talking about the symbolism of the design in the carpet during an overhead shot. If you are paying attention, you might appreciate the parallels with Greek mythology or some modern-day conflict.
In good books, every piece of dialogue, every name of a character or town, every situation is absolutely needed to push the plot along. Nothing is there without a purpose. If the protagonist encounters a dog on the side of the road, it isn’t because the author just happens to like dogs or decided on a whim to add this encounter. There is some reason why this encounter exists in the finished text.
And so with good games, shouldn’t we also expect that the game designer will add elements to a game on purpose? If you’re going to create hyper-sexualized female characters, how much thought have you given to why? Does it add anything meaningful to the game, or was it thrown in without much more thought than, “Well, I’d prefer to see this sexy figure if I’m going to be playing this game, so why not?”
I recently watched Kim Swift’s Indie Games Summit 2007 talk about her team’s journey from student developers to Valve employers. Narbacular Drop is the precursor to the very popular game Portal. While the entire 32 minute video is a good for indie developers to watch, I found her comparisons of Narbacular Drop to Portal fascinating. She mentioned that Narbacular Drop‘s art design and theme wasn’t well thought out at all. The dungeon didn’t have much meaning besides being a place to host the game. The laboratory setting for Portal, on the other hand, was carefully thought out from the beginning.
A long time ago, character design was limited to what blocky pixels allowed. Today’s Mario has overalls, a hat, and a mustache because it made it easier to see him in his first games. Today’s technology removed such limits from developers. They could be more purposeful with their art direction. Is your own personal variation on the hyper-sexualized female character really adding anything meaningful to your game? Is its presence meant to say anything other than “FEMALE PLAYERS UNWELCOME”?