Are video games really sexist?

Both genders are treated equally (badly)

Female characters tend to be naught but bulging bundles of hyper-sexualised cliché, but most male video game characters are no less stereotyped. Where video game women are ultra-exaggerated reworkings of the hoary old breeder/sexy reward archetype, male characters are still the primeval hunter/gatherer type. Just with massive guns. It’s all arm-cripplingly ripped biceps, necks too muscley to turn, emotion dials stuck on “aggressive grimace” and a 50% lack of chest coverings.

Above: Modern man according to video games

However more complex video games’ stories have become, in terms of character depth we’re still dealing with the quick-fix, broad strokes writing of Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Stereotypes are the easiest way to give an audience a fast grasp of who your characters are, but as far as having your story taken seriously, you might as well have them fighting off midget clowns with a rubberised replica of Godzilla’s left ball. In space. On surfboards.


Above: "What do you want to be when you grow up, Jimmy?" "A miserable grimacing prick" 

It’s completely understandable that female gamers have issues with the likes of the medium’s PVC-clad talking racks, but no intelligent male gamer is exactly happy about portraying a moody, shaven-headed grunt every single time they pick up a controller. It makes for easy writing, but the kind of audience aspiration value by game characters of both genders is insulting in the extreme. And aside from the above-mentioned problem, of storytelling needing to grow the hell up, we also have the issue that… 

Games still aren't really about story

For the most part, anyway. Yeah, we’ve got mythology and cut scenes now, but in a majority of games they’re still just there to justify the action. And when video game action so frequently relates to unequivocally killing the shit out of crap, negative stereotypes are still the first choice of most devs.

And the big problem is that with gameplay to divert our attentions, we accept this crap over and over again. If games were a pure narrative medium like film or literature, the kind of characterisation we’re frequently inflicted with would be decried, lampooned and immolated, leading rapidly to a dead industry. But as it is, we brush it off as a temporary annoyance and then forget it as soon as we get back into the game.


Above: Forget the perils of sexual objectification, there's gore to be had! 

Yep, as much as we might moan about offensive characters and duff storylines, they never stopped a fun game from being a million-seller. So is all hope lost? Are we doomed to zero-g boob physics and grizzled, snarling gun-bastards forever? Mercifully, it seems not. Games are styill a young medium, and while that's not an excuse, it's taken a while for talented writers and mature designers to start filtering through to the industry. But it is happening.

Valve is an shining beacon in terms of characterisation, Half-Life 2 and Portal in particular being fine examples of mature, believable and witty writing. In fact it's important to note, as we have before, that despite its silent protagonist Portal is all about a female character using her brains to overcome adversity.


Above: Is Portal a sign of things to come? Hopefully

And Portal's Project Lead Kim Swift joined an increasing number of female designers and producers improving games with those fabled gender-neutral ideas. EA's Lucy Bradshaw has worked on stuff like The Sims and Spore for years, and has a career dating right back to the classic LucasArts adventures. Fl0w and Flower developer thatgamecompany is run by Fine Arts graduate Kellee Santiago and has become one of the cornerstones of creativity within Sony's PSN line-up. And lets not forget the leaps and bounds made by Naughty Dog, its Uncharted series having finally managed to blend blockbuster action games with a likeable and believable cast.

Things are getting better, but it's going to take a while before devs who take their characters as seriously as their gameplay are the norm rather than the exception. But just think back to '70s 'comedy' when sexism, racism and homophobia came by default. At the time it was the mainstream approach, but now it's nothing more than a nasty little museum piece. We'll get there eventually.

Why games fail at storytelling
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The Top 7… extreme game character makeovers
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  • adrenaline - February 21, 2012 11:07 a.m.

    Blame sexism on the Adam and Eve in the Christian bible. You are a douche bag. Boys like you give decent men a bad name. Go back and do some actual research before writing a crap article like this to share with the world. I see you've had plenty of comments from the 12 year old gamer sociopaths of the future. This is what your writing inspires. Girls and women are gamers too. We're sick of seeing this bulldung in games. We want more realistic looking strong female characters and for media to stop objectifying our body parts and sexuallizing our children. F.........U..........
  • matrikid - March 23, 2010 9:32 p.m.

    I gotta tell you, they are about as Sexist as movies. Also, *GASP* there's actually games that are sexist to men too. It's a 50/50 street that's fueled by stuff like that. Really, nothing new here. Now it's time for me to go back to Anti-Socialness.
  • NassaDane - March 7, 2010 8:06 a.m.

    In no way did the article go into any of the serious Male sexism there is in modern day videogames. In most games what do you kill the most? Men, some times strikely men. How sick is that? Dimented if any thing. There would absolutely be some sort of hub bub about a game where you only kill women characters, no? But countless videogames are being produced with the slaughter of only men in it. Some you can be a woman that kills men. Is that right? I sure don't think so. I can't wait for a game where all you do is kill women, honestely. I want a game like manhunt and you get rewarded how you kill them. Yes games do not have a very ballanced character roaster when it comes to women and i would like to see that change! Also that is a common thing i have seen; when people hear about sexism they immediately think of women in trouble or women oppressed and that is very single minded. And i am happy to see this article addressing the non female sexism that is out there. I just hope more people see the injustices that are being put on men and not just the women.
  • adrenaline - February 21, 2012 10:55 a.m.

    NassaDane- How old are you- 12??? People like you give guys a bad name. You've obviously never gotten laid because no woman in their right mind would have sex with a douche bag that wants to kill solely women in video games that is, unless your a sociopath piece of crap serial killer who lives in his over bearing mother's basement.
  • 49erZ4lyfe - January 25, 2010 9:55 p.m.

    for every dude who thinks this is a dumb article just imagine every wrestling fighting or any other game when the guy is half dressed and he has the biggest schlong ever that's what its like when i play any game with a girl boobs huuuuge boobs and they jiggle its not just about women being seen as the weaker sex its about the extreme sexual nature
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  • g4m3rk1dd - January 25, 2010 5:04 p.m.

    sex sells...end of story
  • Gashura - January 23, 2010 2:46 a.m.

    @cool the DP is just a joke for this set of comments. But a real woman took the picture of her boobs and apparently she had no problem with it so I don't see why you should.
  • skynetiscoming - January 22, 2010 7:18 p.m.

    @deathrebellion I agree, I think the only time you even see Faith is the last 10 seconds of the game(other than the animated cut scenes). Forces you to enjoy her character and strength instead of her body.
  • deathrebellion - January 22, 2010 4:32 p.m.

    latest best example of improvement - Mirror's Edge
  • Cool - January 22, 2010 11:53 a.m.

    i also think its funny how some people like gashura, think its ok to be sexist, and have a pic of boobs as their dp......btw gashura, u hav a very interesting point of view. i agree with the fact that if games were realistic, they would be boring. they are an escape FROM reality.
  • Cool - January 22, 2010 11:49 a.m.

    im my view, sexism can be defined by anything from objectification of a gender, or defining a gender as being inferior to another. Characters like Lara Croft are sexist because they objectify women. they portray them as sexy pieces of meat.
  • Gashura - January 22, 2010 9:27 a.m.

    Games like DMC are as gender neutral as I see them. And being sexist is a part of life. Everyone see's things differently and everyone's opinion on things are different. Honestly I enjoy seeing some hot girl on my screen every now and then. I enjoy seeing a cool guy that can be like Dante and be too cool. Because if we had perfect realistic games we'd see life is even more horribly disappointing then the hours around the game. I play to chillax for awhile and enjoy myself till I'm tired. I don't care if looking at a hot body is wrong because I bought the game to enjoy myself. It all boils down to personal preference and what I as an individual gamer enjoy more. If I wanted sexual equality I'd buy galaxian and kill myself 4 hours later. And if your looking for realism in an imaginary world your high because it's not real. I've never walked down the street and Seen a DD breasted girl shooting demons. God forbid it happens now that I've said it but games are the escape from reality we all need in our day to just come down to that level of calm and tranquility we need.
  • austin128 - January 22, 2010 4:45 a.m.

    I don't think men with big guns or girls with big boobs are unrealistic. There's plenty out there and as for the guns part, anyone could have them if they cared enough.
  • MayorMcCheese - January 22, 2010 2:53 a.m.

    Some of you people seriously need an education on what sexism is. Re-read the article more carefully please. Putting a gun in the hand of a female lead character does not negate or eliminate sexism. When you refer to giving teenagers "tits" and "ass" to look at you are being sexist. When you reduce a female character down to a body part, or collection of body parts, you are dehumanizing them - in other words being sexist. That's exactly what characters like the ones mentioned in this article do (I don't know about recent iterations of Lara Croft, but the first few games were an absolute joke in this department). The game developers hide behind BS like "Oh she's an empowered woman because she's adventuring and badass' and you people eat up every word. Good article, thank you Gamesradar. It's high time we as gamers/game developers made an effort to elevate ourselves above the level of idiot beer commercials.
  • JaysonAych - January 21, 2010 4:53 p.m.

    @pimlicosound I often think about the "Condemned" games and how they portrayed the characters. In part one, the devs created Ethan and Rosa as two people that were not glamorized in either their appearance or demeanor, and they found themselves dealing with an extraordinary situation. Because they weren't superhuman hotties, they had a personality and were relatable characters which helped the immersion into the game. Then in part two, the devs sexed both of them up and gave them more stereotypical behavior, which wasn't at all necessary, and gave the impression that they didn't care so much about developing characters as they did pandering.
  • tienesmota - January 21, 2010 12:06 a.m.

    There will always be this "sexism" in games. It comes down to this: is the game entertaining and will people come back for more because of what we did? Believe it or not, THAT'S WHAT DEVELOPERS ARE LOOKING AT. If Lara Croft from here on out had an A cup and a regular body but it made them MILLIONS unlike it ever has before, than damn it their gonna keep it like that. It's the oh idk GAMEPLAY, that makes the game, not if the chick has quadruple D's or not. Personally, I could give a rat's ass if they all looked like Ms. Croft. I'm in it for gameplay and entertainment, not to get a quick jerk.
  • Tomsta666 - January 20, 2010 11:18 p.m.

    I couldnt read all that, I was too busy looking at all the tits and arse
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - January 20, 2010 7:11 p.m.

    @The_Tingler: Uncharted 2 did a commendable job of portraying both genders. While Cloe was somewhat sexed-up, she wasn't in a bikini, and she was clearly shown as the less desirable choice after Elena, who was not sexed-up at all. Also, Nathan Drake was not your typical hyper-buff, ultra-macho male character. That's the point the article was making.

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