[This is a two-part feature on the objectification of men in video games. Kurosune approached the issue from the female point of view, and SarahTheRebel will feature Part 2 from the male perspective next week!]
It all started when one of my friends posted this on their Facebook page:
And, me being me, I LAUGHED HYSTERICALLY. Not because I’m a “bitchy feminazi,” but because I can’t remember if it was a guy or a girl who posted it. In fact, while on the hunt to find out who it was that posted this picture, I decided to open up my Facebook to comments about how gamers, both male and female, felt about this picture, and the response was overwhelmingly female. I mean, seriously: NO males answered.
But. Please know that I was dying from lack of breath because I was laughing so hard at some of the responses, because they were hysterical.
The following comments are from some of the top girl gamers I know, all in their twenties:
Not many, save for the few nerds trying to save money with stationary-bike-powered-electricity to cut down on the rent they pay while living in their parents’ basement.
For a realistic response:
It’s true that objectification does go both ways, but, with male objectification, it tends to spin along the lines of wish fulfillment. These are depictions of the “bad ass,” where the character designs are those that some guys wish they could look like. They yearn to emulate the character’s look and personality. On the whole, these are more of who the assumed consumers – and, in some cases, the creators – want to become during the time that they pick up the controller. When it comes to female objectification, it’s less that these are who women want to be and more of what men want to stare at. Even there, note the difference: who versus what. That’s probably a lot of why I, personally, tend to relate to and enjoy a lot of male characters more than female ones; plenty of male characters have quick wits, intelligence, well-thought-out backstories, and enjoyable dynamics, while a sickening amount of ladies are depicted as DDDs and a g-string.
(Madeline asked not to be pictured, but I’m still happy for her input!)
While I agree that there are not many men who look like this, I don’t see this as men being objectified. I think “power fantasy” when I see these characters. You want to be these guys. They’re seen as charismatic leaders and powerful warriors, not damsels in distress. Unlike their female counterparts, these guys are not slut shamed and put into chainmail bikinis or overly-sexualized costumes. When I start seeing banana hammocks as unlockable costumes for even half of these characters, then we can talk about men being objectified.
In RPGs, I think I’ve only seen it happen once or twice where a female pulls out items from somewhere other than her cleavage. (I have discovered that I can hide a whole tool box in my bra, so I see where that came from now.)
Men tend to be more built, which is something much more achievable in real life through hard work and dedication. Women would likely need plastic surgery, a few ribs removed, and possibly relocated hips to achieve the look that some game developers create.
I think it’s how those buff men are perceived. They’re buff, strong, handsome, and tough. A Man’s Man. A Badass. Women, though, are perceived as less badass when they are covered up or have smaller boobs.
Also, keep in mind that games are designed to sell. and what sells the best? Sex. Sexy women sell games. Buff men sell games. Skinny guys and tiny women don’t sell as many games.
For me, it’s not about graphics, how buff a guy is, or the achievements. I play games for the story. Or I play a game because it is fun. I could care less what a character looks like if the game is crap. Saying the graphics were good is like saying Avatar: The Last Airbender (the movie) was good. It was terrible, and only the graphics were good. Are you really so amazed by spectacle that you’ve forgotten what plot is?
Juko Von Dezmo
Are they supposed to be sexy? The only one I find any bit attractive is Hawke from Dragon Age II. The one on the farthest right is just scary. And the thought that this is for the women is just plain wrong. I mean, if anything, it is more for the men. It also increases the already existing feeling of inadequacy, because this is what they assume women are attracted to (leading to the sex scenes, and the lure they have towards all romantic interests or side characters in game). These are to help the audience like the characters, and to help the game with being plausible. Because I don’t think Kratos could have done half the shit he does if he had the physique of any random bloke.
I think men in gaming are depicted depending on what they do. For example, Leon from Resident Evil is a government agent; he is supposed to be buffed out a bit with muscles. We need to know that he can handle himself and that he has skills; you are not gonna believe he is an ex-government agent running around killing zombies with a body like Nicole Richie’s.
The first guy in the pic looks like he is from Syphon Filter (could be wrong) – again, military special ops. He is supposed to be buffed out a bit with muscles, because we want to believe he can handle himself.
The second guy, same thing – I don’t know what game he is from, but it has to be something where he is kicking ass and taking names, so you want him to look that.
God of War? Give me a break – he is slaying Gods, for Pete’s sake, which is hard to do when you look like you can’t complete two sit ups. It’s just good characterization.
Actually, most guys in this poster are depicted that way due to their characterization. These guys are supposed to be fighters, killers. Last time I checked, the guys in real life who do those jobs are well-ripped; do you see any wrestlers without a six-pack? No. Guys in the military are HOT – they are ripped, and they have to keep their body in top condition. It means the difference between a bullet in the ass or living. Do you see fat and flabby MMA fighters? What about a fitness model? NO, so why would I make a male character who I know is supposed to be badass skinny and frail looking? My point is, most guys in video games are supposed to be ass-kicking, powerful heroes, because usually the game calls for it. But in Silent Hill, is that dad super muscled and ripped with huge biceps that scare little children and are stuff nightmares are made of? No, that would be stupid, because he is an average dad and he looks like one. Imagine writing a character who is a male stripper (I use example because my boyfriend is one, lol) are you gonna make him avg because most men are? Nope, you are gonna make him hot with muscles and a six-pack. Strippers are hot because they have to be – it means more money.
Men are rarely objectified in media; people can make a guy as attractive or as unattractive as they want. Why? Because women hardly care. How many men do you see who are unattractive with hot girlfriends? Beyonce and Jay-Z, Janet Jackson and her ex, plus many more.
Now women, no matter their profession, what they are doing or not doing in movies, games, music, etc., are always hot and a man’s dream girl. They have to have boobs, be skinny, and more to qualify, and I have noticed in manga and anime it’s something that is often pointed out. Girls’ purpose in many things are to be a sidekick and something pretty to look at, especially in games. Leading heroines are always beautiful, skinny, and white – lots of times, a man’s thoughts on what the ideal women should look like and act. I think women are heavily objectified and stereotyped by both their sex and race.
FINALLY, the person who posted the picture came forward. Why I was even surprised, I don’t know, but she is one of the biggest wisecrackers I have ever met. A girlfriend of mine from high school who has a tongue that doubles as a lethal weapon and is full of sarcasm and awesome, Sam Snyder had this to say about the picture she posted with the original caption:
Aside from the awesome Monty Python reference at the end that had me howling with laughter, what’s interesting is that her friend Jake posted a picture from Imgur, with which I COULD NOT AGREE MORE:
And now without further ado, Sam Snyder’s reply when I re-posted the image:
My two cents: since we cast men in these horrible objectifying roles possessing strength, power, directive, virtue, etc., it’s only fair to cast women into roles that emphasize their most important qualities: tits and ass. While this is not always true in the rare game that features a playable female protagonist, the female side characters are generally there as eyecandy. Or a good fuck.
Now, I’m curious to know what you, readers, think of this reverse sexism when it comes to men in video games. My take on it is that, put simply, NO. I do not see a double-standard. I really just can’t. Women are, in fact, the ones who are mostly objectified in the games, and there’s no denying it: most female leads (up until recently) have all been given wildly disproportionate bodies.
The main lady that comes to mind is Tifa Lockhart (before her “breast reduction surgery”)
She was redesigned by the man himself, Tetsuya Nomura, for later games and movie Advent Children, because he said he wanted more players to focus on Tifa as a “positive female role model for girls.” Her breast size was later reduced to more “average” standards for someone of Tifa’s weight and height, and her brand-new design was first revealed in Advent Children:
Now, personally, I’m a fan of both outfits. I mean, I’ve always loved Tifa, and she will always remain a badass in my eyes regardless of what she wears. (Honestly, I feel for her, though – that moron Cloud will never get his act together. Meanwhile, I’m pretty damn sure Aerith is sitting on cloud nine – literally – with that hunky Zack Fair (YES. I ship them like FED-EX!) and wishes Cloud would stop fawning over her, given…depending on how you view it…Cloud was kinda the one who killed her, not Sephiroth (for more on that, watch here). Best believe I’ll touch upon that in a later article.
But, before I digress too much. As you can see, female leads in video games have actually gone from the female protagonist being this chick with huge knockers and an unrealistic body-type who prances around half-naked (with an airhead personality to match) to the badass ladies we have today, who manage to be sexy while also being more relateable to female gamers, and, yes, showing a more take-charge attitude instead of playing second banana to a male protagonist. The female protagonists we have today basically give the big middle finger to female stereotypes in games, and defy the usual tropes when it comes to how a female protagonist should look, act, think, etc. These ladies are the first to come to mind:
Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII
Bayonetta from Bayonetta
Nariko from Heavenly Sword
Just to name a few. Believe me, there are more, but I don’t want to continue to digress from the main point here, which again, is the picture featured at the very top. So, that brings us to our main point (at last!)–
Are men objectified in video games as well? Many of the male characters in the picture in question above, along with the games, are intended for male audiences. Of course they wouldn’t want to play as some scrawny, wimpy protagonist who didn’t look like a total badass, right?
I hate to say it, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, and based on the taste of my close guy friends and male relatives, they tend to prefer their games with “a lotta action and a lotta tits.” Or even without a female character present at all. However, that’s not a generalization of the type of games all men prefer; I have guy friends (who I won’t name, because they’ll honestly kill me) who love playing Harvest Moon with me, and some even enjoy playing as the female leads and not the male ones. Does that put their sexuality into question? Of course not. That would be like saying that myself or other female gamers who enjoy playing as the male character in video games are either “self-hating women who need a man to get the job done right,” or we’re lesbians.
See how dumb that sounds? Either way you spin it, it sounds moronic.
Of course, referencing my guy friends, these are the same men who love smashing heads in God of War and think Solid Snake is GOD. But what is the purpose of video games? Entertainment and to indulge in pure fantasy that we as gamers enjoy. That’s it. So, do I personally feel as though men who look like this are being objectified?
Do I personally have a tendency to objectify the men in video games? Um. That would be a yes. What? I’m not a hypocrite, and I’m not going to lie to you all and say, “For shame! I would NEVER look at a male video game character in such a sexual light!”
I have. Multiple times. Ask anyone who knew me back in high school: I thought Riku from Kingdom Hearts 2 was sex on legs. Seriously, I bust out screaming when he was finally revealed.
And don’t even get me started on Hwoarang from Tekken, who everyone knows I have the biggest, raging ladyboner for.
Mmmm.…guys who show their midriffs. Yum.
Still, those are my personal preferences. I definitely don’t lust over Kratos (who scares the ever-living hell outta me, even if he is a badass), and frankly, any man who has muslces like Ryu from Street Fighter honestly grosses me out (or again, scares the hell out of me). At the end of the day, it’s up to each person and their own personal tastes to turn a male character into something lustful and sexual and all that jazz.
But, men in video games? Objectified by the masses? HA. But maybe we women are being the overly sensitive creatures we tend to be. I mean, for God’s sake, it’s NOT like any creators have made it so that male players can control the cleavage of a female character….
…Oh. Wait. YES THEY DID. Dead Or Alive 5 has a brand new feature: enhanced boob control.
Behold: six minutes of tits (even I had to laugh).
…And you REALLY think men are the ones being objectified in video games? Please, don’t make me laugh. Like Madeline said: “When I start seeing banana hammocks as unlockable costumes for even half of these characters, then we can talk about men being objectified.”
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There’s actually plenty of examples if you’re just going by skin lol… look at 99% of all the Conan artwork that has ever happened. He wears less clothing nearly all of the scantily clad women in his world, yet he does battle like that. How is it acceptable for a man to wear nothing but a skimpy fur loincloth to fight, and a woman wearing the same outfit elicits shrieks of “she would never fight in that armor OMG that’s so unrealistic and sexist.”
Maybe we need to look at WHY a nearly naked man is somehow non-sexualized. A woman doing nothing but killing and never assuming any kind of sexy pose, wearing only a loincloth, would STILL be considered hyper-sexual. Is it a double standard? Or are we just conditioned to see and think about beauty whenever we see the female form? Perhaps that would explain art and sculpture going back the last 3000 years…
I think this picture is confusing idealisation and objectification.
The author’s article is a rebuttal of the initial picture.
Reverse sexism is indeed rampant in games but it shows up in odd places. A REAL female character with agency would have the ability to be sexy OR NOT, and that is not often the case unfortunately. But real agency, real equality of the sexes means female characters must also be taken down off the pedestal we put them on. A game that features just as many playable women as men is commendable, like Borderlands the Pre-Sequel… until you realize all the enemies in the game are still white men lol.
If women want to be portrayed with all the power and range and ability of male characters, they get to have all the suffering too. The other problem with removing sexuality from female video game characters is that the society in which we live constantly equates female sexuality with female power- a lot of this stems from the basic biology of coupling- a women presents herself and then does nothing, while the men are expected to approach, woo and compete for her. In a truly egalitarian society without a pedestal to stand on the sexes would each approach someone they were interested in 50% of the time.
But that’s not reality. Women are not men and would probably hate the idea of having to reach out to find attention from the opposite sex. So let’s not get TOO caught up on the sexy outfits and big boobs in video games- they are merely reflecting what people at large find valuable- including the fact that a women killed is a tragedy and a man killed is a statistic. When THAT gets fixed we might finally have real progress.
I’d rather you didn’t explain sexism to us when you don’t have to live with it daily. There’s far too much language that talks down to women in your response to this article. We know the basic things you’re telling us, thank you. Women are a disadvantaged group, especially women of color, trans women, and disabled women. Portraying violence against women reinforces negative aspects of our society that say this should be expected. Also, plenty of women pursue men – I know many women who made the first “move” on their current partner. Not sure what your point is there. Men competing for a women can be a huge turnoff. Anyone being killed is a tragedy, and no one would argue the opposite.
Also, this is a very old article, so I can’t have the original writer respond to your thoughts.
I could care less how old the article is. As an artist and writer I’m sick of entertainment that seeks to empower women and all it ends up doing is infantalizing them. Like the CA case where some giant brain tried to argue a drunk female cannot give consent but a drunk male can. A game that presents white men as the only enemy for killing while simultaneously claiming to be selling agency for women is as hypocritical as it gets. For REAL diversity check out a game like Mass Effect- the females are 100% just as capable as the men, they can fight just as well, or better depending on the character, and enemy gender is literally a roll of the dice, it could be male or female and nobody cares. THAT is the only future worth achieving, where your CHOSEN vocation comes first, your GENDER is a distant second. Having men join women on their pedestal in the first world isn’t the answer, women have always been just as capable- we need to crush REAL discrimination when it happens (like equal pay), and encourage women to be themselves without being dismissed as inferior and without being given a crutch. There’s nothing wrong with diversity, but the SJW illusion of diversity who’s answer is to bring everyone else down to bring their project issue up is idiotic, and it ain’t gonna last.
I always think that Dead or Alive is an oddity when it comes to this subject. The women are the most sexually objectified in arguably all of fiction when it comes to their appearance. Furthermore, they’re completely reduced to visual objects in the advertising, minigames, spinoffs (volleyball anyone?), and gimmicks (like that video) of the games. But in the actual storylines? They’re almost never objectified. In fact, many of the characters are rather empowered. They all have their own motivations and goals and most of them have nothing to do with the men in the game (with the exception being Lei Fang, who just wants to impress Jann Lee). You know what passes the Bechdel test with flying colors? Dead or Alive.
Back on topic, I agree that the appearance of males in games is more about fulfilling power fantasies than it is about sexualizing the characters.
The male gaze camera is still all over the storyline, in DoA the women are pretty much a joke. They are far too “girl next door” and don’t take ownership of their power. The spinoffs are utterly ridiculous but that’s Japanese anime mentality so that’s not changing. The last time I saw a truly empowered female game character with agency (and don’t try to find it in fantasy games- because they are FANTASY) is Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider. Agency matters most when the artist is trying to reflect REAL LIFE WOMEN with the characters; in a game filled with psycho vampire sluts nobody should care about agency- they have zero connection to the real world. But Lara Croft pulls it off (though i could do with less moaning when she’s crawling through caves and the ultra-graphic death scenes were a bit much), and playing that game was amazing, I felt very connected to her and was rooting for her the whole way. The story was creepy and suspenseful, and nothing felt forced.
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There’s an underlying assumption regarding objectification that stifles this conversation. By some leap of thought, it is assumed that objectification only applies to women, only because they are objectified sexually. Objectification as a concept of reducing a thing to it’s least amount of autonomy, subjectivity, and dignity while increasing it’s perception as a commodity, of being owned and instrumentality, has nothing to do with sexualization necessarily. It also underlies a a terrible false equivalence whereby male fictional characters have to be sexualized to be objectified, or that male sexualization is equivalent to female sexualization.
Any time you take a person, or in this case, fictional art assets that don’t possess dignity, emotions, or rights beyond their dramatis personae, and do the things I mentioned above, you are reducing them to objects. Male video game characters are thereby objectified WHILE being male power fantasies on a case by case basis (I don’t want to look like Macus Fenix or Kratos, or be them. There is a lot of conjecture made by a sizable female perspective about what male gamers want to be).
They are objectified by being forced to sacrifice their human dignity and expose themselves to violence, willing or unwillingly. They are objectified by being made instruments for others– benign or malicious, They are objectified when they reduce or sacrifice their wants or needs for that of others, however noble-sounding through a populist moral/ethical lens. They are objectified when they minimize or have taken away, their safety and sense of self worth. Soldiers are objectified people, even if they are modern soldier of a wealthy, social democracy, or a 12 year old afghan boy who has a AK-47 shoved in his hands and is sent off to die.
Do not be so hasty as to reduce the discussion to sexual objectification. If all this alleged sexual objectification of fictional characters is as real or salient a social issue as some assert, then there is something to be said about the influence male fictional characters who reduce their sense of self-worth, autonomy, and safety while being made instruments, has on us as well. Don’t reduce the issue to whomever exposes their cleavage or manages to turn her ass towards the camera is the only one who is objectified.
Allyce, I believe Sam was quoting someone from reddit when she made that comment about Redfield. Anyways, I am looking forward to what the guys have to say in part 2!
As a chiseled, six foot tall fashion-forward megawizard with a cool nose scar and claw hands I am deeply offended by this article and everything it stands for. ‘Male wish fulfillment?’ Please.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go romance sexy pirate, sexy elf, and celebrity sexy elf all in a row before I blow up the final boss with my super handsome wizard magic and save Kirkwall.
ps i love you.
^^What she said
I don’t know if you’re just being snarky, but you could also be the sleek, 5’10, fahsion-forward megasorceress.
It’s an odd example, given that the only character that isn’t a highly sexualized in that game is Evaline. Even Varric is a fashion-forward, clean-shaven, devil-eyed, chest bearing megadwarf.
Fantastic article! Though I have to disagree with Sam on Chris Redfield, My pants would fly off if I saw someone like him in real life! 😛
But I agree 100%, male characters in games are male power fantasies not female sexual fantasies. They aren’t portrayed as objects to conquer or submissive. (Unless you play a BL Game)
“My pants would fly off” LMFAO (And ALWAYS happy to meet a fellow BL fan!!!!! X3)
If you want hyper-sexualized male characters check out Tera lol… wow.