Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More Female Characters = More Female Players?

Over two years ago, I wrote a post called Scary Angry Gamer Girls where this female columnist for Kotaku argued that adding more female characters to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 would increase the number of women who would play the game. And I think that's hogwash. But hey, maybe there are girls out there who really care about that kind of stuff, and I'll admit, I'll choose to design a female character by default if it's available.

So let's take a look at a couple of examples, and you tell me what you think. At the time Modern Warfare 2 came out, so did Aliens vs. Predator – another first person shooter that employs soldiers, but this time with both genders represented. Here's what a female marine looks like in the game:

Alien vs. Predator video game - female character
Trust me, this one has boobs
Alien vs. Predator video game - female marine
I'm assuming the female is on the left because the other person is balding...
Now before you say, "Well, they cheated and just used the same body rig that has a woman's head slapped on it," here's what a female marine looks like in the movie Aliens:

Aliens movie - female marine Private Vasquez
Private Jenette Vasquez has been doing some serious P90X!
Long story short: when soldiers are all suited up in full gear, you can't really tell what gender they are, especially with all the regulations on even their personal appearance (no beards, long hair, piercings, etc). And that's the point, because they're supposed to be a homogenous fighting force that stresses "esprit de corps" over individualism. So if you want to go for true accuracy in a modern-day military game, a) there won't be a lot of women on the roster and b) you won't be able to tell they're female on the field anyway (at least visually).

Okay okay, if the whole point of playing a female character is that you should be able to tell she's a woman and she should embody feminine characteristics, let's go to the other extreme. In terms of third-person pure action games, God of War stars the very masculine and chauvinistic Kratos, destroyer of gods and user of women. So if you were to make a female version of Kratos, what would it look like? Well, the video game industry will try anything new that might make money, and so we have two female-driven titles: Bayonetta and Heavenly Sword.

God of War vs. Bayonetta vs. Heavenly Sword
Who would you rather play: Kratos, Bayonetta, or Naiko?
Out of the two, I've seen more of Bayonetta, and oh boy, is she feminine. One might say "oversexualized." So does that make Bayonetta just another male fantasy game? From a feminist point of view, you could say she encompasses many ideal characteristics: intelligent, physically strong, comfortable with her sexuality, and member of a matriarchal organization. Is she a powerful, liberated woman or just a different flavor of exploitative eye candy for teenage boys? Is Bayonetta what girl gamers are really looking for?

Now that we've seen both ends of the spectrum – butch, faceless marine #12 versus provocative, sexy warrior princess – which is better? Or is there another alternative? What kind of female character in a traditional "male-oriented" game genre do you think would really attract more female players?

Related Links:
Why Modern Video Game Armies Lack Female Troops


Jessica said...

How about Femshep from Mass Effect? Watched my husband play through it twice as both characters and if I had the time to play it myself I would be happy setting up as the female Shepard. The next Lara Croft is also supposed to be much more 'normal' looking though not sure whether the game story line would appeal to me.

Unknown said...

I don't have a lot of varied experience with video games, but I do enjoy Skyrim. One thing I noticed with that game was that when I scrapped my first character (a male) and started over with a new one (female) a lot more women showed up in the game to interact with.

I think a "normal" looking woman, not overtly sexualized, strong and capable is one that I am happy to play. (Which is what my female character in Skyrim looks like)

AngelSan said...

what would you do with male gamers who loves to be the girl character? My man is like that. Part of it is that he prefers to look at a girl while playing, and let's face it, female characters tend to be all in agility and fancy combat techniques...

As a female gamer, whatever the character in COD, I won't play the game because it's not what I like to do in a game, shooting everyone and stuff... so..

A Gamer's Wife said...

@Jessica - Ooo, good suggestions! Hah, K gave up on playing Mass Effect after many hours of bouncing around in that horrible space buggy vehicle. I'll have to convince him to play Mass Effect 2.

@Not Jenny - K and I always joke that in fantasy games, females always have the most impractical, midrift-baring armor (aka the chrome bustier). I should've taken a pic of his female character in Demon's Souls though; she was perfectly "normal" looking and wore huge armor that covered everything from head to toe!

@AngelSan - That's totally true! Apparently, Tomb Raider creator Toby Gard came up with Lara Croft because he'd rather look at a "shapely female bum" instead of a "bloke's bum" when playing a third person game. Very logical, I guess. ^_~

Sammy said...

Ok so i played WOW with my other half for quite some time. Heres how it goes for us. He ALWAYS picks a female character. He would tell you its down to the size of the toon on his screen factor, but i know its more to do with the fact you stare at the toons butt all day. What would he rather see? of course hes gonna choose to look at the sexy round female butt, doh. However im the same. I wouldnt pick a male character, and I like the pretty sexy ones purely because they are pretty, sexy and look kick ass all the while They have no effect on the actual play of the character so i dont think it really matters. I have to laugh at how a g-string and bra combined with some gloves and leg guards really prevent you from being torn to shreds but hey thats artistic license.

A Gamer's Wife said...

@Sammy - Haha, makes you wonder if the opposite is ever true, if there are girls out there who select guy characters just so they can stare at digital man butt while playing a game. ^_~