I saw an article on the Escapist a couple weeks ago that had the words “Jiggle Physics” and “Japanese Culture” in the title, and I thought, “well, hell, I’m not going to pass that up.” The article discussed comments made by Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi about Dead or Alive 5. With the series’ reputation for overly-sexualized female characters, he was asked what this portrayal would be like in the latest installment. You can read the original article for the full details, but his answer essentially boiled down to a justification that DoA’s portrayal of women was an established norm of Japanese culture. Now, I’ve been studying Japanese culture for a while now, and while, historically, they don’t have the best track record for women’s equality (really, though, what country does?), I have yet to come across anything about jiggle physics and busty women fighting each other in bikinis being an integral part of Japanese society.
|Yep. That seems uniquely Japanese|
This article is just the latest piece of a puzzle I’ve been trying to figure out for quite some time about the issue of female representation in video games. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you probably have some idea of my stance on this. Here’s a brief recap: I think there should be more female protagonists, and I think there should be a broader range that goes beyond the female tropes we’re all used to. The issue of how women are physically portrayed, though, is something that’s been a little greyer for me lately. This has come about, partially, due to how much I’ve been playing the Saints Row games lately.
In both Saints Row 2 and Saints Row: The Third, I played as a female protagonist. The level of customization in both these games gives you plenty of freedom in how you want your character to look. Male or female, you can create a character of supermodel proportions, or you can create a morbidly obese transsexual with Joker lips and eyes the size of marbles. Now, if I was going to be playing as this character for the entire game, I wanted to enjoy what I was looking at, so I made my avatar reasonably attractive. One thing that caught my attention in SR:TT was the “Sex Appeal” bar. I was hoping it would have some sort of interesting function for my overall character, but all it does is adjust boob size. I’m not sure what, if anything, it does for a male character. I set this bar to around 70: pretty big, but not too big. Like I said, I want to enjoy what I’m looking at.
Playing through the game with this character, I took her to the different clothing and tattoo shops, looking to find ways to make her even more attractive. As I shopped through one of the stores’ selection of underwear looking for the one I liked most, I stopped and wondered: is this exploitation? Am I sexualizing my character in a way that I would be ashamed to admit to? By doing this, am I supporting the same objectification of females that I’ve championed against in the past? Then I remembered what game I was playing, bought the damn G-string, and moved on.
I’m becoming less and less bothered by hyper-sexualization of women in games like Saints Row or Dead or Alive because those games aren’t asking me to take them seriously to begin with. I have no problem with ogling Sarah Bryant or Hitomi (I looked ahead of time to make sure those characters were 18 or older) because the circumstances of their game environment are unbelievable to begin with. It’s just meant to be fun and visually aesthetic.
On the other hand, you have a character like Madison Paige from Heavy Rain. She’s a character that I like, but I would like her a lot more if her role in the game was handled a little better. Her very first appearance in the game has her getting into the shower, and then fighting off three masked intruders while in her underwear. She is later roofied by a mad doctor, then, in a different chapter, forced to strip at gunpoint. Madison has qualities that make her a strong character. She’s resourceful, intuitive, quick-thinking, and handles herself under pressure, but I have a hard time appreciating this when the game is literally forcing me to undress her every chance it gets. It’s characters like this that bother me when it comes to female portrayal in video games. The circumstances and tone of the game is begging for them to be taken seriously, but their behavior makes it hard to do so.
This is why I am very excited to play the Tomb Raider reboot being released next year. I was never really into the Tomb Raider series, and, let’s face it; Lara Croft has always been a double-edged sword when it comes to female representation in video games. However, the new Lara looks as though she’s going to be, for lack of a better word, more human than her busty, short-shorts wearing predecessors. The rebooted Lara Croft, for now, at least, looks as though she wants to be taken seriously as a capable character with her own strengths and weaknesses.
I believe that there is room for all kinds of gender representations in video games, from hyper-sexualized street fighters to capable action heroines. At the end of the day, it’s meant to be entertainment and escapism. It all depends on how it’s handled. If a stripper is naked and riding a pole on stage, don’t expect me to believe it if you say she’s really practicing dance as an interpretive art form. She’s taking her clothes off for money, and that’s the end of it. Likewise, don’t include adjustable boob-jiggle mechanics in your game and try to pass it off as a justifiable cultural representation of women. That, I think, is far more insulting than the jiggle physics themselves.
Before I call this argument closed, though, I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong. I write this through the perspective of a white male who has never really had self-image issues. It’s easier for me to ignore the pressures of constant media bombardment that forces its beauty standards on the world. So if there are any feminist gamers reading this, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you agree with my thoughts on gender representation, or is there something I’m missing here?
Since this post focused on female portrayals, I plan to do a future post on masculine representations and why the “men are also objectified in the media” argument doesn’t hold up so well. Until then, I will continue to enjoy my character creations on Saints Row, and I’ll make her look as good as I damn well please.