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We would like to think that women have come a very long way since the dark ages, including earning the right to vote, somewhat closing the pay gap, being allowed to fight alongside men in wars, becoming doctors, and proving they are just as strong and smart as their male counterparts. Yet women still get depicted in unfortunate and archaic ways within today’s media. There are a few distinct categories where our female characters fall in video games. The damsel in distress, eye candy, the designated love interest, and most importantly, everything else that does not involve fighting the bad guy.
A damsel in distress is a familiar trope well known throughout entertainment, from television shows, books, video games, and films. It concerns helpless women that continually get themselves into trouble and need a man to rescue them. The most well-known ones include Olive from Pop Eye, Zelda in the Zelda series, Princess Peach from the Mario series and oddly enough, nearly every single female in the television series Kim Possible. A lot of these shows rely heavily on using this trope as a device for plot development or introducing new villains to the world. The repeated use of women as a plot device to show off the strength of a male protagonist is a remnant of how society used to view the female gender as weaker and lesser than the male gender.
Recent franchises have thankfully steered away from this issue but manage to fall into other well-known storytelling traps. Madison from Heavy Rain and Lara Croft of Tomb Raider are both strong female protagonists who are able to defend themselves and carry on the story along without needing assistance. Madison and Lara, like so many other female characters, seem to dress in skimpy clothing items that showcase the size of their assets and wear armor that would be incredibly impractical in real life situation as all of the vital organs are on show along with 80% of their skin, this is best exemplified with Mobius from the Final Fantasy franchise. The way the characters dress for eye candy is a way of appealing to the male gender in a largely male-dominated industry. This trope is only one example of the many sexist stereotypes against women in the media. Thankfully it is starting to fall out of favor due to an increase of female developers and players.
Due to a marked increase in female gamers and changes in social values, developers have needed to change tactics with how they portray women in various forms of entertainment. An example of an attempt at change is Tomb Raider. Lara Croft was depicted as a pin-up model with an impossibly small waist and a large bust but as each reboot was released over the years, Lara Croft becomes more realistic, and most importantly, more relatable as a character with an important journey; she is no longer the mindless killing machine with a large bust.
Newer TV shows and movies such as Disenchanted’s Bean, Katniss of The Hunger Games, or Futurama’s Leela depict their own females as strong and competent women. They are portrayed as real characters with relatable hopes and fears rather than sex objects or catalysts for the story to better accommodate the female consumer. The media has definitely taken appropriate steps to improve the depiction of women in recent years. This trend is also continuing to improve with the increase of women working in these environments from developers to writers and more. Although this change is slow in progress, there is definitely a marked improvement in the depiction of women in the media.
I have been thoroughly impressed with the significant improvements with the portrayal of women in entertainment. Have you noticed any changes or do you disagree? Please let us know in the comments below!
Sources for more reading:
The Atlantic This is a link to an article which lists common female stereotypes we need to stop encouraging
Akiba Press article explaining how the portrayal of women in the media is definitely improving
Huffington Post another article supporting the improvement of female depiction in gaming
YouTube this is an amazing youtube channel dedicated to deconstructing and discussing the depiction of women in video games