One Sided Sexism in Video Games

A few months ago when the controversy surrounding Dragon’s Crown reached critical mass, I wrote a piece about the game and why even though it was sexualized, that it wasn’t as much a blatant example of sexism in video games.

The reason was that the entire world was designed in an over the top manner for both genders. For me, I can think of a design that is far more sexist and a determent to quality and that is seen both in video games and other mediums.

sexism in video games

One Sided Sexism:

One sided Sexism for this post will be defined as the following:

Where one gender is overtly sexualized over the other.

These are cases where the world or style of the game heavily favors sexualizing one gender through clothing, body dimensions, personality or all the above.

For games where the men were considered normal build and the women look like super models, we can put that as an example of “male gaze”: or when something was designed completely for the male viewpoint.

Fantasy games are one of the best sources for one sided sexism and where the term “chainmail bikini” was first coined. Here, male characters showed their strength by wearing more armor and covering their bodies, while women became stronger by wearing armor that covered less of their body.

It’s common knowledge that there are men who play as female characters in multiplayer games if given the choice because they rather stare at someone they find attractive, as opposed to role playing as themselves.

We can see this sentiment in both free to play titles and online games from China. This is when you can see that the designers spent more time on the female models, both in terms of design and options compared to the male counterparts.

In titles that heavily favor male gazing, one sided sexism is easily seen. But, the cases where both genders are being shown as sexualized is when things become complicated and where both the supporters and detractors have to look closer at the issue at hand.

Spotting Secondary Sexism:

For this next section we need to be on the same page with the concept of primary vs. secondary sex characteristics.

Primary characteristics are the parts on the body directly involved with reproduction, while secondary characteristics are the parts that differentiate the two sexes and members of the same gender from each other.

sexism in video games

A character like Marcus Fenix features exaggerated secondary sex characteristics as indicative of a male…

When we look at both men and women, the secondary sex characteristics are different.

For men, some of the common attributes are: facial hair, broadening of the shoulders and chest, square face, being generally taller than women.

For women some of the common characteristics are: widening of the hips, breast growth, rounder face and smaller hands and feet than a man.

Now when it comes to video games, the secondary characteristics are the ones that we pay attention to and where there is the most variety to choose from.  In its basic form, one sided sexism is where one gender’s secondary characteristics are more blatantly emphasized over the other.

But what happens when both sexes are being shown as sexualized? In most cases, the supporters will claim that it’s fine to have heavily sexualized women as the men were also designed as eye-candy. However, we need to talk about how the genders are being represented before making a determination.

Here, in my opinion is where I have a problem with the supporters. Just because you have attractive men in your game, doesn’t automatically mean that having heavily disproportionate women wearing next to nothing is considered alright.

And our case in point for this post is the free to play game Scarlet Blade which there is no way in hell I’m going to post screenshots of the women here. Let’s just say that everything we’ve talked about in terms of sexualized women was in full display in the game.

But, where supporters of the game will say that it is alright is with the male characters that look like male models. In their words, because the men were being shown as sexualized in their own way, that it makes it right to show the women being sexualized.

However, the male characters’ characteristics that were being emphasized were not the ones that we consider the normal secondary characteristics of a man. The men in the game have no chest hair, zero to very little facial hair, a rounded face with what appears to be soft skin and their armor was not made to show off their body like the women.

sexism in video games

…While the men of Scarlet Blade feature exaggerated characteristics not relative to males.

So, where both genders were being sexualized in Scarlet Blade, it was still an example of one sided sexism as the women were designed more overtly compared to the men. The women look like porn stars while the men look like dolls

This is the area that I find that Dragon’s Crown doesn’t bother me personally compared to other titles that feature overtly sexualized characters. In Dragon’s Crown we can clearly see that the two most sexualized characters: The Dwarf and the Sorceress were both designed as overtly sexualized by the secondary sex characteristics of each gender.

And there were two characters that feature differing characteristics: The wizard and the amazon. The wizard was a smaller build compared to the other men while the amazon featured a muscular body. With that said, the game does lean more towards having sexualized women than men as the other male warrior — the fighter was completely covered up compared to the amazon.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to worry about having these kinds of talks as designers would not create characters for the sake of eye candy and pandering.

But until that day comes it’s important to remember that when designing characters there is more to a woman than T and A, as there is more to a man than rippling muscles and a beard.  And having one gender being represented as eye candy, doesn’t give you a free pass to go overboard with designing the other.