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Videogame culture has an undeniable problem with women. From Reddit's creepshots to male gamers who were excited to see Tomb Raider heroine Lara Croft almost get raped in the game's upcoming reboot, it’s clear that there’s a serious problem with the way women are being portrayed by the industry – and gamers think it’s okay. Even worse, the misogynistic attitude seems to be creeping out of playtime and in to everyday life. For example, gaming blogger Ryan Perez went on a totally unprovoked Twitter rant earlier this month, attacking prominent female gamer Felicia Day and accusing her of being nothing more than a glorified "booth babe," even though her gaming credentials surpass those of most men. And the blogs and forums for most games are riddled with macho-man, BS comments that’s far from politically correct.
There are few – if any - video games today that portray women in a decent light. Most either sexualize female characters or actually encourage disgusting acts of violence against them. The popular Grand Theft Auto has always been famous for its violent themes, but it made major headlines when Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas added the feature for a player to make a character have sex with a prostitute, beat her up, kill her, and take his money back (yup, that’s what the youth of America should be playing). The character calls the prostitute a "bitch" repeatedly after sex and while killing her. Having sex with a prostitute replenishes the character’s life but drains his money.
While this is one of the most despicable acts of violence against women in a common American video game, the Japanese game RapeLay (which I shudder to even describe) takes it to another level of sick. According to descriptions, RapeLay begins with a subway scene in which the character’s objective is to molest a young girl on the subway platform. From there, the player stalks the girl and her sister, can rape them repeatedly, capture them, torture them, and ultimately make them his sex slaves. As play continues, “friends” can join in on the sexual abuse. The game even allows the character to impregnate a girl and encourage her to have an abortion. RapeLay has been banned in stores in the United States (fortunately), but illegal copies still remain available on the Internet. The fact that anyone would even find this type of game remotely fun or even acceptable is a sad commentary.
While not every game is as overtly violent, others sexualize and objectify women to an extreme degree. The popular game Dead or Alive is known for its young, sexy female characters. In Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, the entire cast is wearing extremely revealing string bikinis while playing beach volleyball. The characters can be controlled to move into sexually suggestive positions and a zoom feature allows players to zoom in on the characters’ bodies. The female characters in all of these games have tiny waists and ridiculously large breasts.
The list of video game’s offenses against women goes on and on. The upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, which features a strong and adventurous but still overly sexualized female lead character, Lara Croft, features the inclusion of attempted rape in the trailer and comments made by the executive producer, stating players will “want to protect her.” This is just another form of misogyny, making women out to be the weak damsels in distress that need rescuing.
While myriad studies dispute the allegations that video game violence leads to increased violence in reality, I do believe it normalizes certain extremely negative behaviors including the objectification of women. Even more alarming is the fact that approximately 40% of American game players are women, and yet developers are still completely willing to alienate this audience with their portrayal of female characters and, worse yet, these women continue to support the video game industry!
On a more positive note, the industry does seem to be taking some steps towards equalizing the gender playing field, with gargantuan franchises like Mass Effect allowing the player to play as any sex, ethnicity and sexuality. But the problem goes far beyond the video game developers, as the market for video games continues to be huge and game companies are “only giving people what they want.” I can definitely see the fun in blowing zombies’ heads off or taking on alien invaders (but the appeal of games like Grand Theft Auto will always elude me), but that doesn’t mean female characters need to do it with DDD boobs and in their underwear. It won’t be until the sales start to go noticeably down that the content of video games will be significantly re-evaluated. I think it’s time for all the female gamers to stand up, and also for male gamers to drop the misogynistic attitudes and be part of the solution not the problem.