I found this helpful diagram laying around in the intertubes, and couldn’t help but notice that it was teeming with truthiness.
Much has already been said about the insultingly crass objectification of women in video games. It seems we are meant to believe that iconic female characters such as Lara Croft, the female cast members of the Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur fighting series, and Final Fantasy heroines such as Tifa Lockhart are great because they’re “empowering”, butt-kicking heroes. But upon closer inspection, all of the most prominent female video game stars definitely have something in common. And it’s not the advanced martial arts maneuvering that makes their laughably impractical outfits look even more ridiculous as they bounce their way across the battlefield. Furthermore, the trend only worsens as time goes on — characters such as Chun Li who started out relatively conservative in appearance seemed to, ah… “blossom” to self-caricaturing levels of overexposure as time went on.
Of course, our beloved bounty hunter, the strong, silent Samus Aran, was portrayed as the expectation-shattering surprise of the century when the best ending of the original Metroid revealed that the warrior inside the spacesuit was actually a woman. Look, everyone! She’s subverted all your preconceived notions about video game heroes! Oh, and she’s stripping down to her bikini now I guess. Never mind. I mean, what else would she be wearing under that clunky Chozo suit… an outfit that couldn’t double as lingerie? GIRL POWER! I feel so liberated.
The message is clear. Lady protagonists, if you want to make a name for yourself, better get packing. And don’t forget your battle armor (a transparent bikini) and a host of exciting bonuses for the most tenacious gamers, like the unlockable pole dances in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (it adds so much to the gameplay!). Sure, maybe Princess Peach has remained wholesome and pure for the duration of her appearances in the Mario franchise. But ultimately she amounts to nothing more than a textbook damsel in distress — another item to be collected by Mario. Or, at best, she becomes the walking embodiment of every stereotype about women’s emotions, even when the tables were supposedly turned and she was out saving Mario in her own game. As such, she’s reinforcing negative assumptions about what a female video game character has to be, and hardly represents much of a victory for female protagonists in video game history.
Are there any female video game characters with household name status that have actually discovered a realistic middle ground between bra-busting gunslinger and the demure, helpless kidnap victim whose signature move is baking a cake for the real hero? I’m sad to say that none really come to mind. If Samus Aran would get therapy for the compulsive exhibitionism she displays in the best endings of Metroid, and maybe update her wardrobe to something besides a painted on Zero Suit which gives the ludicrous proportions of DoA a run for their money, she would be my pick for a truly strong and intriguing female protagonist whose character development might tell us something other than how her cups runneth over. Until then, I can’t wait to be treated to more gratuitous “jiggle physics” in games that would never have featured any such skimpy gallivanting had the main characters been male.