Earlier today, a video entitled “The Lady Sidekick – Tropes vs Women in Video Games” was brought to my attention. The video, by popular Youtube channel FeministFrequency founded by Anita Sarkeesian, talks a lot about the role of women in video games. We’ll be highlighting some of the most important bits of the video in this article, but if you’d like to watch it in its entirety, you can do so here.
Sarkeesian claims that the majority of the time, women are treated as helpful tools at best and what amounts to a sexualized paperweight at worst. She makes some strong points, many of which I am liable to agree with in many cases, but I feel as though she cast her net a bit short. Many of the games she references in the video—Resident Evil 4, Ocarina of Time, Ico, and so on—are all rather outdated. An important thing to remember about the gaming industry is that it has only been very recently acknowledged that there is, in fact, even a market for female gamers. Thus, it makes sense that the majority of older games portray big strong men saving beautiful women. It doesn’t necessarily make their depiction of women right, but it makes sense from a business standpoint.
Additionally, I completely disagree with Sarkeesian’s opinion on some of the more recent games referenced. She states that Ellie from the Last of Us has a major flaw, and that’s the fact that she can’t swim. Every time the player comes across a body of water, they have to find a way to bring Ellie safely across. While this is definitely a case of a big strong man helping a woman, I don’t think it is as sinister as she likes to make it out to be. These moments are rare in the Last of Us and simply give us a glimpse of a softer side of the hardened little girl. It is more an addition so that players can feel a strengthened bond between the two characters rather than feel like they’re rescuing a damsel.
Another example of differing opinions lies with Bioshock Infinite. Infinite is a widely-loved classic and a big reason it was so successful rests with the character of Elizabeth. Men and women alike fell in love with her strength and independence as a character as well as her beauty. In fact, the majority of the game’s story revolves around her and it is almost as if Booker is simply along for the ride. To further support this, in Infinite’s DLC, Burial at Sea, Elizabeth is actually the player character.
Now, was she a perfect example of what a woman in a video game should be like? No. But she’s a pioneering character in the ever-growing quest for strong female roles in games. As years progress, we are seeing more and more examples of excellently written women in games. For example, The Witcher 3’s Ciri, a plethora of Overwatch characters, and Horizon Zero Dawn’s Aloy all come to mind.
In the Witcher 3, it becomes clear quite quickly that Ciri is stronger than Geralt and, in fact, stronger than most Witchers we as players have ever come across. She can hold her own against a number of foes and has a quick wit which she often unleashes. Overwatch has a number of strong female characters that are all treated completely as equals on the battlefield, and Horizon Zero Dawn actually takes place in a matriarchal society with an incredible female protagonist.
Don’t get me wrong, there have certainly been setbacks in recent times. The inclusion of Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain, where her presence serves simply sex appeal, is absolutely abhorrent. But overall, the games industry seems to be making a conscious effort to include women as equals in games.
So, how can we encourage more of this behavior? By buying more games with a positive message about women, of course. When it comes down to it, video games are a business, and companies will go where the money is. If we as gamers purchase more games like Horizon Zero Dawn, then we will likely see an increase in similar titles on the market. In addition, if we stop buying games like Metal Gear Solid V, or at the very least raise hell on its content, there will likely be less blatant sexualization in upcoming titles.
Do you believe that games are still all very male-centric, or do you think the situation is improving? Who is your favorite woman in a video game? Let us know!