Videogames have been around for over thirty years, and much has changed since their inception. Long gone are the simple pixels that made up Pong and other early iconic games. Graphics have improved to the point that we now have terms such as 'uncanny valley,' deep music scores that immerse players into the experience, and stories that have become so vivid and engrossing that some games rival Hollywood productions. Debates rage over whether or not video games should be considered art, and yet there is still one theme in the industry that has remained somewhat unchanged over the years: sexism.
In the past, women in video games have been relegated to the role of eye candy, simple love interest, or perhaps damsel in distress; it has only been within the last decade or so that we have seen some strong female leads emerge in mainstream gaming. Sure, there have been the occasional leading ladies sprinkled in here and there throughout game history (i.e. Samus of Metroid), but alas, she was unveiled to the masses in an eight-bit bikini. Not exactly the image of strong female character, but at least a small step in the right direction at the time. In today's gaming world, it isn't as uncommon to see a woman as the protagonist who gamers guide through an adventure or quest, but too often we still see them scantily-clad and with extreme proportions that do nothing to shed the juvenile image that some still tag the gaming community with.
I would be lying if I said that I don't understand the reasons why; from a purely business point of view, the vast majority of video game players are male, and even if this weren't the case, our society has made it abundantly clear that sex sells. So, as designers and developers are creating their masterpieces with amazing graphics, stellar music scores, and immersive story lines, who can fault them for deciding to pander to the large percentage of their market and make a female character that is attractive and dressed in provocative clothing? After all, the objective is to make money so that they can continue to create more games that will make more money, right?
Yet, the gaming demographic is changing. More females are picking up gaming as a hobby for multiple reasons. Games have become more accessible than ever, and the stigma that was attached to being a gamer for so long is beginning to wane. The idea that gamers are loners who live in their parents' basements is fading, and as the gaming community grows older and the industry continues to blossom, it has become more socially acceptable for everyone, including women, to play video games. It is not uncommon nowadays to get owned by a female during a heated round of Call of Duty, and for some couples (myself and my girlfriend included), it has become a great way to spend quality time with a significant other. The problem is that while more women are playing games now than ever before, they are still in the minority; until that changes, we will continue to see females portrayed in a way that many ladies might find offensive, which may keep some women from picking up the controller in the first place. This may seem like a vicious cycle that is doomed to repeat itself forever, but all one has to do is look at some recent games to see that this need not be the case.
Take, for example, Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2, one of the most well-done female characters in gaming to date. Her character is believable and easy to relate to, and although the gameplay is stellar, she is the biggest reason that the story draws you in as well as it does. Her character is strong, intelligent, witty, and manages to engross you in the journey without any type of swimsuit unlock or unrealistic body measurements. While the series puts you in the shoes of Gordon Freeman, I think most male gamers would agree that they would have been just as happy to guide Vance along instead.