Does this look sexist to you?

Back in September I wrote a short piece on Augustus Cole “Train” from the Gears of War series, discussing my concern over Cole’s portrayal and the potential negative stereotype he represents. To summarise the piece’s conclusion: he’s almost racist but not.

I’m returning to a similar theme due to my experiences with two recent games that I’ve played and loved, but that had me squirming with their portrayal of the female characters inhabiting their game worlds.

Saints Row: The Third and Dungeon Defenders both got under my skin for this. However, I think one important difference between them was that one game conveyed a fictional world’s attitude towards women whereas the other felt like it conveyed a real individual’s attitude towards women, and this difference swayed me in favour of one over the other.

SR3‘s world is nihilistic. It says much of a world when the most likeable character is a stone-cold monolithic Russian killer. This monster looks like a veritable angel in contrast to the sociopaths, main character included, who inhabit the city of Steelport. That women are objectified and the weakest exploited is par for the course in this dog-eat-dog setting. I think it helps that men don’t get any better of a deal, with males found subjugated to sexual torture or simply at the mercy of the Alphas within their respective groups (again, these Alphas might be men or women). That the writing is generally sharp and self-aware enough to make the ‘strong’ female characters the same bawdy clichés as the ‘strong’ men contributes towards the game denigrating both sexes, leaving you feeling like the gutter treats no one nicely.

Getting into an argument over whether such an environment should exist is not what I wish to write about. With the path of self-parody running dangerously close in parallel to mere ugly ‘Gangsta’ porn it is hard to openly celebrate it, although I made a good stab at it with my review.

SR3 exists and as it is I think Volition managed to be cleverly, anarchically tasteless rather than simply tasteless. I never got the feeling that any of the developers viewed the behaviour of characters within their game as acceptable.

Dungeon Defenders‘ sin is more difficult to reconcile. The game is wide-eyed and colourful, the limited storyline exhibited in animated cartoons evokes Labyrinth and the Raccoons, and the combat has the enemies erupting into mana instead of ichor.

So this pose just makes no sense:

I mean, maybe I’m getting old saying this but Dungeon Defenders feels like a really good kid’s game (though it might be a bit complicated for the under 8s) whereas the Huntress isn’t making a gesture that feels appropriate as a portrayal of a woman, either for a game in such a setting or for any age.

Maybe I am going too far. Maybe most women see this 3D model pose like that and think nothing of it. Maybe there are bigger, Saints Row-sized fish to fry.

For me, though, it felt like this pose was viewed as acceptable behaviour during development: that the only woman in the game is making gestures alluding to her sexual availability and offering no hint of personality.  Instead, as usual, the latter is saved for her three male companions who are given visual mannerisms that lend them an actual persona. It is especially sad because everywhere else the Huntress feels pitch perfect.

Would I have been more comfortable if DD had gone the SR3 route and allowed you to dress the Monk up in a purple thong and given him a Cockney accent? Probably not. Instead I am thinking that perhaps the animator responsible for The Huntress should have read Paperbag Princess a few times instead.

The games industry is in a strange place when it comes to this sort of thing; much like the comic book industry, their protagonists aren’t real and therefore can be exploited to fit the (often imagined, sometimes not) demands of the largely male audience and creators.

Things are getting better, albeit very slowly. The more that these issues are discussed amongst men and women alike, the less we will find ourselves falling back on deliciously guilty pleasures like Saints Row: The Third.