Can female protagonists even be sexy and remain positive figures? They surely can in real life, but what about video games? What is the line? The topic de jour is the portrayal of women in gaming media. Many critics have focused entirely on negativity and the negative portrayal of female characters in video games, but you don’t see near as many people finding examples of what they like to see and say “Yes, more of this!”
I’m not a cultural marxist (hate those guys), I’m not an advocate for social justice (Justice? I prefer mercy!), and by most standards I’m one of those evil constitutional rule of law types that have become so out of fashion in recent decades. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think that it would be great to see more positive examples to point to of women in video games.
While I’m a tabletop ‘gamer’, I have a hard time thinking of myself as a video game ‘gamer’; most of the hours I’ve logged have been on Elder Scrolls games, fighting games and a handful of other titles. I mostly tend to play games where the appearance and gender of the characters is partially or entirely up to the player, and I find myself playing female and male characters on these at a fairly even ratio. The only macho-man murder simulator titles I still have are Manhunt and Batman: Arkham Asylum, which are kind of the same game when you think about it for a minute. But I’m digressing from the point a bit too much…
Why have I been mulling over the question of how sexy a female protagonist is ‘allowed’ to be?
I’ve been revisiting Kameo: Elements of Power, an old 360 launch title which is criminally underrated and deserved a boatload of sequels. While I’m not a huge fan of 3D platformers, this is game is an absolute delight. Fun, beautiful, with impressive scale and gameplay. It also has a really cool protagonist, Kameo, who can master a wide range of elemental powers and transform herself into the manifestations of their avatars to better be able to fight her way through huge armies of evil trolls. Some things about Kameo:
-She is an elf princess
-She is an action princess
-She is a capable fighter and adventurer
-She loves her kingdom and her family and will go to the ends of the earth to save them
-She is a problem solver as much as she is a fighter
-She is definetly not a damsel in distress
-Her status as protagonist is hilariously lampshaded by an obnoxious NPC who says that a hero wearing green is fabled to appear and master the elements and she wonders when he’ll show up.
-She is independent of any masculine character. The wizard in the wotnot is an aggravatingly pompous old man who serves as in-game tutorial, so he doesn’t count. Though there is a male elf-knight character, he is very minor, effectively the hero-of-another-story (he leads the armies of elf-land in their ongoing battle with the trolls on the Badlands while Kameo’s hunting down the Shadow Trolls and slaying elemental demons, but she does a lot of the heavy lifting when the Trolls siege machines show up)
-She has an idealized female body and wears an outfit that some people would call ‘sexy’, others might call ‘revealing’, and others still might call ‘slutty’
A few things about Kameo’s outfit and appearance.
-Since Kameo is not a real person, one can’t do the whole “she can dress however sexy she wants, it’s not for you to say!”, because she is an it (a conglomeration of rendered polygons) and had no choice in the matter.
-Costume aside, there is nothing sexual, nor are there any sexual themes, in the game.
-Skimpy as it is, she’s not wearing femme armor/boob-plate. In terms of practicality, it could be worse. Even though she’s a capable fighter, she’s not a tank or a bruiser; her outfit is less impractical than it might be, as she relies on her agility and flexibility when not in the form of an elemental warrior.
-On the other hand, her butt was rendered independent of her skirt.
-On the third hand, most of the time that you’ll be looking at Kameo, she’ll look like this
So, how sexy can a female protagonist be and still be a ‘positive female lead’?
Personally, I love Kameo and think both she and her game are awesome, any outfit issues aside, but I’m sure there are other people out there who think that she and characters like her are oversexed and negative images. I really don’t think that there will ever be a happy medium, because while there are people out there who would really like to see more awesome women video game characters there are also people who are disingenuous and only want to create discord to promote a political agenda or gain personal profit.
What I think we need is to see more positive examples, things to point to and say “Yes, more games like this!” rather than simply pointing to the negative. Or, if after pointing to the negative, to answer the looming “well what do you want us to do about it?” you can say “This, you can do this.”
But I doubt that the current crop of agitators would point to Kameo. She might just be too sexy.
Thought this article was interesting and somewhat relevant to the subject, even though it’s about comics and not video games: http://geekessays.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/sexiness-vs-objectification/