Education, Politics, recent, Sex, Tech

Sexualization in Gaming: Advocacy and Over-Correction

Even before its April 2019 release, the eleventh installment of the popular fighting game Mortal Kombat was generating waves for its presentation of female characters. But the grumblings are not what one might expect. After years of being criticized for sexualizing female characters, Mortal Kombat is now under fire from fans—including women—for not allowing the female characters to be sexy enough. Did Mortal Kombat’s developer overshoot the mark? Or are we beginning to see a reassessment of concerns that sexualized games are responsible for sexist attitudes toward women—an argument that increasingly became a mantra of progressive games criticism?

Historically, games have catered to male audiences, even as increasing numbers of women and girls have joined the ranks of gamers. Given the rapidly changing gamer demographic, it was perhaps inevitable that games would eventually come in for criticism for under-representing playable female characters, and for presenting them as hyper-sexualized images when they were available.

Much of this criticism was deserved, particularly the lack of alternative options featuring strong, less-sexualized playable characters. Indeed, I am on record advocating for stronger female characters in games. In recent years, the Tomb Raider reboot was praised for reimagining a less sexualized Lara Croft, and games such as Alice: Madness Returns, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last of Us have struck commercial gold with enticing, strong female leads. Commercially, Mortal Kombat XI will probably do just fine too. But why the sudden backlash against the covering up of the series’ famously sexy females?

Part of it probably has to do with the specifics of Mortal Kombat as a series. Many of the games praised for promoting strong female leads were new franchises such as The Last of Us that didn’t require developers to reimagine popular classics with an existing fan base. Tomb Raider is an exception, of course, but its reboot was a complete restart and felt like a fresh angle on a story that had grown stale. By contrast, Mortal Kombat‘s redressing of its female characters may have been a shock particularly because some players feel that many of the male characters remain sexualized.

This backlash was foreseeable. Even as I supported the introduction of more strong women characters in games, I cautioned advocates against overplaying their hand. Just a few years ago, claims linking sexualized games to sexual assaults in real life were met with convincing criticism. The more subtle suggestion that sexualized games might cultivate sexism or misogyny have since become more common, particularly among cultural critics and some areas of progressive games journalism, which have sacrificed a critical edge to the repetition of advocacy talking points with little concern for fact-checking or appropriate skepticism.

Cultivation theory suggests that, in the absence of other information, we develop beliefs or attitudes about the world based on media exposure. So, for instance, if a person regularly sees a lot of crime reported on the nightly news, they may come to believe that crime is more common than it actually is. However, even this fairly reasonable hypothesis has been maddeningly difficult to demonstrate. Is there any evidence that playing games such as Grand Theft Auto  cultivates sexist attitudes in gamers?

A recent edition of scholar Christina Hoff-Sommers’ vlog Factual Feminist poured cold water over this idea, noting that most social outcomes for women have improved, despite the vast popularity of sexualized games. But it’s worth taking a closer look at the actual research base. As with most media effects fields, it’s a mess, and advocates are making bold claims insufficiently supported by the available data.

A few years ago, much attention was given to a study conducted at Ohio State that looked at the impact of sexualized avatars on the acceptance of “rape myths.” The study asked participants to move around a virtual world, but the exercise wasn’t technically a video game. The study has often been described as showing that when women see their faces on sexualized avatars, they are more likely to accept rape myths. But this ignores one of the study’s most interesting findings: rape myths among women were actually lowest among women who interacted as a sexualized avatar using a random face, and this is how most games such as Grand Theft Auto are actually played. Thus, this study could be used to suggest that playing most sexualized video games may reduce rather than increase rape myth acceptance, so long as women players avoid using their own faces on their avatars.

Another study, also conducted at Ohio State, exposed Italian boys to Grand Theft Auto, a non-sexualized violent game or a control violent game. No connection was found between game conditions and empathy toward female victims of violence. Nevertheless, the authors employed a dubious, complicated analysis to suggest that a reduced empathy effect was hidden in the results. Some outlets, like the ever-credulous Time Magazine ate this story up. Unfortunately, it has been since discredited. A reanalysis I conducted with my colleague Brent Donnellan found that the study was not randomized, despite its authors claims to the contrary. All of the youngest boys ended up in the Grand Theft Auto cohort, with older boys more likely to end up in the non-sexist cohort. If random assignment had occurred, boys of different ages should be evenly spread throughout game conditions.  But this is the opposite of what actually happened. In other words, age was conflated with game condition, a big problem since empathy tends to develop with age. Further, we found that even with that problem ignored, the analyses could not support even indirect links between Grand Theft Auto and sexism.

This study is a good example of what some call the Bullshit Asymmetry Factor. The study’s claim to be randomized when in fact it was not should have been grounds for retraction. However, its findings are still cited as if they provide evidence for effects. The Wikipedia page for sexism in video games, for instance, mentions only the original study, but fails to disclose that it was subsequently found to have fatal flaws.

Other recent studies have likewise failed to support the cultivation hypothesis. A 2015 study found no evidence that playing video games with sexual content is causally related to sexism later in life. Another recent study suggested that playing sexualized games might reduce rape myth acceptance over time. And a third found that cognitively demanding games, including sexualized games, could lead to decreased sexism. The problem is that research in this area tends to be inconsistent with studies that find effects and those that do not. Many studies also suffer from methodological flaws. On balance, this field is shaping up to be similar to the field dedicated to examining the effects of violence in video games. That is to say, high on rhetoric but ultimately low on evidence for effects in the real world.

None of this should discourage efforts to introduce non-sexualized female characters into games. However, advocates for this cause tend to make two mistakes. First, their claims about the causal relationship between gaming and real-world “harms” are unsupported by the current research evidence, and this misuse of data can reduce the credibility of an otherwise worthy cause. Second, there is a temptation to shift the focus from balance in game content to de facto censorship.

Which brings us to the question of whether it’s simply good marketing to provide a variety of games for different audiences. Some producers, such as Sony, appear to accept that, at very least, they may experience some social backlash for sexualized images and are restricting content with this in mind. The trap into which both Mortal Kombat and Sony have fallen is that rather than providing a diversity of options, they decided to restrict the available options to those approved of by a narrow range of advocates. I suspect that developing games with strong non-sexualized characters will continue to be met with encouragement, whereas censoring existing game franchises will not. Or, put another way, there is room in the world for both Grand Theft Auto 6 and Horizon Zero Dawn 2.

Ultimately, if game developers are producing games with more positive female characters, that is a positive development. However, they would also do well to avoid becoming merely an arm of an ideological advocacy agenda or exaggerating the impact their products have on consumers. Game companies which began at one extreme are now in danger of swinging to the other.


Christopher J. Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University in Florida.  He is author of Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong and the Renaissance mystery novel Suicide KingsYou can follow him on Twitter @CJFerguson1111


  1. Rev. Wazoo! says

    A common sense contribution focusing on distinguishing what we know from speculation. Well done.

    It’s a little sad the blatantly obvious needs pointed out by the author: that customers generally dislike a product being changed to theoretically appeal to a different demographic doesn’t make them misogynist and introducing new products on those grounds alienates no one and might draw new people into gaming.

    • David of Kirkland says

      I don’t play those games, but couldn’t they offer a variety of “levels” of character traits or “types”? I mean, couldn’t you choose whether your hero is dressed in a hijab or a bikini? Have big or small breasts? Six-pack abs or a tubby belly? Uses proper language or foul language?

      • Rev. Wazoo! says

        @David of Kirkland

        They could and that’s my go-to ” solution” too but on reflection the development costs probably exceed the benefits for a product almost no customers actually want. I almost never eat at McDonald’s, not from moral reasons but simply because the food and dining experience doesn’t happen to appeal to me; I sish no ill-will to those it does appeal to but should they lose money by putting veggie burgers on the menu to placate the demands of people who aren’t going to buy them anyway?

        Might be worth a try to see if it flies but that’s a decision for them, not me. Instead, we see rentiers trying to piggy-back on others’ success and get them to pay for pet schemes as a form of overhead passed on to real customers.

        This is the crux of the dishonesty of the demands; insisting something be offered for sale which they won’t actually buy.

      • Aerth says

        Progressives would be like “well, yeah, I can play with non-sexualized characters, but others will play with sexualized and it is just as bad!”. Seriously, happened already, it is a common reply for “ok, but if do not like how women are portraided in this game, why not just play something else?”

  2. Heraklion says

    As a girl gamer, I was always annoyed not by the sexualisation of the female characters, but by how ridiculous was the protection offered by female armors (showing almost all the body) in contrast with “realistic” male armors.

    This often lead me to choose male characters instead of female ones in RPGs …

    • Rev. Wazoo! says

      hat seems entirely reasonable. Logical gaps too big to jump break the willing suspension of disbelief needed to really get into any fiction of which gaming is one genre along with books, movies etc.

    • Angela says

      As a girl gamer I think some people take video games WAY too seriously. Who cares if the armor is exaxtly realistic in a game full of conpletely unrealistic martial arts combat.

    • Max says

      I think we can reach a compromise: make everyone naked.

    • Max says

      I am interested to hear examples of these well-suited male characters.

      I’ve been gaming for decades and have seen as many foolishly armoured, scantily clad Male characters as female.

    • Wazkoo123 says

      This isn’t even true.
      In pretty much all of the games where female characters show off skin the male characters do too.
      One of the ” worst cases ” that people bring up is Tera but even there male characters still have reavling armor and female characters also have access to non-revealing armor if they want to play without it ( some races even have none of it, and for the ones that do it mostly makes sense lore wise. The Castanic for example are basically a race of Succubus/ Incubus and both the male and female characters are lewd ).

      I feel like people severly blow this out of proportions, this whole ” bikini armor ” thing in particular is like only found in even just a handful of Chinese and Korea games primarily and are almost non-existent. But people talk about it as if it’s the norm when it clearly isn’t.

  3. Alistair says

    Well, I for one think the female character in the lead photo is perfectly sensible.

    The costume is clearly well-optimised for close combat. With minimal encumbrance, it leaves our heroine free to perform a wide range of moves. Boots and leggings provide muscle toning buttock lift, giving freedom for various sweeps and kicks, whilst the heels yield excellent arch support. On the upper body, gentle uplift of breasts allows for easy pivots around centre of mass and the tight, elasticated lycra permits swift spring-back and recovery from power moves. Long gloves provide grip and options for kevlar inserts whilst naturally complementing paired-stiletto styles. The whole outfit is finished in striking silver highlights and hot pink styling which delivers easy identification on the battlefield, and a distracting range of elements for enemies close-in.

    If only more thought went into game combat gear like this!

  4. E. Olson says

    Good article. As usual, another problem caused by market outcomes that Leftists don’t like. But why don’t Leftists use their “social justice” budgets to create games where the characters “reflect the real world” so that most are fat and unattractive, or the “Leftist ideal world” where all the villains are wealthy/powerful Christian white heterosexual males, and all the hero characters are from the victim classes who can provide social justice lectures to the villains just before they are executed in an environmentally friendly manner? Or why not do what the author suggests and create a full menu of characters that players could choose from ranging from fat, female lesbians wearing full coverage muumuus TO sexy and barely covered at all. The answer is almost certainly because doing such things would clearly demonstrate that PC games or PC characters are not popular with the market, perhaps because fat ugly gamers of all genders prefer to be or see characters who are attractive and desired (after all they see enough ugly and unattractive characters in the real world).

    Thus the lack of market responsiveness to the desires of Leftist busybodies (who almost certainly never buy or play games themselves) means they must coerce the game makers to follow their diktats by using biased and poorly done research to “prove” that violence and sex in games causes all the social problems in the world, which can then be used to threaten or enact censorious legislation.

    • Amin says

      @ E. Olson

      Another article, exact same reply as always. They really have got you by the balls, haven’t they?

  5. Any research into belief in ‘rape myths’ is irrepairably damaged by the fact that many rape myths are not myths and a nuanced balanced view is classified as a myth.

    The classic ‘myth’ is that women lie about rape. The problem is that it is indisputable that some women do. A nuanced view is the proportion that do is very hard to asses, probably varies a lot from group to group and between cultures and that in many sotuations involving alchol and poor communication it is possible for both parties to have genuinely different amd reasonable views on whether consent was present.

    The view that rape is about sex is frequently classified as a myth yet quite clearly has a strong factual basis.

    The concept of rape myths is frequently a tool for promoting a misandric view of male and female relations in which men are primarily victimisers and women victims. It is difficult to see how any study that uses this concept can be anything but unscientific sexist propoganda.

    • Jay Salhi says

      Have the SJWs got around to demanding politically correct porn yet? If not, it can’t be too far away.

      • Ryan says

        @ They have it already in Germany, I think the Berlin government funds it.

      • Denny Sinnoh says

        I demand that Asian male pornstars be just as hung as the black dudes.

      • Stephanie says

        Yes, Jay, a mothers group recently starred in porn they said they’d want their kids to see… Hopefully they didn’t mean that literally!

        There’s also been a sex-positive, anti-misogynist porn festival in (where else?) Seattle for many years.

  6. Rev. Wazoo! says

    @E Olson
    Yes, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect with the idea of fantasy contrasted with that of reality – or reality ‘as it should be’ – so perhaps one’s fantasy vs another’s. Mandating others’ fantasies, rather than allowing for a wide variety of them is exactly where things go badly wrong.

    If Heraklion finds skimpy female armor difficult to fantasise with, than nothing wrong with options for what she sees as easier to do so. But cutting off options for ideological reasons runs counter to the proliferation of individually tailored experiences which tech advances have made possible and which we’ve come to expect

    • E. Olson says

      If the game makers really wanted to blow the minds of social justice warriors they would model all the women characters with approximately one-half the upper body strength, and 20% lower speed and jumping ability than the male characters, and make the females twice as susceptible to serious injury or death from relatively minor blows and injuries. They might also include Muslim characters who routinely rape female and young boy characters, and kill off homosexual and Jewish characters.

      They might also be a gun control option where all the law abiding heroes are not allowed to have any sort of gun (perhaps they should be limited to nothing more lethal than a protest sign and a bike lock), while the villains can access all the lethal weapons available from the black market and illegal arms dealers.

      If money or prizes are awarded for achieving certain goals within the game, they might include an IRS agent as a character who is always there to scoop up 70% of the winnings so that the wealth can be spread around to other players who fail to achieve goals.

      Lots of possibilities for game designers to educate the public about the real world of social justice.

  7. What evidence is there, for violence-oriented games, that “increasing numbers of women and girls have joined the ranks of gamers”? None. The reason that “historically, games have catered to male audiences” is because the number of women who want to play violence-oriented video games is tiny, and always will be. The reason sexualized women appear in such video games is to appeal to men so they will buy and play the game. Duh. That’s not sexist, that’s reality. Attempts to pretend the opposite are mere stupidity and cant–as I analyzed in a related “controversy,” that revolving around the game Battlefield V.

    • Reader says

      The citation people usually use to justify this is stuff like the “52% of gamers are women” report, which was published by an industry organization. But the thing is, the parameters used for the study were super loose, and was reducing the difference between different types of games and different types of players. You get that number when mobile game usage is included under the same banner.

      Some people respond to this with “you’re gatekeeping the true gamer identity” stuff. But the thing is, I really don’t care about that: my 68-year-old mom plays Candy Crush regularly, if she wants to say she’s a gamer because of that, that’s fine by me. I’m not trying to define a word, but I am saying she’s probably not going to turn around and start playing Sekiro or Mortal Kombat.

      And, because this is broadly true, the claim these games need to shape up or start redefining their content around the social justice wishlist as some sort of action to widen the audience is corporate BS. I suspect they’re just getting in line with the dominant corporate ideology of the time and using misleading stats to justify it.

      Hence why I side firmly with the pro-video game boobs side.

      • Donnerhauser says

        Yeah this was my issue as well. Putting more women in games predominantly played by men doesn’t really make more sense because it isn’t going to be related to representation. As you say.

        That 52% figure is one that is true but quite misleading about what actually goes on. I’m not seeing skimpy outfits in Candy Crush.

        • Reader says

          And I guess my other point is, if people want to make an indie game with a strong focus on the necessity of third-wave feminism told through a strong female protagonist with deconstruction of various privileges that they view video games as enabling, then…okay! Great! That’s perfectly fine, the medium is wide and there’s no pixel shortage I’m aware of.

          But when a more traditionalist team makes a historical video game, or edgelord libertarians make a big tits fighter, that’s…also perfectly okay, for the exact same reasons.

          • The percentage of women who play “shooter” games is between two percent and four percent, depending on what survey you look at. I imagine the same is true for Mortal Kombat, even though it’s not a shooter game, technically.

          • Reader says

            @ Charles

            Not doubting you and that sounds right, but is there a source on that? I imagine I’d find that pretty interesting if you had it.

          • For some reason I can’t reply directly to your query on percentage, so I’m responding here. I should have written my sources down. But here is one, in depth, that says women are 4.3% in “Tactical Shooters” and 7.2% in “First-Person Shooters” (not sure what the difference is), and 2% in “Sports”:

            I’m pretty sure I had another survey that had even lower numbers, but I can’t find it now.

          • Reader says

            Thanks, very interesting link (and yeah, reply button cuts off).

  8. scribblerg says

    Try and get this. I don’t care what your goddamned studies say, even though for over 20 years they’ve all shown that any kind of moral panic over video games is baseless.

    Given this, there is no need to police the industry via the law or other institutions. Producers/writers/creators should create sexy or nonsexy characters as they deem fit. The free market and our civic space is perfectly able to work our way through these issues. They are a matter of aesthetics and appetites, that’s it. Like all much of our entertainment.

    The author and other’s involved seem to believe if it could be “proved” that one bad idea came into people’s minds from video games, then they could finally take a righteous stand. No – it doesn’t matter. These are areas of freedom of speech and conscience and our very imaginations, they are not places where we should be interfered with at all. What’s so bizarre about today’s puritanical Left is how they have become intolerant of so much they claimed we needed tolerate. When the traditionalist in society complained about pornography, or the Center and Right got all worked up about video games in the ’90s, it was the left who made arguments based on liberty and art. I was supposed to “tolerate” Piss Christ by that pig Jose Serano cuz “tolerance”. But too many sexy women in video games? Bammo – “ATTACK”. YOU ARE A RAPE APOLOGIST OR PROMOTE RAPE CULTURE. Nope – go jump in a lake. That’s all propaganda and horseshit. And even if some crazy person got an idea from a video game it would not matter. What, would you out law books like that too? Shame any songs that sexuaize women? Where does it stop?

    Let me put it even more plainly. The classical liberal socio-political order our society is based on contains a large, un-policed civic space in which we are free to engage in whatever we choose, particularly speech. We don’t have hate speech – it’s been ruled unconstitutional by our SCOTUS. We are allowed to denigrate anyone we want. We can hate women, can talk about doing the most vile things to them as an artistic expression particularly, but really we are free to do so as we see fit. Some of these “warriors for justice” seem to forget the first case the ACLU took was protecting the KKK’s right to freely assemble and protest.

    Did you know that? I bet many here don’t even really understand the nature of the liberty we possess. It’s because we are considered “sovereigns”, not owned by our state. The fed and all of govt is given limited powers, while the citizens remain sovereign. And the first thing you own, being sovereign, is yourself. It means “self ownership”. Meaning your thoughts and words are your’s, nobody else’s, you have what you might think of as a property right in your speech and thought.

    I get it – some people don’t like video games. I don’t like them. I don’t play video games. I advise men to not play them and for parents to ration them to their male children. But I would never think that it was my place to tell others how to deal with it. You think these games are sexist, great, don’t buy them. Buy games you like, the market will sort all this out.

    Everyone in academia is so busy trying to apply faux science and weak analysis to human social order. They need to stop and do something more useful with their lives. The production of this kind highly abstract political memetic garbage is the inevitable result.

    • E. Olson says

      Good comment scribblerg, but you fail to see the unifying element that makes the Leftist position totally logical. You see Serrano would be a starving artist if he actually had to sell his Piss Christ in the real world, and hence the National Endowment for the Arts courtesy of US taxpayers subsidized his lack of artistic talent to create a fairer and more equal world, which is what Christ is said to have died for by those Easter worshipers. On the other hand, those video game designers have gotten rich by exploiting market demand for imaginary women by including voluptuous and scantily clad characters with guns and swords in their games, which makes real women feel inadequate about their body images and self-defense skills. Thus when the market wants something that makes someone feel bad, Jesus said it must be stopped, especially if people get rich from it, because it just isn’t fair. It all makes sense if you know your Leftist Bible verses.

  9. Kate says

    As a woman, I have always chosen the most extravagant sexy female toons in all games and rpgs that have allowed me the choice. The more skimpy, sexier, and most absurd the clothes and armour the better. Why? Because I want to, my choice.
    it’s a fantasy, and reality is disappointing since I don’t get to be a sexy amazoness. Leave our fantasy alone thank you very much, sisters

    • Stephanie says

      Kate, yes! Video games are about fantasy, and every woman (and man, for that matter) wants to be sexy. It’s not just men that want the sexy girls, it’s women who want to play out their own fantasies.

      This push for more conservatively-clad women must be coming from people too insecure to fess up to the fact they also dream of being sexier. Recognising that they subscribe to the same beauty ideals as everyone else would highlight their own inadequacy, and would amount to fat shaming in their minds.

      • V 2.0 says

        Yup. Also, it seems to me that the places which treat women the worst are those that make them cover up. What is more empowering, walking around being sexy and fearless or covering yourself because some man may (gasp!) look at you? These prudish church ladies of feminism are the same people that celebrate modesty culture and headscarves, and sell these to Western women as ‘choice’.

  10. JiminAlaska says

    Sigh. Merchants, be they selling games or razor blades, need to remember they are storekeepers selling products and , and their customers are just that, customers. Nether are, nor should they be, arbitrators of ethics, morality nor social justice.

  11. quidnunc says

    On the other hand, it’s probably not a good idea to link to One Angry Gamer when you’re ostensibly arguing for a more careful look at evidence. That site is following punditry on YouTube post “Gamergate” with tropes designed to stoke outrage via caricature and selective evidence over good journalistic standards, playing to and shaping the prejudices of a hyperpartisan audience with little charity in interpretation or intellectual curiosity.

  12. David of Kirkland says

    “The Wikipedia page for sexism in video games, for instance, mentions only the original study, but fails to disclose that it was subsequently found to have fatal flaws.”
    Presumably you updated it with links and context about those fatal flaws.

    • jakesbrain says

      People have tried to update, but there’s been a group of editors protecting those pages in order to keep all the available information biased in their favor. Wikipedia is thoroughly infiltrated by ideologues.

  13. I’ve been a gamer for about 30 years, and while I agree with everything this article says, there’s one important point it leaves out.

    Whether a female character in a video game ought to be sexualized or not isn’t something that ought to be determined by social pressures, or by the demographic one wants to appeal to. Video games are gradually becoming taken more seriously as an art form, and in any type of art, an element that works well in one work won’t necessarily work well in another.

    Historically, the sexualization of Lara Croft has been an important part of her character, and in the early years of the Tomb Raider franchise it gave that series more personality than it would’ve had otherwise. But on the other hand, a game where it wouldn’t make sense to have a sexualized main character is Beyond Good & Evil, a sci-fi action adventure game from 2003 about a young woman who uses her photography skills to expose a government conspiracy. In Beyond Good & Evil, the decision to not sexualize the main character was made for storytelling reasons, and I think it was the right decision.

    There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether women in video games should be sexualized or not. It depends entirely on what type of game it is, and what sort of story and atmosphere its creators are trying to communicate.

    • Stephanie says

      For video games with only one playable character, it makes sense that if it’s a woman, she not be sexualised. Men will play a female character, but not if her femininity is distractingly overt.

  14. Kencathedrus says

    Mortal Kombat: A game where characters regularly get their eyeballs pierced and their faces sliced off, but people are offended about female characters wearing a bikini. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

    This isn’t about minimizing so-called ‘rape culture’, this is about controlling women and pretending to champion them.

    • TJR says

      Very like the attempts to ban Page 3 of The Sun (for non-Brits, pictures of topless girls in a tabloid “newspaper”).

      That’s the thing that bothers you about The Sun? Not the incessant lies? Not the relentless extreme right-wing propaganda? Seriously?

    • Kung Lao says

      I think you are onto something. I just saw a compilation of every fatality in mortal combat 11 and I must say that I don’t think that the fans of those games are huge fans of realism or serious games. Therefore I can see the critique of making the women in those game normal when exactly everything else is as overboard as it gets.

      I recommend everyone that doesn’t know anything about this game to do a quick youtube search and see for yourself what kind of game this is. One 11 minutes long video of that game showed me where all the critique is coming from.

  15. Owntown Darts Scene says

    The problem with supporting the “introduction of strong female characters” into anything is that it’s already overthinking it. “Strong” just ends up as a replacement for personality. Not that video games necessarily need the same kind of focus on characters as the unacknowledged model for much of what the dullards in the gaming press deem worthy and “artistic”, the psychologically “realistic” novel. Games are something else. But that’s a whole different lecture.

    By the way, that Factual Feminist video is not all that recent. I recall watching it in 2014, which just goes to show how long the whole confused “conversation” has been going around in circles. Or perhaps spiralling.

  16. Lightning Rose says

    Fantasy “worlds” like gaming, comic books, superhero movies and science fiction are just that–commercial fantasies produced (most profitably, I might add) for a given audience. Hey, in our juvenile air castles wouldn’t we ALL like to be the fair princess or the brave knight? You know anyone, anywhere who asipires in their wildest dreams to be unattractive and undesirable? Of course not!

    From their inception the largest audience share for all these products was juvenile and young adult males. Anyone involved in their production knows that this stuff is masturbatory fodder for nerds; couple story, action, and sexuality, and you have a winning combination. Another good example is Japanese anime. Many women like the same things too of course, but I’d bet serious gamers run about 10 to 1 male, and this is first and foremost about selling very lucrative products to the reliable primary audience.

    All these “cultural” add-ons (if indeed they exist; personally I doubt it!) are downstream from that goal. One thing SJW’s often forget is that corporations exist to make a profit, not to lead the world to “progressive” cultural agendas. If “active shooter” games were not so profitable, there wouldn’t be any of them. Game creators, like TV and movie creators, give the people what they want.
    Which is why “Little Women” is not yet a game. 😉

  17. TJR says

    “Cultivation theory suggests that, in the absence of other information, we develop beliefs or attitudes about the world based on media exposure.”

    In other words, people who work in or with the media think that everybody else believes everything they see in the media.

    Well, I’m convinced.

  18. Sadie Slays says

    This is why I stick to Japanese and Eastern European games where the focus is still on making a great game and rather than catering to the social justice Twitter mobs.

  19. Anon says

    The main issue I think people have with these activist interventions is that it’s about eradicating heretic media. I don’t think players would care if they were given the option to choose between a “sexist” (i.e., sexy) and a sanitized version of these games. But for the progressive activists that isn’t good enough. For them, the existence of offensive media is a vice that must be corrected, because having scantily clothed women in media enables and legitimatizes sexism and sexual violence. As far as I can tell it is this authoritarian aspiration that people take issue with. After all, it really isn’t that much more work to let players choose from both options, they already do it with the level of gore.

  20. Saw file says

    Possibly,: it would be much better if if the ‘Anna Sarkeesion.istettes’ would cease minding other people’s activities, the world would be a freer sphere?

  21. northernobserver says

    My objections to Critical Theory and Intersectionaliality are primarily aesthetic.
    I can not bear to live in such an ugly World and will do whatever I can to prevent its spread.

  22. E Taph says

    A nation’s gaming culture is a reflection of its national culture to some degree and in the past few years it’s been amusing to watch the rise of japanese and eastern euro games on the international charts while it appears that western countries barely have anything to show on that front except for Sarkeesian’s continued ranting.

    Videogames are foremost about interaction, not story, mechanics and not the presentation, and the western take on the medium seems to have lost that sight and started putting the cart before the horse. It doesn’t matter who the player character is, what gender or skin color, if you’re engaged with what the game is putting you through, it won’t even matter what your avatar looks like.
    Maybe outside of chat rooms disguised as games, like the MMO subgenre and various games that could be best described as interactive puzzle books or interactive novels.

  23. Anonymous says

    Of course, the whole issue began in comic books. Here is a video alternating complaints of progressives with examples of 1990s hyper-sexuality of female comic book characters.

    Interesting is the phenomena of “broke back” characters. Women who show their ass to the viewer but can turn around so you can see the breasts simultaneously .

    Hey, what is to stop female artists from doing “broke back mountain” dudes ? (:-)

    To be sure, there was plenty of this before the 1990s.Uhhhh…Robert Crumb ? ( 1960s).

  24. Eigen Eagle says

    The problem with creating “strawng female characters™” is that there’s not much consensus on what they really are. And no matter how they’re presented someone is going to complain either that they’re Mary Sues or that they’re too emotional/feminine or not good looking enough or too good looking. It’s probably best to just not kowtow to people who won’t be pleased and aren’t going to make up any significant portion of your customer base anyways.

  25. Shawn T. says

    If you play Mortal Kombat backwards, it chants “Smoke Marijuana.” We need congressional investigations immediately!

  26. Ghatanathoah says

    The idea that the sexualized portrayal of women somehow makes people in real life disrespect and harm women is one of those ideas that is so ubiquitous in our culture that it feels weird to even question that it might not be true. But I don’t think it is.

    Countries where women are forced to cover more of their bodies than women in the USA are not known for being bastions of female equality. Women who make a living by showing off their sexualized bodies, such as swimsuit models and adult actresses, have large fanbases that love and respect them, and seem to enjoy their fame.

    I suspect the origin of this misapprehension is an unconscious hybridization of conservative sexual purity culture and feminism. Conservative sexual purity culture teaches that men don’t respect women who have casual sex and show off their bodies. Feminism takes them at their word and assumes that men who enjoy looking at sexualized depictions of women don’t really respect women.

    The mechanism feminist academics cooked up to justify their beliefs doesn’t really work either. They claim that sexualization “objectifies” women, and thinking of women as objects is at the root of sexist oppression. But this doesn’t seem to be true either. Sexist men who oppress women don’t think they are objects, they think that women have a duty to be subordinate. When they hurt women they are, in their minds, punishing a human being who has failed to live up to her duties, not punishing an object. Teaching sexist men to think of women as people isn’t the answer, they already do that. What sexist men need to be taught is that women do not have a duty to be subordinate to men.

    Sexualization is not the root of sexism, that’s all bunk. Men who make art and games expressing sexualized women are no more likely than any other men to disrespect women as people. Men who enjoy such art are also no more disrespectful of women than average.

  27. ga gamba says

    Much of this criticism was deserved…

    Actually, no, none of the criticism was deserved, which is not to say critics don’t have the right to do so. Mr Ferguson has allowed “deserved” coercion, a form of authoritarianism, to be normalised in his mind and presented in his writing. He’s just not as authoritarian as many others.

    Underlying such a wooly headed idea is people are owed representation by creators. They aren’t. Many of these objectors demand creators conform not to their own artistic vision but to comply with the diktats of a particular type of representation. Did Picasso owe you an O’Keeffe? Did Beethoven owe you “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”? No, they didn’t. What Picasso, Beethoven, and all the other creators owe you is they don’t prevent others from participating. Are the game creators thwarting others from creating the characters that are wanted to be seen and played?

    We ought to ask Ferguson this: If a segment of his students demanded changes to what’s taught in his non-mandatory classes, i.e. the content he’s created, and these are outside his expertise, is he obliged to comply? Does he deserve the criticism? Or is it preferable these students enroll in a class taught by a different and more appropriate subject matter expert who will better meet the demand?

    Indeed, I am on record advocating for stronger female characters in games. . . . Even as I supported the introduction of more strong women characters in games, I cautioned advocates against overplaying their hand.

    Mr Ferguson would like us to believe that he’s part of the solution. Really, it’s appeasers like him who led us to the mess we’re in now.

    If there is a demand for such characters or narratives, and I’m not saying there isn’t, who’s best suited to meet it? Ill-informed creators compelled to do so, and who may cock it up, or those well-versed in the ideas undergirding the demand and who share the vision? Surely, it’s the latter. Moreover, having these demands met by those best suited to do so opens up business opportunities for a group of people who complain about the lack of these, so not only are they creators, they are creator-owners. Golly, that’s a doubleplusgood in anyone’s ledger.

    Sadly, there are many laws prohibiting front hole people from producing games as well as founding their own companies and even obtaining bank loans presently. The Ninety-third Amendment, for example – look it up.

    Criticism ought not be directed on the creators but on the legal and economic institutions that forbid front hole people (and those of the many other genders and their holes of differing locations) who want to depict characters in certain ways the right to participate.

    Surely you’ll agree repealing the Ninety-third Amendment is not only advisable, it’s just. Once these barriers are removed it will allow many more creators the opportunity, if they choose, to enter the market to provide the content that’s presumably demanded. If there isn’t genuine demand but it’s actually just a noisy group of authoritarians seeking to impose their views on others by restricting the way they enjoy things, it’ll soon after be revealed by poor sales.

    • hail to none says

      @ga gamba- great comment. I remember back when those on the left laughed at Tipper Gore for wanting to add advisory labels to music with edgy (violence, drugs, and sex-related) lyrics. Now their proverbial children want to go far beyond that and exert control on content.

  28. peanut gallery says

    When I was younger, 10+ years ago, I recall being irritated when they used sexy ladies in a way that seemed to say “hey, moron, your totally at the mercy of your base nature, right? Buy this! It’s got tits!” I felt that pandering to my sex with sex was kind of insulting. Still do I guess, but as the games industry has become increasingly “woke,” it’s been less of an issue. Of course progressives take everything too far and there is no way to make them happy. If Mortal Kombat had an equal number of women both scantily clad and normally clad they would still be unhappy. They would then just take umbrage with the races. If more white characters were scantily clad, they say it was racist. If it was more POCs it would be racist for another reason. I always thought games where female characters have “Armour” that is a bikini was dumb and I’m glad that sort of thing has mostly been abandoned, But there should still a place in our hearts for bikini armor and silliness. It shouldn’t be banned because the progressive moral police oppose it.

  29. Kevin Herman says

    Is the gaming demographic rapidly changing all that much? I would imagine men still spend by far the most $$$ and time playing games on average so it would be pretty dumb to not cater to them if your goal is to make $$$$. By the way men and women both generally select female characters in ludicrous outifts in games when the option is there. This is another case of the tail wagging the dog. A small group of people want to change what the majority is fine with or even likes.

    • Shawn T says

      Kevin, I would add “A small group of people” who most likely don’t play video games at all…

  30. KD says

    Randomized studies have been discredited. They perform no better than IQ tests, which are themselves based on over a century of randomized studies, and I.Q. is discredited.

    People should read more articles in Vox, and get their science right.

  31. KD says

    The conflict here is that while sex sells, so too does puritanical grrrl empowerment narrative. Capitalism, in true moral fashion, in order to know where to cave, will have to determine which is the highest bidder, and then construct a lame justification to placate the other side.

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