Objectification in Pixels
When I was around 14 years old, I played a game on PS2 called Bloodrayne.
Although at the time I knew that feminine images in video games were more than slightly skewed, this game really rubbed it in the gamer’s face. The titular character embodied the over-the-top indulgence of the game from her thinly veiled (if at all) innuendo to her gravity defying gymnastic style attacks – all clad in tight leather. Albeit blocky and pixellated, Rayne’s breasts were a jiggly extension of her overt sexuality.
But the game was fun and didn’t take itself seriously in any way. I knew something was amiss with the representation of the female form, but I didn’t care and enjoyed it quite a bit.
The female characters in video games are almost always (if not always always) a vehicle for either direct or subtle eroticism. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing nor is it exclusive to the medium. The problem with women presents itself in every form of storytelling; women mostly tend to be extensions of the lead (presumably male) character in literature and she presents problems as a reminder of both sexual desires and the all but inevitable after effects of said desires: commitment, children, and an acknowledgement of mortality.
Take the dichotomy of the Madonna and the whore used and cited excessively in literature. It’s the basic idea that a woman is pure until she is not and represents itself in a myriad of ways from Desdemona to Lolita. This also plays well into the idea of the male gaze in film meaning that women are a reflections of the male lead, the male creator, and perhaps most importantly, the male viewer and their perceptions.
Now, take those two ideas and fast-forward to the age of the Xbox. Although the origins may not be as visible, the conceptions of femininity are still constructed quite tightly around them. We see a female character in a video game as either something to desire or protect (Princess Peach, we’re lookin’ at you) and the mere fact that they are women is cause enough for either.
There are some female characters that defy these conceptions, sure, but they are exceptions to a rule that the art of storytelling has made for us. Female protagonists seem to try to empower and titillate, contradicting themselves as action-oriented characters and objects of lust at the same time. However, being aware of these constructs, games like Bloodrayne serve as a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the extreme and if you’re in on the joke, you can gawk intellectually.