Video gaming has always been questionable in its treatment of women, both in the gaming community and in the depiction of women in games themselves. The world of gaming is a historically and notoriously sexist one, and although this has improved over recent years, it is by no means a resolved issue.
This is embodied in the recent phenomenon of #GamerGate, an online movement begun by a jealous programmer who believed his girlfriend at the time, alternative game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest, a game that simulates what it’s like to suffer from depression), was cheating on him with a gaming journalist. He mentioned this in a gaming community online, and things escalated massively from there, with his sympathizers damning Quinn and going so far as to speculate whether or not they could get her to commit suicide.
At around the same time, feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian, who has a YouTube channel devoted to pointing out the misogynistic and problematic parts of games, came under attack from the same community. Her own life and the lives of members of her family were threatened, and she was forced to pull out of a speech in Utah college as a result of specific death threats and no gun safety guarantees.
This saga highlighted that the issue of sexism in gaming is still hugely — and frighteningly — prevalent, which is clear in the sexist tropes of some of the latest video games and in the gaming community. The following are ten examples of the endemic sexism of gaming, as some of the most conspicuously sexist video games of all time.
10. Duke Nukem Forever
Duke Nukem Forever is clearly not marketed at a female audience. The cover art alone — the crotch of the protagonist in the foreground, with a gun resting on his right leg and an otherwise unpictured woman’s hand on his left hip, with a neon sign in the shape of a woman waving provocatively in the background — is already alienating to a female audience.
Then there’s the actual content of the game, which naturally only makes things worse. One option for the game’s multiplayer mode is called “Catch the Babe”, the basic premise of which is that instead of capturing flags, players have to capture women.
These women have the potential to become upset when captured, and if they do so the player is required to slap them to calm them down.
9. Lollipop Chainsaw
The extent of misogyny in Lollipop Chainsaw is so outrageous as to be laughable, leading to speculation by many that the game is meant as satire. If we understand it as satire, it’s still problematic that the game is so vague about its message, which is at best a “mockery” of an attitude in the gaming world that is still very much in vogue.
The game focuses on a scantily-dressed young woman, Juliet, living in a world of zombies that must be killed in the goriest ways imaginable. Even in these conditions, Juliet somehow finds the time to bend over every few minutes in possibly the shortest cheerleader skirt ever seen, and will happily fight crowds of zombies while wearing a bikini.
8. Grand Theft Auto V
GTA V presents a myriad of problems including racism, homophobia and, of course, sexism. On a fundamental level, the game disappoints in its lack of female antagonists in its missions. Following on from this is the poor depiction of women throughout the game: they are more often than not portrayed as spoilt, hapless harpies, who do nothing but spend men’s money and then require their help in getting out of the various difficulties they find themselves in.
Worse again, if a woman doesn’t fit the above description, she’s probably a prostitute. There’s also an abundance of topless women to be found in various situations, including on beaches and at strip clubs, and the extremely insidious force of in-game advertising: one billboard advertises a parody of Chanel perfume labelled “Le Chien”, literally “the dog”, with the slogan “smell like a bitch” scrawled in aggressive font beside it.
There are adverts on the in-game radio urging men to “use women like urinals”, and a talk-show called Chattersphere presents one of its (male) co-hosts remarking to the (female) other that “[he’d] much rather be […] mistreating women”.
Again, many defend this wildly popular franchise as a clever parody on older, chauvinistic racing games – but this is a weak defence at best, given the game’s overt and clearly unapologetic commitment to sexist messages.
7. Bioshock Infinite
While Bioshock Infinite doesn’t seem to sexually exploit its female characters, it’s problematic in its portrayal of women. Bioshock Infinite seems to be attempting to make up for past mistakes in the series by letting us know that women have agency, but then negating it by having them act in a completely helpless way.
For example, we know that a character named Elizabeth is a highly skilled locksmith (who can also create portals to other dimensions), but somehow she still requires a man’s help to be freed from imprisonment. Women are not allowed to fight in combat, and there are no female antagonists.
Further, there seems to be no reason that the main character, Booker, could not be female; had the game included a choice for the player to be male or female at the beginning it would have made no discernible difference to gameplay, but a huge difference to the level of sexism in the game.
6. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad
As you might guess from the name, Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad is an unapologetic objectification of women. The premise of the game is to fight and kill zombies as a sword-wielding woman dressed only in a bikini or underwear, whose personality and character development is equal to that of her clothing.
The general consensus on the game is that it has dull gameplay, bad graphics, and, despite its “sexy” portrayal of women, is basically boring.
The title character of Bayonetta is a quintessential figure of female objectification in gaming. Granted, she wears slightly more than bikinis, but is still utterly sexualized in every way, from her exaggerated body shape to her sexually charged combat moves.
While Bayonetta is ostensibly marketed as a character who is in complete control of herself and acts only on her own whims, the fact remains that she is designed specifically to appeal to men, not least because head director, Hideki Kamiya, has said that the core of the game is “sexiness”.
Thief‘s evidence of sexism is all the more disappointing since it purportedly depicts an example of a ‘good’ portrayal of a woman in a video game.
The intention of the game is to humanize lead character Garrett in comparison to his depiction in the preceding Thief: Deadly Shadows, and the story aims to do so with help from his female apprentice, Erin.
Erin is a former prostitute with a penchant for stealing, and a later proven affinity for killing. It’s because of the latter that the two ultimately part ways. While Erin can be superficially viewed as a strong example of female character in video games, she is in fact a massive cliché: a former prostitute, with probable emotional and mental scarring, who is gotten rid of seemingly exclusively to inspire emotion in the main male character.
3. Dead or Alive Paradise
Billed as “creepy voyeurism” by the Entertainment Software Rating board upon its release, Dead or Alive Paradise was a red flag for feminism from the beginning. There seems to be virtually no purpose to the game, excluding women going around doing absolutely nothing apart from being practically or actually naked.
The extent of female activity seems to be going shopping for clothes, sunglasses and swimsuits, which you can gift to other women in order to “make friends” with them; sadly making friends involves having the ability to zoom in on your new friend’s body and to peek into their hotel room at night.
2. Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2
Another Dead or Alive offender is Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2, a sequel to Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball. The improvements made in the sequel seem to be limited to adding new levels of physics to the characters’ breasts, and installing a casino.
The premise of the game is to complete a holiday as a female character, participating in activities (such as volleyball) during the day, and befriending at least one other woman. The creators took great pains in not oversexualizing their virtually naked volleyball players, though — creator of the game, Tomonobu Itagaki, went on record as saying that they did not include wet t-shirt contests in the game as they were being “really careful not to make it seem vulgar.”
Catherine goes down in gaming history as possibly the most sexist video game of all time. The gamer plays as Vincent Brooks, a man getting cold feet about his five year relationship with brunette Katherine, which is speeding towards marriage.
His friends offer sound advice on the subject, with one advising him to “get ready to kiss your wife’s ass for the rest of your natural life”. Enter Catherine, a blonde temptress representing everything Vincent’s nagging other half is not: she’s fun loving, has no strings attached and, best of all, is very willing to sleep with Vincent. Various mishaps of course occur, and the game’s ending is surprising.
However, this does not negate the horrific presentation of women throughout: they are two-dimensional, black and white characters, either sour harpies who want to drag men down for the rest of their life through marriage, or vacuous, commitment-free vamps who may as well have been designed both physically and emotionally to suit the most narcissistic male.