The portrayal of Women in video games in the eyes of the male gaze

From Damsel in Distress to Background decorations, read about the most common sterotypes found in video games Featuring lists of “sexy” female characters and why they are seen this way to male spectators The Idea behind the design of female characters

Issue #1 December 2012

Definition: “A stereotype of portraying an unmarried female who needs to be saved.” “Sometimes the character gets kidnapped for the sake of her good looks or royal blood, but in recent works she's more likely doing something that is a threat to the party that kidnaps her (reporters are common), which allows her to look smart and independent before she needs to be saved” (TvTropes). This idea of women constantly having to be saved has been around in video games since anyone can remember. Within the paramaters of the male gaze women are made to look defenseless and in need of a heroic male figure. They are constantly being objectified not only for their looks but also for their ability of not being able to fend for themselves. The video game industry is a a male dominated field and made for the male viewers. Women being portrayed as helpless is due to the fact that when video games first started not many women were playing these games, but as the time passed, things have changed drastically and what was once the ideal objective for male players is now considered offensive. Its interesting how many women who are now considered to be ‘damsel in distress’ do posess unique abilities that could allow them to defend for themselves but of course they don’t because that will destroy the male gaze. Just like Berger had stated in his article, “Men act and women just appear.”

Damsel in Distress

Portrayal of Women in Video Games; taking a closer look at the realm of the male gaze
This will focus on different types of women most commonly found within video games. We will look at the following: 1. The Damsel in Distress 2. The Fighting sex toy 3. The sexy sidekick 4. The sexy seductress and finally... 5. Comparing male and female characters While the “Damsel in Distress” largely has its roots in fairy and folk tales, and had been used as a staple in other media, the first appearance of the concept in video games was implemented by designer Shigeru Miyamoto in the classic 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, which featured Pauline as the first ever damsel in distress and Mario as her rescuer.

Pauline disappeared almost entirely from the Mario franchise after this initial appearance, however, the damsel in distress trope established by Donkey Kong went on to become influential for other games, particularly those developed by Nintendo and Miyamoto.


“A trope is a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. A trope becomes a cliche when it’s overused” (Tropes vs Women 2010).

Women Damsel in distress vs. “Distressed Dudes” There are 74 examples of damsels in distress in video games, compared to 29 examples of distressed this fair?!


10 Sexiest Video game Damsel in Distress
10. Little Mabel from Beauty & the Beast (Intellivision game) 09. Princess Peach Toadstool from the Super Mario series. 08. The Sultan’s Daughter from Prince of Persia. 07. The Babe from Jungle Hunt/King. 06. Marian Kelly from the Double Dragon series. 05. Princess Mariko from Karateka 04. Princess Prin Prin from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. 03. Pauline from Donkey Kong. 02. Jessica from Final Fight 01. Princess Daphne from Dragon’s Lair. “There is sexism in video-games, no doubt about it, but there is no more sexism in videogames than there is in hard cases of feminism or your typical action movie. Drawing things to a close, women in videogames have always been common place, whether they’ve been stripping, shooting, saving or being saved, women have and will always play a very important role in games” (GamersChallenged). Yes, women play an important role in video games but not the role that many would like to be perieved as, although the idea of a damsel in distress will never go away, its good to say that there has been improvements in the video game industry. Women are slowly breaking the rules of the male gaze and starting to become more like actual people instead of objects for the male pleasure. In a blog titled “The next level” a group of gamers, male of course, dicuss their favorite ‘sexiest damsel in distress’ stating the reason as to why they like them. The reasons many of them like certain characters are due to their appearance. Men clearly use their gaze in order to view women as a sight for their pleasures even when a woman is in need of help; Apparently this makes women appear “sexy-er” as stated by multiple male gamers. There are known to be distressed male figures in the video game world but no one pays any attention to it because after all, since when do men need saving? Let’s face it: female video game characters are not often praised for their mettle. Indeed, you’re far more likely to find lists about the top ten most sexy female video game characters, than those who can kick ass. Here is a list of some “decent” portrayed women in video games. 10. Zelda/Sheik
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

9. April Ryan
The Longest Journey

8. Hildegard von Krone
Soul Calibur IV

7. Lara Croft
Tomb Raider

6. Samus Aran
The Metroid Series

5. Commander Shepard
Mass Effect

4. Jade
Beyond Good & Evil

3.Jennifer Tate

2. The Boss
Metal Gear Soild 3: Snake Eater

1. Alyx Vance
Half-Life 2 *Disclaimer! These women are only on this list because they are able to fend for themselves, but they still fall short to the male gaze in others components.



Completely different from the Damsel in Distress, the fighting sex toy is a woman who knows how to kick butt but is highly sexualized for a male audience Anita Sarkeesian who is also reaseching this topic and the basis for my work states that “Similarly, as part of my video about the “Fighting F@#k Toy” trope, I will be detailing the problematic ways in which even female protagonists like Lara Croft are still objectified and sexualized for a presumed straight-male audience.” All male gamers are completely familiar with the very popular Lara Croft, for multiple reasons, from her fighting and survival skills to her minimal amount of clothing and large butt and breast within the video game series. Ever since the first lara Croft game made its appearance in 1996 her outfits have been nothing but revealing and emphasizing on her female assets. Her outfits consist of small booty shorts, which the camera angle gratefully focuses on during her adventures in the video game and a tight shirt or a bra of some sort. The male gaze is highly active when it comes to Ms. Croft for men see her as an object to be judged. While she is different from most female characters in video games, in the fact that she actually does something in the story line, her focus is on her sexuality. She was created by designers to be a fictitious female character. She resembles the figure of an hourglass, where her top and bottom proportions are huge and her waist is impossibly small. No woman in real life can achieve this look and its purpose was just intended for the male world. It may seem like a woman is finally in control but the male gaze says differently. Men are able to control her in order to acheive maxium possession.

The Fighting Sex Toy

Interesting how she becomes more life-like but her outfits never change, see a pattern here?

Evolution of Lara Croft within her game series.
that’s what the character designers actually do to make the game more attractive” (Zimbio). The male spectator objectifies women only for their appearance. Women look at the viewer, acknowledging that the spectator is looking at them. The poses that most female characters take in video games is a reflection of what men want to see and how women are suppose to feed into their “hunger” and deep down desires.

“Girls are the real fascination of the story, whether you are watching some movie or playing video game. The one of the most common reason behind all female characters is the digital touch in their figurine, that come in my acknowledgement after watching an interview of a game designer. Though, it’s a bit embarrassing for the representative of the characters but



20 Most Exotic Female Ass kicking Game Characters
1. Lara croft - Tomb Raider 2. Tifa Lockhart — Final Fantasy VII 3. Naomi — Metal Gear Solid 4. Vanille — Final Fantasy XIII 5. Sheva — Resident Evil 5 6. Farah — Prince of Persia 7. Poison Ivy — Batman: Arkham Asylum 8. Chloe — Uncharted 2 9. Mai shiranui – kof 10. Nina Williams-tekken 11. Ada wong - Resident Evil 12. Samus aran – metroid 13. Cammy – street fighter 14. Juri – street fighter 15. Aerith Final Fantasy VII 16. Bayonetta- Bayonetta 17. Joanna dark 18. Katherine – Catherine 19. Xianghua chai- soulcalibur 20. Rachel - Ninja Gaiden ** not in any specific order

The Sexy Sidekick
The sexy sidekick is the third opinion which discusses how women in video games are also used simply to be good looking sidekicks. As with every other point this video makes (Tropes vs Women), there is a similar character who is male. Take for example, Saints Row 3, a game I recently reviewed here on the Blarg, there is pretty much an equal amount of sidekicks of both genders, some of them good looking on both sides, others not so good looking.

Top 10 Sexy Videogame Sidekicks
1.Trish- Devil May Cry 2. Rachael- Ninja Gaiden 3. Cortana- Halo 4. Rain Qin- Fear Effect 2 5. Dala- Darkwatch 6. Oracle of Athens- God of War 7. Kaileen- Prince of Persia 8. Shaundai- Sanits Row 2 9. Ayame- Tenchu 10. Eva- Metal Gear Solid; Snake Eater Like mentioned before in the previous sections, there is a lot of sexism in the video game world, both male gamers and designers use their “male gaze” to define the roles of women. Women have been marginalized in all types of media, and there are still many areas of media where male dominance is the accepted norm and most likey this will never change. “Flash forward to whichever year it is now, and we can see that female characters do indeed maintain a presence in video games. Problem is, it’s rarely flattering–or even remotely realistic” (Game Theory). Along side the idea of sexy female sidekicks, there is also the sexy female villianess, One has more of a role within the storyline but they both produce the same ending.



Women are either naked or dressed like men, where is the balance?
Probably one of the biggest issues I have seen with the portrayal of women in video games is how they are physically portrayed. As mentioned earlier, Kat’s appearance from Halo Reach is very manly because of the armor that she wears. Now let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum. In Dead or Alive 5 we see skinny, young women with huge breasts and with any less clothing, they would become more than just eye-candy for men. If you have seen the most recent videos about Far Cry 3, you immediately notice the half-naked woman giving you a lap dance while your character reaches and coughs a feel. Where can we find a balance? When can we expect to see a female in a dominant role in video games where she isn’t overshadowed by male companions in a male driven story or practically flashing everyone and their mother who are solely there for getting men off?

women in video games often need rescuing or are some sort of reward for completion
Look at a comparison of two characters in the same game. Street Fighter’s Ken wears an outfit that shows us someone who is disciplined yet walked away from his life to go explore the world. His clothes are frayed at the edges from his rough journey, and his hair is ragged from not being groomed. Now look at Cammy. We can figure out that she is probably British, hails from a military background, and never learned the advantage of pants or a shirt. Her stance conveys to us that she has a particularly nice posterior that she enjoys showing off. It becomes obvious that men are there for the fighting while women are there to show off. It’s a strange dichotomy in the treatment of the characters.

41% of the games studied contained noreference to a female. Out of the remainder, 28% of the games with a female featured her as a sexualized object (Dietz 1998: 425)



There have been a few strides within the last couple years incorporating female leads in games, but I have found them to still fail at the prospect. For example, in Halo Reach, Kat-B320, second-incommand of Noble Team, played an important role in the story line. Although the player assumes the role as the newest addition of Noble Team, Noble Six, Kat has specific character traits and abilities that drive the story forward. Unfortunately, where Halo Reach fails to push the boundary between male and female leads in video games is when Bungie kills off Kat halfway through the story. Whenever Women appear in video games we have seen that they are either objects, rewards, background non-important subjects or they matter for a brief second and eventually are killed, captured or hurt. The objective of majority of women in video games is to be the seductor. By the way women dress, to the way they more and even by the sounds some of them make when they get hurt, women give off a sexual vibe. Going back to Lara Croft, when she falls down and gets hurt she moans, is this a fair representation of women or more of a visual pleasure for men?

Overall, The drawings of female characters is based on the male gaze, and many designers take this into consideration when designing them. As many of us have noticed that female characters in video games, are usually not the heroic ones but mainly they are a sight for the viewer, which in most cases is male. The video game industry is very popular with male players and so their games reflect that. Even in a digital world, women are seen below men and a sight. Women in video games all follow very stereotypical roles. They are based on clothing that characters wear or don’t wear, their personalities (mostly the damsel in distress) and their figures. It has been proven that out of 500 video game characters only 47 of them were women. When female characters are finally displayed, they possess no sense of leadership and are always assisted through the main male character. Even when female characters are strong and independent, in the end they die, give in to their male counter part or end up losing their strength as they await love/ rescue from a male figure. Women tend to be submissive while their male counterparts are dominant in the video game world. This is a small look into the world of video games and with further research we will be able to have a better understanding of the gender roles in the gaming industry. Stay tuned for the next edition of GamerZone!

“In a typical Western video game, high heels in a woman’s combat outfit usually exemplifies yet another little component of making her sexy for an implied male audience. This comes at the expense of believability, realism, and the character as a person — you’re supposed to look at her legs, not the person standing on them” (GamingNews).



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