Portrayal of women in video games: Wikis


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The portrayal of women in video games has often been the subject of controversy. Sociologists with an interest in gender roles and stereotyping have outlined the role of women as both supporting characters and as potential leaders struggling to be accepted as equals.[citation needed] Another point of study has been the depiction of women in video games, in which, as in other forms of popular culture, body types are unrealistically portrayed.



Apart from roles as ancillary non-player characters, several games include women in a prominent role within the storyline of the game. Prince of Persia portrays a Princess who must be rescued as the final objective of game. A number of games feature women as an ally or sidekick to the player such as Mona Sax in Max Payne, Alyx Vance in Half Life 2 and Sheva Alomar in Resident Evil 5. Max Payne 2 enables the player to play as Mona Sax during certain portions of the game.

Several games, mostly in the nature of RPGs and Fighting games, offer the player the choice to assume the role of a female character. RPGs often permit the user to choose various characteristics of the playable character such as affiliation to a particular sect, specialization in a mode of combat, player attributes and also the appearance of the playable character. The effects of choice of male or female gender in most games are often limited to the appearance of the character and responses from non-player characters and rarely affect the attributes of the character. Examples of the above include Mass Effect and the Fallout series. Certain RPGs have character classes of which some maybe female such as in Diablo 2 which include the Amazon (portrayed on the Amazons) and the Sorceress (portrayed on Witches) as female character classes having unique abilities and attributes. Fighting games include female fighters such as Mortal Kombat featuring various female fighters including Sonya Blade and Frost.

Among real time strategy games, some games like Warcraft III and the Command and Conquer series include female units that can be created (or recruited) and controlled by the player and also include female characters as part of the storyline. While Warcraft III features a fair share of female combat units, they are limited to unique commando units in the Command and Conquer series such as the NOD commando in Tiberium Wars and Natasha Volkova in Red Alert 3. Earlier titles like the first Warcraft and Age of Empires noticeably lacked female units, though in both cases they appeared later in the series.[1]

There has also been an increasing trend for women to be used as the sole protagonists in modern games.[2] This is reflected in characters such as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series, Cate Archer in the No One Lives Forever series, Chell in Portal, Faith in Mirror's Edge and Nariko in Heavenly Sword, and most recently, Bayonetta.

Claims of negative portrayals

Objectification and sexualization

Since her introduction in 1996, the character of Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series in particular has been criticised for her unrealistic breast size; "Lara Croft continues to personify an ongoing culture clash over gender, sexuality, empowerment, and objectification."[3] However, the game's parent company, Core Design of England, maintains that she was not designed with marketing in mind, and have claimed to be rather surprised at her pinup-style adoration.[4] In fact, it has been claimed that this fandom objectification is harmful to the character.[5][6]

Similarly, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball has been criticized as being more about eye candy and women in bikinis than it is about the sport of volleyball, having been created merely for the purpose of displaying women's breasts.[7]


Custer's Revenge, a pornographic game released for the Atari 2600 in 1982, is noted for containing elements of rape; the goal of the game is to have the player character, Custer (an apparent caricature of the real American General George Armstrong Custer), reach a bound female Native American, named Revenge, so that he may have sex with her; while the makers have claimed that this is consensual bondage because she is smiling, others, such as the National Organization for Women have claimed that this is indeed rape as well as racism.[8]


Violence in video games is a hotly debated topic, especially with regards to the Grand Theft Auto franchise; however, some sources have specifically condemned the series and similar games for promoting violence against women.[9]

Similar concerns have been voiced about violent females, such as Lara Croft, whose depiction has grown bloodier and bloodier over the years.[10]


Ubisoft has formed a group of female gamers called the Frag Dolls; the intent is to create "role models for a whole legion of girls out there who may have been too intimidated to play games online - or even play at all," according to Nate Mordo, Ubisoft's online community manager.[3] In addition, to attract female gamers to a generally male-dominated market, many game companies are becoming more family-friendly.[11]

In Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara Croft underwent a redesign, ostensibly to make her less sexualized.[12]

Claims of positive portrayals

Jade, the protagonist of Beyond Good and Evil

Samus Aran is often held up as a positive example of women protagonists in video games, as players were unaware that the protagonist was female until the end of Metroid for the NES; thus, her female characteristics were not emphasized over her viability as a character.[13]

Jade, the protagonist of Beyond Good and Evil was widely recognised as a strong and confident female character lacking any overt sexualisation.[14]

Alyx Vance, a supporting protagonist of Half-Life 2, was praised for her "stinging personality" and intelligence, developing a close bond with the player without simply being "eye candy".[15][16]


  1. ^ Geoff Richards. "Age of Empires II : Age of Kings". http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/aok. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 
  2. ^ Janz, Jeroen; Martis, Raynel (February 2007). "The Lara Phenomenon: Powerful Female Characters in Video Games". Sex Roles (New York) 56 (3–4): p. 141. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9158-0. 
  3. ^ a b Zoe Flower. "Getting the Girl: The myths, misconceptions, and misdemeanors of females in games". 1UP.com. http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3137700. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  4. ^ N'gai Croal and Jane Hughes (1997-11-10). "Lara Croft, the Bit Girl". Newsweek. 
  5. ^ "The extraordinary life of Lara Croft". The Guardian. 2001-06-15. http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,506934,00.html. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  6. ^ Robin Yang. "The Man Behind Lara". GameDaily. http://www.gamedaily.com/games/tomb-raider-anniversary/playstation-2/game-features/the-man-behind-lara/5588/66813/. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  7. ^ "Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball". GameCritics.com. 2003-01-29. http://www.gamecritics.com/review/doaxvolleyball/main.php. Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  8. ^ "Top Ten Shameful Games: 1. Custer's Revenge (Atari 2600)". GameSpy. 2002-12-31. http://archive.gamespy.com/top10/december02/shame/index4.shtml. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  9. ^ "Women's role in popular video games: Stripped down and killed off". Media Report to Women 31 (1): p. 1. Winter 2003. http://mediareporttowomen.com/issues/311.htm. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  10. ^ Tomb Raiders Traveler's Guide: Editorial
  11. ^ Jennifer Kulpa (2001-06-25). "PC games are becoming kinder, gentler to attract females". Drug Store News. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3374/is_8_23/ai_76335062. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  12. ^ "Lara's curves reduced to appeal to female gamers". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2005-05-21. http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/Real-appeal/2005/05/21/1116533572111.html. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  13. ^ Nadia Oxford (2006-08-07). "One Girl vs. the Galaxy - The Woman Inside the Suit". 1UP.com. http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3152658. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  14. ^ "Jade (Rebel with a Cause)". thumbbandits.com. http://www.thumbbandits.com/Oakley04.asp. 
  15. ^ Top 50 Videogame Hotties. UGO.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-14
  16. ^ Top 11 Girls of Gaming. UGO.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-28

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