Laura Mulvey was a feminist and one of the first to introduce the Male Gaze theory, one which has become well established in the general society and often noted by critics of the over use of the Male Gaze across plenty media platforms – including video games!
So what is the Male Gaze Theory? Mulvey argued that platforms of the media enforce a Male Gaze where mainly female characters are sexually objectified, whether discretely by a few camera shots with focus on female body parts, or more evidently where women are literally stripped to near to nothing to appeal the view of a heterosexual male.
It’s undeniably there, when watching a film, a television programme, reading comics or just playing video games, we tend to see a sexy woman who either flirts around and has many teases of her body features with tight or revealing clothing and such. The reason being? Simply put, because sex sells! According to the 2013 study from the Entertainment Software Association, there’s a near equality of the proportion of male and female gamers, despite the stereotypes that gaming is mainly for males. From over “2,000 nationally representative households” their studies concluded that 55% of gamers were males and 45% of gamers were females. Therefore, gaming industries attempt to appeal to the sexualisation of females more to appeal to the 10% higher of male gamers, yet some can argue it isn’t just the females being sexualised:
In Uncharted, there’s the flirty and sexualised Chloe and her constant referral to her ‘ass’, there’s also Elena who has a slim body, an attractive face and blonde hair; particularly Chloe’s character in this example is the sexual symbol where the male gaze is applied. Whereas, these 45% of female gamers can still find appeal to the tendency of action games focusing on a Muscular, Handsome, hegemonic male and find pleasure from them. The difference is while the attractive male character is there, there aren’t as many sexual camera shots or referral to the males physique as there is to the female characters – there’s still the tendency of the male gaze in these products with the handsome male protagonists. So why’s that?
Despite game developers knowing that there’s a rise in female gamers, there’s a broad definition of what ‘gaming’ is due to the various types of game genres there are. While we know there’s more female gamers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that most females are playing these blockbuster action games, and could instead be focusing on smartphone gaming, simulation gaming and such.
But of course this is all stereotypical which is the exact problem – the gaming industry relies on stereotypes! It stereotypes the male protagonist to be hegemonic and manly due to that’s what’s stereotypically expected from an action hero, it’s stereotypical that the females are used as sexual stimulus, since that’s an old fashioned tradition from the past and the industry still relies on the stereotype that action games are more for males than females. There’s also a huge stereotype with heterosexuality, it assumes that male gamers will enjoy the male gaze due to them being straight, that the female gamers will enjoy the handsome protagonist due to them being straight, and that the protagonists are usually heterosexual due to appealing to mass homophobic audiences.
I’m sounding harsh against the video game industry and how closed minded it is with stereotypes, but I should be! If we do not criticise them, then how are we to influence change? The gaming industry relies on media representation and audience feedback, this is why the Xbox One received so many changes since the original announcement due to critics, why games such as Mass Effect left out the official ability of homosexual relationships until their latest game – people have criticised the industry for lacking or enforcing something and the companies decide to alter their ways to appeal to the mass audience.
Even non-action games seem to influence the objectification of women. On a very slight point of view, Princess Peach can even be seen as being a sexual symbol in Super Mario! She is portrayed in a theory called ‘slimblondness’ where she has nice blonde hair and is sculptured to look beautiful both by face and physique. You must play as Mario to go save the princess (which is often repeated enforcing a stereotype that women need men) and so Mario goes to rescue her.
Then there’s the ‘action hero girl’ who always happens to be attractive and sexy so that she has an appeal for male gamers to play as them. The main and obvious example which has been overstated in the media is Laura Croft (need I say more)! Remember when Metroid was first released on the NES? Remember the general confusion and excitement that the heroic and non sexualised character which had relative aspects to what people would stereotype for males was actually a female? “Wait Samus is a girl?!” was often repeated at the ending of the game; what’s happened to that? Why can’t there be females similar to Samus who wasn’t sexualised or treated differently due to her gender? There’s also games where women are unnecessarily sexualised just to make the character more interesting… I’ll use the headline image for example with EDI in Mass Effect. She originally was just the sexily voiced (by Tricia Helfer) AI who was intelligent and witty; yet she quickly evolved to become the sexy robotic suited AI. It’s understandable of humanising EDI considering she became a quick fan favourite, but the suit she’s in seems to have what can be considered the “perfect curves” for a woman and has built a lot of sexual attractions to both the fans and also the characters in the game.
Honestly, perhaps my judgement as a male is slightly biased, but I consider that slight sexualisation to characters is acceptable as it just creates more general excitement, but overusing stereotypes and objectifying characters can be a bit too far.
Perhaps one of the few of many reasons I adore The Last of Us so much is Ellie’s character. Not only does she have an amazing personality and character background, but she breaks so many stereotypes that are generally implemented in gaming. Ellie is a child who can look after herself and is quite intelligent; I love the idea that Ellie not only doesn’t have that much stereotypical attractive features on her, but also Naughty Dog made her a young girl to reinforce the taboo of not finding a sexual attraction to her. Then there’s also the lesbian phase in the DLC prequel ‘Left Behind’ which is just another kick on the head of Ellie being a character who rebels against general stereotypes. More developers need to look at how Ellie was portrayed as an template for their future games. (Of course there’s then Joel who’s still under the handsome protagonist stereotype, but I’m willing to put that on the side due to the perfect presentation of Ellie).
I’m interested in other views of the sexualisation and general stereotypes from you though. What type of stereotype do you hate the most in video games? Why? Leave a comment below and share your view!