Anita Sarkeesian's 8 Tips for Game Developers for Portraying Women More Accurately
When Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency fame spoke at NYU Game Center last night about the representation of women in video games, she of course mentioned GamerGate, the controversial movement that has made Sarkeesian a target of severe harassment and death threats. "GamerGaters want to keep the world of games a boys club... [It's] a coordinated, organized, all-out assault on women in the games industry," she said.
But how can game developers combat the stereotypes Sarkeesian details in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series? The feminist critic gave eight insightful ways game developers writing female characters can make the gaming world more inclusive for women, or as she put it, "less shitty for women":
1) Lingerie is not armor
Sarkeesian played the above trailer for Perfect Dark 2, which featured its female protagonist being typically sexualized. She spends the majority of the video showering, putting on makeup, putting on underwear, all while the camera zooms in on her lips, legs, and other body parts. "Imagine if they made a trailer like that featuring Master Chief," Sarkeesian pointed out.
2) One size does not fit all
Most female characters in video games, Sarkeesian argued, fit conventional societal standards for female beauty: they're all young, slim, and leggy with large breasts. By contrast, male characters come in every shape, size, and conventional attractiveness level, which reinforces the notion that women should be valued for their appearance more than men.
3) Butts, butts, butts
Not only are female characters' butts all-too-often sexualized and inappropriately put on display, it's actually difficult to get a shot of male characters' butts, even if you try. Most of the men's butts are covered in capes, armor, or baggy clothes, with a possible exception of God of War.
4) Oh, so exotic
Women of color are underrepresented in video games, but when they do appear, they are often condescendingly portrayed as the "noble savage," or the "exotic" women who is somehow "close to nature," and therefore pleasingly primitive compared to the white characters. Sarkeesian warned game developers to stay away from racist stereotypes and portray women of color as three-dimensional individuals.
5) Avoid the "Smurfette Principle"
Smurfette is the sole female smurf among a slew of male characters, which means that her personality is inevitably representative of all women. "She's the Smurfette and because she's the Smurfette, her personality is 'girl,'" Sarkeesian said. She argued that games should generally have a diverse roster of female characters just as they do for male characters. If one male character is "crazy" or "irrational," these characteristics would not be attributed to his gender, as there are plenty of other male characters with completely different personalities. But if there is only one female character, more often than not her personality will play into negative gender stereotypes about women.
6) Something in the way she moves
Sarkeesian argued that female characters generally aren't made to look or move like fighters. "Female characters tend to move like they are on a runway in heels, not at all like a woman might reasonably be expected to walk if she were about to say, fight a giant troll," said Sarkeesian.
7) Something in the way she sounds
In order to illustrate this point, Sarkeesian played an audio clip from League of Legends that sounded distinctly like a woman having sex, but was actually a woman getting beat up. Sexualizing violence against women is problematic, for obvious reasons. "Start with trying to make pain actually sound painful rather than orgasmic," Sarkeesian suggested.
8) Where are all the women combatants?
On the flip side of that coin, developers shouldn't be afraid to make female combatants. She said that while she sympathized with the reluctance to portray violence against women, it is only problematic if it's handled in an overly gendered way. "The ideal here is to design combatants who just happen to be women," Sarkeesian said.