Out of the Game and Into the Kitchen

Now, as you have probably seen from the title, this article is about feminism and sexism in video games. I am aware that I am a straight white male and have little to no reason to talk about this because I’m not affected by it, right?

No. You are wrong.

If you think that I will start hating women for trying to ruin video games just because I am the target demographic for most video games, you are wrong. The fact is that women are not just underrepresented but pushed to the point of being sexist in video games. Right?

With those two false openings, let me tell you my real opinion about women in video games. Are women in video games used for pure sex appeal? Possibly. Should there be more strong female characters in games? Of course. Are video games chauvinistic? No.

When I think about female characters, I would like to use the Nintendo trifecta to demonstrate how video games handle females in games.

First of all, Princess Peach is the worst female character in video games. Sure, she hasn’t (officially) been portrayed in skimpy clothing, but she has been shown to have little or no character to the point of being a parody of herself. At first, she was just an objective marker, nothing more. The problem is, she has rarely been given more chances to develop. Either she is just as stale as Mario or worse. Luigi has developed into a great man and an interesting character in his own games, Mario is about as sterile and soulless as Mickey Mouse, but Peach is just an objective in a pink dress. I don’t care how many cakes she bakes, she is the most sexist character in video games.

This doesn’t even bring in the monstrosity of Super Princess Peach. Yes, she got her own game, so this was an opportunity to show how badass this woman could be. Nintendo could have shown us what deeper character was behind that dress. Well, it turns out that the game has the wonderful royal use her emotions to defeat enemies, some of which she can’t control.

Really, Nintendo?

Let us take a look at another character from Nintendo’s deep pockets of characters and pull out Samus Aran. Here, this badass alien hunter was a ripoff of Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise but was a great character because of the fact that she was just as good as, if not across-the-board better than, a man. She had that arsenal in her battle suit and would see if those Metroids would mess with her. So, this should be a step in the right direction for video game characters if Metroid: Other M had not gotten into the mix.

Metroid: Other M degraded the great Samus Aran to just another women that needed men to tell her what to do. Also, with Zero Suit Samus populating the internet, she has let the sex appeal get to her, although it hasn’t gotten to a terrible point. She looks good, don’t get me wrong, but I am just wishing for another Metroid game to get the character back into the great graces that she was once in. Actually, I just want another Metroid game.

So, if female characters can’t be objective markers or just like men, what should they be?

Here is where I would like to introduce Princess Zelda. Yes, she has been used as an object for Link to save. However, she has grown more as a character and gotten more badass over the years. She has great weaponry and even pulled a Samus Aran when she became Sheik. Also, she has been playable since the CD-i (I know that we all want to forget those games, but they still exist).

The fact of the matter is that I want to see more games with Zelda. She does have some sexual appeal (no more than Nathan Drake, may I add), but I see her more as a fantastic warrior princess, just as she should be. Lara Croft has had a similar effect,  where her character has evolved over the years. While I would want to play an entire game of Zelda, I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes as Princess Peach. The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite series not only because of Link, but because of the strong princess of Hyrule.

When people talk about modern female video game characters, I always put them into those three categories. Are they put into a game just for sex appeal? Throw them in with the useless Peach characters. Do they show potential in becoming an awesome character? They can become a Zelda? Are they awesome but degraded to something less? Then they fit into the Samus camp. Either way, I am glad to see more Zeldas and Samuses in my games lately rather than Peaches.

I know that there will always be games like Duke Nukem and Ride to Hell: Retribution where women are just sex objects. That saddens and sickens me. However, those tropes against women have been changing for the better. Remember BioShock Infinite? That game had a classic “damsel in distress” trope going on, complete with a princess in a castle and a mechanical dragon. However, as the game unfolded into madness, it was shown that this damsel was one of the greatest characters of the year and fully capable of being awesome in her own right.

Speaking of that year, do I need to even mention characters like Ellie from The Last of Us or Jodie Holmes in Beyond: Two Souls? Those people show that women portrayed in video games have evolved from a thing to be rescued to characters that are better than most men.

So, do you want my final opinion about women in video games? Women are making progress in video games establishing their own characters. They don’t need to be objectives any longer or hide behind a mask in order for gamers to take them seriously. They can be great characters, many even better than men. It is an ongoing fight, but they are winning. Today is a great day to be a gamer, that much is known.

Shawn Richards studies games to understand how they work. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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