Once upon a time, Pac Man was as advanced as games got, with basic graphics and simple controls. We’ve definitely come a long way since then with regards to designs, gameplay and much more. With the change and progression of games, we’ve also seen a change in how female characters have been represented, and for the better.
Let’s face it, games never did treat females the same way they treated men, especially in the past. Video game development used to be a predominately male profession, with games catering to the male audience. Looking at the very first few games, we had the stereotypical story where the male hero rescues the damsel in distress, played out multiple times. Look no further than Super Mario just to get what I’m talking about.
We then look a little further in time to when graphics were getting better and people were growing up. Around the 90’s, gaming became a more mature business, with a lot of young gamers now entering teens and early adulthood. But as you might expect, the female characters that were introduced were heavily sexualised with bodies way out of proportion. The first couple of Tomb Raider games for instance, sure they had a main female protagonist, but one with large breasts and always wearing tight, revealing clothes. The number of female characters and protagonists was also a bit lacking; some of them had good qualities about them but there was more much emphasis on their bodies than anything else.
In general female characters are definitely portrayed much better today compared to previous times
Things weren’t great with regards to representation of women. Their very few depictions and appearances were heavily stereotypical. They had hyper-sexualised bodies and little to no character development. They were depicted as being helpless or victimized, needing a strong male character to rescue them, and sometimes, fall for. Representation like this is harmful. It perpetuates a misogynistic picture to males and females, where males see women as objects and women, either think they’re only supposed to look pretty, or stay away from games in general as they cannot relate to how the females are portrayed.
Focusing on the more positive aspects though, more female characters have started to show up in more proactive roles as time went on. Lara Croft might have been sexualised but she was the main character of her story in her own right. The Super Smash Brothers series went from only having one playable female character to a significant number; Princess Peach can now beat up Bowser for all the times he’s kidnapped her!
Moving on to more recent times, trends have been changing. While game development may still be male-dominated, it’s less so than before and gaming itself isn’t. Currently, there’s roughly an equal number of females who play games as there are males. With the advent of the internet, it’s also become easier to raise your voices at anything unfair and absurdly ridiculous.
Things aren’t perfect yet, but they’re getting better
In general female characters are definitely portrayed much better today, as compared to previous times. Lara Croft now has more practical clothing as well as body that is actually realistic. The leading female characters in the new Call of Duty games are also all strong characters, equally as dominant as their male counter parts with proper padded and armoured soldier uniforms. Even sporting games are showing this trend, with the upcoming Don Bradman Cricket 17 games confirmed to have both female players and teams, ensuring that the women’s game is just as fair and true as the men’s game. There are also a fair number of customisable options where people can choose female characters and attributes for their avatars.
Are things fine then? Is everything good? Come on, let’s be real here, there’s still a long way to go. In spite of the increase in the number of female protagonists in games, they are still in the minority and not rpughly split 50⁄50. In some games, sexualisation is still present, where the female ‘armour’ barely covers half of a woman’s body. Also, don’t forget the #GamerGate scandal in 2014 which started as an attack on a female developer and escalated into a shitstorm.
It’s nice that Games are adjusting for the better. Things aren’t perfect yet, but they’re getting there, and that’s what counts.