Critical Miss

The intersection of fashion, gaming, the male gaze and jiggly physics

female depiction in gaming

Words: Glenn Kisela | Illustrations: Nena Maree

The way you dress says a lot about you. Whether you’re into plain tees, designer brands or thrift finds, everyone is a part of the fashion industry in one way or another.

People use their fashion to make statements, to fight back against systems of oppression and to take a stand for what they believe in. Fashion publications have started to realise this, which has resulted in the likes of Teen Vogue wading neck deep into political and social issues, something you would never have seen happening five years ago. Other publications such as GQ and Allure are throwing their weight behind these important discussions.

Costume design is another way in which garments powerful statements: from films and plays to your favourite rapper’s music video, a character’s mode of dress is as integral to their identity as the script they’re given or lyrics they perform. Gaming is no exception. While the industry may have been around since the mid-1960s, its depiction of women and the fashion that surrounds them still has some growing up to do.

female depiction in gaming

Gaming doesn’t engage with women equally – either in-game or in real life. Women are often designed as shallow companions to a plot within games. They’re over-sexualised and their objectification is little short of dehumanisation.

This objectification has manifested itself in a variety of ways. Side quests in a number of games allow you to “unlock” sleeping with female characters. Poor dialogue with women characters strip them of personalities and goals – privileges reserved for male characters. Images of scantily clad women are arguably the most visual means through which women are stripped of agency and humanity, reflecting the patriarchal gaze with which the gaming world sees everything.

Women characters have tended to be designed with impossible hourglass figures, whether a rare heroine or the conventional damsel in distress. Designers were, and certainly remain, dedicated to sexualising women, even in the face of the logic of a game’s storyline.

Gender-normative fashion in gaming remains stagnant. Very rarely has gaming fashion transcended the norms of skirts, dresses, bikini tops and high heels for women – and male characters’ outfits aren’t much more gender-fluid, generally indulging stereotypes of broad-shouldered, sharp-angled masculine dress. While any of these may be empowering to some, the fact that gaming is not broadly self-reflexive for women is clearly apparent.

When a male character levels up in any given game, high-level items you can acquire would include formidable-looking armour and badass weaponry. These feed into the seemingly timeless notion of masculinity. On the contrary, when a female character levels up, your high level items would remain revealing and be of more help for patriarchal eye-candy than to save the world. This begs the question of who games are made for and who they seek to empower in almost-entirely fictional storylines.

female depiction in gaming

Then you have the eye-watering fashion choices that were made purely to show off a game’s physics engine. Normally a physics engine is revered for how realistic objects in the game interact with one another, thus how well the physics in the game mimic physics in real life. However, games would often want to show how realistically a woman’s chest moved. But you couldn’t do that without bikini tops that barely covered her breasts. Whether you are fighting zombies, duelling murderous fighters to the death in an arena or on a top secret mission to save the world, a bikini top that barely fitted you and allowed for “jiggly physics” was often present and apparently deemed appropriate by a game studio.

For some time now, there’s been a collective push against the depiction of women in gaming. More and more often, games are being called out on problematic representation of women. Game developers are being made aware that how they dress their characters is vitally important in the greater discussion of women in gaming. It may seem trivial to some but the implications are huge and often subconscious. It’s anything but insignificant.

female depiction in gaming

There’s been a strong collective push against the depiction of women in gaming over recent years. League of Legends, one of the biggest games in the world, had members of its community take it to task for objectifying many of its female characters. Overwatch, a game largely praised for the diversity in its gaming cast, was also called out for objectifying one of its female characters.

With ever-increasing frequency, games are being called out for hyper-sexualising women. Game developers are being made aware that how they dress their characters is critical in making gaming more equitable regarding representation, where the impact on one’s subconscious is immeasurable. Fashion in gaming is anything but insignificant.

female depiction in gaming

Gaming has come a long way since the days of sorry excuses given for the armour in which female characters were adorned. Games have become more progressive and inclusive. More women are entering the gaming world, be it as players, creators or designers, and they’re taking the narrative back and pushing back on outdated and problematic fashion, among other issues. The gaming world can afford a slight smile over the rapid progress it’s made recently, but there is of course still so much to be done. As the industry begins to understand its significance in the socio-political issues of today, so too will it realise the enormous responsibility it holds. Much like gaming, fashion is no longer an industry that sidesteps anything political.

Investing itself in contemporary socio-political issues, Teen Vogue and many others have transformed themselves into beacons of light in an increasingly gloomy journalistic landscape of clickbait and fake news. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, when one of the most highly anticipated games of the year by young and old, Far Cry 5, is tackling Christian extremism in the American context.

Fashion and gaming have come to understand that they’re just as critical to global socio-political discussions as news outlets. It only seems logical that the intersection of fashion and gaming is vital to be aware of and discuss.

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